By Graham E. Fuller* |
Islam News – The videos and pictures are astonishing. For someone like myself, who has lived so much of my life in developing countries, scenes of insurrection and coups are sadly familiar–abroad. But at home they clash sharply with how we view the conduct of our domestic politics.
Understandably for Americans the mob assault on the Capitol offers an almost incomprehensible scene, arousing an indignation that calls for a strict response. And precisely because these scenes are so shocking, maybe they will help bring home to all Americans the degree of emotion and separation–the gaping social and economic divisions–which so characterize American life today.
In the end, of course, this all turns back upon the figure of Donald Trump himself. It’s hard to remember a figure so despised by liberals. But you only have to go back to the next-to-last president, to the days of George W. Bush, someone whose style was less in-your-face, more establishment. But Bush corrupted our foreign policy process with deliberately fraudulent intelligence which in the end launched three or four wars overseas, devastated several countries, and killed over 1 million people in the process–wars that even today are not yet over. But as callow as W’s image was, he was slightly less crass, less narcissistic. But he too appealed to the many of the worst characteristics in American society, if less crudely. Bush relished calling out to our deepest tendencies towards violent international response and destructive military ambitions to dominate the world. He may not have violated so many specific domestic US laws and norms–after all, murdering people en masse in a war overseas doesn’t really count, and anyway we must do what we must do to bring democracy to the world.
But this is not the place to try to draw comparisons between the style and policies of these two men. Today Trump, very appropriately, is the target of rage and anger on the part of American liberals who detest everything about him. Understandably so. But now that we are about to see the end of the Trump administration, we need to consider how to proceed in Trump’s last days, including how to treat the mob assault on the American Capitol and the president who encouraged it.
In actuality I do not believe that such mob action truly raised the possibility of the Republic being overthrown, gripping street images notwithstanding. This mob action was a spasm of anger, fury, frustration and populism run wild, a rage that the America these people sought was slipping away. It was not really anything like Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in Munich 1923. It really had no chance of success while in Germany Hitler gained much valuable publicity for his future ambitions. Furthermore it took place in a Germany nearly economically prostrate after the defeat in World War I. indeed the Washington mob at the Capitol probably did not truly believe they could turn the country or the election around either. But such action by enraged citizens–and not a few anarchistic hangers-on– is frightening not so much for any possible “coup” they could have brought about. It is frightening for what it reveals about the yawning poisonous chasm of perceptions, politics, economics, class and race and culture that exists in this country.
How should we think about it? In one sense, it’s like watching an ugly race riot. But usually the shock of witnessing such rioting compels us to consider how much things in the country have gone very badly wrong and how they must be righted–for the sake of the whole Nation. A wake-up call.
I detest Trump, his administration and policies. Nonetheless, I am opposed to any action to impeach Trump or remove him involuntarily from office before his administration legally comes to an end on 20 January.
It would feel good to see Trump and his followers further humiliated by being prematurely expelled from office, even put on trial. But making one half of the country feel good in finally getting revenge against Donald Trump and his administration–even in its closing weeks–is not what politics is all about. The task is not to celebrate and broaden these deep fissures through total final victory and maximum humiliation, but rather to assess the causes of why we are where we are at, and how to begin some process of cooling down, if not immediate reconciliation. We simply can’t go on this way; left unattended the next chapter might be worse.
The country, like it or not, has to live with the seventy-four million people–nearly half the country– who voted for Trump. Even though Trump himself will be gone, the nation will still have to live with the legacy. Yes, there is racism involved. Yes, there is sexism involved. Yes, the centuries-old bastions of white and senior privilege are involved. Yes, there are deep regional issues involved, a crude sort of North vs South that still carries the poison of the American Civil War. Yes, there are “cultural” and class-style differences on display as liberal elites routinely show contempt for “the basket of deplorables” who in the end had the last word in bringing down Hillary Clinton.
The demographics of America are changing. The familiar old “American” order is giving way to a new. In that shift millions of people fear for jobs, old traditions, familiar customs, the symbols of what they once were taught to hold sacred. The very shifting concepts of “patriotism” and identity are less clear than ever as-people still want to know where they belong, and worry they will have to yield their place at the table. While others equally worry they will be able at long last to finally gain a rightful place at the table.
So now, how much should the Nation, and especially the Biden administration, seek punishment, even revenge for the grossnesses (and partisanship) of the past four years, including the worst Secretary of State we have ever had in the person of Pompeo (and he has multiple competitors for that honor.)
How much can the Nation afford to alienate and humiliate the seventy-four million people who voted for Trump? Demographically speaking, as the nation’s population ages, numbers of the die-hard Trump followers will simply die off against the rising new face of America. And that is precisely part of what so many Trump voters most fear–being caught up in a losing trajectory of history and change in which their natural response is to reach out and clutch at traditional symbols of honor, pride, tradition, and patriotism.That may be the most they can do as the nation changes–ethnically, racially, culturally, generationally.. And meanwhile all this comes against the devastating impact of Covid virus with its loss of jobs and businesses and familiar trappings of life–the whiff of the apocalyptic.
Trump’s legacy –particularly his supporters and the go-along get-along Republican congress–will be with us for some time to come. But how hard do we want to make this transition be? How violent, how much more angst-ridden, how enraged do we want it to be on all sides?
To impeach Trump as the last sweet humiliation liberals can hurl upon him is not in the interests of bringing about any healing or reconciliation to a Nation that is going to find these demographic shifts hard enough to negotiate anyway.
And perhaps, if we are alert, the experience of Trump, his message and style and the visceral reactions it created, tell us a lot about what needs to be fixed in America in general. It could be the long overdue wake-up call.
Trump is finally dangerous in one other sense as well: his gross style and actions make it all too easy for liberals to lay all the blame on Trump as a convenient repository, a comprehensive explanation, for all the deep social and economic ills and injustices that cry out for sharp reform. These issues are well known: decent national health care, removal of corporate funds from its utterly corrupting role in the political order, a veneration of the military which somehow enables us unthinkingly to spend trillions on losing wars overseas that have become a substitute for American diplomacy– monies that should be turned to rebuilding the nation in all senses. Taxing the very rich enough to reduce the rich-poor gap to what is seen as acceptable in most other countries in the West. These are the true issues of what National Security is all about, rather than the relentless search for new American military missions to find “new demons to slay abroad.”
The challenge lies at home. These events are a wake-up call to begin some kind of healing process, not seeking partisan vengeance.
*Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World, including “A World Without Islam”; his first novel is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan”; his second one is BEAR—a novel of eco-violence.