GELFAND’S WORLD--Tuesday and Wednesday were very good days in a pretty good week, in spite of what some members of congress may have said.
But the big story wasn't the capitol riot. And only second best was the Democrats taking control of the U.S. Senate.
The big story of the week, as far as I'm concerned, is Raphael Warnock's victory in Georgia. When many of us were growing up, the state of Georgia wouldn't have let him vote. That was just not the allowable thing for African Americans, who were called by different terms in those days. Now he is the next United States Senator from that once slave, once confederate state. It's something we've been waiting for our whole lives.
Maybe Stacey Abrams should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while we're at it, because her efforts have changed our system for the better in a substantial way.
Let me also point out that it feels really good that the "solid south" is melting away as an electoral bloc. The right wing (which was, at one time, the southern Democrats but is now the Republicans) can no longer count on a solid block of electoral votes from that region. Virginia is now blue, Georgia is still generally red but offers opportunities, and North Carolina and Florida are occasional surprises.
Compared to the south, the west coast and the north Atlantic corridor are solidly partisan, delivering substantial numbers of Democratic electoral votes.
And then there is the second of my three stories -- the fact that the Vice President and the Senate found the resolve to reject Trump's latest attempt at sedition. Admittedly it was Trump's second such offense of the week, what with the telephone call to Georgia's Secretary of State, both an impeachable offense and possibly a serious crime.
Trump failed to sway Mike Pence to do the dirty work, although it is questionable what sort of mischief the V.P. could have done, even if he had wanted to. But at least Pence, for what it's worth, stuck to the script, as 93 senators managed to do also.
And then there was the capitol riot. It got the major headlines all day because it made for effective television. But in the long run (and in spite of the pious speeches made on the floor of the congress just a few hours later), it isn't of much consequence other than the fact that it did the rest of us a favor. That's because it illustrated that when semi-fascist demagoguery is allowed to flow, everyone is at risk, not just the minorities who were the original targets. It was the American version of those famous lines that start, "First they came for the Jews." In one moment, white Republican congressmen were talking up how they would steal back the presidency and two hours later they were hiding under desks and in back offices. And two hours after that, they were speaking out against violence (what amazing hypocrisy!) even as they continued their sleazy attempt to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
It gave television producers what they love -- live feeds of violence in the midst of chaos. I remember TV pundits moaning about how the whole sordid affair was playing out in foreign countries. All the usual concerns were trotted out -- we look bad, we look weak, we look divided (well, they can have that one), and so forth. But I think it will blow over or -- paradoxically -- even rebound to our credit. That's because the short term visit to the U.S. Capitol building by the mob wasn't any kind of defining military movement or even a peasant uprising in some sort of 1920s Soviet film. It was just a moment in which a few Capitol police (usually assigned to answering tourist inquiries) were overwhelmed by an equally disorganized group of self-righteous thugs. Within a few hours, the congress was back in session, putting the final nails in the coffin of Trump's presidency. And while they were doing it, the Republican side, to its credit, talked about preserving democracy above winning in the short term. The more important image of the day was Mike Pence announcing his own defeat and Joe Biden's victory.
The Capitol building is only partly a fortress, and not a very good one at that. It's more of a tourist attraction than a police station. As one colleague remarked, it's harder to get into Vons nowadays than the Capitol. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the mob weren't getting checked for anti-viral face masks.
And let's be clear, it would have been easy to prevent the mob from breaking the doors and windows. All it would have taken would have been fascist resolve and killer instinct. We've known it to happen in lots of other countries. But this was not going to be our Tiananmen Square. The law enforcement officers did not pull out submachine guns and mow down the crowd. They kind of let things go for a while. Presumably they were waiting for reinforcements, knowing that nobody was going to steal one of the marble statues or go home with an oil painting.
What we saw on Wednesday wasn't the triumph of Trump style fascism, much as the crowd might have wished. It was a substantial defeat in a political war that was gasping its last breaths on the floor of the House of Representatives. The political movement didn't die on this day, but its ability to engage in public intimidation (such as we've been seeing in Huntington Beach and in a few supermarkets) was struck a serious blow.
There will be finger pointing about the role and capabilities of the Capitol police. What was missing on Wednesday afternoon was the foresight to take precautions against a violent mob armed with flag poles and chairs. It's the sort of mob that's easy to defeat, but the standard method is to amass the reinforcements and then drive them out, step by step. Perhaps somebody should have shown the proper foresight, but there is a balance between security procedures and having a government complex that celebrates freedom and the ability to visit. Put it this way -- how many tourists have stood in line in order to touch the rock brought back from the moon in the air and space museum just off the national mall?
I had a curious thought while watching the mob scene on television. It reminded me of nothing so much as student demonstrations and anti-war mobs of the 1960s. The main difference is that the news now comes in High Definition color images. The similarity was that when a mob took over the administration building at Harvard, it milled around, not really knowing what to do, and the latter day Capitol Hill mob was similarly confused.
Political Opportunism was Served
It gave a few Republican senators -- the ones who were playing along out of opportunism but had a few qualms -- a chance to back down from those stupid attempts to ask the congress to undercut the electoral votes from numerous swing states. What started as a group of 13 senators, all signed on to contest the electoral votes of half a dozen swing states, dwindled to 6 when it came time to act against the Arizona election and to 7 when it came time to vote on Pennsylvania. Somehow the opposition side in the senate found 93 and 92 votes respectively, resulting in overwhelming defeats for the obstructionists.
And when it came to objections against other states' electoral votes -- Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia -- the House members putting forth the complaints found themselves without even a single senator to cosign, which is a requirement for such a protest to be taken up for debate. The whole Republican side of the senate seemed to have melted away. Either that or they were getting tired of going through the same scripted battles, having already lost big on the Arizona objection, and were trying to salvage whatever they could of their ability to work in a suddenly Democratic senate.
Rumors on both sides now
It didn't take long for the right wing to gin up a pretend story to blame the whole rotten afternoon on somebody else. We get a report on the right wing media reaction from Kevin Drum, among others, who reported that Fox and their ilk want to suggest that it was really a left wing false flag operation. You know, it was those Antifa guys who are to blame whenever something bad happens, even if it's grungy fellows wearing red MAGA hats and carrying Trump flags who happen to be breaking the windows, climbing the outer walls, and lounging in the offices of the capitol. No, they couldn't just be ordinary Trump supporters showing the behavioral traits of that species.
There are even some rumors that the rioters came to the Capitol intending to take members of congress as hostages, and even to try them for crimes. Some rumor mongers went so far as to suggest the intent to execute some members of congress. This would have been the logical goal of a truly fascist mob with serious intent, but nothing we saw on television suggested that this was really a plan.
What will we see of the president from now on?
Meanwhile, CBS reported on rumors that the president's cabinet were talking among themselves about invoking the 25th Amendment. Right now it's just swamp gas, but the effect would be to remove Donald Trump from being able to act as the president.
There were also rumors reported on some internet sites that the presidential staff were concerned because the president was acting like a madman.
By the way, doing a 25th on Trump would at least prevent him from pardoning the capitol rioters en masse. The whole idea would be otherwise inconceivable, but with Trump you have to imagine . . .
Democratic leaders are also demanding an investigation of the way the senate handled its internal security, with Chuck Schumer demanding that the senate's Sergeant at Arms be fired. Hear that sound? Could it be heads rolling?
And finally . . .
Steven Colbert did a live version of his A Late Show and got off a remarkably eloquent rip on the Republican senators who played the demagogue and ultimately inspired the violence. The recording of that monologue should be saved and treated as a historic document.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)