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Nearly gone

January 8, 2021

Well Mr President, as you predicted, it was indeed wild, not to say feral.

There are times when I start writing something for this blog without much of an idea about what I’m going to say, but knowing that I have to say something anyway.

This – after a bunch of rioters whom Ivanka Trump calls “patriots” occupied and trashed the US Capitol buildings – is one of those occasions. Will Wednesday’s event turn out to be one of those “I remember where I was when…” moments, on a par with 9/11, Kennedy’s assassination and, for the oldest of the old, Pearl Harbour?

For me, the answer is probably yes. The difference between recent events and the earlier traumas was that millions watched on TV as the Twin Towers went down, and likewise as a mob stormed the Capitol.

Anyway, my first impression, as CNN showed a few hundred rioters, protesters, call them what you will, going berserk in the heart of America’s democracy, was that this was not a coup. If it had been, it was a pathetic and incompetent effort.

A real coup would have involved shutting down TV, radio and the internet, arrests of prominent politicians and occupation of federal departments including intelligence agencies and the FBI. Tanks on the streets, troops on the ground and drones in the sky.

Or perhaps I’m old-fashioned in my thinking, and all it takes these days is a few Vikings aided and abetted by troops on the ground dressed like robocops. Though it might suit rhetorical purposes to describe what happened as a coup, even the most desperate of banana republics would surely have managed something more effective.

But goodness, the TV coverage was compelling. The day began with the results of the Georgia election, followed by the certification ceremony (because that was what it should have been) in Congress. The contrast between the ponderous proceedings in the Capitol and the antics of the barbarians at the gate could hardly have been more striking. Even as members of Congress droned on, CNN would cut away to the wave of chaos heading towards the debating chambers.

To most Americans, the sight of armed security guards barricading the doors to the House of Representatives chamber, trashed offices and people with hoodies and MAGA hats stalking the corridors would be shocking. To an outside observer like me, the whole thing seemed faintly ridiculous. For all the huffing, puffing and expressions of outrage from commentators, the motley crew who broke into the building looked like a cross between NASCAR fans and Glastonbury revellers.

Things quickly became deadly, and the farce turned into something far darker. If you wanted at that stage to start wondering about a coup, you might ask why the police guarding the Capitol let the mob inside. Were they complicit or were they just shitting themselves? Also, why did it take several hours, and the intervention of Mike Pence, to trigger the deployment of National Guard detachments? Was this a deliberate delay by Trump, or organisational paralysis? Expect an inquiry on this when Biden takes office.

What of Trump? Will he be removed as unfit for office under the 25th Amendment? Unlikely, unless he does something else similarly outrageous in the next 12 days. Pence apparently won’t hear of it, and anyway cabinet members who would need to approve such an action are busy resigning. Will he be impeached? Possible, though 16 Republican senators would need to vote for it. Since they would then become perpetual enemies of Trump’s seething base, it’s hard to imagine there would be that many volunteers.

Assuming Trump manages to cling on to office until January 20th, one can only hope that nobody gives him the slightest excuse to drop a nuclear bomb on them.

In case we in the United Kingdom are enjoying a welcome distraction from lockdown by watching events in Washington with a mixture of sanctimonious horror and a vestigial sense of superiority, we should remember that we are not immune from such interventions. Admittedly it’s a few centuries since Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers booted out the Rump Parliament. But only a couple of years ago climate change protesters staged a naked demonstration in the visitor’s gallery of the House of Commons.

And it’s not so long ago that Michael Heseltine, aka Tarzan, seized the ceremonial mace, the symbol of parliamentary authority, and waved it around as you would a baseball bat. Trump’s rioters would have been pretty proud of such a gesture, had there been a mace for them to wave (as opposed to mace for them to inhale). Instead, they had to make do with lecterns.

One difference, I think, between the democracies of the US and Britain is that Americans speak of their system in quasi-religious language. Words like “sacred” and “hallowed” trip easily off the tongues of presidents and congressional speechmakers. As you would have noticed if you watched the certification, there was even a chaplain who said a prayer at the end of the session.

We, on the other hand, have plenty of religious flummery built into our system. We have an established church. We’re only too happy to invoke the deity when a ceremonial occasion demands it. Yet I don’t see the same reverence accorded to our democratic values. We’re not one nation under God. As Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s head of communications, once famously said of his party: “we don’t do God”. Certainly we would never regard our flawed system of government as divinely ordained. Nor would we consider an invasion of our houses of parliament as sacrilege.

Anyway, in a few day’s time Joe Biden will swear the oath of office with his hand on a bible. America’s worst ever president will be gone, Deo Gratias. Trump, in his presidential-mode address yesterday, finally acknowledged that reality, albeit without congratulating or even naming the new president.

Before that happens, I suspect that there will be plenty of interesting moments. Recriminations, more resignations, possible impeachment, arrests of rioters and Donald Trump distributing pardons for crimes on the part of his leading acolytes that have not yet been identified. Perhaps even for himself. Not since the issuance of papal indulgences will we see pardoning on such a scale, though as far as I’m aware even the Borgia Pope stopped short of pardoning himself.

I would like to think that the world will pay less attention to the Orange Monster once he hands over the nuclear suitcase and heads for Florida. Personally, I find his demise profoundly satisfying, even if the poison he has spread will remain. I did a quick count of the number of times I either wrote about or referred to him in this blog over the past five years. It comes to 174 articles. I can’t think of a single one in which I portrayed him as anything other than a permutation of villainous, stupid, ridiculous, incompetent or deranged.

It’s unlikely that he will fade away, but if there’s a silver lining to Wednesday’s events, it will perhaps be that Americans who are not brainwashed by his bullshit will reflect on the dangers of electing a charlatan like him again.

Onwards and upwards, America. A new era awaits. And now that I’m about to be released from my vow not to visit you as long as Trump is president, I look forward to seeing you again soon. If you’ll have me, that is.

From → History, Politics, Social, UK, USA

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