The storming of the Capitol Building by a right-wing mob this week has been dominating headlines and fueling a broad array of discourse across social media. Debates over how the riot should be analyzed within the context of four years under Trump and an upcoming power transition have been debated fervently. I would argue that the raid on the capital by the strike-force of Constitution Dads and viking cosplayers can be best understood not as a coup or insurrection but as a manifestation of the spectacle politics which have infected both conservatives and liberals in this country.
The field of discourse in the mainstream US political landscape are narrow and discussions of class are taboo across both parties. Issues are portrayed in simple narratives of Democrat vs Republican, Liberal vs Conservative locked in a deadly struggle over largely symbolic and ascetic debates which are can be fed into digestible news. The vast areas in which the parties agree and collaborate (deregulation of the financial industry, military spending, use of drone attack and torture in conflicts) go undiscussed unless a partisan angle can be found. The two party media landscape instructs the public to become perpetually enraged over stories which have little impact on their lives while they are continuously immiserated by the actual workings of the system.
A politics without material critique is how you get middle class liberals fawning over frumpy FBI agents and losing their minds over Russiagate, the one crime Donald Trump didn’t actually commit. It’s also how you end up with an angry mob storming the Capital Building as essentially a social media stunt. A Virginia state senator who participated in the protest wrote that the participants were there to prevent “our great republic turn[ing] into a socialist country” (Kilander, Gustaf). Why not? In a political context where material betterment has been traded in for symbolism, this riot may as well have been a heroic last stand by patriots against the new Bolshevism of the child molesting deep state. That’s no more shallow and stupid than thinking that Amazon and Uber sincerely care about Black Lives Matter or that Trump will be swooped up by Robert Muller once he gets out of office. Political thought which has lost touch with class struggle will always veer into the realm of mythology. Angry at the state and goaded on by their leader and media outlets the fringe right decided to act out their fantasies. We should all be careful our own political movements don’t also turn into self satisfied LARPing.
References: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election-2020/republican-lawmakers-rioters-capitol-photos-b1784170.html Kilander, Gustaf, Six Republican lawmakers among rioters as police release photos of wanted, The Independent.