Though you’ll rarely see it discussed in the popular press, one of the more troubling aspects of Donald J Trump’s soon-to-be-finished presidency was his ability to attract voters who previously disdained the Republican Party in the United States. Or indeed any party at all. This is perfectly illustrated by the case of Ashli Babbitt, the former US military veteran fatally wounded by armed security officers during the storming of the US congress building by Trump supporters on January 6th. Like many others in the violent mob, the middle-aged woman was a passionate believer in the conspiracy theories that have become the norm on the reactionary right in the United States; from a supposed “deep state” seeking to prevent the re-election of the president to the White House in cahoots with the Democratic Party and the liberal media elite to the fantastical cult-like beliefs of the internet-born QAnon movement.
However, that was only one aspect to the political beliefs of Ashli Babbitt: albeit the one that contributed most directly to her tragic and futile death. As the investigative website Bellingcat notes, she herself claimed to be a former Barack Obama voter who turned away from the Democrats due to her antipathy to Hillary Clinton, eventually moving to Trumpism – and anti-establishment sentiment in general – through the gateway drug of right-libertarianism. Yes, the ex-air force member was undoubtedly radicalised through her prolonged engagement with some of the more deplorable corners of the world wide web. But the roots of her radicalisation, of her ideological madness, partly lie in the dysfunctional nature of contemporary American politics and the lack of democratic choice and accountability in what was and remains effectively a corporatist two-party state.
For those with a keen interest in US politics this is not exactly a brand new revelation. The phenomenon of Obama–Trump voters has been the subject of in-depth study and debate for the last four years. Much of it quite acrimonious. Were the Obama supporters of 2008 and 2012 borrowed Republican voters? Or the Trump voters of 2016 and 2020 borrowed Democratic voters? What of independents and traditional non-voters and the political journeys they took over the last two decades? And how much of a factor did all this play in Trump increasing his support in last November’s presidential election by a shockingly large margin?
There is no doubt that there is an ache in the American electorate for a revolutionary change in how politics is done in the country, a demand for reform from a significant part of the population that feels disenfranchised by the current, institutionally incestuous system. A feeling that is not just confined to one demographic or category of people; though in some cases it puts the disenfranchised in perceived – and for ethno-racial chauvinists, actual – opposition to each other. Equally there is just as great a demand for a return to the rose-tinged status quo ante of the pre-Trump years. For the “civil” domestic politics of the Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill era, when the two power blocs in Washington DC found a way to peacefully coexist and prosper – both at the polls and in their pockets.
A general dissatisfaction with democratic accountability is not just confined to the United States. Nor is the disdain expressed by those in power when faced by calls for reform among the electorate. Here at home we have seen the animosity directed by the news media towards Sinn Féin and other parties of the centre-left and left. Yes, the historical legacy of the so-called Troubles plays a part in that feeling and the post-war opinions of many Irish journalists were shaped by wartime observations. But that does not adequately explain the sneering witnessed in our national newspapers towards even vaguely progressive policies put forward by SF and other parties on the social-democratic and socialist spectrum. Though it does explain the unprecedented coalition in 2020 of the old Civil War parties that traded governments back and forth with each other for nearly a century, exorcising the ghosts of ancient enmities to keep hold of the reins of power when faced by an electorate in democratic revolt. And cheered on in their closed ranks response by an equally established press.
That is why in recent days a bevvy of reactionary commentators in Ireland have tried to compare the Trumpists’ storming of the US Capitol with Sinn Féin and the anti-austerity campaigns of the Troika period or the unprecedented general election results of 2020. There is a fear in the ranks of Official Ireland that the cosy order established in the 1930s, of a Continuity State led by a Golden Circle, could succumb to the plebeian masses. Of those unfit to lead or to be led. In Ireland populism is the ideology of democratism, of those who wish to see government of the people by the people for the people. And not just the right kind of people.
OK, so would you give the participants in the Beer Hall Putsch the same leniency? Because that’s what these people are.
It looks like you are as much inappropriately forcing these events into your take on Contemporary Irish party politics every bit as much as the folks who compare these people to Sinn Fein. Perhaps the lens of Germany in the 1920’s would be a better fit.
I’ll try this with some references that an Irish Republican should take seriously. Do you know who last breached the Capitol Building like that? The Redcoats! In 1812.
Also your analysis grossly misreads how Party Politics generally work in trias politica systems in General and in the US in particular. I’ve actually been an Electoral Reformist, anti-war activists, an ERA advocate, and/or a public transit activist in the US most of my adult life.
Basically the strong separation of powers makes it so no one individual or faction can claim too much power. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 a (mostly anti-slavery) group that strongly feared the rise of An American Cromwell and believed a trias politica would provide some of the best defenses against one, won out of a another group (nearly all pro-slavery) who wanted an Uncodified Constitution albeit one as much like Ancient Rome’s as England’s. Surely an Irish Republican wouldn’t dismiss THAT historical choice out of hand, yes?!?
However what it means is that it’s much more difficult in the US for one party or coalition of parties or faction to “be in a power” and just be able to roll through a full package agenda the way Clement Attlee or Margaret Thatcher did and Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn wanted to.
An an Electoral Reformist in the US, I can tell you that a a more multiparty system is 100% possible and much easier than you’ve expressed here in the past, however that WILL not change the many, many ways a trias politica is set up to push compromise over “winner take all”.
In fact, the US could at least theoretically have Ranked Choice Voting or Alternate Voting like you have in most Irish elections without even passing a Constitutional Amendment at all. However, Mexico is already a trias politica with elements of what you would call PR, and if anything is even WORSE at getting stuff done without a lot of multipartisan compromises!!!
****In Mexico’s “El Congreso de la Union” 2/3 of the lower house is based on single candidate majority/plurality districts, and 1/3 comes from an Open List PR system. For the Mexican Senate it’s 3 Senators per state. 2 are chosen by ranked choice/AV like Ireland 3-5 member Dail districts and 1 is chosen by the state legislature much like Russia’s and India’s upper houses are. (And the US Senate was prior to the 17 Amendment of 1912.)
Of course, sweeping reform can happen in the US, but even with two friendly majorities in Congress a President must be a very clever strategist in ways that a Parliamentary PM rarely has to think about a day in his or her political career
LBJ pulled off both The Civil Rights Act and his War on Poverty because everyone in Congress owed him a favor or two. One book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called “Team of Rivals” is about the extraordinarily complex strategic games Lincoln employed to manage both a Civil War and see the 13th Amendment(ban slavery) passed when the President has only indirect influence over the process. (If you’d like a simpler version than a book, the movie Lincoln 2012 drew heavily and accurately from the book, was well acted and did unusually well in Europe for US history movie.)
Despite its flaws a trias politica actually makes it somewhat harder for politicians to engage in the kind of patronage you were complaining in Irish politicians a few posts back or for parties to be “incestuous” as you describe.
In fact, Tip O’Neill often used those golf sessions with Reagan to get him to sign off on a lot of the early groundwork for the GFA and the willingness of mainstream parties to see NI as a real issue and not just something where the US had to please Britain as a Cold War ally
Then again Old Tip was quite the master at the opposite side of a game LBJ and Honest Abe were particularly talented at.
Two American jokes about our system versus Britains (a lot would also apply to Ireland or Canada):
1) When my party is on the up, I might think Our Founding Fathers got it all wrong, and perhaps a Parliamentary system would be better. When my party is losing I start to appreciate them Checks and Balances all over again.
2) If American politics is like a game of Chess, British Politics is like a game of Chutes and Ladders. (I think the British say “Snakes and Ladders”). If British political intrigues are like Red Rover, American political intrigues are like the Game “Mousetrap” (a children’s board game from the 80’s).
Biden is quite the “Chess Master” but I’m worried about his safety given some of what’s happened.
For a US citizen, (as I presume you are) you seem to be extraordinarily naive about your own system. The differences between Republicans, Democrats, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the President, at any time, are purely cosmetic. In reality, the military-industrial complex, the billionaire share owning class, the Pentagon and the whole Empire/war machine march in perfect lock-step, unimpeded by these cosmetic disagreements. Biden will be perfectly safe, and even if he isn’t, it will make absolutely no difference to anything.
You’re folksy ‘analysis’ is just part of the smoke screen, and shows only that you have swallowed and digested the Empire’s propaganda whole. The only way out for you would be to read some Marxism in an unbiased and open way, but that of course, would be impossible for you to do.
I have actually traveled to Russia once when it was still the USSR, and know a fair bit about its history.
As for Marx himself? The man made loads of political predictions that didn’t come true. For one he said Russia would be the last country have any such Revolution. The reality is that no society has ever done well for more than maybe 50 or 60 years as anything but a mixed economy of some type or another. Pure capitalism or socialism don’t exist and never really have. Marx was the ultimate 19th century reductionist in some ways, not because humans are particularly selfish, but because live societies are complex in ways the man simply didn’t have time for.
A perfect evasion – ten points
As for Ashli Babbit and other Obama voters who later supported Trump? I’d be careful about what I’d read into that history.
The fact is that some swing voters really have a set of honest beliefs that make them an awkward fit for both parties, while others have little ideology beyond “kick out the incumbent”. Also American extremists having always been rather bullish on the game of “Tout a prior political history or career real or fake that makes you look less malignant”.
People like Babbit are modern day Black shirts. They don’t join those kind of politics for lack of a good labor union to join any more than people join The Orange Order or the KKK for such reasons.
Babbit knew the risks of what she was doing. The cop who shot her likely had no better options. She was an Air Force veteran and grown ass woman who is fully responsible for the situation she got herself into.
I’m terrified at the moment for Biden’s safety given what’s happened. In fact, I’m worried that ever Democratic politician down to State Legislatures is in more danger than any of Michael Collin’s targets ever were.
Hi Grace. I take your points onboard. But I’m not sure that I entirely agree. Equating Blackshirts and QAnon believers like Babbitt is a bit of a stretch. Though I suppose you could argue that Nazi anti-semitic conspiracy theories were a rough equivalent of contemporary conspiracy theories in the QAnon movement (if it can be called a “movement”).
Sure, she knew what she was doing, but she was also likely caught up in the events of the day like most of the crowd. There may have been a hardcore of fascisti in the mob, the guys with guns, pipebombs and zip ties, but there is no evidence she was one. So far.
The dynamics in riots and protests are well known. I’ve studied them. Participated in them. And been caught up in the moment, doing stuff that in retrospect was foolhardy. Especially when facing plastic bullets and just as overexcited/adrenaline pumped armed troops.
However, all that aside. How dire is contemporary US society, the US economy, the US body politic, that something as crazy as QAnon can have any purchase? Or that someone like Trump can actually increase his support after four years of misgovernment (and among marginalised and minority communities). And, arguably, only lost the election by the margin he did because of his duplicity, heartlessness and lack of care in the handling of Covid-19.
If it took a global pandemic to save the American republic maybe the citizens of that republic need to question just how bad things are?
In my experience? Even when a former progressive does become an extremist, it’s rarely a case of “Well Obama, Clinton and/or Biden just weren’t progressive enough so he picked up a Confederate flag, decided vaccines and feminism were a conspiracy, and joined QAnon.” I’ve only come across a few people who joined the political right after being disillusioned with progressivism, and most had reasons more personal than political.
I cannot accept than an honest progressive would ever vote for Trump, just because they didn’t like the outcome of the Democratic Primary. I cannot.
Having been involved in protests myself, I’ve seen a lot of cases where these anarchists would find various ways to provoke the police but be out of harm’s way themselves when the tear gas and rubber bullets started up-so the protesters could take it all in the teeth. There were a small minority of times they actually did hit Confederate Flag counter protesters- Those where the most hateful and raged filled counter protesters imaginable. A lot of what did and didn’t happen at both The Capitol Riot and several BLM events both line up with things I’ve seen many times despite media narratives that racism was the sole differentiating factor.
I was largely taught by my mentors how to do stuff like scout a rally area for signs of trouble and find ways to notify organizers, legal observers, and volunteer protest medics if you think there is or may be trouble. Of course, they also grilled me to no end about how to act and behave in such situations, even when it called for a bit of Parkour-before I knew Parkour existed. Once I got my ear chewed off for yelling back at a girl with a Confederate Flag and telling her what she was carrying left her in no position to lecture me about patriotism. I was told that if she started punching we’d all be in trouble.
I have never studied the dynamics of riots and protests per se, but have observed quite a bit. I guess you could say I entered the anti-war not really hating anyone and ending up with a serious moral struggle not to hate Anarchists, Conspiracy Theorists, Anti-Vaxxers, and above all people with Confederate Flags. The last group was the case despite me knowing about about age 7 or 8, that my family had been solidly on the other side of the US Civil War. Some of those Confederate flag folks are so filled with rage, hate, and venom that I’ve wondered where it comes from. I can’t accept that they would mellow out if Bernie became President however. It never came across like that to me.
Certainly Ashli Babbit was no victim in my mind.
I can’t advocate leniency for these people. For one thing when the vaccine hits enough people and Civil Society comes back, I’m going to have to contend with a number of skeptical BLM people who are going to be extremely skeptical of some of the things I’ve watched police do what were majority white anti-war rallies (the bulk of the remaining 7-12% were Chinese Americans). If I advocate letting the Capitol Hill Rioters off the hook, they will find it even harder to take my claims of tear gas, a nun being beaten brutally for just standing with a sign, a mother knocked to the ground with a baby strapped to her and her eight year whacked with a baton for screaming-terribly. A lot of other people might have a hard time seeing me as acting in good faith in if I advocate being to draconian and too lenient. I have to stick with advocating a reasonable, rational middle-of-the-road punishment for these people
Sinn Féin are not ” left wing”.
They play the classic game of implying they are progressive.
The word socialism is not found in their manifestos.
With regard to ravages of Covid, Sinn Fein are not fighting to shut down all non-essential production and services. They are not fighting to give full financial support to those who are struggling. They are not fighting to give thorough protection to those who must remain in essential work.
Sinn Fein, like the pseudo lefts of SWP and Socialist Party, are phoneys. Parties designed to trap workers. Designed to stop the devepment of socialist consciousness in the working class. Sinn Féin, ably assisted by official opinion and so-called journalists, promote themselves as radical.
Sinn Fein. Sinn Faux more like.