Neil Mackay: One year on from the Capitol coup, what next for America?

NOBODY starts a revolution and then goes home. Revolutions must finish – one way or another. Donald Trump was – is – a revolutionary; a dangerous, extremist revolutionary, but a revolutionary nonetheless.

A year ago today at the US Capitol Building, Trump unleashed the first real taste of violence in this new Republican revolution that’s slowly creeping upon the world, when he ramped up his supporters to attack the seat of American democracy in an attempt to prevent the election of Joe Biden. It was a coup in all but name, the stuff of tinpot dictatorships. Five died, 138 police were injured and 727 arrested.

The insurrection may have failed on the day, but Trump’s revolutionary movement is far from dead. It thrives. Such is the power – and threat – of what the Trump movement is up to that wise heads and cool thinkers in America now talk openly about a series of terrifying scenarios: Republican plans to steal the next presidential election and overthrow US democracy, the street violence that would follow if such an event happened – that violence even turning into some ghastly modern iteration of an American ‘Civil War’, and partition of America along red state-blue state lines.

Since the failed coup, Trump’s Republican stranglehold has intensified; he’s turned the party into a personality cult, meaning any attempt to bring him and his lieutenants to justice for the Capitol attack is doomed, given the extreme partisan nature of American government. If Republican Party members wish to advance they have to pay homage to the Great Leader. Almost one third of Republicans believe violence may be necessary to “save” the US.

Perhaps the most disturbing series of events over the last year has been the hijacking of the electoral apparatus by Trump loyalists. Restrictions on the ability to vote are being pushed through in state after state. Voting boundaries are gerrymandered. Trump loyalists are running as candidates for key positions which would give them the power to determine the shape of future elections. Don’t forget the outcome of the last election depended on officials with integrity refusing to bow to Trump’s orders to “find” enough votes to help him win.

Rule number one in the authoritarian playbook: make sure your people are in key positions of power, so when a little nudge is needed to bring down the defences of democracy all you’ve got to do is ask.

One of the key positions targeted by Trump loyalists across America is ‘secretary of state’, the chief election official in US states. Ten of the 15 candidates running for secretary of state in battlegrounds like Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada say the 2020 election was either stolen or needs investigated.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s alt-right guru, speaks of his precinct strategy: “We will have our people in at every level.” In Texas, Mark Middleton, who faces charges including assault related to the Capitol attack, is running for office. He advocates Texas seceding.

US democracy is being captured right under the noses of Americans. We already know around 1000 people in “positions of public trust” aided Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

The weak point for Trump, though, was that he didn’t have enough public officials to do his bidding. Next time that’ll be different. The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack recently got its hands on a powerpoint presentation from Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows which set out plans for staging a coup by declaring a national security emergency in order to return Trump to the presidency.

Respected Canadian professor Thomas Homer-Dixon recently spoke of America becoming a rightwing dictatorship by 2030. “We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities,” he said, “just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine.”

Trump allies have shown their true colours of late, all but dispensing with democratic pretence. Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, believes America should be a nation of “one religion” – a direct assault on the first amendment of the US constitution.

Arizona Republican congressman Paul Gosar posted animated video of himself killing the Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Only two Republicans supported censuring Gosar – many later shook his hand and slapped him on the back. There’s talk of those on the subpoena list for the Capitol attack playing a role in the ‘next’ Trump presidency, causing fears of political reprisals. Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager acquitted of killing two people during anti-racism protests, is hailed as a hero by Trump loyalists. There’s mounting concern that the Rittenhouse verdict sets a precedent for vigilantes to travel armed to potential flashpoints in the event of future unrest.

Recent polling gives a terrifying insight into just how divided and on edge America has become: 68% see events at the Capitol as a “sign of increasing political violence”; 66% believe democracy is under threat; in future elections, 62% expect violence from the losing side, and only 38% believe the losers “will concede peacefully”; 28% believe “force might be justified” over future election results, and 14% think it’s acceptable for politicians to “call for violence”; 30% believe it’s justified to “form militias”; 23% either strongly or somewhat favour dividing America into “red and blue countries”.

Just imagine the political landscape if this new – ‘fascist-lite’ as some have called it – version of the Republican Party was controlled by someone ‘not Trump’. Someone more sophisticated, smoother. Someone like Sean Hannity, perhaps, the Fox News anchor who’s been spinning extremist propaganda for years now and was this week shown to have been in communication with Trump before, during and after the January 6 attack.

The Cassandras are calling when it comes to the fate of America. Like Cassandra, the Trojan princess with the gift of prophecy who was doomed to never be believed, today’s seers are now predicting a future too awful or extreme to contemplate. However, if there’s one lesson we’ve learned since the turn of the century, it’s that nothing is too unlikely in the modern world. We should heed what the Cassandras say because if US democracy teeters, the question is: what happens across the wider western world?

Remember the old adage: when American sneezes the rest of the planet catches cold.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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