June 13, 2024

The Meaning Of Jan. 6, 2021 – Editorial Response III (Diana Able, Alyssa Putzer, Jared Lacy, Rachel Foley)

The following is the third of a series of responses on the part of the editorial staff of The New Polis to the events of January 6, 2021. The first one can be found here, the second 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. Below are responses from our four assistant editors.


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?

Dianna Able

Only weeks after the storming of the US Capitol, the events of January 6, 2021, have lost their luster and monopoly of conversation. Most Americans have seemingly returned to business as normal and cast a quick, disdainful glance towards the thousands of supposed patriots who joined in this “insurrection” without understanding the impacts and precedent thus created. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have cast sharp-tongued condemnations, yet continue to debate and elongate a governmental response. This is possible due to the age of mass media and the ability to directly communicate with the populace through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Looking at the words and actions published by government officials, specifically on Twitter, it’s obvious that the United States Congress is grappling with how to handle the events of January 6th while still trying to maintain the illusion of civil authority. 

In the age of fake news, many Americans turn to Twitter to interact with their elected officials. Officials can post direct statements, engage their constituency, and proclaim their views and motivations without a formal press release or certified statement. This is especially true for the former president himself, who used his account on the app to promote his platform and dispense his iconic rhetoric directly into the hands of the American population. POTUS-45 utilized this connection, offering his opinion and magnified words to nearly eighty million followers. As the 2020 election loomed, his tweets became more directed at promoting false narratives, culminating in his removal from the app on January 8th, 2021, after a multitude of his messages were flagged for incorrect or harmful language.

Immediately following the attack on the Capitol, members of Congress took to Twitter to call for an immediate expulsion of the president from office. These calls for expulsion also included congressmen who were seen as taking part in stoking the metaphorical fires of insurrection. Prominent voices spoke out from both parties calling for an immediate invocation of the 25th Amendment or new Articles of Impeachment. Americans quickly took hold of this language, calling for immediate action (with many joking about having to google the amendment to see what it means).

In a country with elected officials supposedly representing the interests of the people, the de-platforming of the “leader of the free world” prompted momentous conversations about power and the dissemination of truthful knowledge regarding our nation’s government proceedings. While those immersed in intellectual conversations about the US government may be able to arduously unearth accurate information and critically engage with elected officials, the events of January 6th and POTUS-45’s subsequent actions have alienated large swaths of the general population, including previously fervent POTUS-45 supporters.

The words dispensed by officials struggling to regain the confidence of the people falls on many deaf ears, as people have lost almost all trust in any form of news or media outlet. Axios reports that over POTUS-45’s term in office, trust in traditional media has plummeted nearly 20 percentage points from its height in 2019 to only 46 percent, while social media has fallen even further to 27 percent.

While the call for the 25th Amendment was denied by the vice president, the House of Representatives has passed POTUS-45’s second round of impeachment articles. Even with outspoken Congress members stressing the importance and necessity of a conviction, the failure of the first impeachment minimizes the effect this language has on American constituents. The “been there, done that” attitude is sweeping across the nation as citizens continue to lose faith in their government, no matter what political party with which they affiliate.

President Biden based his campaign on the idea of “unity”, spreading a message of bipartisan cooperation to heal a catastrophically divided nation. Although it may have landed him his victory, it’s unclear if Americans even want to unify. The harsh and malevolent language used by POTUS-45 has seeped into the hearts of many citizens, now devout on reclaiming their country as seen in the events of January 6th.

What is left then, is two political parties that are heavily entrenched in beliefs and distrustful of the other with no faith in news outlets.  With President Biden now inaugurated and in office, many hope to see some kind of change in rhetoric, yet the Trumpist legacy of unfounded claims has already resurfaced. Within hours of his inauguration, Republican Senator Marjorie Greene vowed, in a tweet, to file Articles of Impeachment against the new president for “abuse of power.” While this threat is logistically empty, it did get the Georgia congresswoman temporarily banned from Twitter for “spreading election misinformation.”

Moving forward, the distrust in the media in the age of fake news is likely to leave a lasting legacy. As Dr. Carl Raschke states in his response to the events of January 6th, “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 censure of the former president was applauded by many, yet showed the true power tech companies have over the American electorate and the elected.

If President Biden stays true to his message of unification, he has many hindrances to overcome in a short four years. How he navigates a post-Trump country will ultimately become a hallmark of his administration, and a change in presidential rhetoric will only carry so much weight.

Alyssa Putzer

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?

There has always been a deep divide between the right and the left in the United States. Republicans versus Democrats, Progressives versus Conservatives. In the past, the divide also made room for moderates, independents, and those who wavered between the right and the left. However, as time has gone on the gap has gotten greater and the number of politicians and members of the general public using more moderate rhetoric in their political discussions has dwindled, especially over the last four years during the Trump Administration.

Watching the four years of Donald Trump go by, it became increasingly obvious that political rhetoric was moving more toward far-right and far-left. Because of Trump’s radical politics, staunch conservative views, and lack of a filter, the political landscape changed for those choosing to run against him. While President Joe Biden originally held moderate views, his platforms when joining the race in 2020 were drastically more liberal than his views while serving as the vice president. In addition to that, Biden chose Kamala Harris – who was listed as the most liberal of all 100 senators on GovTrack.us  – as his running mate. Today, even views on how to handle the pandemic have become a Republican versus Democrat issue.

As politics has become more polarized than ever over the last four years – even more so in 2020 – political rhetoric has changed, as well. As a response to the actions and language of politicians, as well as events such as the death of George Floyd and the supposed “election fraud” that took place last year, people became increasingly more involved and vocal in their political and social views.

This decrease in moderate political rhetoric and increase in far-right and far-left political rhetoric, in my opinion, led to the events that took place on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol. The past year has widened the divide between Republicans and Democrats and made political affiliations more personal than ever before. As a result, a group of far-right, radical Trump supporters reacted to the certification of President Biden in anger and destruction. While some may label it a terrorist attack or a siege, I believe that it was strictly a reaction to a loss of power and a reaction to political rhetoric that has been normalized over the past four years. A rhetoric of “us versus them” and an attempt to “other” the other side.

The responses by elected officials to this event further strengthens this analysis. Trump posted a video message that, rather than condemning the events that were occurring at the White House as he spoke, almost encouraged the behavior, stating that he “loved” the insurrectionists. This is the rhetoric that the American people have experienced throughout his four years of presidency thatencouraged belief in conspiracy theories and seemed to support white supremacy and the views associated with it.  This regular rhetoric coming from U.S. elected officials was the impetus in the insurrection that occurred and sparked the violent reaction to a loss of power.

Jared Lacy

For my response to the events of January 6th at the US Capitol, I want to explore the rhetorical significance of the event to the hotly debated question of whether or not Trump is a fascist. In order to do this, I will first provide some preamble in order to situate Trump’s Presidency in relation to the crisis in neoliberal hegemony that in many ways has come to define US politics in the twenty-first century.

The feeling of relief that many Democrats, progressives, left-wingers, and liberals experienced upon learn of Joe Biden’s apparent, and now actual, victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election last November has been justifiably short-lived and arguably overblown. With doubts about the validity of the outcome and Trump’s refusal to concede, culminating—thus far—in the events of January 6th at the US Capitol, it seems clear that The United States is far from “out of the woods” both politically and culturally, even leaving aside the legitimate doubts that Biden will be willing or able to do anything to remedy the myriad social, political, and economic ills that we face.

In other words, Trumpism, despite Trump’s official defeat, is still a force in the American political landscape. One thing that has changed, however, with the waning of Trump’s power, as he has struggled to contest the election results by any means available—including, arguably inciting unlawful actions on the part of his supporters— is a change in rhetoric about the kind of threat that Trumpism represents.

Namely, Trump has gone from being seen as the fascist authoritarian, threatening to take military action against protesting US citizens, to being the inciter of insurrection and terrorism. While it might be somewhat dubious that either designation truly fits, given the rhetorical narrative of Trump as the outsider and the militia contingent of his supporters, the latter might ultimately be more appropriate.

In fact, as Carl Raschke has pointed out in his editorial response to the events of January 6th regarding Trump’s supposed authoritarianism, “although he was constantly accused of dog-whistling, it seems he never actually could bring himself to blow the bugle for the charge.” To the extent that Trump’s tweets and speech could be construed as blowing the bugle, it is, at this point, as the failed leader of a fascist revolution reduced to carrying out acts of terrorism.

Despite the dubious nature of Trump’s fascism, it is, however, not illegitimate to notice in the Trump phenomenon something that bears a certain resemblance to the historically contingent fascism of the mid-twentieth century. .  Indeed, countering an argument by Eliah Bures in Foreign Policy , Jay A. Gupta has conducted an analysis of Trumpism and the aesthetics of fascism based on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” wherein Benjamin “ominously warned of an aestheticized politics” (181). 

For Gupta, who tacitly accepts Bures’s definition of fascism as “a species of anti-liberalism, … [which] is decisively distinguished by its sheer savagery and barbarism” fascism is, likewise, “a peculiarly emotive politics” (181).

However, in light of his unconsummated authoritarianism, and the fact that, despite his show of objection, as of January 20th he has officially been removed from office primarily through electoral means, Trump’s role as a fascist leader of a fascist revolution is fairly easily dismissible.  Much like his (right-wing) populism, upon which these accusations are largely based, Trump’s fascist aesthetic has been mainly for show.  Nancy Fraser, in her book The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born  has pointed out that “far from governing as a reactionary populist, [Trump] … activated the old bait and switch, abandoning populist distributive policies his campaign had promised” (24).

In light of this bait and switch, and to position the question of fascism qua Trump in relation to look at a point of comparison which Fraser seems to over look.  Namely, while she dedicates a good amount of thought to the comparison of Bernie Sanders as the opposite equivalent to Trump along an axis of right-wing/left-wing populism, she does not address what could be a more fruitful comparison of positioning Trump as an opposite equivalent to Barack Obama. 

In other words, Obama’s campaign on the basis of hope/change rhetoric can be seen as a direct response to the crisis facing what Fraser refers to as the neoliberal hegemonic bloc, while his policies and actions in office, from the Affordable Care Act to his environmental initiatives, amounted to attempts to repackage market based solutions as the remedy to the problems facing neoliberalism.  To this end, Fraser states that “all told, the overwhelming trust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive-neoliberal status quo, despite its declining popularity” (20).

Both Presidents campaigned on the promise of change in response to the unpopularity of the neoliberal hegemonic bloc that Fraser so aptly describes as dying, while each actually did very little to affect the change they promised while in office.  Perhaps the main difference being that, while Obama’s “Yes We Can” attempted to maintain a sense of sunny liberal optimism, Trump’s “drain the swamp” does contain a note of the anti-liberal emotiveness of Gupta’s fascist aesthetic.  I believe that this observation contains a certain key to understanding the strange appeal of Trumpism and the fanatical devotion that his supporters, those at the Capitol on January 6th, have for him.

Obama’s attempts to more appealingly repackage neoliberalism as the progressive solution came nowhere near addressing the actual cause of the problem, namely neoliberalism itself.  Meanwhile, Trump, playing on a long popular sentiment of distrust of government and politicians, which Foucault refers to in The Birth of Biopolitics as “state-phobia” (76), manages to convincingly highlight the political corruption which is an important component of the crisis of neoliberalism.  A major problem with Trumpism, then, beyond the intentional divisiveness of Trump’s reactionary populist rhetoric, is that his emphasis on entrepreneurship and rugged individualism simply offers more of the same as the solution to a problem that he partially successfully identifies.

In other words, following Slavoj Žižek’s discussion of “politics proper” in his book The Ticklish Subject, Trump and his movement are entirely post-political, in that for Žižek politics proper always consists of “the excluded, those with no fixed place within the social edifice, present[ing] themselves as the representatives, the stand-ins, for the Whole of Society, for the true Universal” (221) and “is not simply something that works well within the framework of the existing relation,  but something that changes the very framework that determines how things work” (237).  Trumpism fails on both of these accounts. 

Firstly, the fact that Trump supporters often embrace the statement, “all lives matter” in opposition to BLM demonstrates their rejection of political necessity of a particular that stands for the universal in favor of a universal that stands for their own particularity. Second, in buying into Trump’s proposed solutions, they demonstrate that they don’t want to change anything, but rather want to restore the framework of the existing relation, which they see as degraded.

As they say, the most effective lies contain an element of truth.  Thus, there is a certain tragic sympathy that could legitimately be extended to the participant of the January 6th siege on the Capitol, however unjustifiable their actions are, in that they are operating on the basis of half-truths and genuinely see themselves as patriots. They are attempting to fight against actual corruption—this being the case whether or not there is a shred of truth to claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

In the rhetorical significance of the events of January 6th and its aftermath, we can see what perhaps Nancy Fraser was unable to fully predict in her short book.  Yes, the old has been dying and the new cannot be born, but what Trump has ultimately paved the way for is the rebirth—at least for now—of the old, i.e., progressive neoliberalism.  The rhetoric of progressives responding to this significant event, which can perhaps most clearly be observed in their social media presences, heralds this rebirth. 

Progressives who since this past summer have engaged in a rhetoric of defund (if not abolish) the police and the acronym A.C.A.B (all cops are bastards), which suggest that the problem with policing is not a matter of a few bad apples, as the saying goes, but a fundamental wrongness at the very core of the institution of the police—in other words, any cop who does his job is fundamentally in the wrong—are now outraged that the Capitol police failed to do their job on January 6th

While it is granted that this complaint comes from a place of frustration about the hypocrisy involved in the way the MAGA protesters where treated by the police versus the police reactions to BLM protests over the summer, the rhetorical effect of complicity with law enforcement remains.  It can likewise be seen in the glee that is frequently expressed on social media at news of the subsequent arrests of protest participants. 

To be clear, objection to the hypocrisy of police response is a absolutely legitimate critique that needs to be made, however, if a sustained critique of policing in the US is to be maintained, those who seek to affect change in this area need to be careful to avoid the temptation of celebrating or calling for police violence in the name of equal treatment.  It is a move toward the right.  This is especially clear when we recall that the apparatus of state violence, which is reinforced through demands that MAGA protesters be dealt with more harshly, is the same as that which has historically and continually carried out cultural and physical genocide against this continent’s native population and enslaved and oppressed the Black population. 

As The New Polis General Editor Roger Green has pointed out, “persistent states of emergency will push traditional liberals to keep moving further toward the right.”  That is precisely what we see in the responses of progressives who label the purveyors of this MAGA protest stunt “terrorist.”  It is an avowed denouncement of violence, and, contrary to the position of certain Trump supporters who would contrast this denouncement to the violence of this summer’s BLM protests, the hypocrisy lies elsewhere. 

That is to say, implicit in the embrace of police violence—as long as it is directed toward one’s political adversaries—and the rhetoric of the sacredness of our democratic institutions, is an embrace of a disavowed violence that comes from, to quote Roger Green again, a failure of  “Americans [to] confront the legacies of those rhetorically erased in their competing narrative of triumph,” which enables “the dialectical engine of genocide and extraction for exceptionally ‘elected’ eurochristian citizens [to] … continue, despite dramatic performance between ‘right’ and ‘left.’”

In The Ticklish Subject Žižek puts forth a definition of fascism that differs from that of Gupta/Bures, saying that “the Fascist Revolution is thus the answer to the question: what do we have to change so that, ultimately, nothing will really change?” (238)  From this we can see that Trump is not quite the leader of a fascist revolution, but merely a component, and that far from the showboating fascist aesthetic in which Trump has relished for the last four years, true American Fascism, if such a thing exists, does so simply as a continuation of business as usual.

Rachel Foley

I’ve been thinking a lot about revolution lately. In the last year of the Trump administration, while everyone was dying of COVID-19 or protesting for Black Lives Matter or protesting wearing masks (and the vastly different ways these different groups of protesters were treated), I witnessed the most infuriating apathy to the strife on the everyman by the government of the United States of America. The only thing that was getting done was the campaigning to keep the power over us. If you have read the Spiderman comics, you know that “with great power comes great responsibility”. But with this president, there has been no responsibility, no accountability in the American government for a long time.

So, I wanted revolution. I read Alain Badiou and Karl Marx and Malcolm X and felt a surge, a need to change the status quo to something resembling equity, equality, and justice. Following January 6th though, I’m concerned that revolution and insurrection could be the same thing, and I can’t help seeing the hypocrisy in feeling that I have a moral high ground over the thousands of people who were there to enact change. What is it about this particular event that feels so viscerally wrong, feels like a violation “of democracy”?And what is the right way to start a revolution? What are the right reasons? How do you know you’re on the right side?

With some time and space from the attack on the capital, with new information being released every day, we learn how deep the insurrection went and how well it was organized and funded. The people there believed they had the approval of the president, and in fact, thought he would pardon them if they were to be charged for their role in the attack. They had planned to kidnap, take hostages, and kill anyone they were told was an enemy. They brought zip ties to bind their prey. They chanted to hang the vice president of the United States. There is no question that many there were willing to do whatever it took in order to right the wrong they felt had occurred in certifying Joe Biden as the next president.

There are debates among pundits, news anchors/ journalists, and politicians about if former President Trump should be impeached still, when he’s now out of the White House and the reach of his vitriol is much more limited, having been banned from many social media sites and his microphone taken away. They want to paint him in the light of a harmless old man, who can’t hurt us anymore. But consequences are crucial at a time like this.

Yes, he may have skittered away with his tail between his legs, to the point where a person might feel bad for him if they had forgotten that he encouraged the insurrection from his office. But he needs to be impeached and voted to never hold office again because even as we speak, he is talking about “starting a third party”. This should scare the Republicans because he could very well take a portion of Republican voters away from the mainstream Republicans and fracture the party in a way that it might never be repaired.

In short, the “Law and Order President” needs to be held to the same law that the rest of us are. The entire four years of his presidency were marred by him and the people closest to him evading a lot of the consequences for their inappropriate, unlawful behavior, and as an American, it has been disheartening to watch the highest office flout the law. Why does he get a pass for the insurrection because he’s left office? Why, when his followers have been hunted and arrested for their part in the insurrection, is he, the ringleader, still free?

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