How We Got to America’s Bastille Day: A Trumpian Assault on the US Capitol

Mitchell Nemeth
Jan 18 · 10 min read

“We are in the beginning stages of a civil war,” tweets the 20-something guy working from his parents’ home while he escapes his apartment in New York during the pandemic. The “civil war” he is referring to is the massive protest, turned insurrection, mobilized, in part, by President Trump’s incendiary rhetoric at the United States Capitol Building. A rally turned march on the Capitol quickly escalated into hundreds, if not thousands, breaching the line law enforcement established. While the protest at the United States Capitol Building received most of the attention, the President’s most ardent supporters also protested at state capitol buildings.

For months after the 2020 election was called for former Vice President Biden, President Trump and many of his Republican Party acolytes used cable television, podcasts, talk radio, and social media to disseminate largely disputed information about election rigging and ballot fraud. Even the President’s own lawyers were not willing to present this evidence in court, if that shows how little confidence they had in their own claims. However, they continued to press on with their effort to convince enough voters that the election had actually been a “Trump landslide,” something hard to imagine when the incumbent actually lost by over 7 million votes. Nonetheless, many agitated Trump voters believed otherwise and pressed on ahead with mass gatherings and online collaborations. An even smaller portion of these agitated Trump voters organized online to attend a special rally with their President on the day of the Congressional certification of election results. Unfortunately, a small portion of the attendees had a much more grim vision of how this day would turn out.

“Their online activism became real-world violence, leading to unprecedented scenes of mobs freely strolling through the halls of Congress and uploading celebratory photographs of themselves.” According to The New York Times, violent protesters used social media sites like Gab and Parler to plan the insurrection. Further, NPR writes, “the plans to storm the Capitol were unfolding online in plain sight on niche social media sites and Facebook and Twitter long before the attack happened.” While law enforcement was eventually able to restore order in the Capitol, we must ask ourselves how we got here?

It would be naïve to focus the blame solely on social media, election rigging conspiracy theories, partisan politics, or President Trump. No one politician or political rally can be blamed for the events, even as President Trump and other politicians continued to raise the temperature of political discourse to unfathomable levels. After all, major societal problems had been brewing for decades. At Tablet Magazine, Michael Lind argues that there are five separate crises to blame for the breach at the Capitol on January 6th: a political crisis, an identity crisis, a social crisis, a demographic crisis, and an economic crisis. As Lind puts it succinctly, “a building can rot from within for a long time, before an earthquake or a fire reveals the depth of its structural decay.” One cannot ignore the COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent economic fallout from lockdowns when viewing our present situation.

2020 was a historically aberrational year on many counts: the third impeachment of the President in American history, the global COVID-19 Pandemic, government-mandated shutdowns of industry and the subsequent economic recession, and the summer 2020 protests and riots over police brutality. Anyone can debate which of these events was the most significant, but they are all related in one way: government authority.

From Day One of President Donald J. Trump’s term, his legitimacy as a President and as an authority figure was questioned and his each action decried. Many prominent Democrats referred to themselves as “the Resistance.” The problem with such a framing is that it appeared to the President’s supporters that his opponents were not just resisting the President’s worst impulses but also his supporters. After all, members of Congress and other elected officials represent not only the constituency that directly elected them but also those who did not. There is no denying President Trump’s ability to polarize and agitate but such political gamesmanship, on behalf of “the Resistance,” only serves to worsen our situation.

During the President’s term, he encountered resistance not only in the United States Congress (from both “the Resistance” and from within his own Republican caucus) but also in the Judiciary. Constitutionally, the Judiciary has the authority to check the Executive; however, the President and his supporters were stopped at almost every turn by federal judges imposing nationwide injunctions. In effect, the President was largely unable to institute his preferred policies through the Congress, Executive Orders, and the sprawling Administrative State. In reality, the current functionality of the federal government is a partisan disaster. This disaster will not easily come to an end with any one person’s election, even President-elect Biden’s term.

As Lind described at Tablet Magazine, the five distinct crises plaguing America are deep and structural. Few politicians outside of President Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Andrew Yang even bothered to address these crises. The COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent government-mandated shutdowns only further inflamed the crises that were burning well before President Trump. Unfortunately, the President’s bombastic rhetoric only served to deepen any distrust in our institutions. Often, his demagogic rhetoric was mere rhetoric as his term in office can be characterized as mostly consistent with standard conservative wishlist items. Many of his populist impulses, with exception to tariffs, were halted in litigation or in the theatrically divided Congress. To best understand how the events of January 6th came about, one must look at the events directly preceding them.

Everyday Life Was Turned Upside Down in 2020

With the global emergence of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in 2020, reality was turned upside down. Video footage of entirely closed public life and sanitation crews spraying the streets of Wuhan, China appeared on social media. Soon after, video footage and photographs of over-run hospitals appeared from Italy. Not so long after the virus overtook Italy and much of Europe, the virus wreaked havoc in the American Northeast. The video footage and news reports out of these areas left Americans anxious and panicking. Grocery stores and large retailers soon experienced shortages on certain items like toilet paper, paper towels, canned foods, and fresh produce.

American elected officials were concerned with slowing the spread of the virus, so they issued mostly unilateral “stay-at-home orders” or lockdowns. These orders, in effect, closed down industries deemed “non-essential.” These orders, while possibly well-intentioned, have been disastrous in that they have forced previously operational businesses into closure for more than nine months with little, if any, financial backing from the federal or state governments. In addition, the government never provided these businesses with a timeline for when they may reopen. These forced closures, as well as uncertainty over the pathogen led to unprecedented job losses.

In March 2020, Congress and the United States Treasury acted with a sense of urgency in passing the CARES Act. Congress swiftly passed major economic aid to affected industry, small businesses, politically-connected establishments, and constituents. As TIME described it, “this package, devised and promoted as a mechanism to alleviate inequitable suffering during the pandemic, may end up playing a role in exacerbating it in the immediate future.” No doubt, unlike in 2008, Congress’ intentions were better but as it is said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Buried in the CARES Act was an allotment of one-time $1,200 checks to individuals under a certain income threshold with allotments for qualifying independents, as well as a $600 federal extension for monthly unemployment benefits. Neither proposal went without criticism.

Regardless of federal support, the economic shock of the Pandemic resulted in a historic number of business closures and bankruptcies. Government-mandated shutdowns only further amplified the economic shock. Many small businesses closed down and federal economic aid efforts were unable to reach all in need. The perception among many working class and middle class Americans was best summarized by a vocal Michigan small-business owner: “Our government leaders have abandoned me…$4 trillion of stimulus money and they gave it to whom? Special interests groups and campaign donors…They abandoned me and they have put me in a position where I have to fight back…I feel everybody needs to stand up…Listen there was enough money to give every family, every family in this country, $20,000 to go home for two months. They chose to give it to special interests and campaign donors the Kennedy Space Center and they abandoned us.” Small-business owner Dave Morris notes that everyday Americans should “fight back” because he and countless other Americans believe the government no longer worked for them.

African Americans have felt similar injustice in this country for too long. In their view, injustice never dissipated after the Civil Rights Movement, instead injustice took on a new form. The mass mobilization against what is referred to as “systemic racism” became supercharged this past summer. The metaphorical powder keg exploded in late May 2020 when an unarmed African American man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody. Rage ensued as video footage of Floyd’s killing spread like wildfire over social media. The antagonist, then Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, could be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes; Floyd begged for his life as he kept pleading, “I can’t breathe.”

Small protests grew and grew in the hours and days to follow. Over time, protests took over cities and even some freeways. As is the case with any large gathering, violent perpetrators began to abuse the situation and began torching buildings, the first building being the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. In dramatic fashion, the officers of MPD abandoned the Third Precinct.

In the weeks that followed, chaos and violence erupted in countless cities throughout the United States. Media footage of the scenes showed cities literally on fire. Problematically, many media commentators condoned the actions of the violent rioters. CNN’s Chris Cuomo went as far as asking, “Please, show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” Others, like MSNBC’s Ali Velshi stood in front of burning buildings and described what he saw as “mostly a protest” and characterized it as “not, generally speaking, unruly.” Such excuses were common for weeks, as media commentators bent over backwards to justify the police brutality protests turning violent. For those interested in further analysis of the summer 2020 riots, refer to a great Commentary Magazine article.

Political justifications for riots, violence, looting, and mob mentality were never to be taken seriously until summer 2020. Such justifications allowed violent mobs to swarm retailers and small businesses for every infraction the mob deemed justifiable. The most notorious of examples occurred in Portland and Seattle, which became hotbeds of a different kind of political outrage mob. Both cities are notorious for their ultra-progressive constituency and a well-known group called Antifa; over the summer, local affiliate Antifa groups took over blocs of the cities. In Seattle, anarchist left-wing militants and some protesters established the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). CHAZ served as an occupation protest against police brutality and in favor of a whole range of leftist causes. Local officials bent over backwards to allow these domestic terrorists to literally take over city blocks. There were even reports of extortion coming from local businesses that were caught in the “borders” of CHAZ. The ultra-progressive Mayor of Seattle heralded the establishment of CHAZ as a “summer of love.”

Similarly, in Portland over the course of numerous weeks, Antifa militants clashed with federal law enforcement at the federal courthouse. What began with property crimes like vandalism and arson led to Antifa trying to torch the building. In response, the President’s Department of Homeland Security mustered more law enforcement resources. This violence continued night after night for much of the summer.

So how did the events of 2020 lead to an insurrection at the United States Capitol Building? The answer is multi-faceted: years of economic stagnation and inequality, a heated culture war, the COVID-19 Pandemic and the subsequent economic recession, the fracturing of uniform trust in our institutions, and political rhetoric that openly lent credibility to insane conspiracy theories. Politicians bear the blame for some of these crises as they openly inflamed the situation. The following are some examples:

· In response to Senator Bernie Sanders over-the-top characterization of a Republican healthcare plan, James T. Hodginkinson, a self-professed Bernie supporter, shot a Republican member of Congress and tried to shoot four others.

· In 2018, California Democrat Representative Maxine Waters encouraged her constituents to “publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration.”

· For years, high-ranking Democrat elected officials referred to President Trump as a Russian asset.

· President Trump, his legal team, and many members of the Republican Party claimed that the 2020 election was “stolen” and “fraudulent.”

Pelosi’s Extreme Rhetoric: “I Just Don’t Even Know Why There Aren’t Uprisings All Over The Country”

The list of political escalations is endless and rhetoric has in recent days become fever pitch. President-elect Biden has made clear his characterization of the events at the U.S. Capitol: domestic terrorism. Now begs the question of how far his new administration is willing to go to prevent further events. In the days following the Capitol insurrection, some private businesses have made public statements condoning the events while others have moved to sever ties with any Republican who is deemed responsible for the events. To those who have spent years trying to paint President Trump as an aberration, Glenn Greenwald writes that Trump was “a perfectly predictable extension of U.S. politics and a symptomof preexisting pathologies.”

All of this goes a long way of saying that the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol Building did not happen in a vacuum. Escalating political rhetoric has led to this dire point in our nation’s history as a Pandemic, an economic recession, ever-increasing economic inequality, a looming federal debt crisis, and unparalleled division could prove to be fatal. If the United States is to recover from this historically challenging time, it will require strong leadership with a willingness to listen to and address all challenges. But responsive, stable governance is not enough. Everyday Americans must put aside their past grievances and be open to moving forward and building a better future. No one person can save the United States from this series of challenges, but together we can recover and return to being the greatest country in the history of the world.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Mitchell Nemeth

Written by

Contributor to: FEE , The Mises Wire, and Interests: Technological Disruption, Economic Policy, and Public Policy

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Mitchell Nemeth

Written by

Contributor to: FEE , The Mises Wire, and Interests: Technological Disruption, Economic Policy, and Public Policy

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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