Scant support for Capitol Hill Justice for J6 rally, but wind not knocked out of right wing’s sails

Scant support for Capitol Hill Justice for J6 rally, but wind not knocked out of right wing’s sails
Protesters attend the Justice for J6 rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US, on 18 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

The long-anticipated (and feared) Capitol Hill rally in support of those 6 January insurrectionists and their blowhard idol had all the fizzle and pop of a soda left out overnight on the kitchen counter. But the movement isn’t dead by a long shot either.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel taught us to understand that we learn from history that we do not learn from history; George Santayana warned those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it; and Karl Marx snarled that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Collectively, the ghosts of these stalwarts from history and philosophy classes-past must surely have been hovering about, together, looking down upon the American capital as Saturday, 18 September dawned, wondering what lessons are being taught — and learned.

And so, on Saturday, 18 September, a modest, motley crowd of demonstrators, putatively spoiling for a fight and a chance to become martyrs, live and on television, had arrived in the nation’s capital to demonstrate solidarity with the insurrectionist mob that had tried to seize the Capitol Building, back on 6 January, at the service of then-president Donald Trump’s delusion that he could — King Canute-like — somehow reverse the tide (of his electoral defeat). 

Some of the participants in that 6 January revolt had broken into the Capitol Building and then tried to hunt down representatives and senators they believed did not support Trump’s fanciful notion then-vice president Mike Pence must refuse to certify results from several states to overturn the election’s results. Pence, as is well-known by now, refused to obey when the Trumpian voice brayed (and according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, Pence had even consulted with a previous vice president, Dan Quayle, of all people, to stiffen his backbone). Ultimately, the insurrectionists’ effort failed, but not before many of them had scaled the walls of the Capitol and ran wild within the building. Five people died, many dozens were injured, and — now, months later — more than 600 people who have been arrested are now facing trials or plea bargains.

This time around, the Capitol Hill police have been much better forewarned, prepared, and poised to protect government buildings and deal proactively with the new mob with an overwhelming show of well-coordinated force. And a reaction force of the Washington, DC National Guard was even on call if they had been needed. They were not. By the time it was over, the best estimates had been only a hundred or so protesters actually arrived. They were outnumbered by the media, and certainly by law enforcement personnel. There were several anti-protest protest groups as well and the police’s biggest concern apparently was to avoid the possibility of any clashes between the two competing sides. Tragedy, then farce. Karl Marx was right about some things.

As The New York Times reported, “There had been early indications that the event would be a shadow of the Jan. 6 protest, which was well organised by a variety of groups, featured an array of far-right personalities and included an appearance by President Donald J Trump. This time, one of the groups behind the Jan. 6 event, the Proud Boys, had warned people away, and neither Mr Trump nor any sitting members of Congress chose to attend.

Police in riot gear stand by during the Justice for J6 rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US, on 18 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

“The event on Saturday was used as a platform for men who hope to be the next generation of Republican politicians. They included Joe Kent, a former member of the Special Forces who is challenging Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, Republican of Washington, in part because she voted to impeach Mr Trump. Another speaker, Mike Collins, is a small-business owner in Georgia seeking to replace Representative Jody Hice, a pro-Trump politician who is forgoing re-election to challenge Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state who refused Mr Trump’s entreaties to tamper with the state’s vote count.

“‘We have political prisoners here,’ Mr Collins said. ‘The facts are clear: We’ve got nonviolent misdemeanor offenders that are currently being held with no bond, no access to lawyers, and sometimes in solitary confinement.’” 

The facts are, in fact, not so. The vast majority of those arrested are out on bail and only a few — those charged with specific violent acts, remain remanded in custody.

And in fact, too, this time around, the protest was not about denying any forward motion for the final electoral formalities, per the constitution. Rather, they had gathered ostensibly to protest the treatment of the previous rioters, insisting that those of them held in jails have effectively become political prisoners of a special type. 

Maybe that rather more prosaic — even boring — demand doesn’t quite carry the frisson of excitement that comes from rampaging through the Capitol Building, wearing a funny hat fashioned out of bison horns, or setting up a makeshift gallows to hang the vice president, all on behalf of Donald Trump’s railing at the heavens to insist his successor must not be installed as president since Trump was already God’s elect.

Still, as former DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey told audiences on TV all-news channels, sadly, an adequate police response to this low-level rally is not going to stop what is going on in this country today. His point, of course, is that the minimalist demonstration on Saturday does not mean an era in which groups eager to provoke politically motivated violence and turmoil was now at an end. 

Rather, the political climate remains replete with the actions (or possible actions) of small, sometimes armed, dissident groups who continue to be encouraged by deeply divisive talk by political leadership. Absent a sudden and thoroughly unexpected outbreak of comity, the nation will have to keep living with such possibilities. Ordinary citizens may need to become used to seeing the buildings housing the country’s political functions barricaded behind razor wire, patrolled by uniformed police, and even more restrictive access controls than before. Such circumstances and behaviours are deeply corrosive to national political life. 

This degradation of public life goes hand-in-hand with the political scorched-earth policy of the Republican Party’s leadership and their eagerness to embrace and disseminate lies as truths, including the fraudulent idea the 2020 presidential election was somehow stolen from the rightful winner or that the Covid vaccines are the devil’s work and that the disease is a myth anyway. The posture of such Republican leaders and their supporters is now, essentially, that any Democratic victory is by its very nature, ipso facto, electoral theft. Such positions come in the face of a nation that broadly continues to trend Democratic, especially among the younger and better educated, and — worst of all if you are a Republican — in a minority-majority universe of citizens. 

People cheer during the Justice for J6 rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US, on 18 September 2021. There was a large police presence and a couple hundred protesters. (Photo: EPA-EFE / GAMAL DIAB)

With the massive defeat of the recall vote in California of Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, some Republicans may need to begin reassessing whether it is still worth the embarrassment and defeat of unequivocally embracing the former president in their own rhetoric, and through their espousal of his pet causes and hates, whatever they happen to be at any given minute. Of course, the Trump acolytes still have sufficient heft to be important in the many primary election battles to come, as the Republican Party’s Trumpian tilt becomes even more pronounced. 

The Democratic administration and party, of course, for the upcoming midterm election of 2022, still must deal with a long-term American political trend that the party of incumbent presidents usually suffers stinging defeats in a wide range of congressional races. This is in line with the traditional political rallying cry, “Throw the rascals out!” With just the narrowest of margins in both houses of Congress, this pattern holds special danger for Democrats. 

This may be still more problematic for Democrats because this election will occur after the fifty states have reapportioned their congressional districts, especially with all the mischief of gerrymandering that is possible by Republican-led state legislatures in a majority of states. Moreover, a number of generally Democratic states in the North such as New York will lose districts from the results of the 2020 population census, thus making Democratic chances of continuing to hold a majority in the House of Representatives that much more challenging. 

In issue terms, economic, or economic-plus-epidemic issues are still likely to predominate in these midterm elections. However, the growing flashpoint and anger about an increasing number of school district governing boards presumably imposing critical race theory (CRT) teachings on students and curricula, and thus its presumed deleterious effects on education, holds dangers for Democratic candidates. CRT can be made to be a stand-in for a whole range of social ills advancing racially sectarian positions. 

Still, if the economy continues its 5%+ rate of growth trend and unemployment continues to decline through this year and the next, and, crucially, if the country’s welter of anti-Covid restrictions continues to roll back because the disease has finally been brought under control, the president’s party can make a reasonable argument it has delivered on many of its promises. This would be especially the case if voters actually see some manner of progress on infrastructure renovations, urgent repairs, and needed improvements. 

Nonetheless, the legacy of what is generally viewed as a botched withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan may also continue to haunt the Democratic Party. That said, maintaining any sort of military presence there was hardly popular with voters in either camp, and President Joe Biden can point to the withdrawal as a fulfilment of an agreement made by his predecessor. Still, absent a palpable security threat to the nation, elections are, in the main, usually fought over and won on the success of economic policies — and the belief that things are improving; that the nation is headed in the right direction. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Desmond McLeod says:

    JBS certainly does not hide his support for the Democrats and disdain for Trump. I can agree fully with a dislike for Trump, but surely, if he wishes to be a political commentator, he should try for some impartiality?
    What about mentioning that some of the accusations against Trump now appear to have been “trumped up”, contrived accusations by his political opponents. It is clear that US politics have become as partisan and intolerant as we experience in SA. Whilst politicians ruthlessly, dishonestly pursue their quest for power to stroke their own egos, the country and the populace suffer! Bunch of w–nkers all of them!

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