Unpicking the Capitol Fiasco

Unpicking the Capitol Fiasco January 9, 2021

Tyler Merbler – https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/50812356151/

The last few days weeks years five years have been incredibly damaging to US democracy, the soft power and reputation the US has in the rest of the world (nurtured back to respectability by Obama), and to the country’s social cohesion. But the conversation has often been about whether Trump was the cause or the symptom. Either way, he is a malignant cancer that needs to be removed.

That part is relatively easy. He will be gone soon, though I have to say that I favour a second impeachment for several reasons:

Second Impeachment

There needs to be (seen to be) action in response to Trump’s antics – these things can’t go unanswered. If there is no action taken now, then this sets a dangerous precedent for future Presidents to be allowed to do wholly unacceptable things and it becomes a race to the bottom.

There is more support now for a second impeachment than there was for his first.

It is also moving incredibly quickly; there is talk that it will be voted on in the House on Wednesday before going to the Senate. It is so lightning quick because, as has been said, it has been likened to a policeman seeing an actual crime taking place. We have all the evidence against Trump on video, TV and recorded telephone calls. The documents can be seen here.

There is another very good reason to call for impeachment since, if it were successful, then it would invalidate Trump from running again in 2024. Article I Section VII clarifies that removal is not the only punishment impeachment can levy. The Constitution reads: “Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honour, Trust or Profit under the United States.”

Or:

Court

If they ultimately don’t succeed, I think Trump will be had up in court for the next four years anyway and could even go to prison. If he tries on a presidential pardon, this only works at federal level and the most devastating court cases seem to be happening at state level. Take Cyrus Vance’s case in New York that is ramping up.

There are six court cases to watch out for:

  1. The hush-money allegations

  2. The tax and bank fraud investigation

  3. The real-estate fraud investigation

  4. The emoluments cases

  5. The sexual misconduct lawsuits

  6. The Mary Trump lawsuit

As I have said before, this I precisely why Trump is so desperate to get re-elected; this is an existential crisis for him. The only way to avoid bankruptcy and jail is re-election. As a result, he will do anything to get re-elected, including fraud and inciting insurrection. It also goes some way to explain his acute anger at the moment.

The Police

So, what the hell happened at the Capitol? Where the hell were the police? The FiveThirtyEight article “The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration” goes some way to explaining this:

As images from Wednesday’s riot by pro-Trump extremists at the U.S. Capitol filled our TV screens and social media feeds, one thing was notably absent: the kind of confrontation between police and protesters that we saw during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Even though the Capitol mob was far more violent — and seditious — than the largely peaceful BLM demonstrators, police responded far less aggressively toward them than toward BLM protesters across the country. Researchers who track this sort of thing for a living say that fits a pattern.

Instead of National Guard troops being posted en masse around landmarks before a protest even began, we saw the Defense Department initially deny a request to send in troops — and that was after the Capitol had been breached. Instead of peaceful protesters being doused in tear gas, we saw a mob posing for selfies with police and being allowed to wander the corridors of power like they couldn’t decide whether they were invading the Capitol or touring it. Instead of President Trump calling these violent supporters “thugs,” as he called racial justice protesters, and advocating for more violent police crackdowns, we saw him remind his followers that they were loved before asking them nicely to go home.

“It feels really unbelievable,” said Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation with the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. But, she said, it’s also totally unsurprising.

That’s because the discrepancies we saw Wednesday are just another example of a trend Kishi’s team has been tracking for months as they collect data on protester and law enforcement interactions across America. “We see a different response to the right wing,” she said.

While protesters themselves have long perceived that police tend to crack down on left-wing protesters and align with those on the right wing, there hasn’t really been data to demonstrate that effect before, said Ed Maguire, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University and an expert on police and protester interactions.

But in 2020, Kishi’s ACLED — a data-reporting project that began documenting armed conflicts and protests in African nations — extended its work into the United States. Using information gathered from local media, NGOs, individual journalists and partner organizations, ACLED researchers have catalogued months of detailed information about protests, including when clashes with law enforcement have happened and the type of force used by police. “We don’t necessarily have information on the number of Black vs. white protesters … but we do have a larger view,” Kishi said. “How is law enforcement responding to demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement versus demonstrations by the right wing … in support of [a] president that may or may not involve organized armed illegal groups?”

What they have found is striking.

Between May 1 and November 28, 2020, authorities were more than twice as likely to attempt to break up and disperse a left-wing protest  than a right-wing  one. And in those situations when law enforcement chose to intervene, they were more likely to use force — 34 percent of the time with right-wing protests compared with 51 percent of the time for the left. Given when this data was collected, it predominantly reflects a difference in how police respond to Black Lives Matter, compared with how they respond to anti-mask demonstrations, pro-Trump extremists, QAnon rallies, and militia groups.

The differences in intervention weren’t because BLM protests were particularly violent. ACLED found that 93 percent of the protests associated with BLM were entirely peaceful. “Even if we were to put those [7] percent of demonstrations aside and look purely at peaceful [BLM protests], we are seeing a more heavy handed response [compared with right-wing protests],” Kishi said.

This data is new and limited, but it is in keeping with long-documented biases in how police think about and treat Black people compared with white people, and with research that shows police and military personnel overlapping significantly with the same far-right groups they treat preferentially.

It is also in keeping with how different groups of protesters perceive the situation themselves, Maguire said. In his years spent traveling to protests and embedding in crowds to observe and document police and protester interactions, he has interviewed protesters extensively. “Protesters on the left virtually universally believe that police are rougher on them. And protesters on the right almost universally believe police are on their side,” Maguire said. Some of that sentiment was evident yesterday…

They discuss it here:

This is fascinating stuff and explains a lot. Police are twice as likely to intervene in a left-wing protest, more likely to use force, and this is not justified by the protests being violent. Law enforcement are also more likely to be involved themselves in right-wing protest organisations than left-wing ones.

Which leads us onto the media.

The media

The media have a lot to answer for in terms of misinformation and disinformation, from FOX to OAN and Newsmax, from 4chan to Parler. And now, because Brexit has fueled such discourse in the UK, we are now looking at getting our own 24-hour news channel like FOX, funded by Brexiteers… Watch out for GB News, coming to a TV near you.

Trump will almost certainly get involved in media himself to keep being relevant. His desire to be relevant is a way of understanding why he signed on to The Apprentice and why he decided to run for POTUS (without every really thinking he would succeed).

We know that social media played a large part in the Capitol events. But the way different news organisations reported it should tell you something:

PETE HEGSETH from Fox and Friends: These are not conspiracy theorists motivated just by lies. That’s a bunch of nonsense that people want to tell us. These are people that understand first principles. They love freedom, and they love free markets. And they see exactly what the anti-American left has done to American…

SARAH PALIN (FOX): And we don’t – and a lot of it is the media’s fault. But, Martha, keep in mind, we don’t know who all were the instigators in this, of these horrible things that happened today. I think a lot of it is the antifa folks. I’ve been sent pictures…

Some discussion on NPR is worth repeating here:

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, degrees on a scale, right? You know, Fox News has provided – as Eric indicated – support and coverage for the president’s, you know, false and demonstrably destructive claims. At key moments like this, Fox has often pulled back. In this case, it’s recognizing a threat.

And it seems to be something of a vacuum of leadership at Fox News, where they are seeing – there’re not huge audiences we’re talking about for these competitors, but they’re seeing Newsmax and OAN and some other sites erode their audience and be used by the president against them on social media. And so Fox feels pulled – you can see it playing out on the air – between being responsible enough so that it can still lay claim to the idea of being a news outlet and still appealing to the core Trump supporter, which overlaps quite neatly with the core Fox viewer.

Indeed, FOX News’ coverage shows that they are not changing.

As Axios reports, the right-wing media reported events very differently:

The big picture: The right’s favored media — conservative TV, websites and social networks — offered an alternate reality in which everyone but pro-Trump rioters were to blame for the mayhem at the Capitol.

Here’s theversion of events a good chunk of America got:

  • Instead of condemning the pro-Trump mobs that stormed Washington, right-wing media outlets mostly blamed left-wing activists, the media, Vice President Pence — and even police officers — for the riots that some suggested were the start of a “civil war” in America.
  • Hosts on Fox NewsOne America News Network and Newsmax went so far as to baselessly suggest that the unlawful protestors at the Capitol may have been members of Antifa.
  • Conspiracy theorist Lin Wood tweeted to his over 1 million followers before having his account suspended: “Mike Pence @VP @Mike_Pence is a TRAITOR, a Communist Sympathizer & a Child Molester. Lock him up.”

Even when it became obvious that the riots were becoming destructive, right-wing networks downplayed the severity of events, calling those marching on the Capitol mostly peaceful protestors.

  • Presenters on OANN argued the riots were nothing compared to racial-justice protests over the summer.
  • One meme that was posted to TheDonald.win, a fringe-right alternative social network, featured a cartoon of a police officer telling a Black Lives Matter protester, “Please stop, we can work this out” — while holding a police shield, but holding a gun up against a white MAGA protestor.

Other themes that were prevalent on right-wing websites and TV networks were that rioters had no choice but to storm the Capitol in order to fight for investigations into a “fraudulent” election.

  • Some posters suggested that the Democrats’ Georgia runoff wins implied that the country was turning communist.

The bottom line … Tucker Carlson ended the monologue at the top of his Fox News show by saying: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault. It is their fault.”

In conclusion

This is a time of flux. It should be a time for the GOP to do some soul-searching and self-reflection but I get the idea that no one will truly change. The GOP will continue their journey to further polarisation and ignore a chance for flux… They embraced Trump because it was politically expedient to do so. And now, given the fact that the Trump base is now an integral part of the GOP national support, they are presently in a position of working out whether they still need to appeal to them. In other words, is the Trumplican base more important than the fiscal conservatives and centrists from the GOP of old? Cruz and Hawley seemed to think so and were giving speeches and creating electoral objections to this end. Do they have egg on their face? Certainly yes. Have they looked in the mirror? Certainly no. Or they have at least happily ignored the mirror image.

Will the chickens come home to roost? You would think that they should, that Cruz and Hawley should learn their lessons from helping to incite, and currying the favour of, this base. But, somehow, I think they will weather even this storm.

Remember, something like 45% of Republicans approve of the storming of the Capitol.

Just let that sink in. That is the state of the States.

Looking forward, what will the midterms look like? I would hope that the Democrats could capitalise and it may well be that the GOP fracture into two parties. I can’t remember who said it, but I saw an interview (perhaps with one of the insurrectionists) where they literally called it “Trump’s Republican Party” – that’s where they are at now. This is their existential crisis.

It’s all a hot mess. It will be fascinating to see where it all goes.

 


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