Trump Is a Threat to Democracy. But That Doesn’t Mean He’s WinningRoundup
tags: authoritarianism, Donald Trump
Daniel Bessner is the Joff Hanauer Honors Associate Professor in Western Civilization in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is also a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a contributing editor at Jacobin.
Ben Burgis is a philosophy professor and the author of Give Them An Argument: Logic for the Left. He is host of the podcast Give Them An Argument.
Since Donald Trump came down his escalator in 2015, a debate has raged on the left about whether Trump is a “fascist” who threatened the existence of political democracy in the United States. Since Joe Biden decisively won the 2020 presidential election, a closely related debate has broken out about whether Trump’s many efforts to hold on to the presidency could reasonably be considered a “coup.”
Last week’s storming of the US Capitol, which appears to have been undertaken by a loose mob of ragtag QAnon conspiracy theorists, has sparked another round in this great, endless debate. Those who argued that Trumpism is a form of fascism saw in this “insurrection” a genuine threat to the United States’ democratic institutions.
But for those who, like us, considered Trumpism a manifestation of extant American trends, and Trump himself to be an ineffectual leader, the events of January 6 — while a disturbing escalation in the violent and erratic tendencies of Trump and his most hard-core supporters — were ultimately important because they demonstrated the weakness of Trump’s position.
It was the last and strangest episode in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to somehow reverse the results of the election. When Republican state legislatures, Trump’s own appointees to the Supreme Court, and even Vice President Mike Pence had all refused to follow the president off that cliff, the only card he had left to play was encouraging a violent mob that seems to consist primarily of online conspiracy theorists and insurrectionary fantasists.
Even if the QAnon-ers at the Capitol thought they could overthrow the government and ensure Trump remained in power, a deranged action that had no chance of succeeding cannot reasonably be called a coup. Otherwise, any bizarre event, from Charles Manson’s attempt to foment a race war that would transform the United States, to the bombings carried out by the many tiny organizations in the 1970s that considered themselves to be carrying out a revolutionary war against the government, could be classified as a “coup.”
Our point is that there is the potential for very real, and very negative, political consequences if the fascism and coup narratives become the dominant frameworks through which leftists and liberals understand the threat posed by Trump and QAnon. In our opinion, these narratives distort how many of our friends and comrades on the Left think about the Democratic Party, tech censorship, and police power, while also providing a sop to those who would like the incoming Biden administration to increase the authority of an already far too powerful national security state.
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