Economy & Politics

CommentTrump’s orgy of desecration

US President Trump ordered the march to the Capitol and his supporters obeyedimago images / Pacific Press Agency

An observer who only briefly or accidentally saw the pictures from the USA this week would probably have taken them for scenes from a breakaway Caucasus republic or from one of those countries south of the United States, in whose political processes one likes to interfere or about which one likes to interfere judges.

The “Shame of Capitol Hill” (“Wall Street Journal”) was not an act of terrorism, not an attempted coup and therefore also not a coup, as was soon called in the heat of the moment. In addition, the mob lacked the plan, the organization, even the will to take over when they stormed it: it was about disruption and conquest, and the weapons were mainly smartphones with which pictures and films of desecration were produced. And there was violence, injuries, deaths.

And so what happened this week in Washington was at the same time the high and low point of the wild orgy of desecration that Donald Trump set in motion, cultivated and fueled four years ago: It is about disgraceful, disrupting or closing institutions and people to destroy.

There have always been attacks on democracy everywhere, including the USA. But they have never been controlled and fueled by the president himself in the USA. Democracy lives not only from elections, but from the belief that these elections are legal, that the system works. Trump has undermined that belief for years. The “storming of the Capitol” was the point at which everything now accumulated and at the same time overturned: The leader of the executive orders the march on the house of the legislature to stop the constitutional transfer of power. In this respect, these images were not the compelling but logical conclusion of Trump’s presidency. Fire and Fury.

Trump’s realm of shadows

If you haven’t opened your eyes this week, you don’t want to see or will be forever blind to what is being tried here. Unfortunately there are far more people than the bunch in which there was also a “QAnon shaman”. According to initial polls, a good 40 percent of registered Republican voters are at least in favor of the protests. Protests in which five people died and dozen were injured.

Since the election, American democracy has stumbled between trauma and triumph, between new defeats and the tests of its own resilience. The fact that Congress met again that night and confirmed the election of Joe Biden is not a victory for democracy or freedom, as Vice President Mike Pence assured. At best, it shows that it survives and functions despite everything, under increased police protection and visibly in shock.

The call for moderation and reconciliation that Trump launched after his Twitter lock and read from the teleprompter is as unreliable and sustainable as everything this president uttered – because the shadowy realm that he has created and that he always does can still mobilize, continues to exist: He doesn’t even need an office to rule over it. The temptation is now great to make him harmless forever, at least for official duties, with the help of a new impeachment process. But would the signal and effect really be that strong?

Digging trenches as a business model

There is no shortage of calls for reconciliation and unification in the US, there is a lack of foundations to bring about such reconciliation. In many places one can at best still agree on the physical law of gravity. There are always great speeches and narratives, especially with new presidents, about rebuilding the nation, reconciling it and leading it to new prosperity. For a long time it was enough to build rhetorical bridges over the trenches and promise new billions.

But it has long been evident that the decoupling of the various milieus – which the political scientist Charles Murray already analyzed in 2012 in the book “Coming Apart”, which is well worth reading and even broken down into postal codes – is simply too great. One increasingly draws one’s own identity from not only not understanding the other side, but rejecting it.

Donald Trump’s legacy – and he’s probably not finished with the US yet – is not only to dig these trenches, but to have turned them into a business model. The politicians who have not yet broken away from Trump hope to win their supporters the way one wins customers. The outrage about the conditions and the hatred of elites are both real and a product that is constantly being re-manufactured. It will be exciting to see if and how the Republican Party survives this ordeal in the opposition.

Is there a return to the “we-society”?

There are few voices that credibly demonstrate that reconciliation is possible. These include the Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam, who in his book “The Upswing” draws parallels to the “Gilded Age” in the late 19th century. The gold-plated age, a term used by Mark Twain, is so named because although it shone outwards, the upheavals and poverty were great. Just like today, there were times when technological progress and growth spurred society, but many lagged behind – and so were the decades of the “robber barons” and cartels. Full of egoism, inequality, individualism and strong polarization.

Putnam shows that this I-society was replaced by a “we society” in the 20th century, the “progressive era”: more egalitarian, more cooperative, shaped by a social “upswing”. Another phase that came to an end in the 1960s with Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society”. Putnam’s core thesis: It is possible again.

Anyone who believes that history always runs in waves should follow Putnam (who is no dreamer and supports his thesis with lots of data and graphics). At least the American voters have created a little more clarity and given the Democrats a majority for two years, in the White House and in both houses of parliament. Seldom has one wished a politician more luck and skill than the upcoming President Joe Biden – in the hope that he will really know how to use these two years. Even if you sometimes don’t know where to start.


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