White rage and the Capitol rampage

Opinion: If BLM protesters acted as Trump supporters did last week, the number of dead, injured and arrested would have been incredibly high, writes Neal Curtis.

The image shows a US flag fluttering over The Capitol Building, a national symbol of the US and stormed by Trump supporters last week. Photo: iStock
The Capitol, a national symbol of the US and stormed by Trump supporters last week. Photo: iStock

In 1964, Black Americans effectively forced the United States to become a democracy. Up until that point, the history of disenfranchisement, segregation and undermining of legal rights once given to black Americans means it is hard, if not impossible, to say that the US was a fully functioning democracy.

As Carol Anderson documented in her brilliant book White Rage, the history of the US has been a continued attempt to undermine every social, political and economic advance of black Americans since the abolition of slavery. This struggle is perhaps best encapsulated in the fact that in 1865, the year slavery was abolished, the Ku Klux Klan was created. Abolition made black Americans equal, at least formally, to white Americans, but the Klan was created to reaffirm white superiority and white entitlement.

In 1865, former slaves were made citizens without voting rights and they even had land promised to them given back to white owners. Labour laws known as the Black Codes limited the movement of former slaves and effectively reproduced the plantation culture prior to abolition. It is, then, extraordinary to think it took a century for black Americans to not only be given the right to vote but also to be permitted to exercise that right without fear of harassment, violence or interference.

The white rage documented by Anderson remains today at the heart of Trumpism, a movement that represents the resentment of racial equality and the challenge to the white privilege it entails. Today, of course, the dangers and discrimination faced by black Americans has given rise to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, whose cause was proved so absolutely right on Wednesday when Trump supporters stormed Congress.

Everyone should support the ongoing struggles of black Americans when they ask for justice. They’ve been asking for 244 years.

When BLM protested, they couldn’t get anywhere near Capitol Hill because it was surrounded by the National Guard. On Wednesday, local police actually opened the small crowd barriers that were supposed to deter the Trump supporters. We also know that if BLM protesters had chosen to act in the way Trump’s supporters had, the number of dead, injured and arrested would have been incredibly high. We know the use of force would have been severe. Remember, Trump had the National Guard clear a peaceful BLM protest with tear gas so he could pose for photographers outside a church holding a Bible upside down.

So, the struggle for real democracy in the US goes on, but there is a complication. If we take 1964 to be the start date of genuine US democracy there is a problem because in 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower declared when leaving office that the Military-Industrial Complex, as he called it, had already taken over US democracy. There had already been something of a silent coup, so to speak.

The power of the Complex has been repeatedly seen in the willingness of the US to invade countries or depose leaders they don’t like by supplying armaments and/or massive military support. The US has has also been responsible for military coups against democratically-elected governments in numerous countries including Nicaragua, Chile and Iran. This is because US democracy states that the only form of socio-economic organisation they accept as “democratic” is the naked form of capitalism that drives their own society.

In the last 40 years, corporate control of Congress, the sacred seat of democracy or the citadel of liberty, as US exceptionalism would like us to think, has only been increased. The legislation known as Citizens United has dramatically increased the influence of money in a democracy where money already ruled. In truth, the US is a plutocracy run by a corporate oligarchy that employs certain features of democracy to maintain itself.

What brings these two threads together is the events of the day before the assault on Congress and the Senate run-off in Georgia on Tuesday. Evidence of Anderson’s white rage can also be found here in the guise of voter suppression. This has been well-documented by journalist Greg Palast. It is largely aimed at preventing black Americans from voting because they predominantly vote Democrat; and yet, against all the odds the Democrat candidates won.

This is because of incredible work on the ground by thousands of volunteers who worked tirelessly to ensure voters were registered and mobilised to vote. During the federal election, this was done not only in Georgia but across the entire country. These voters, like the majority of Americans, want affordable healthcare, some form of gun control, and a more equitable share of the wealth created within the economy by all Americans.

This contravenes the beliefs of both the white supremacists who support Trump and the corporate oligarchy that continues to enrich itself and amass extraordinary wealth not seen since the age of absolute monarchy in Europe. However, if you want to see the sprit of real democracy in the United States, it is to these volunteers and the people they support that we should look, not raving libertarians or billionaire-sponsored senators.

I truly hope that the movement that took the White House, the Senate and the House from Trump can only grow and nurture the genuine democracy that exists in the country. This is why everyone should support the ongoing struggles of black Americans when they ask for justice. They’ve been asking for 244 years.

Dr Neal Curtis is Associate Professor of Media and Communication in the Faculty of Arts.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

Used with permission from Newsroom White rage and the Capitol rampage 11 January 2021.

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