Reality is being rewritten before our eyes. Some Americans can see this, and understand it. The results include an inescapable feeling of dread and doom. The frustration mounts because as a group those who see the truth and are ready to speak it do not yet have the full vocabulary required to make sense of it all.
Too many other Americans appear not to care about the blatant effort by the Republican fascists and others to rewrite reality. They are indifferent or tired, or just so hyper-focused on their own lives that nihilism and surrender are preferable to confrontation and engagement. Others are either incapable or unwilling, or remain in a profound state of denial.
This is not a claim about some grand secret conspiracy. It’s an observation about how people function in a society caught in an interregnum, that time of in-betweenness when the old is giving way to something new (and potentially something horrible), when truth and reality are being dismembered by fascists and their fellow travelers. It all feels like a confusing slow blur.
For those of us who do care and who choose to see the truth, what do we do when the final form, the entire ugliness behind America’s crisis of democracy, is finally revealed?
On Jan. 6, Donald Trump and his cabal attempted a coup to overthrow American democracy. As part of that coup plot, Trump’s followers launched a lethal terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol. These events were publicly announced by Trump, his spokespeople, allies and followers. America’s political elites, including too many among the news media, chose to ignore these warnings or somehow convince themselves that it was all “hyperbole.”
With a few notable exceptions, the mainstream news media and other public voices described the right-wing terrorist attack on the Capitol in relatively benign terms as the acts of a “disorganized mob” or as something “spontaneous” and “shocking.”
Donald Trump and his propagandists and co-conspirators, on the other hand, created their own alternate reality in which Jan. 6 was a festive gathering, a “regular day” when many “tourists” decided to visit the Capitol.
Alternatively, the right-wing propaganda machine argued that, yes, there was political violence, but it was actually committed by antifa or Black Lives Matter activists, as part of a false flag operation to harm Trump and the Republican Party’s supposedly pristine reputation.
It’s all a lie, of course. But public opinion polls and other evidence reveal that a large majority of Republicans and Trump supporters — as though there were some meaningful distinction between those groups — believe in the Big Lie and the many little lies that support it.
As more information about how close Donald Trump and his cabal really came to nullifying the 2020 election has become known, the language has shifted. Now the mainstream media says “insurrection” rather than “mob.” That’s certainly a more accurate description, but it still fails to capture the scale of the Trump cabal’s efforts to overthrow American democracy.
“Insurrection” suggests something momentary, as opposed to a sustained attack whose result would be a long-term and perhaps permanent change in American society and government. Trump and his forces wanted to spark a fascist revolution in America; Jan. 6 was not intended as a one-off outburst of white authoritarian fascist rage.
In her review of the new HBO documentary “Four Hours at the Capitol,” Sophie Gilbert of the Atlantic grapples with the question of what language to use in describing those events:
In the days and weeks after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, commentators and media outlets grappled with the question of what to call that event. Language is sticky; it clarifies and obfuscates the truth depending on who’s wielding it. January 6 was described as or likened to a “riot,” a “tourist visit,” an “insurrection,” a “peaceful protest,” and a “coup attempt.” And yet, watching Four Hours at the Capitol, Jamie Roberts’s tight, unsettling new HBO documentary about that day, another word seemed more appropriate to me, one that most of the participants interviewed in the film might agree on. More than anything else, January 6 was war….
With his rigidly chronological framing and his interviews with people who were present at the Capitol that day, [director Jamie] Roberts captures the extent to which both sides were engaging in combat. This dynamic emerges over and over again throughout different accounts and video clips. One clash between Capitol Police officers and pro-Trump extremists is referred to by a participant as “the battle for the tunnel.” Different interviewees describe fighting on “the front line,” engaging in “hand-to-hand combat,” and, in the case of one police officer, the strangeness of walking through his own colleagues’ blood. In a scene that seems ripped right out of a Bruce Willis movie, a police commander shouts, “We are not losing the U.S. Capitol today, do you hear me?”
Gilbert continues by observing that Capitol Police are of course equipped to deal with violent threats, but are “not trained for warfare, which is what must have made January 6 and their task of defending the U.S. Capitol seem so absurd.” It was the first time hostile forces had invaded the Capitol in large numbers since the War of 1812. What the film captures, Gilbert concludes, is simple: “Pro-Trump forces went to war against the American officers charged with defending democracy.”
A series of recent books, most notably Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s “Peril,” have offered evidence that Trump and his allies were following a detailed plan meant to replace our democratic system with an autocracy where Trump would remain president indefinitely. This plan came close to succeeding.
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Rolling Stone reports that dozens of meetings occurred between Trump’s coup plotters and those others who organized the rallies on Jan. 6 which served as a staging ground for the attack on the Capitol. At least one high-ranking Trump White House official and several Republican members of Congress allegedly took part in these meetings.
Donald Trump and his allies are continuing to encourage right-wing political violence as part of the “Big Lie” strategy to undermine Joe Biden’s presidency and to further radicalize the supporters of the Republican fascist movement.
Unfortunately, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice have so far done nothing to hold Trump and other leaders of the coup plot accountable for their apparent crimes. Biden and the Democratic leadership are also not exerting the pressure necessary to ensure that Trump and his co-conspirators are punished to the maximum extent of the law.
At the Nation, Elie Mystal laments that the DOJ’s failure “to investigate the planning of the putsch is all the more shameful given the publicly available evidence that the insurrectionists may have had help on the inside”:
For instance: The people who sacked the Capitol made a beeline for the Senate parliamentarian’s office. Pictures after the putsch showed that the office had been ransacked. The location of that office is not obvious; it’s one of those places that is hard to find unless you’ve been there before. But the insurrectionists somehow got there and began looking for the hard copies of the electoral votes that Congress was meant to certify that day. Had they gotten their hands on those votes, even for a moment, they would have broken the chain of custody of the Electoral College count and at least delayed the certification of the election, as was their goal.
It strains credulity to think that a bunch of white supremacists and shamans knew precisely where to go and what to look for on their own. At the very least, a thorough criminal investigation of events would seek to uncover where these people got their information. It would look into claims that tours were given beforehand to eventual insurrectionists. Congress can piece together events, but the DOJ and the FBI are not supposed to wait until the political branches get it together before investigating and prosecuting people for crimes.
At some point in the near future, the American people and the world will likely learn the full details of the Trump regime’s coup plot — or at least, as full an accounting as we will ever get. But what if the American people simply don’t care? What if the overall public response is indifference and a feeling of futility, driven by the perceived “need to move on” or the feeling that “nothing matters anyway.”
That will leave the door open for the next fascist coup attempt and serve as an act of surrender in advance — which was very likely the plan from the beginning.
More from Salon’s coverage of the Jan. 6 aftermath and America’s democracy crisis: