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Reichstag Fire in DC: Can American democracy disintegrate?

Jan 6 was to be perfect set-up for a power grab that would let Trump stay in power

reichstag trump reuters A collage of the Reichstag Fire (Wikipedia Commons) and US President Donald Trump (Reuters)

 It was to be a 'wild' march, a flashpoint at the Capitol that would allow President Donald Trump to declare martial law and re-run the election, throwing out the results already certified by all 50 states. It was to be America’s Reichstag Fire. The chaos was to be the perfect set-up for a power grab that would let Trump remain in power and disintegrate the very fabric of democracy.

It started as a Trump-manufactured lie that he did not lose the election, then that there was massive fraud, then that it was a landslide, then that Joe Biden and the Democrats were stealing the election and the country, then that the country would not survive unless patriots put their lives on the line to “take our country back”. It was a big lie that today has 67 per cent of Republicans still believing it (considering 74 million voted for Trump, that is an estimated 50 million people).

Now Washington DC is as much a war zone as Baghdad’s Green Zone. All 50 state capitals are under alert, and the continuity of American democracy is uncertain. CNN says there are more US military personnel positioned around the US capital than in all US active war zones combined. “It is a war zone,” because Republicans are potentially wanting to attack, said the network.

“Our country will be destroyed and we are not going to stand for that,” were the inciting words from America’s president, now impeached for his role.

Nine days later, the US is bracing for more attacks, and the FBI is warning of upcoming violence and growing fears of far-rightwing terrorism. “There is a direct threat to all 50 states capitals.” Every road around the US capital is reporting a security checkpoint in the manner that Kabul is secured.

To be clear, it was far-rightwing extremists that carried out an attempted anti-American government revolution that in less than a matter of days destroyed the image that dominated the idea of America for more than 244 years and may well change the path of history.

In short, the animated dynamic of the attacks was driven by Trump’s effort to deny acceptance of the results of the election he lost. It was compounded by a social explosion unchained upon lawmakers aimed at installing power by force or combat and executing Trump’s political opponents, and even his vice-president for not breaking his Constitutional role and pretending the lie was the truth.

Riding on the 74 million+ votes he received in his losing effort during the election, Trump has positioned himself as more powerful than the party and than the country that once elected him. And he continues to do so, still refusing to acknowledge the Biden-Harris win in the elections, and insinuating that he will somehow continue to carry on as a president in exile, a victim of a stolen election who can run some sort of shadow government during the Biden term.

With 95.2 per cent of elected Republicans backing Trump and voting against his impeachment in Congress, the country is at a stand-off. Democracy is disintegrating. One party, the Republican Party, is leading a domestic insurgency, having decided in its political class and large numbers of citizens that the way to power is lies and violence rather than discourse and values.

After months of build-up with enabling lies, the true mobilisation started after the Trump speech, the Proud Boys and Trump sympathisers have been standing by until they got their marching orders from Trump himself. Congressional Republicans carried out their orders and voted to reject the votes being presented to Congress. It was truly a breathtaking moment of anti-democratic actions in the country that has been telling the world how important it was to accept the results of its free and fair elections.

The impact of this transcends international borders and American society. The US stands divided by one man — Trump — and profoundly wounded by the recent events. And that transcends all claims of stability and continuity of government. Already, there is a dangerous schism between whatever government Trump had and the incoming Biden Administration. There is limited communication when there is cooperation and outright hostility to the incoming government from Trump officials and Trump and Melania themselves, despite the adolescent optics of refusing to speak with the Bidens.

What Trump’s lies created is a moment of rapture that convocated a march on the Capitol itself. Pence reportedly came within a minute of “Hang Pence” mobs reaching the dais where he was speaking. Violence supplanted Trump’s words and became hand-to-hand combat in America’s marble halls of democracy.

It was an incident to seize power, and it is not entirely clear it failed. Intelligence officers are telling the media that extremists are emboldened by their perceived success in breaking into the US Capitol. The building did not burn, but the fires of this American Reichstag Fire smoulder still. This is why the US is on a high state alert, still fuelled and not renounced by President Trump who keeps lying to his followers, telling them he won the election.

The American Capitol, with 20,000 National Guardsmen sleeping in its rotunda is the slow-burning Reichstag. Trump’s ire is not done, the anger that he unleashed is alive in millions of heavily armed supporters, reportedly looking for blood. And the media is just now beginning to unravel the truths that can unmask the events of January 6. There are multiple ways and possibilities for events to play out.

It is worth noting that in 1933 Germany, the aftermath of the Reichstag Fire served to suspend civil liberties, to take control and to challenge the results of the election, which enabled the Nazis to move on to the establishment of the dictatorship. It did not happen all at once, just like it is not happening all at once in America today. Incremental steps in that direction have been moving since the first lie that moved Trump ahead in power.

No, Germany did not become a dictatorship overnight; it was a weaving of one step here, one step there that added up to total Nazi control—its democracy did not collapse, it disintegrated slowly.

This is why America’s situation is critical today. These types of mass actions, huge mobilisations of enthusiastic people and boiling anger have the potential of long-lasting impact upon society and to unravel democracy, cowing politicians and tumbling foundations to the violent actions of resentful nationalists.

Trump harnesses those forces now and threatens to continue to inflame them through the Biden-Harris administration. Will this continue to disintegrate a large portion of Americans from its national identity, from the image of a country that functions as one with one national direction and set of values? Will this forever destabilise an American democracy barely patched together by thousands of, perhaps, ambivalent soldiers ordered to ensure it is not shredded by Trumpians?

America has been there before when white supremacist Jefferson Davis refused to accept the defeat of the Confederacy. That it survived as a nation is a function in great part of the greatness of president Abraham Lincoln as a leader.

Davis was ultimately arrested passing himself off as a woman. What happens to Trump as he passes himself off as a patriot and plays on the American patriot delusion is not as clear, but what happens to America is now far more dependent on the greatness of the Biden-Harris team, on its ability to rise beyond the radicalisation brought on by Trump’s lies and to re-create a union the way Lincoln did and the way the greatest ideals of humankind shoved aside the ultimately losing Nazis.

Germany went through brutal dictatorship, re-education camps, repression camps, death camps and worse without intellectuals and its political class moving to stop the rise of fascism. Trump’s supporters wore shirts of Auschwitz camps and 6MWNE (6 million Jews was not enough) shirts. They carried racist flags and threatened to kill even Trump team people perceived as disloyal such as vice-president Pence who had to run from “Where’s Mike Pence” and “Hang Mike Pence” mobs. That, too, is another Hitler play. The US is reporting the rioters planned to capture and assassinate government officials.

Hitler used the Proud Boys of his day to go out and kill those who would be disloyal in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, so consolidating power. It came very close to that in Washington this January 6. It was to be the American Day of the Long Knives, a prelude to martial law.

Trump is not a Nazi, but he is much worse, he is an American anti-American, contemptuous of the establishment, of democracy, of a big portion of its people, he is a wink-and-nod anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-Jews, and even anti-the American Constitution. He is an American original, even as he proves to be the nation’s Kryptonite.

Hitler was once a mendicant. Trump was never poor. He has had a life of privilege that has allowed him to chart his own course and to carry himself in ways that project his blonde hair, his white skin and his white supremacist views in a manner that validates the yearnings of millions of people who resent inclusion and have made their grievances their identity.

Trump’s American authoritarianism — America first, I alone can fix it, Mexico will pay for it, go after the weak ones — appeals to them to the point they can claim to be patriots while discarding all things American in favour of a kitschy one-man cult that is anathema to American democracy even while using Americanism as a cloak.

Will this false man ultimately carry the day and escape the dragnet of democratic saviours? Will Trump be allowed to continue to foment the undoing of American cohesion and strength? Will this American Reichstag Fire burn slowly and light Trump’s return?

Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the pitchforks pointed against them and turn them into a new cultural force that establishes truth, real order, the law and democracy on solid ground through actions grand enough to last another 100 years?

Stay tuned.

Milan Sime Martinic is a writer and researcher. His debut novel, IRONWAY: Watching over Benjamin Hill, has been translated into five languages.

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