Things are not what they seem

While we stew in our outrage and disbelief at the storming of the US Capitol…

From the Economist

From the New York Times

Finally, after legislators were escorted back to the Capitol under armed guard, eight Republican senators and 138 representatives still voted to object to the electoral college votes being certified.

The question is how opinions about the storming of the Capitol will change over time. Are these early polls just voters indicating partisan loyalty in response to outrage and condemnation? Once the heat of the moment passes, maybe it will become easier to acknowledge what happened without calling one’s partisan affiliation into question.

A lot depends on the narratives that are created over the next few weeks. One way to think about efforts to impeach Trump or trigger the 25th Amendment (which would allow for his removal by Cabinet) is as attempts to solidify a narrative of outrage and transgression. Even if it fails, impeachment sends the message that a line was crossed.

On the Right, effort is underway to justify what happened (they were legitimately angry patriots) or fabricate new explanations (it was an antifa false flag). Impeachment is likely to turn the broader question of what happened on the US Capitol into a loyalty test for Republican voters; if ‘mob storming Capitol to subvert a Constitutional democratic process’ = impeaching President Trump, it may only encourage Republican voters to believe false narratives that better align with partisan loyalty.

For the long term health of America’s democratic institutions, it is essential that what happened on the Capitol is universally accepted as a transgressive and unacceptable act. As hard as it is to hear, it may be better to get Republicans in agreement over the appropriate narrative – even if it means giving up some of the performative rage – than create one only your side believes in.

Anarchy in the USA

Time moves quickly in politics and yesterday’s abstract questions are being worked out far quicker than I thought possible. A few quick points:

Looking past the unprecedented images, is this a demonstration that America’s democratic institutions were, when push came to shove, more resilient than some thought? That no matter how faint and far away, there was a red line for the Republican Party. Since the storming of the Capitol, several Senators who had planned to object to the certification of votes have changed their minds. Kelly Loeffler, who lost her Georgia by-election, has retracted her claims about electoral fraud. Mitch McConnell has condemned a “failed insurrection.”

The counter-argument is that these events say nothing about institutions, and instead the pivot away from Trump is cynical politics. Trumps electoral value has taken a hit with the Republicans losing in Georgia, and now the scenes on the Capitol. Those who had hoped to hitch themselves to a winning wagon are now rushing to get off a runaway train.

This is clearly true, but the political failure of a strategy premised on undermining democracy is a demonstration of the structural limits of the strategy itself.