With the speed of the news cycle being what it is, the temptation is to move on quickly, lest one appear to be behind the curve. That urge needs to be absolutely resisted in the case of the US Capitol invasion.
This is such a strange and significant event that its full import is difficult to assimilate. As with any moment in which capital-H History actually makes an appearance amid the trivia and detritus of history, the tendency is to shuffle the event into pre-existing categories and move on.
But that simply can’t be done with the Capitol invasion. As the truth of this event, or multiplicity of such becomes more visible, it is clear that its initial appearance disguised its real character.
What appeared to be an expression of the dark, carnivalesque character of the American right — their co-option and continuation of the ’60s yippie style politics — was only one side of the picture, and essentially acted as cover.
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There was plenty of that to go around, such as the so-called “Q Shaman”, of the horns and fur and face paint, a would-be actor who lives in his mom’s basement.
Yet after a few days of these features, it became clear that the core of the event had been quite different, not a wander through the marble halls of power made possible by state incompetence and complicity, but a desperate struggle in several places that constituted a raw challenge to the US state, and which could have ended in multiple assassinations and many deaths.
As it turns out, the Capitol invasion was not only openly planned and discussed online, it was accompanied by half a dozen attacks and would-be occupations of capitol buildings in state capitols across the country.
This is a model that the disparate forces of MAGA, QAnon, etc, could easily scale up for the inauguration. But of course the movement has missed its great strategic opportunity, for the complacency of law and order has gone — and the movement’s explicit sympathisers within the state will be keeping vewwy quiet.
The inauguration and its satellite events — once an important part of the American mystique, of a nation favoured by God — will now be ringed by thousands of troops, many of them currently bivouacking in the marble halls of DC.
That is an achievement for the MAGA crowd– to make power visible — but not for that section of the mob, who had talked of assassinations and executions of Congress members as part of the great “storm” that was coming.
Rather than ask how they got so close to doing this, it’s worth asking why they did not. Here was a crowd with a firm idea of the illegitimacy of their government, with an opportunity to ramp up tension to a crisis point, which might draw out a million or so militia as people chose sides.
In that, they had a symmetry with external US state enemies, Al-Qaeda in particular. Yet at some point, they were constrained not by morals but by a lack of will, a lack of the real. Yet such a single atrocity would have absolutely achieved what they sought.
Like the agitated, goaded Boston Massacre of 1770, Sinn Fein’s shambolic takeover of Dublin’s Four Courts in 1916, or Black September’s destruction of passenger jets in the Jordan desert a half-century ago, the rhetoric of the act would have echoed vastly, made much happen.
The Capitol mob had it within their grasp, the cracking open of elite power that they sought. What stopped them? Surely, it wasn’t some sudden realisation of what it is to kill in cold blood. They never got that close to the actual situation. The cable ties remained unused, the guns stayed holstered.
Revolutions are made when the determination of insurgency meets a fatal lack of confidence in the ruling powers. The Capitol mob had their one shot last week and they threw it away.
Bizzarely, the Capitol mob got as close to creating an upheaval in metropolitan western power as did the urban uprising of Paris, May 1968. Despite their very different politics, there is commonality between the mob and the ’68ers, in their revolution against reality — or reality as defined by the regime in place.
‘Demand the impossible’ and ‘under the streets, the beach’ had the same demand on reality as does, in a congealed and deadened form, the Q conspiracy and the MAGA notion.
The latter demands something — a return of US total dominance and ever-expanding prosperity/consumerism, the glorious, glutinous bacchanal from the ’50s onwards — that the world daily tells Americans is now impossible.
There is no great strutting adventure left for the country as a whole, only managing a low growth western economy in a multipolar world.
The adventure is with blacks, Latinx, women, LGBTIQ, all those fighting for the next stage of a half-century of liberation. MAGA is powered by deep envy, a hunger for the meaning that movements like Black Lives Matter provides.
BLM’s programme looks ambitious; compared to the MAGA crowd, it is modesty itself. Like the radical Anabaptists of 16th century Munster, or the Red Guards of 1967 Shanghai, the MAGA crowd are storming heaven, storming reality.
They are fools and clowns manipulated by noxious (and more tech-savvy) racists, but it would be a mistake to miss the vaulting ambition that is present. If this were just about race, MAGA and Q would not have grown as it has. What many are noticing, cannot help but notice, is how this is growing.
Everything from vaxx-scepticism to paedo hysteria is breaking the banks of its hitherto narrow channels. Your cousin is suddenly a COVID-sceptic; you buy The Age at a country servo and the bloke running it starts raving about “fake news”.
This strikes me as a phenomenon far beyond the old mass media effects, the Murdoch effect, argued for by our heavy guns on Tuesday.
Trump’s rise, MAGA’s rise, was something else entirely, and the Murdoch org only attached themselves to such, when Trump’s great right-wing rolling thunder revue was clearly on a path to victory.
Suggesting this as a product of a Murdoch propaganda model is to believe that there is some sort of rationality at the centre of social life, which is to everyone’s benefit. Which is the sort of thing elites tend to believe.
Like it or not, Trump, Q, MAGA and whatever comes next are mass movements, born of the great fix we’re in. Irrationality thus becomes a rational weapon against a rationality that leaves you evermore, every year, like a rat in a cage.
Live the myth and it sweeps you up the steps of Congress, to have your rulers cowering in their officers. Did this crazed putsch-happening falter because there was nothing real it could possibly demand, or because it has not yet found its full political form?
As the great experiment of the United States approaches its 45th hand over of power in a city of marble, behind a ring of steel, we are about to find out.