By Dr. Devika Brendon
What happened on 6 January in the US Capitol was the equivalent of what psychologists call a flash point. This is the point at which a conflict of values or an internal or underlying struggle becomes violent, and emerges into the open in a way that cannot be glossed over or denied.
It was difficult to look away, or turn the sound off, as video footage was broadcast on every news channel, with the visual evidence being decorated with lavish amounts of subjective and biased opinion by journalists and Media reporters.
Some called it an insurrection, some a peaceful protest that was sabotaged by other more radicalised elements. Two people could view the same footage and frame it in completely different ways.
The 45th President’s daughter deleted a tweet in which she had called the protestors ‘American Patriots’, and urging them not to resort to violence. Even she could clearly see by then that people who were destroying Government property - smashing windows and breaking down doors, making death threats to the existing lawmakers and defiling the statuary and buildings with excrement - could not be described as engaging in ‘patriotic’ behaviour.
Just like a person who deliberately destroys a home cannot in truth be called a ‘home maker’.
The right of the public to question the decisions made by elected officials is recognised and upheld in a democracy. Indeed, the right to freedom of speech and lawful protest is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Second Amendment protects the rights of citizens to ‘bear arms’, meaning the right to carry weapons like guns and rifles and shotguns, with suitable licenses, for self protection.
These weapons are permitted in the hands of U.S. citizens. And the normalisation of violence in their culture has occurred as a result, and is celebrated in their film industry and the popular culture Media networks which the US globally dominates.
The protest that took place on 6 January in the Capitol took some hours to reach a flashpoint. But it was relatively easy to trace the underlying buildup of tension which led to it being entirely foreseeable, in the two months since the November election results, which were contested continually and publicly by the loser. His declarations undermined people’s belief in the validity of their own processes of governance.
In speech after speech, sound bite after sound bite, this leader of a nation of 330 million citizens vehemently declared his belief that the election was ‘stolen from him by fraud’. This was his justification for mobilising his followers and encouraging them to ‘take their country back’.
People rallying outside the Capitol were heard saying the building was theirs. They wanted to show their ownership of it, by overrunning it, by disrupting its processes, disrespecting the work and lives of the people within it, and threatening those who protected it.
Ordinary Americans amongst the rioters were seen in casual clothes, rifling through documents left on desktops in the room where the votes were being counted, putting their feet up on Speaker Pelosi’s desk, leaving handwritten notes for lawmakers, stealing laptop computers, and documenting what they were doing, including defacing and taking selfies with statuary and against the backdrop of paintings from U.S. history.
One of those rifling through files and documents said they were ‘looking for “Intelligence”’. This interesting comment suggests that there were multiple aspects to the planning of this event, and a number of different kinds of perpetrators: a mob, hungry for food, opportunity, freedom or justice; political and corporate figures - including senators and lawmakers - who funded voter dissatisfaction and encouraged the protestors, by bussing or flying them into the Capitol on the day; and peaceful protestors who genuinely believed that their Democracy was being violated by fraudulent voting processes. The mob got the public attention, but the political and corporate figures behind them do not want the recognition (and the damaging consequences) for their support of what is now being called ‘incitement to riot’.
In many revolutions and uprisings throughout human history, we see this kind of behaviour. The mob delight in degrading the sanctity of respected spaces, mocking and calling into disrepute dignified activities, and forcefully lowering people - who have been seen as ‘elite and superior’ to common people - into the mud, and humiliating them.
There was even a noose and hanging scaffold (a supposedly non-working symbolic visual prop) which was seen in the vicinity, accompanied by yells of ‘hang Mike Pence’, the Republican Party Vice President, who was among the earliest to be taken to safety, for refusing to declare the election a fraud, thereby legitimizing the transition of power from one party, his own, to another.
Many outraged commentators condemned the protesters, and described what happened as ‘not being a reflection of us’.
But one of the US’s most beloved poets, Walt Whitman, gave us a perfect caption to accompany the bizarre sight of one of the protestors, bedaubed with tricolor paint, and decked in animal skins, a self-described ‘Shaman’ loudly yelling in the room where the democratic processes of government are supposed to take place in dignity:
‘I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’
Flash points occur when the parts of us which are ‘not a bit tamed’ erupt into the social discourse. Like a child telling its parents that they are not going to obey their dictates, but will choose their own way; like an employee handing in their resignation when their requests for improvement are not heeded. The outgoing President’s refusal to recognise his public loss is in keeping with his own consistent mockery of those he calls ‘failures’ and ‘losers’. It is a psychological pathology which many people in public life possess. Self belief is an important part of their appeal, and surrounded only by their supporters and parasitic entities who seek to enrich themselves while their leader is in power, they uphold that belief in the face of everything that threatens it, especially evidence based in facts which (of course) they call into doubt at every opportunity.
He has now been served a vote of ‘no confidence’ in a recent election. And the recent public conduct of his followers has amplified that loss. No amount of gloss and gilt can shine this flash point into something admirable.
Trump’s most telling comment, in my opinion, was that he wished his supporters did not look so low class. Perhaps he could have attracted a higher class of supporter by lifting his own leadership game to a better level - not only for his own supporters, but for the whole country he took an oath to serve.