Opinionista Jeff Kelly Lowenstein 7 January 2021

The US coup might have failed, but beware its lasting consequences

The seizure of the Capitol in an effort to subvert our nation’s fair and secure election was the direct and logical consequence of the lies and contempt for our democracy Donald Trump has shown throughout his presidency. Its effects will be felt long after he leaves the White House.

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is an investigative journalist, author and the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Chair of Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University in the US. In 1995 he was a Fulbright Teacher at the Uthongathi School in Tongaat, South Africa, and in 2016 he taught an investigative journalism course at Wits University. His work has earned national and international recognition.

Of all the disturbing elements of the attempted coup in the US on Wednesday, perhaps the most distressing is how utterly unsurprising and predictable it was.

“This is not who we are,” tweeted US Representative Nancy Mace (Republican, South Carolina).

Donald Trump Jr, the president’s eldest son, echoed those thoughts. “This is wrong and not who we are,” he tweeted.

But in fact the temporary seizure of the Capitol by force in an effort to subvert our nation’s fair and secure election was the direct and logical consequence of the lies and contempt for our democracy Donald Trump has shown throughout his presidency.

It has been visible in the repeated statements and tweets he made in the months leading up to the election, in which he said over and over that his defeat would by definition mean the voting had been rigged.

It was obvious in the early hours of November 4 when Trump announced he had won and called for the counting of all votes to be stopped.

It’s been clear in the dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits he and his legal team have filed around the country in a bid to undo the election results. Many of those defeats came from the pens of judges Trump had appointed. 

And it was evident in his incendiary remarks to the rioters he had encouraged to gather on the day our nation’s elected officials assembled to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. He tweeted: “Be there, will be wild!” in advance of the event and told them on Wednesday morning: “You will never take back this country with weakness.”  

Yet, as shameful as all of these actions have been, and they rank among the very bottom of our nation’s history, the truth is that Trump has been abetted, enabled, encouraged and cheered on at every point in near-unanimous fashion by the Republican Party.

In this most recent episode, it manifested itself in the dozen Republican senators who said they would vote to reject the electors from disputed states as not “regularly given” and lawfully certified. 

Georgia, one of the so-called disputed states, counted each vote three times.  

None changed Biden’s victory.

The senators are Josh Hawley (Missouri), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), Mike Braun (Indiana), Ted Cruz (Texas), Steve Daines (Montana), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), John Kennedy (Louisiana) and James Lankford (Oklahoma), along with senator-elects Bill Hagerty (Tennessee), Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming), Roger Marshall (Kansas) and Tommy Tuberville (Alabama).

We need to remember them. Six persisted with their vote even after the riot. 

More than 120 Republican congressmen joined the senators.

Beyond this incident, Republicans throughout the party have backed Trump during his tenure.

They’ve remained silent in the face of his thousands of lies, in his characterising the white supremacists who terrorised Charlottesville in 2017 as “very fine people” and his labelling of Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries”. 

With just one exception they voted to acquit Trump after the House impeached him in 2020.

Trump’s departure from the presidency in two weeks in no way means that the forces that have supported him at every point, and which led to today’s riot, will magically disappear.

They acquiesced and backed a party platform that held his re-election as a primary objective.

It’s important to note that Trump has also received succour from television stations like Fox News, which in many cases has abandoned the pretence of seeking to do meaningful journalism. (A number of Fox newscasters labelled the members of the mob as peaceful protesters.) 

He’s been supported by social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook that have allowed him to spread his misinformation and disinformation for years. Only after Wednesday’s events has Twitter suspended Trump for as long as 12 hours. Facebook, which took a similar action, has given him no meaningful sanction throughout his tenure. 

Yet an initial reckoning with this moment would be incomplete without pointing out the repeated actions throughout our history by armed white men to thwart our nation’s democratic will and promises.

Dear friend and award-winning historian Steve Kantrowitz wrote about the reign of terror Senator Ben Tillman and his supporters began in South Carolina after the Civil War to disenfranchise most of the state’s voters during what Steve called the reconstruction of white supremacy. 

Steve, Tim Tyson, John Hope Franklin and others wrote about the white supremacy revolution the Democratic Party in North Carolina engineered, the most notorious event of which was the Wilmington “race riot” of 1898 that claimed the lives of many black residents and rolled back decades of progress for African Americans in the state. 

Indeed, as Ibram Kendi, director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, wrote in The Atlantic last September: “Colonialism, capitalism, slavery and slave trading, Indian removal, manifest destiny, colonisation, the Ku Klux Klan, Chinese exclusion, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, eugenics, massive resistance, “law and order”, Islamophobia, family separation — all were done in the name of defending life or civilisation or freedom.” 

Kendi goes on to write that “Trumpism is the latest — or last —chapter in the story of this America.” 

The accuracy of his assertion will be shown in the months and weeks ahead. 

It is true that the coup did not succeed. The mob was dispersed. The House and Senate votes to certify Biden’s victory have indeed gone forward. His inauguration in two weeks will be accompanied by one of our nation’s most diverse cabinets and a Senate majority that may have been aided by Trump’s haranguing call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the president urged him to “find 11,780 votes”. 

The kind of systematic assault on the faith and systems underpinning our democratic institutions that Trump, his followers and today’s domestic terrorists have waged — an attack that draws on historic wellsprings — did not succeed at this moment.

But the coup’s failure does not mean the attempt didn’t happen or will not have lasting consequences.  

Trump’s departure from the presidency in two weeks in no way means that the forces that have supported him at every point, and which led to today’s riot, will magically disappear.

And the perennial challenge for all of us to work to realise the lofty promises enshrined in our founding documents will only become more necessary, urgent and most likely more difficult across our beautiful, wounded and blood-soaked land. DM

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor of Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University and the founder and executive director of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism.

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  • You omit Mitch McConnell as an enabler. And while I found his address to the House during the sitting to certify Biden a piece of superb oratory I am not sure it vindicates him at all. And I agree those names of politicians who have supported Trump in a bid to shore up their own political careers must be remembered. Our planet does not only need a whole new thought process when it comes to how we relate to our natural world, but also in what effective leadership should look like.

    • Colleen’s observations are very apt. I would add that Mc Connell also revealed himself as a ‘learned’ racist several years ago, when he declared to make the first black president a “one term” president (which he failed in) and proceeded to literally ‘stone-wall’ him in the senate. Being the smarmy politician (like many are) he is, his recent bit of ‘superb oratory’ (it light of his imminent deposition to senate minority leader) is nothing but a ‘cover’ for himself ! Not being “sure it vindicates him” …. is being overly generous ! Amidst the growing clamour for Trump’s blood, the one that is decidedly misguided is the one to bring ‘criminal’ charges against him. In spite of his pyromaniacal tendencies, he has mastered the art of using language/words that deceive and that can be interpreted in more ways than one … hence in court, he would invariably “get away” with challenges. Remember his call on supporters to ‘liberate’ certain states ! He does not tell people ‘how’, but his fanatical cult followers know exactly what he means. He is the master of ‘double speak’ and hence the legal system can not ‘find him out’ based on his utterances, though crude and vulgar they be. Pre his presidential debut, when the courts got close to him, he ‘settled out of court’ with NDAs. That legally schooled people like McConnell and Graham and several others refused to take into account this overly long ‘history’ of sleeze, and chose to become fawning acolytes, is remarkable. Good luck to the criminally inclined senators like Cruz and Hawley who hope to ‘capture’ the wave of white supremacy inspired Trump supporters ! Thank you Jeff for helping us to identify the other members of that ‘gang’ who were hoping for the same. Even in this s…hole part of the world … it helps ! Lest someone get the wrong impression…it should be noted that there are some (maybe a very few !) honourable Republicans. Unfortunately, I think the majority of them joined the Lincoln project! There is some hope yet for morality and ethics! Good riddance to transactionalism.

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