Over the past week, America and much of the world have watched and reviewed, over and over again, footage of the spectacular events that unfolded in Washington on January 6. But they are yet to agree on what exactly happened in and around the Capitol. day.
Was it an act of resistance against corrupt lawmakers? A violent riot? Crowd-inflicted chaos? An attempted coup? A case of domestic terrorism or an act of sedition against the beacon of American democracy?
President Donald Trump & co saw it as a “legitimate protest”, although it had become chaotic. President-elect Joe Biden insisted it was “an insurgency”, although it had gone badly.
Words matter. Words shape thinking and frame actions. Words express concepts. The concepts have political, security and legal ramifications.
What then should we call what happened on Capitol Hill on January 6th?
To call the violent mob riots a “legitimate protest” gone awry is absurd. A careful dissection of Trump’s speech just before the riots and his social media activity in the preceding weeks signal a serious effort by the president and his henchmen to disrupt Congressional certification of election results.
On the other hand, the evidence observed so far – the lack of secrecy, strategy, contingency, complicity, and precision needed to take control of state powers – makes the labels of “attempted coup” of state ”,“ sedition ”or“ terrorism ”, less appropriate.
Indeed, once the rioters entered the Capitol, they seemed more eager to hang out than to control the premises; happier to carry and wave the Confederate flag than to hoist it over Congress. They seemed more interested in sitting in the seat of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rather than knocking her down. They even left with the lectern of the Chamber without declaring victory.
The rioters came from different states, belonged to different groups and had different agendas. And while they shared some lofty slogans and grandiose goals, none had a clear course of action or goal as of the moment they entered. Certainly not to organize a coup.
When we think of a “coup” we usually think of soldiers or mercenaries with their faces painted black, clad in military fatigues, heavily armed and ready to carry out their secret plot to take power.
But pro-Trump rioters organized themselves openly online, then filmed their entire travels, colored their faces red, blue and white, wore military fatigues, capes made of flags and other costumes. strange mythical heroes of television and video games.
The only “stunt” these hooligans performed was in fashion, not in politics.
For these reasons, it seems that “violent riots” may be a more accurate description of what happened, but as it also describes clashes after a football match, perhaps “violent riots bordering on of insurrection ”are more precise.
But it also misses the big picture. It obscures the role of the president, “the chief trickster,” and ignores the context and nature of the Trump era.
So what happened on Capitol Hill on January 6 was above all a “spectacle”, a “media spectacle” par excellence. And as with everything about Trump, the American media have benefited enormously. CNN, for example, enjoyed the most watched day in its history.
Trump’s glasses have a way of replacing reality and eventually replacing it. They are driven by fiction, not fact, and shaped by fantasy, not reality.
Trump falsely claimed that the election was rigged simply because he lost. He called on his supporters to join a “big demonstration in Washington on January 6,” telling them, “Be there, it will be wild!” They came and it was wild. Crazy and wild show.
He told them to walk to the Capitol and assured them that he would go with them. He does not have. Not because he’s a liar or a coward, God forbid.
Rather because he prefers to watch everything on TV rather than in real life. And he did – from the comfort of the White House.
The images of the smug president and his smug family watching on television screens as his supporters gather for the rally earlier in the day said it all.
All of this is consistent with the president’s record of spending more time watching, appearing, and obsessing over television than presiding over the urgent affairs of the country.
But it was not a spectacle. It was Trump’s ultimate show, the culmination of his four-year presidential shows, but more spectacular than them. It was his battle for the Alamo, and like John Wayne, he produced, directed, and starred in this film. Then everything exploded in his face, big.
And so, just as the Trump presidency started with the show, it seems fitting that it ends with another. As the French philosopher Guy Debord wrote in Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle half a century ago, “The spectacle proves its arguments simply by going in circles: by returning to the beginning, by repetition, by constant reaffirmation in the sole space that remains where everything can be affirmed publicly.
In January 2017, Trump gave his hyperbolic American carnage speech on the steps of the Capitol and then lied about the size of the crowd assembled at his inauguration, turning a minor issue into a national comedy. And last week, his presidency ended with a veritable spectacle of carnage on Capitol Hill, produced under the ridiculous pretext of rigged elections.
Between these two events, for four long years, Trump dictated and exhausted the media, even the national agenda, with rapid leaps from show to show. His presidency has proven to be the gift that continues to deliver countless scandals, fiascos, fanaticism, psychopathy, humiliation, delusion and deception.
And just when it looked like last week’s disastrous show was going to be the last of his shows, the president did the loop again, showing up at his border wall near Alamo – the real one – for another fake show. patriotism the specter of Mexican and Muslim threats, just as he did at the very start of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump is living proof of spectacle in its worst forms, with an unparalleled capacity for deception, repetition, delusion and exclusion.
His success in assembling these glasses is to a large extent the failure of the media. The American media has long chosen the fastest way to make the most of his temper tantrums.
All this must end when he steps down next week. Otherwise, be prepared for another round of more violent shows.