The State of the Disunion, 2021

See update for January 17, 2021, at end of post.


In the wake of the January 6 (2021) riot, in which Trumpsters overran the U.S. Capitol while Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden’s November (2020) election victory,[1] with the apparent connivance of many in the U.S. Capitol Police,[2] a question that should be on people’s minds is, what now?

We have a significant, historically privileged segment of the population that feels alienated from a non-homogenous society, that, as Kim Messick put it, largely “identif[ies] the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and . . . equate[s] any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, ‘un-American’ forces,”[3] in a time when the failure of one of those values—capitalism, which they associate with ‘freedom’ (as always, ask, for whom, to do what, to whom?),[4]— is ever more apparent,[5] in a time when—for many of the rest of us—social justice is ever more imperative, in a time when the climate crisis—nature’s rebuttal to a relentlessly extractive, exploitive, that is, capitalist, society—is increasingly difficult to ignore.

The world is simply not what Donald Trump’s base, largely consisting of authoritarian populist, paleoconservatives, and social conservatives, generally racist and at least to some degree white supremacist, expect and demand it to be. But because their identity is wrapped up in a delusion, they desperately seek validation to reaffirm that delusion.[6] And it is increasingly apparent, as if it should not already have been beyond blindingly obvious, that Trumpsters include many among the police and military, and indeed that some are members of right-wing militia groups.[7] These are dangerous people and there are a lot of them.

The world is also not what many of the rest of us expect and demand it to be. I might shake my head and roll my eyes in wonderment as I pass an ordinary house in a Pittsburgh suburb with a white Trump flag atop a high pole in the corner of its front yard that somehow evokes a military outpost in a remote frontier. We might shake our heads, roll our eyes, and even snicker a bit when we see Trump’s face photoshopped onto Rambo’s body, carrying a massive submachine gun, on a billboard.

But what are we when we carry on as if our system of government,[8] as if our system of economics,[9] is anything other than a means for the wealthy and powerful to extract ever more from us in service to those same wealthy and powerful,[10] even as the death toll from COVID-19 now reaches 372,651,[11] that is, far beyond a hundred times that from the 9/11 attacks that plunged us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? What are we when we say of white supremacy that “this is not America,” even as labeling the United States in that way appropriates the name of an entire hemisphere, populated largely by Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nonwhites, even as we cage their children on our borders, even as our wars kill and seek dominion over largely nonwhite populations, even with the pronounced intersection of race (nonwhite) and class (poor) in our own country? What are we when we deny the profound differences amongst our own population and insist on a United States?[12] What are we?

We are just as surely as deluded as the Trumpsters we condemn.


Update, January 16, 2021: Gerald Seib, at the Wall Street Journal, supports a narrative that blames ‘Trumpism’ on neoliberal trade policy and largely treats racism and white supremacy as an ancillary issue. He sees the January 6, 2021, riot as a culmination.[13] There is, of course, more to it, including a 1,000-year history,[14] but to my knowledge, no one, including me, seems to have explored well how all this came together.

It is only rarely the case that phenomena can be attributed to singular causes;[15] the tendency to do so generally should be regarded as a fallacy of linear causation.

One example in which the economic explanation comes up short is in the stark discrepancy between the law enforcement response to the January 6 riot and to Black Lives Matter protests.[16] This discrepancy only becomes starker when the Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned in advance of a possible attack on January 6[17] and indeed that the Capitol Police had also warned themselves.[18] These warnings clearly indicated a possibility of violence,[19] yet the failings on that date “could mean that there were inherent biases, where people discounted this, and just didn’t think a large group of White conservatives who generally ally with the police and the GOP lawmakers, who were also present there that day, would be violent.”[20]


Update, January 17, 2021: The weak police response to Trumpsters overrunning the U.S. Capitol unsurprisingly fits a pattern.[21]

  1. [1]Ted Barrett, Manu Raju, and Peter Nickeas, “US Capitol secured, woman dead after rioters stormed the halls of Congress to block Biden’s win,” CNN, January 6, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/06/politics/us-capitol-lockdown/index.html; Talia Lavin, “The Violent Crescendo of the MAGA Conspiracies,” New Republic, January 6, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/160814/trump-protesters-attack-us-capital; Rebecca Tan et al., “Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol, with one woman killed and tear gas fired,” Washington Post, January 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trump-supporters-storm-capitol-dc/2021/01/06/58afc0b8-504b-11eb-83e3-322644d82356_story.html
  2. [2]Kyle Cheney, Sarah Ferris, and Laura Barrón-López, “‘Inside job’: House Dems ask if Capitol rioters had hidden help,” Politico, January 8, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/08/congress-democrats-capitol-riot-inside-job-456725; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-07/la-na-washington-capitol-police-attack-race
  3. [3]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “When confusion starts killing people, it is long past time to recognize it for what it is,” Not Housebroken, April 21, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/21/when-confusion-starts-killing-people-it-is-long-past-time-to-recognize-it-for-what-it-is/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, December 24, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/; David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/19/a-piper-needs-paying/; David Benfell, “Market homelessness,” Not Housebroken, January 1, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/01/01/market-homelessness/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Doubting the ‘Fox News bubble,’” Not Housebroken, January 9, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/07/doubting-the-fox-news-bubble/
  7. [7]Lois Beckett, “How the US military has failed to address white supremacy in its ranks,” Guardian, June 24, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/us-military-white-supremacy-extremist-plot; Mark Berman et al., “Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people,” Washington Post, June 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/protests-spread-over-police-shootings-police-promised-reforms-every-year-they-still-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2020/06/08/5c204f0c-a67c-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html; Kyle Cheney, Sarah Ferris, and Laura Barrón-López, “‘Inside job’: House Dems ask if Capitol rioters had hidden help,” Politico, January 8, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/08/congress-democrats-capitol-riot-inside-job-456725; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/time-toss-bad-apples-excuse/; Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-07/la-na-washington-capitol-police-attack-race; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/police-officer-shootings-gun-violence-racial-bias-crime-data/595528/; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/; Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-do-we-change-america
  8. [8]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, December 24, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/; David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/19/a-piper-needs-paying/; David Benfell, “Market homelessness,” Not Housebroken, January 1, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/01/01/market-homelessness/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Imagine a malicious elite,” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/18/imagine-a-malicious-elite/
  11. [11]New York Times, “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” January 10, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Pure poison,” Not Housebroken, January 9, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/17/pure-poison/
  13. [13]Gerald F. Seib, “Where Trump Came From—and Where Trumpism Is Going,” Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/where-trump-came-fromand-where-trumpism-is-going-11610726416
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’ Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  15. [15]Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (New York: Anchor, 1996); Joanna Macy, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory (Delhi, India: Sri Satguru, 1995); Edgar Morin, On Complexity (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2008).
  16. [16]Kyle Cheney, Sarah Ferris, and Laura Barrón-López, “‘Inside job’: House Dems ask if Capitol rioters had hidden help,” Politico, January 8, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/08/congress-democrats-capitol-riot-inside-job-456725; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-07/la-na-washington-capitol-police-attack-race; Matt Stieb, “Capitol Police Suspends Cops for Allegedly Siding With Pro-Trump Mob,” New York, January 11, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/01/two-capitol-cops-suspended-for-actions-during-capitol-riot.html
  17. [17]Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” Washington Post, January 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/capitol-riot-fbi-intelligence/2021/01/12/30d12748-546b-11eb-a817-e5e7f8a406d6_story.html
  18. [18]Carol D. Leonnig, “Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted,” Washington Post, January 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/capitol-police-intelligence-warning/2021/01/15/c8b50744-5742-11eb-a08b-f1381ef3d207_story.html
  19. [19]Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” Washington Post, January 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/capitol-riot-fbi-intelligence/2021/01/12/30d12748-546b-11eb-a817-e5e7f8a406d6_story.html; Carol D. Leonnig, “Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted,” Washington Post, January 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/capitol-police-intelligence-warning/2021/01/15/c8b50744-5742-11eb-a08b-f1381ef3d207_story.html
  20. [20]Mary McCord, quoted in Carol D. Leonnig, “Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted,” Washington Post, January 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/capitol-police-intelligence-warning/2021/01/15/c8b50744-5742-11eb-a08b-f1381ef3d207_story.html
  21. [21]Maggie Koerth, “The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration,” FiveThirtyEight, January 7, 2021, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-polices-tepid-response-to-the-capitol-breach-wasnt-an-aberration/

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