Reflections on the death throes of Trumpism
What exactly did we all see yesterday? Why did thousands of Trump supporters engage in a violent attack on the most sacred symbol of American democracy? Was their sacking of the US Capitol Building an expression of righteous indignation, patriotism, and duty to the Constitution? Was it a coup attempt seeking to quickly seize overall control of the US government through the use of force? Was it an act of domestic terrorism with the singular focus of violently threatening American civilians for political purposes? Whatever it was, it will be remembered as the moment that Trumpism through both its leadership and followers was exposed as a threat to American democracy.
To answer these questions we must consider what yesterday was and was not. Yesterday was not a coup attempt or a terrorist attack. It did not involve the military or a small group of people around the president attempting to directly seize the White House or central power of the government. Nor was it an organized use of violence by a clandestine organization against a civilian population to achieve a political goal. Although in all honesty, the more that comes out about the weapons that have been found so far, the more I want to reserve final judgment on this being a potential case of domestic terrorism.
It was however definitely an insurrection, a violent popular uprising against authority. The truly amazing part is that it was fomented by the President of the United States against his own government. And some will only slowly realize what many of us knew immediately: that yesterday was a logical step in the progression of the psychology of Trumpism. Many observers have always assumed there was a significant streak of violence within the Trump base, but I am not sure anyone could have envisioned what we witnessed.
The thing that has always tied Trump and his supporters together more than anything else is an unyielding belief in self. Thinking only of self and relying only on your experiences to understand truth is a powerful foundation for sincerity and righteousness. But it also means that any alternative to your truth is an inherent threat not just to your beliefs, but who you are. For Trump himself this psychology is driven by ego, and for his supporters it is mostly about a spiritual sense of belonging and empowerment.
But for both it manifests as a willingness to attack anyone and anything that represents alternative truths. And by attacking the very foundations of the nation they purport to love so much, the true weaknesses and failures of Trumpism were revealed to all. Trumpism is a psychology of hypocrisy precisely because it requires every vision of America to be a reflection of themselves in order to reinforce value and purpose.
So why did so many thousands of Trump supporters desecrate the US Capitol Building? The simple answer is because they are angry and privileged. The proximate cause of their anger was a morning rally held by the president and his sycophants during which multiple individuals made explicit references to the use of violence and aggression by the mob. They were encouraged by the most powerful people in our government to attack the foundations of our democracy simply to assuage Trump’s ego.
Beginning before the 2016 election and rooted in some of America’s darkest narratives of racism and xenophobia, yesterday was the fruit of a tree that has been carefully nurtured throughout Trump’s presidency. From birtherism to QAnon he has promoted the absolute worst of America by any means necessary, and always for his own gain. The violence may have manifested yesterday, but it was years in the making and the direct result of Trump’s leadership and behavior. And that violence, like Trump’s entire presidency, is built on anger that has existed in portions of white America since our founding.
They are angry over what they see as the steady erosion of the pillars of our national identity formed with principles that they hold dear to this day. It is anger born from the inability to see just how much the American principles of freedom, liberty, and justice have been long intertwined with racism, bigotry, and hatred. The scene at the US Capitol building yesterday would have seemed eerily familiar to anyone who had witnessed a lynching, or any of the other forms of mob justice perpetrated throughout American history. That is because it was the anger of a group that enjoys enough power and privilege to attack a system they are sure they control.
It is the anger of people who do not understand why they are vilified and ridiculed rather than complimented and admired. They want to be proud of the land they have worked hard to improve, not chastised for who they stole it from or who their great-grandfathers forced to work it. And they want people to understand that it is their success that built this country, no matter how much that success was in turn built on the opportunities denied to others. And as yesterday showed in stark relief, they believe their success has always been determined by their willingness to use violence against anyone who disagrees.
What we saw yesterday was the zenith of Trumpism. For Trump and his supporters, they will revel in this day as a new July 4th proudly telling their children how they took selfies on the dais of the U.S. Senate. But for the rest of America, they have become more of a threat. Those who have worked all along to counter Trumpism will now be emboldened in ways they could not consider before. Trump’s social media accounts have been suspended and wide ranging investigations into organizers and participants of the insurrection have begun. For many Americans, Trump and his supporters are a much more real and violent threat today than they were yesterday.
But perhaps most importantly, those who have consistently invented new ways to rationalize their support for him will no longer be able to hide from the truth. There are many who have professed dislike for him as a person, but believe he has a plan or is just representative of the average American. Yesterday showed clearly that Trump has no political philosophy, no plan for America, and no concern for the average American. He has only ever been concerned with himself and has consistently shown a willingness to destroy anything around him for protection. And yesterday also showed that even if it involves the foundations of American democracy many of his supporters feel the same way.
Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of international relations, political theory, and security studies. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.