By Carl Boggs
The January Sixth events in Washington D.C., depicted in the corporate media as Donald Trump’s epic “incitement to riot”, were instantly greeted by Democrats as the worst assault ever on American democracy, the plot to establish a police state -- a coup d’etat, the final desperate act of a deranged tyrant. That might be considered the surface reality. Framed differently, the Dems could not have been happier, for these same events opened up the floodgates: total war against the despised Republicans, now easily demonized as “domestic terrorists”, could finally be taken up in earnest. A perfect scenario for winning maximum power had been laid.
Beyond the moment of Capitol pandemonium the Democrats could uncover, without much difficulty, the finest of all gifts -- a political godsend. Like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, excruciating national trauma would give the power elite just what it coveted – here the great opportunity to frame Trump and his circle as enemies of the state, collectively damned to ideological purgatory. January Sixth, like December Seventh before it, would serve as political code for converting national calamity into wondrous new possibilities, new victories.
The Democrats, having already solidified power in the White House, Congress, and the media, could now move toward a scorched-earth strategy – a war of annihilation. And that is precisely what has been occurring for the past several months: a media feeding-frenzy around all Republicans deemed yahoos, white supremacists, and terrorists; an endless round of “investigations” revealing (once-again!) the venality, and banality, of anyone who ever voted for the evil Donald Trump; a series of Moscow-style show trials depicting trespassers as a gang of barbarians at the gate, ever prepared to “destroy our democracy”.
In his book Cultures of Militarism, historian John Dower describes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as “political godsend”, a moment when humiliating military defeat (“day of infamy”) would allow president Franklin Roosevelt to do what he desperately wanted to do but could not in the face of an “isolationist” American public opinion—bring the U.S. into World War II. Pearl Harbor turned out to be a great blessing in disguise for FDR, whose famous eight-point program effectively provoked the Japanese into attacking the Pacific fleet in Hawaii. In the end, after four difficult years, victory would be heroically wrestled from defeat.
After what was portrayed as a “sneak attack” (military operations are supposed to be advertised in advance?), the New York Herald Tribune could exalt: “Since the clash now appears to have been inevitable, its occurrence brings with it a sense of relief. The air is clearer. Americans can now get down to their task [of waging war] with the old obstacles finally removed, forgotten.” All opposition to U.S. entry into the war was effectively obliterated in two hours one early Sunday morning. Democratic politicians, joined by a good many Republicans, were now ready to bring military combat to Japan: the attack had given FDR all the power, not to mention legitimacy, any president could possibly desire. Since 1941 Pearl Harbor has been ideological code for maximum executive freedom, and Roosevelt enthusiastically took up the challenge.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, shock turned to resolve, momentary defeat to righteous commitment. Victim status would be quickly transformed into its opposite. Roughly the same dynamic would be repeated at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which gave president George W. Bush “permission” to do what he and the neocons were already hellbent on doing – invading Iraq and “finishing the job” of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. In both cases – Pearl Harbor and 9/11 – national humiliation was mobilized to “reset” U.S. foreign policy.
For the contemporary incarnation of Democratic elites – Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, et. al. – January Sixth at the Capitol could not have been more timely, more opportune. Truly another godsend. A jolt to the system, however feeble, partial, and ill-fated, would demand sustained vigilance, pursuit, and monitoring across the public landscape. Viewed as thoroughly complicit, Republicans would be thrown onto the defensive, completely immobilized. Pelosi, ready as ever for vengeful action, would say: “The situation of this unhinged president could not be more dangerous. He chose to be an insurrectionist.” Trump’s behavior (in riling up demonstrators) was nothing short of seditious, a crime deserving severe retribution. Other Democrats quickly followed this template, amplified by a monolithically frenzied media. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, vocal as ever and presumably speaking for the squad, said: “I do believe we should exercise every avenue possible because the president has shown that his mental status and his actions are wildly eroding at a rapid pace.” Trump represents a “clear and present danger to our democracy”, and must be removed from office by any means possible.
Not to be overshadowed, Senator Chuck Schumer, reprising “Pearl Harbor” no less, would state: “I have never lived through or even imagined an experience like the one we have just witnessed in this Capitol. President Franklin Roosevelt set aside December 7, 1941 as a day that will live in infamy. Unfortunately, we can now add January 6, 2021 to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.” Oblivious to months of fire bombings, lootings, beatings, and killings across the streets and buildings of dozens of American cities (criminality with apparently no end in sight), Schumer would add: “The temple of democracy was desecrated, its windows smashed, our offices vandalized.” More recently, President Biden has rendered his own insightful opinion: January Sixth is the worst thing to happen to American society since the Civil War!
The authoritarian, virtually fascistic response of the media and political establishment was swift and, well, unhinged: the House was moving to impeach the president, again, Trump was banned from Twitter and other social-media outlets, with Republicans (even those with no complicity in the Capitol actions) facing censorship, blacklisting, job loss, and smear campaigns. The silencing of conservatives across the Internet had predictably reached new heights. The long-entertained Beltway goal to destroy Trump, his family, and associates seemed near fruition, hopefully given adequate momentum by all the trials, investigations, and media hysteria. Democrats are fully resolved to make sure Trump cannot run for the presidency in 2024. The threat of “domestic terrorism” calls, as always, for a sharp Hobbesian response: intensified state power, greater elite vigilance, the crushing of political opposition. For the immediate future, at least, any Republican hopes for blowback would have to pass through a few ideological minefields.
As Dower noted, the ideological code emanating from “Pearl Harbor” included yet another motif: the familiar stereotype of Asians (at that time) as sneaky, backstabbing, irrational, uncivilized was clearly validated on December Seventh. Who else could carry out such a dastardly “sneak attack”? Precisely the same ideological code would apply to those deplorable Trump supporters – a motley assemblage of gun-toting racists and neo-Nazis. Didn’t those sanctimonious CNN pundits always warn about the backward, rightwing white-supremacists congregating around the Orange Menace? Indeed. The truth was finally brought home for every Beltway dweller to relish: Trump followers, including tens of millions of voters, would now have to pay, their collective guilt obvious amidst the ashes of January Sixth.
So when enlightened Democrats proclaim their heartfelt sadness for the fate of the Republic, for that evil subversion of “our democracy”, it might be time to look more closely beneath the surface – or maybe to head for the hills. If there were any bars open in their neighborhoods, that is probably where Pelosi, AOC, Adam Schiff, and other “victims” of the Orange Menace might be found gathering to celebrate, toasting to their good fortune. Whether such celebrations might be long-lived, however, could be another matter. Fascistic politics has a tendency to devour its own ruthless protagonists.