Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Last Two Weeks Begin with an Attempt on the End


Thoughts on Trump's Self-Coup Attempt, Colored by Latin America

Armed police take positions as mob assaults U.S. Congress

     President Trump tried something they would call an autogolpe, a self-coup, in the "banana republics" of Latin America  -- a despicable term used by arrogant Americans once unfamiliar with coups at home. I covered the region for more than three decades and saw such maneuvers up close.  The action means the chief of state forcibly eliminates the power of the legislative branch of the government so he (yes, generally a he) can rule alone, or with lackeys and lawmakers answerable only to him. 

    At a rally in front of the White House, Trump baptized followers as shock troops and sent them forth to assault the U.S. Capitol as Congress met to formally seal the results of Joe Biden's election. Like everyone else, I was glued to television, radio and the internet as the spectacle that rocked my country unfolded, as Trump's troops occupied the Congress, as hundreds of elected officials cowered in justifiable fear for their lives or stepped fast to secret locations. Late in the day, I re-ran the Trump rally online. The center seemed to be holding and I wanted to know what kind of talk would move thousands to violate the law, history, decency, the Constitution. And anyway, who could sleep? Researching a book I wrote on World War II in Latin America, I had spent countless hours watching and listening to videos and recordings of that era's fascists.  Trump's echo of those voices, and their distortion of history, was overwhelming, like a match on kindle.

    In an autogolpe I covered in Guatemala in 1993, the big question for hours was whether the military would back the president, or the Constitution. (The military was split, but under U.S. Embassy pressure, the key elements eventually stood against the president.) For hours in Washington during Trump's self-coup,  which side the armed authorities were taking wasn't clear either -- police sometimes seemed to facilitate the insurrectionists, or appear passive, and only after agonizing hours did a few authorities -- absent Trump -- find backbones and call in the National Guard. The casualties in Washington could have been worse. The White Supremacist Proud Boys leader had been arrested a couple of days earlier on the way into D.C., long guns and bumpstocks confiscated.  Two IEDs planted on Capitol grounds, the kind of weapon that has killed more than 2,000 GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan, were disarmed before they could explode.

The self-serving resignations of Trump's administration enablers has begun, but many remain, and even after the mayhem, more than half of the Republican members of Congress were willing to go along with delaying the formality of saying yes, Biden won. (Their moves lost.)  I have not been able to travel to work in Latin America since the COVID lockdown began, but the region's worst days in my memory feel close by. It is going to be a long two weeks.

Photos: Both, Wikimedia Commons
Police in Congress is a still from video shot by Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint