As I begin to write this, it has been almost exactly a week since the Storming of the Capitol in Washington D.C.
What is perhaps as noteworthy as the event itself is the reaction to it. So many different aspects of the event and the reaction have stirred so many different feelings in me.
There’s the right-wing media’s refusal to even suggest that the insurgency was what it was, terrorism. Hypocrisy irritates me at its’ most harmless, but at this level, when the plain fact is that the word “terrorists” would be plastered across multiple Fox News overlays on a single screen, were the insurgents not white, is maddening both from a social perspective and from a purely analytical “how the f**k do they not think people aren’t going to notice or care?” perspective.
There is the pity I feel for the millions of regular Americans, the basically good folk that, no matter where they land on the political spectrum, are not involved in extreme or bigoted thoughts and actions and are simply good, normal, and often boring (in the best possible way) people.
Then, at the heart of everything there is the very fact that far-right terrorists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington. I realise saying that in such a long-form manner may sound a little clunky, but that is how I need to say it in my head every time to get my head around the enormity of it. That is kind of the point. This was not a sit-in at a town hall where members of the PTA were riled up about a school board decision, this was a violent mob intent of overturning, or at least hindering the progress of, the national election in on of the biggest and most prominent countries in the world. Gallows were constructed either for symbolism or worse, and given the way America has been going in recent years, I would be making absolutely no bets on which. Also yet again, in a major event on the streets of the country of law and order, of democracy, of virtue, people died.
One of the reactions that has got me thinking the most is one that my attention was drawn to, not by the event itself, but by something pointed out by Amber Ruffin on her show; that of people claiming that the goings on in D.C. last week were not representative of America.
As I have mentioned, I am not immune to the fact that there are millions of honest, hard-working, and basically decent people living in America. The point of this piece is not to decry Americans as one homogenous group of people, equally responsible for all happenings in the nation. In fact, there are aspects of America that I love and would not be without. A great deal of the media I enjoy, music, television, films come out of America. I am writing this while watching an American TV programme, produced by an American company, on a computer made by an American company, with the streaming service and the writing programme, also American, open on the desktop which, you guessed it, is a stunning picture of one of the most distinctively American skylines and my genuine favourite place in the world; New York City.
In fact, New York City embodies what is best about America. It is imperfect, but it is beautiful. It is a vibrant melting pot of hundreds if not thousands of backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths and influences that make the city a wondrous place to be. There are some odd characters there, but lots and I dare say that, from my experiences, even most of the people are wonderful. The problem is, I have a theory that because so much American media is centred around the big cities, Los Angeles, Miami and New York perhaps most prominently, I think America as a whole, as a collective consciousness, falls into the trap of believing that these cities, while all different, best represent the US in general. I think lots of them can observe America with almost an outsider’s perspective, particularly in more rural parts of the country. This is an issue that I think comes with just the sheer geographical vastness of the country, as well as the particularly human tendency towards mythomania, a deep subconscious need to believe your own stories.
The issue is that these cities make up an infinitesimally small proportion of the country and its’ population. America runs deeper. Much, much deeper.
So what is America then? I would be lying to say I could give a definitive answer. The simplest way I could put it would be to say that America is a country of division. Sure, there are lots of aspects to it, perhaps more than a lot of countries, but the thing that keeps rearing its’ head when you look at American society is division. The partisanship of its’ political system is unrivalled, certainly in “major” countries. The issue of race is more of a problem in America than anywhere else in the world and, in its’ fairly short history, America has given the world a vast majority of notable racially charged events. The population is more at odds with each other over almost every topic than anywhere else in the world.
What I find most interesting and indeed notable about America is that the country is singularly unique in its’ identity. In the scheme of global society, the United States is still relatively young for a country. And yet. And yet it holds these notions, which it believes to be self-evident truths, of democracy and of liberty, of responsibility and of prosperity. One of the country’s collective consciousness’ greatest feats is that of convincing itself that it is revered worldwide as a beacon, as a goal, as the very apex that a nation should, but could hardly even dare to aspire to imitate.
America though, is also the country of division that I described above. It is as much the country of the Jim Crow laws as it is the country of the Civil Rights Movement. It is as much the country of the raid of the Stonewall Inn as it is the country of the Stonewall riot. It is as much the country of mass rioting and world-leading rates of weapon violence as it is the country of law and order. Most significantly though, at least at the moment, it is as much the country that heralds its’ democratic process and beliefs and holds them in the highest regard, as it is the country that elected a man who has spent the last months if not years attempting to subvert democracy, to the point of inciting a mob of fanatics to storm the very seat of that living, breathing creature of American democracy in an attempt to overturn the result of a verified and secure election.
These are the visible parts of America that the world sees. Yes, in 2008 we saw you elect a black man for the first time, but we also saw you turn out in vast numbers to vote for an openly racist, misogynistic would-be tyrant just eight years later. Not only was this vote for Trump, it was a vote against a comparatively progressive woman. It was a vote against the very idea that for the past eight years your president had been a black man. It was a vote against togetherness, good-will and decency. We all saw it.
Despite your pride in your military, which many of you see as a force for good, spreading the word of democracy across the world one “liberated” country at a time, we all saw when your President pardoned soldiers convicted of war crimes in a soulless ploy to make friends out of the military and the people who believe the military should be above the law. We saw him do this multiple times.
We all have seen how, in the wake of mass-shootings in your schools, the response of large parts of your society has been to decry the argument in favour of gun regulation more than it has been to decry the deaths of children and to try to take preventative measures to stop it happening again.
There have been not one, not several occasions, but almost a continuous mudslide of vitriolic refusals of the concept that black people deserve better than to be assumed guilty of crimes and gunned down by police. We all saw these.
Stop kidding yourselves when you say, “this isn’t America”, America. This is you. The events of Wednesday, January 6th were fundamentally American. As Amber Ruffin said;
“This is who we are. We are not better than this. We have seen it over and over again the last four years, and we have seen it throughout American history. America is built on a foundation of oppression and prejudice and unfair distribution of power. The founding fathers set it up that way, and we have been living with the consequences ever since.”
The storming of the Capitol was an amalgamation of all the worst aspects of what America represents. The hypocrisy of storming the Capitol to overturn a democratic election under the guise of standing in defence of democracy. The ruthlessness of cheering for and pinning your hopes on a man one day, then erecting a set of gallows and chanting about hanging him the next when he performs his constitutional duty rather than the constitutionally impossible act you wanted from him. The deep-seated institutional corruption of police allowing a crowd of white people to storm the Capitol Building by calmly opening a gate for them to access the grounds, when it is a self-evident truth that, were the insurgents not white shots would have been fired before a protestor had come within a yard of the gate.
America needs to retake its’ identity. No, scratch that. America needs to start getting serious about living up to the identity that it has spent the better part of two centuries trying to invent for itself. As critical as I have been, and I do believe that America is a country of division, bigotry and snide, I also believe America is a country of hope and progress. All a society needs in order to be one of hope and progress is to have a section of its’ population that has hope and strives for progress. What it needs to realise these is that what the country needs to achieve that progress, is for the decent population to overwhelm the very worst the society has to offer, the people that push those agendas of division and bigotry, and force them back under the rocks that they’ve been crawling out from in the last years.
I would urge, if I had the voice, the United States of America to hold itself to the high standard that it believes other nations expect of it. Despite its’ being quite a young player on the international stage, there is no denying that the US is an example to many. Its’ influence on the world is unquestionably huge and, currently, that influence is extremely toxic. There are many people in my country, England, that see Donald Trump as a saint and hail him (or should that be “heil”?) as a great inspiration for our country. I do not believe for a second that we would have been lumped with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister were it not for his numerous, and not only physical, resemblances to that big orange man in that big White House. Trump’s very presence in governance has kicked off a worrying trend towards far-right ideology becoming a central player in the world of mainstream politics. With the election of Joe Biden, there is a part of me that thinks America might be if not out of the woods then at least beginning to see the light between the trees, and has hope that the UK and others will begin to follow suit but the work starts now or, more specifically, in a week’s time.