Meanwhile, several hundred evacuated solons sweated together in their hiding place. Some of the Republicans, steadfastly loyal to their death cult, refused the face masks offered by police. One outraged Democrat described it as a “super-spreader event”. Hours later, Representative Jake La Turner, a Trump diehard from Kansas, punctually tested positive for the virus.
Predictably liberal pundits are now telling us that the far right has committed suicide, that the age of Trump has ended, and that the Democrats are free to build their shining city on the hill.
In fact the riot was a deus ex machina that lifted the curse of Trump from the careers of conservative war hawks and rightwing young lions whose higher ambitions have been fettered by the presidential cult.
By the White House’s Führerprinzip standards, Trump’s former praetorian guard – senators Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Ben Sasse, Marco Rubio and Jim Lankford – are now traitors beyond the pale. Ironically this frees them to become potential presidential contenders in a still far-right but post-Trump party. Moreover their path has been eased by Ted Cruz’s stupid and self-destructive decision to pose as leader of the president’s angry mob.
The resumed joint session on Wednesday night and Thursday morning was the et tu, Brute? moment as former hardcore Trumpites, including half of the “stolen election” crew, imitated Biden’s call for “a return to decency” and denounced the actions of the zombified plain folk whom they had hours earlier applauded as patriots.
Let’s be clear about what happened: the monolith has cracked and the Republican party is splitting up. Preparations for this have been in progress since the election, with various conservative elites loosely but energetically conspiring to take back power from the Trump family. Big business especially has been burning its bridges to the White House in the wake of the Covid-19 disaster and Trump’s chaotic war on constitutional government.
The most sensational defection involves that bedrock Republican institution, the National Association of Manufacturers. While the riot was in progress, they called upon Pence to use the 25th amendment to depose Trump. Of course, they had been happy enough during the first three years of his regime to enjoy the colossal tax cuts, comprehensive rollbacks of environmental and labor regulation, and trade sanctions on China, but the last year brought the unavoidable recognition that the White House was wildly incapable of managing major national crises or ensuring basic economic and political stability.
The goal is to realign power within the party more closely with traditional capitalist power centers such as NAM and the Business Roundtable as well as with the Koch family, long uncomfortable with Trump. However, there should be no illusion that “moderate Republicans” have suddenly been raised from the grave; the emerging project will preserve the core alliance between Christian evangelicals and economic conservatives and presumably defend most of the Trump-era legislation.
Institutionally, Senate Republicans, with a strong roster of talented young predators, will rule the post-Trump camp, a generational succession that will probably be cinched before their Democratic counterparts finally throw off their own octogenarian oligarchy. The internal competition will be fierce, another monster’s ball, but centrist Democrats should be wary of issuing death warrants. Liberated from Trump’s electronic fatwas some of the younger Republican senators may prove to be formidable competitors for the white college-educated suburban vote that has been the holy grail for the Democratic establishment.
That’s one side of the split. The other is more dramatic: the true Trumpists have become a de facto third party, bunkered down in state legislatures and the House of Representatives. As Trump embalms himself in bitter revenge fantasies, reconciliation between the two camps is improbable.
A poll on Tuesday found that 45% of Republican voters supported the storming of the Capitol. These true believers will enable Trump to terrorize Republican primaries in 2022 and ensure the preservation of a large contingent in the House as well as in red state legislatures. (Republicans in the Senate, accessing huge corporate donations, are far less vulnerable to such challenges.)
Democrats may gloat at the prospect of an open civil war among Republicans, but their own divisions have been rubbed raw by Biden’s refusal to share power with progressives. The best hope for the left will be sweeping electoral reforms that roll back Republican voter restrictions and accelerate the racial and generational turnover of the electorate. But Mitch McConnell’s chief legacy, a far-right supreme court, may be an insuperable obstacle.
In any event, the only future that we can reliably foresee – a continuation of extreme socio-economic turbulence – renders political crystal balls almost useless. The civil cold war in America is far from over.
Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Late Victorian Holocausts, Buda’s Wagon, and Planet of Slums. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Diego
This piece is updated from when it originally appeared on NLR Sidecar
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