Many mocked Trump’s Birtherism talk, his pledge to build a wall across the Mexican border, and the verbal attacks on Latin American immigrants. They misunderstood what he meant by making America great again. But there was method in his madness.
He was speaking to a cross section of Americans that was often ignored, if not misunderstood. The thousands who sieged the Capitol were not driven by a belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Their loyalty was to someone with power who spoke their ‘language’. Making America great again meant keeping America white, as though native people, blacks and other racial and ethnic groups did not exist. Their storming of the Capital on January 6 had a racist agenda. America had for long convinced us that it was the land of the free, welcoming people who sought escape from persecution elsewhere. White wealth and power allowed it to conceal for a long time its callous and racist treatment of the native people and blacks. This vision of America, despite being challenged, prevailed for long.
In recent years, the numerical dominance of whiteness had been eroding as Latinos and blacks in a number of areas constituted the majority of voters. In the South they continued to make it difficult for blacks to vote. Texas came near to challenging this, but the victory of democrats in recent elections in Georgia pointed to a political threat that they feared. The America they knew was disappearing. Trump was no mere dirty liar speaking very fanciful things, for all of that was directed to people whose vision he shared.
So that is what the protest at the Capitol was about! White right wing extremists and believers in QAnon and deep-state theories might have been central to the planning of the siege at the Capitol, but the reality is that more so-called average Americans than were imagined, were involved, including army veterans and House and Senate Security Officers, among others. As I write this piece today, January 13, the news is that Trump has been impeached for his central role in the protest. His blatant lie about having the election stolen from him was the start of the battle cry. He called on the protesters to “fight like hell to take back our country”. His enigmatic mouth-piece, Rudy Giuliani, called for “trial by combat”.
Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and others who vowed to overturn the votes of the electoral college, were like ammunition to the protestors. Investigations are continuing and protestors who stormed the Senate building are being identified, so we await the charges and penalties, particularly for those, whose aim seemed to have been to hold some Congress members hostage. But it was more than that as was obvious from the pistols, plastic versions of handcuffs, weapons found in vehicles and on person, along with confederate flags.
All of this happened in a country that labelled itself the fountain of democracy and criticised other countries for not readily accepting the verdict of democratic elections. China likened what was happening to their encounter with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, claiming that theirs involved no deaths, while the storming of the Capitol left five dead. The rest of the world witnessed the exposure of the dirty side of America. Perhaps a positive side of Trump’s tenure might be to get America to begin to come to terms with the real America which they had denied for so long. Does the voice of Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s puppets that “Enough was Enough – Count Me Out” mean anything since he is unlikely to vote for his impeachment? The major tragedy is that even those Republicans who decried Trump’s flouting of his presidential responsibilities will not vote to have him ousted, a president who directly or indirectly attempted a coup. But America has been exposed! This is another dirty part of their history that they cannot easily dismiss. We saw it live on TV and on Social Media and could make our own judgement.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian