As American graduate students pursuing degrees at the University of Oxford, we were grateful for the Blue’s coverage of the events that transpired in the U.S. capital on January 6th. However, McCathie’s article, while commendable for its condemnation of the violence wrought by supporters of President Trump’s “Save America Rally,” fails to address the underlying causes of the violence.
The subtitle of William McCathie’s piece, “Trumpism’s Last Gasp,” alone, belies a misplaced degree of confidence in Biden’s confirmation as the neat resolution of four years of securitarian logic and calls to undermine democracy. This confidence pervades both the article’s dismissal of impeachment proceedings by Democrats as “petty,” vengeful, having “only the purpose of flipping Donald Trump the bird” and its characterization of companies’ decisions to delete Trump’s social media accounts for violation of policy as “censorship.” The underlying sentiment seems to be that Trumpism has been vanquished, “the status quo has been restored,” and that even those 147 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn election results mere hours after the violent occupation of the Capitol Building, are primed for reconciliation. But has American democracy truly emerged as unscathed as the article leads readers to believe? We disagree.
In this letter we write not on behalf of all Americans who are affiliated with the University, but rather for ourselves and any who read McCathie’s article and were filled with similar apprehension. We offer an alternative interpretation of the impact of January 6th that we hope, avoids repeating the dangerous complacency from liberals in 2016 that allowed for Trump’s rise to power.
When discussing the gravity of the events of January 6th, we take issue with the article’s use of the term “riot” and refusal to refer to the invasion of the Capitol building as a “coup” or “insurrection.” The word “riot” has a particular racial connotation in the United States. However, unintentionally, in labeling the violence perpetrated by Trump supporters as a “riot” the article validates the strategy that is being used by conservatives to equate the “Save America Rally” with “Black Lives Matter.” We could dedicate another letter to the falseness of this equivalency; however, suffice it to say, only the former engaged in an armed occupation of a government building to interrupt the exchange of power and attempt to overturn election results.
Moreover, a congressional staffer and friend of one of the authors of this letter, was disappointed with the author’s unwillingness to call the events of January 6th a coup, while concurrently labelling social media’s shutdown of Trump’s account a “counter-coup.” This trivializes the violence felt by those who experienced the insurrection first hand. The congressional staffer shares their insight into the severity of the events that transpired in the hopes that future Blue articles are more thoughtful about the implications of their diction:
“As a Capitol Hill staffer, I was frozen in horror as I helplessly watched the Capitol building, my office, under siege. I was in disbelief that the building itself could be breached. I feared for my colleagues who, unlike me, were there in person on January 6th and were forced to hide in closets and conference rooms for hours while the insurrectionists attempted to kidnap and murder Members of Congress, the Vice President, the media, and anyone else who got in their way.
The author of this piece seems to want to quibble over language like coup or insurrection, but is there any question that this was an attack on the seat of democracy as our legislators conducted the processes to ensure a peaceful transition of power? Is there any question that many of the invaders intended death and destruction? Given these indisputable facts, it is ironic to hear this author call for next steps to promote unity without any desire to seek accountability to fix what led to this horrific mess in the first place. To get to my office right now, I have to go through 3 checkpoints with armed guards. It is more of an active-duty combat zone than the People’s House. This cannot be the new normal.”
Our central problem with the article is that while it condemns the violence that happened on January 6th, it does not address any of its underlying causes: the violence and falsehoods expressed on far-right social media accounts; the complicity of many Republican leaders; the white privilege which emboldens Trump supporters to see insurrection as their right; and institutional negligence in holding Trump responsible for his actions. These factors, and more, created the context for this insurrection. Twitter, and other social media platforms, decided to address some of these causes by banning sources of misinformation, including the Presidential account, which have enflamed conspiracy theories for months. Social media companies are within their right to do this, and since banning Trump, the level of misinformation drastically declined on their platforms. In this wake of this chaos, many moderates and republicans claimed that they want an end to violence, but they simultaneously shrink back from all measures which could address its roots and instead place the onus for reconciliation and rebuilding on the Democrats. This article falls into a similar pattern when it critiques impeachment and the banning of Trump’s social media accounts without outlining an alternative mechanism of accountability.
The New York Times affirms that now-former Senate majority leader and Republican, Mitch McConnell, stated on Tuesday, January 19th,that Trump supporters were “fed lies” and “provoked by the President and other powerful people to overturn the election on bogus claims of voter fraud.” And yet, McConnell himself, along with other members of the Republican party, have refused to take any steps to hold him accountable. In this instance, impeachment is not a question of political reprisal but rather about two practical consequences for Trump’s “incitement of insurrection.”
First, it would prevent Trump from ever again running for, or serving in, higher office. If he is not impeached and convicted, he can run for office again. Whether the Republican Party will accept him as a nominee is inconsequential, considering that his rhetoric itself, even as a third-party candidate, is extremely divisive and antithetical to the “healing” mentioned in the article.
If it is true as the article claims, that “there is more than enough evidence to prove Donald Trump has defiled the office of president and has committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’” then according to most interpretations of U.S. law, he is both unfit to serve and impeachable. The article’s reasoning for ignoring Trump’s “’high crimes and misdemeanours’” seems to stem from the fact that they occurred at a “late point” in his term. Yet, this establishes a precedent that is much more dangerous than the slippery slope of tech “censorship” that the article alludes to, because it implies that the outgoing President is above the rule of law. Impeachment after his role in the insurrection sets a historical precedent that calls to undermine democracy have no place in U.S. political discourse and that American democracy as the article phrases it, is more than a mere “American experiment.”
Second, the proceedings themselves have prevented Trump from pardoning the members of the “Save America Rally” who invaded the Capitol building. While under impeachment investigation, the President cannot utilize his power to pardon when it relates to the case at hand; thereby, limiting the potential for the miscarriage of justice.
Trumpism is going nowhere. Trump’s appeal to white nationalism and populism brought forth a sector of the American population that existed long before him and will exist long after him. What we saw January 6th was not “Trumpism’s final gasp,” especially not if Americans continue to deny the consequences of it.
— Javaria Abbasi, Lady Margaret Hall
–Cameron Bertron, St Cross College
Correction: the staffer had been misquoted. They had used the term “insurrectionists”, not “rioters”