Since the incursion by white supremacists into the Capitol Building on January sixth, the media has consistently emphasized that it was the first time since 1814 that the edifice had been breached by a hostile force (the British army in the War of 1812). It’s a cute historical tidbit, but not one terribly relevant to modern analysis. A more pertinent question might be, “When was the last time a right wing mob disrupted the electoral workings of US democracy?” The answer is the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot of 2000, where a nattily-dressed crowd of Republican operatives stopped the Florida presidential recount through physical intimidation and violence, with Al Gore ahead by over 500 votes. The delay allowed the Supreme Court to call an official halt to the recount and award George W. Bush the presidency in an election he almost certainly lost numerically.
This was obviously a much more successful outcome than that experienced by Trump’s followers 20 years later. Not only did the Brooks Brothers riot succeed as a coup, but nobody was ever charged criminally for it, despite multiple incidences of assault. Media coverage at the time was relatively muted, in stark contrast to the pearl clutching horror displayed by journalists this time around. The breathless gasping over “this horrific assault on our democracy” would be a lot more convincing if this was the first time it had happened.
Nonetheless, the media coverage seems to reflect the consensus reaction of the ruling class. Corporate and political elites have launched a broad based attack on Trump and the far-Right, with Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Snapchat banning Trump at least temporarily from their platforms. They have also cracked down hard on QAnon and other right-wing content, removing tens of thousands of posts and videos. Google, Apple, and Amazon have booted Parler, a right-wing alternative to Twitter, from their app stores and web hosting services. Multiple corporate donors have pledged to withhold direct campaign contributions from the congresspeople who voted against certifying the electoral college vote, all 147 of them. Trump himself has been cut off by three of his banks, and Palm Beach County is trying to take away his golf course. Ardent Trump supporter Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri just had his book deal canceled by Simon and Schuster, and congresswoman Lauren Boebert (Republican linked to QAnon conspiracy) is being investigated by her colleagues for giving some of the rioters a reconnaissance tour of the Capitol. In short, mainstream fascists are being subjected to the same kind of deplatforming once reserved for the likes of neo-Nazis like Billy Roper and white nationaists in the American Renaissance, even when it hurts the platforms’ bottom line. Hell, Twitter lost so many users their stock dropped 12 percent the day after they permabanned Trump.
Even law enforcement, always the fash’s closest ally in the halls of power, is getting in on the act. The Capitol rioters are, to their great dismay, suddenly getting treated in similar fashion to anarchist and Black Lives Matter protesters (albeit a day late of course). While direct comparisons to J20 should probably wait until all the indictments are in, early returns seem to indicate that more chuds will be prosecuted than were J20 protesters, and more held without bail, but on lesser charges. Thanks to their crap security practices, far more of the fash will be convicted.
The reason for this sudden change of heart is clear. The only thing cops hate more than Black people is embarrassment, and cops have never been more embarrassed than they are now. The Capitol Police in particular of course, but the shame is so vast it transcends jurisdictional boundaries. A department of 2,300 cops had one job, to protect one building, and they blew it, comprehensively and spectacularly, on hundreds of livestreams. Compounding their misery, their racism was as apparent as their incompetence. Even the President-fucking-elect felt compelled to point out that Black Lives Matter protesters would have been treated far differently in the same situation. Thus, the newly vigorous FBI response, as well as the ridiculous overreaction to the Boogaloo Bois call for rallies in all 50 state capitals.
Needless to say, none of this new found commitment to antifascism is due to a sudden attack of conscience on the part of the 1%. Rather, the Capitol incursion finally convinced them that the monster they had created would devour them if given half a chance. The story of that monster’s birth has been told many times, but let’s just run through it again quick. Since the election of Reagan in 1980, the Republican party has been drifting inexorably to the Right, using the southern strategy to get racist white people to vote against free health care and a higher minimum wage, and reaching out to ever more delusional wingnuts as time passed in an effort to compensate for their demographic disadvantages. This tendency led to the rise of Newt Gingrich and the “Contract With America” in the nineties, and the Tea Party in the late zeros, and of course avowedly racist Trumpkins since 2015. In the process the once-unified GOP devolved into a fractious alliance between the mainstream and the fringe. Until now that conflict was carefully plastered over, only finding public expression in media sniping and occasional primary battles, and never allowed to interfere with the primary mission of racist exploitation and colonialism. Now the alliance is broken, and the wingnuts are being cast back into the political wilderness to become what Mike Davis recently called “a de facto third party.”
Actual third parties just saw their stock rise dramatically, of course. Registered Republicans are bailing out of the GOP by the thousands, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The underwater part is voters who remain Republican on paper but are far more willing to support third party and independent candidates, thus splitting the conservative vote and aiding the Democrats. The Libertarians in particular should get a nice bump. Remember that Gary Johnson pulled in 4.5 million votes in the 2016 presidential race, the most for a third party candidate since H. Ross Perot in 1996, and most of them taken from Trump. Those numbers should only go up in 2024. Davis theorizes that mainstream Republicans have been magically liberated from association with the president they spent the last four years enabling, and that GOP senators like Tom “Let’s Buy Greenland” Cotton and Kelly “Pandemic Profiteer” Loeffler are now “viable presidential contenders.” To be fair, somebody’s gotta win the Republican nomination in 2024, and the potential candidates on Davis’ list aren’t necessarily any more hopeless than the ones he left out. It’s still hard to imagine any of them winning the general election. Trump has disgraced his party more thoroughly than Nixon did with Watergate, and at a far more precarious time. The GOP might not be dead, but it is bleeding freely from multiple shots to the foot, and that clip’s not empty yet.
On the Democratic side, the historic response to the Republican rightward slide has been to follow along behind them, hoping to retain swing voters and pick up moderate ex-Republicans who had become disgusted with their party’s fascist creep(s). The liberal vote was taken for granted because it had nowhere else to go. Prior to the sixth, it was looking like this strategy had reached its expiration date. The pandemic, the economic desperation, and the latent fury aroused by the George Floyd uprising mandated a certain level of relief, and besides, the hot new electoral strategy these days isn’t competing for swing voters, it’s mobilizing the base. Turnout and enthusiasm are key. Biden signaled through his Cabinet choices that he meant to govern a carefully calibrated half inch to the left of Obama. A December piece on FiveThirtyEight hypothesized that progressives had the ability to block the nomination of the most objectionable candidates (like Rahm Emanuel), but not to push their ideal choices through (like Bernie Sanders). That pattern seems to have held up.
However, the Republican debacle now gives Biden and the Democrats more leeway to disappoint their followers. With their competition divided and in disarray Democrats don’t have to work as hard at driving turnout to win. Again, where else are liberal voters going to go? The only other choices are open fascists or thinly disguised fascists.
It remains to be seen how quickly Biden will move to take advantage of this opportunity. The Democrats are already waffling on $2,000 stimulus checks, but that might have happened anyway. If Biden is smart he will try to extend his honeymoon and wait for the 2022 midterms to see how fast the Republicans fall apart and how much the economy recovers. No matter the results, in 2023 he can reshuffle his Cabinet and install the centrist Blue Dogs that his heart cries out for. If the Democrats do well in the midterms he will have the latitude to do whatever he wants, especially if he decides not to run for re-election. If the GOP musters one last gasp to gain ground in Congress, Biden’s excuse for a rightward pivot will be the hoary chestnut that radical policies are alienating moderate swing voters.
He might be too impatient, though. Corporate America took back to back punches to the gut on January fifth and sixth. First Mitch McConnell lost his stranglehold on the Senate in the Georgia runoff elections, and the next day the entire Republican Party imploded in epic fashion. Wall Street lobbyists will be desperate to recoup their reverses, and in Biden they have the perfect man for the job. Let’s recap a little more history. Biden’s home state of Delaware has positioned itself as a business-friendly corporate haven since 1776. A couple of centuries later, the Supreme Court’s decision in Marquette National Bank v. First of Omaha gutted individual state’s usury laws and virtually eliminated cross-state regulations on credit cards. Delaware, at the time a virtual subsidiary of DuPont Chemical, eliminated their usury laws to lure in credit card companies like Citicorp and JP Morgan, who could then charge as much interest as they wanted anywhere in the country thanks to Marquette. Much of the credit card industry migrated south from Manhattan to Wilmington. Biden, at the time the junior Senator from Delaware, spent the next quarter century fighting for higher profits for this new influx of campaign donors. The deregulation measures he supported, such as bankruptcy “reform” and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, led directly to the consolidation of the financial industry and the subprime mortgage bubble that caused the 2008 crash. Now he’s in the White House. Banks and corporations will have a far more reliable ally in Biden than they ever did in Trump, one whose efforts will be limited only by what he thinks he can get away with.
A few current issues might give us an idea of future trends. One, the next stimulus check. The drama around how much to provide and who will get it should reveal who the designated Democratic obstructionists will be going forward, how much weight the progressive caucus carries, and how the new administration means to approach economic issues in the short term. One hilarious possibility – an alliance between Trumpist Republicans and progressive Democrats to push for the full $2,000.
Two, the Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium. This expires at the end of January, and if it is not renewed a massive wave of evictions will throw millions of vulnerable renters into the cold in the middle of the pandemic. Biden has pledged to extend the moratorium until September – but as part of a recovery plan that has to be passed by Congress, not an executive order. This raises suspicions that he doesn’t care about the moratorium expiring as long as he can plausibly blame the Republicans. Keep an eye on the details of this one. The current moratorium only requires tenants to attest that their ability to pay rent has been damaged by the pandemic. If a new moratorium requires them to prove it, that extra hurdle will result in many more evictions than previously.
Three, immunity from Covid neglect lawsuits for nursing home corporations. Nursing homes are just prisons for old people, a different kind of warehouse for a different sector of the surplus population. The rampant neglect and cost cutting endemic to the industry have caused countless avoidable deaths from Covid-19. Liability from lawsuits for neglect has been instituted in several states, but despite Trump and McConnell’s best efforts, not yet at the federal level. Expect Republicans to try again as the price for passing Biden’s recovery plan. His response will be instructive.