The following is the second of a series of responses on the part of the editorial staff of The New Polis to the events of January 6, 2021. The earlier one can be found here.
In the wake of the events at the Unites States’ Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the editorial staff at The New Polis has decided to open a discussion of the rhetorical implications surrounding the events. We understand that developments are unfolding as well. We will have multiple responses to the following question developed by one of our staff members, Jared Lacy.
Coming on the heels of what many consider to be a year defined by ongoing states of emergency, from the Coronavirus pandemic to protests – both for the Movement for Black Lives and against COVID lockdown protocols – to uncertainty over the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential Election, the events of January 6,2021 at the US Capitol are momentous. They have clearly taken place within a continuity, not only with the events of the past year, but also in the context of the larger history of United States politics. In light of these macro- as well as micro- views of US politics and the crises they signal, what in your view is the rhetorical significance of these most recent events? How would you analyze the rhetoric used to address them publicly by elected officials and members of the media, especially as we attempt to understand our contemporary drift toward a state of emergency?
Carl Raschke’s Response.
It is uncertain at this point whether we are in the last days of the Trump administration or the last days of Pompei. As Abraham Lincoln famously put it with the aid of a familiar Biblical trope, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It is dubious whether a divided house can stand much longer.
Whether Biden or Trump actually won the 2020 Presidential election is now largely irrelevant. If Trump had actually won as his supporters are convinced, there would have assuredly been violent pushback and protest by the same multi-minions that gathered in Washington D.C. right after his inauguration and christened themselves “The Resistance”. This time they would probably have been no more peaceful that the mob that stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, especially with the aid of ANTIFA which has now become the official storm troopers of the left in America.
Now that Biden is the official winner, the establishment Democrats in tight alliance with the tech mafia and their street soldiers in the media, who once upon a time bore some resemblance to genuine news reporters, have moved to silence all shades of opinion on the “integrity” of the election other than it was without any “irregularities” whatsoever. The hope among the momentarily triumphant half of the divided house is that the four-year siege of their cozy progressive neoliberal thought bubble is over.
The strategy is to make sure now there is nothing in the future for the Resistance to resist. Rick Klein, political director of ABC News, demanded that the entire Trump legacy be “cleaned up” because the “threats” of Trumpism “will outlast Donald Trump.” Interestingly, before a massive outcry forced ABC to bowdlerize his rhetoric, Klein had used the term “cleanse”, which obviously implies violent suppression and even genocide, instead of “clean up.” For Klein, the “utter lawlessness and disorder”, the “carnage in the seat of government” on Jan. 6 must never be allowed to happen again – ever.
For four years the liberal mandarins on both the West and East Coasts routinely rallied their troops around the fear that Trump the “authoritarian” and his allegedly brown-shirted following, which did indeed harbor its own visible share of country boy, prepper-style warlordists and Confederate flag-waving, old-school racist crackers, would move inexorably and violently to squash the other half of the country like toads in the road. It never happened of course, even after the riots that ensued after the BLM protests in the summer. The riots carried out by the left would most likely never have happened if its shrewd base of activists seriously believed that Trump would bring the hammer down on them.
Trump demagogued his way through four years juicing the adrenaline of everyone on the right from the Proud Boys to Mark Levin. Although he was constantly accused of dog-whistling, it seems he never actually could bring himself to blow the bugle for the charge. About the most “authoritarian” thing he did carry out was to thumb his nose at Congress and appropriate on his own through accounting subterfuge the funds to build his cherished Border Wall, which he proudly touted on Tuesday as perhaps his last nostalgic turning of the page for his own plucky portfolio of outsize rhetorical emphemera.
As Slavoj Zizek points out in a recent op-ed piece, “Trump is a populist who remains within the system. Like any populism, his version also distrusts political representation, pretending to speak directly for the people – it complains about how its hands are tied by the ‘deep state’ and financial establishment, so its message is: ‘if only we didn’t have our hands tied, we would be able to do away with our enemies once and for all.’”
If he ever really had “fascist” blood in his veins, he would have gone full sovereign weeks ago after the election and used the military to declare martial law.
The riot, or “insurrection”, or “terrorist attack”, or “putsch”, or “sacrilege against democracy”, or whatever one’s overdetermined political palavering wants to name it managed to lay bare two deep truths about the flesh-eating bacteria that is fast rotting away the musculature of the American Republic.
The first is that the angry Trump “base” is now angrier than anyone might have predicted. And it appears obvious at this point that the moneyed, bi-coastal , urban, progressive neoliberal oligarchs that command almost all mainstream media talking points and their reinforcement through a docile mainstream press corps in a quotidian manner, which baited the populist beast sufficiently with their vilification of “deplorables” in the run-up to the 2016 election so that they might elect a self-aggrandizing, trash-talking opportunist such as Trump, will now pull out the throttle.
The second truth is that the official guardians of truth – the judges, the journos, the commentators, the professoriat – have now proven in the eyes of the less articulate half of the electorate that they are not only sophists, but hypocriters, grifters, and in many instances outright liars never again to be trusted.
The issue that provoked the Jan. 6 “march on Washington” was of course the charge of widespread election fraud. The fact that no serious attempt was ever made on the part of any reputable independent commission of inquiry, or any institutionalized arbiter of public opinion wielding some kind of executive authority or juridical gravitas to take up and examine the claims of fraud, notwithstanding several largely partisan state legislative committees, created an explosive situation in January.
As Zizek painfully points out, “the US is a rogue country, and not just when Trump became its President: the ongoing (almost) civil war displays a rift that was there all the time.”
If the claims had been scattered and consigned to the fringes of politics, a persistent and polite nod accompanied by an averted gaze would have definitely been in order. However, solid suspicion of “election-rigging” mushroomed among a significant minority of the voting public between Nov. 3 to Jan. 6. Even The Washington Post admitted the level of suspicion was completely unprecedented.
A Quinnipiac poll on Dec. 10 found that 77 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of the electorate as a whole “believe there was widespread fraud in the presidential election. Other polls, all of which were conducted before Christmas, show similar results.
“Fact-checking” websites like PolitiFact , which more often than not try to spin rather than check or confirm what is factual, performed all sorts of verbal gymnastics to dismiss this magnitude of doubt about the elections as inconsequential. But the doubts continued to be exacerbated by the increasingly vicious habit of the mainstream media to gaslight objectors with the even more specious statement that complaints of election fraud were “baseless” or “without evidence” (even though one crowd-sourced website listed 1600 instances of documented “evidence”).
And by New Year’s Day the media itself was in flat-out martinet mode with a crescendo of accusations that challenging the election was in itself a grave danger to democracy. Of course, the right to challenge an election is not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is laid out in detail by the United Nations in sec. IV:16-19 of its official handbook on the management of “free and fair elections.”
With the general refusal of the courts to hear the objectors, the corporate media’s characterization of them as miscreants bordering on criminals, social media’s outright banning of them, and some employers blacklisting them or actually firing them, it is not at all far-fetched to deduce that the United States systemically committed human rights violations in a textbook manner. And this was all before the “insurrection” itself took place.
None of the foregoing, of course, is intended to excuse the bluster and bombast of Trump, whose time in office became a metaphorical hazardous waste dump for the varieties of political vexation spawned by the economic disenfranchisement of the working class through machinations of what Bernard Stiegler has dubbed the new “cognitive capitalism”, which has fostered obscene wealth inequalities between the educated and less educated segments of society.
Through his uncanny ability to leverage his own contentious persona and barely literate style of delivery to elevate “the forgotten man” (in Franklin Roosevelt’s well-known, populist trope) over the snarky elites, Trump made visible for the first time the open wounds which had been suppurating for several decades in American society and in the economy, and which had been effectively suppressed at the same time by the convenient conceit that the “culture wars” were not au fond an intensifying class war.
Trump also exposed the congenital American racism that had only gone gangrenous during the ballyhooed “post-racial” reign of Barack Obama, as the egregious incidents of police brutality and the urban riots of June 2020 brought to everyone’s attention.
Trump’s resort to the outdated and coded rhetoric of “law and order” only served to draw attention to his own boorish character while allowing the progressive neoliberal moguls to deflect public attention from the fact that the militarized police forces in left-leaning, urban municipalities – the focus of virulent outrage on the part of African-Americans – had been trained, outfitted, and professionally scripted over the years to guarantee security for what Richard Florida termed the new “creative class” that had swarmed into and taken over the downtown cores of cities, erasing the ethnic diversity that long was their hallmark.
The progressive elites have won the battle, it seems, but it is a Pyrrhic victory, since they have actually lost the war. The coherence of the American political experiment always depended on the general acceptance by all classes in what theoretically was supposed to be a classless society of the somewhat utopian idea that a unum of mutual consent could be wrested out of the pluribus of racial, ethnic, sexual, and political differences. The unreality of that idea was underscored early on with the embedding in the Constitutional arrangement itself of the inequality of white masters and black, which was amplified in term with the genocidal erasure of the original Native American landholders.
The cognitive elites and professional classes have posed as “truth-tellers” about America’s tarnished heritage. But they have now forfeited their privileged agency in pushing that narrative while decidedly demonstrating their own financial corruption and refusal to abide by the norms of free expression that are the very leaven of truth-telling in orgies of arbitrary censorship of the voices of the less articulate, a system of institutionalized intellectual thuggery that has come to be known as “cancel culture.”
Even their favored mantra that they are defending “people of color” against the ubiquitous oppressiveness that is “whiteness” was belied by the surge in voter support for him in the last election by blacks and Latinos.
In the end Trumpism is as likely to wither away in the form that sustained it during the suzerainty of Donald Trump himself as to be resurrected, now that the white professional ruling class can no longer pretend that its rhetoric of racism and racial justice is designed primarily to preserve its own entrenched economic privileges that perpetuates the real racial caste system in America. It will be resurrected perhaps as a rainbow coalition of real populists covenanted to the “sacred” principles of both racial and class equity, the people who swore their sacred honor for Bernie Sanders, but were squashed like a toad on the road by the neoliberal 18-wheeler along with the Trumpists.
We can imagine its resurrected body to be something like what the term “populism” genuinely implies, one that once and for all rears up out of the murk of history and forces the neoliberal leviathan once and for all to its knees, growling and gyring in its tethers.
Carl Raschke is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, specializing in Continental philosophy, art theory, the philosophy of religion and the theory of religion. He is an internationally known writer and academic, who has authored numerous books and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from postmodernism to popular religion and culture to technology and society. Recent books include Postmodern Theology: A Biopic(Cascade Books, 2017), Critical Theology: An Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis(IVP Academic, 2016), Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2015) and The Revolution in Religious Theory: Toward a Semiotics of the Event (University of Virginia Press, 2012). His newest book is entitled Neoliberalism and Political Theology: From Kant to Identity Politics, (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). He is also Senior Consulting Editor for The New Polis.