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Commentary: No moving on from US Capitol insurrection until guilty are held to account

The protesters who stormed the US Capitol may have been paunchy, middle-aged weekend warriors, but their actions will have revolutionary implications for America’s self-image and standing in the world, says Nina L Khrushcheva.

Commentary: No moving on from US Capitol insurrection until guilty are held to account

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Roberto Schmidt)

MOSCOW: The Jan 6 insurrection at the US Capitol lacked the gravitas of the storming of the Winter Palace, that much is certain.

Incited by President Donald Trump at a nearby rally, where he encouraged his supporters to march on the US Capitol, the mob did succeed in interrupting a joint session of Congress to confirm the Electoral College vote in favour of President-elect Joe Biden.

But lawmakers will still carry out their constitutional duty and Biden’s inauguration will take place on Jan 20.

READ: US Congress certifies Electoral College result; clears way for Biden to become president

READ: Commentary: Trump spent weeks insisting the election was stolen. No surprise his supporters took him seriously


The insurrectionists were nowhere near as disciplined as Lenin’s Bolshevik cadres of armed revolutionary soldiers and sailors.

Most were paunchy, middle-aged, red-hatted “weekend warriors” who were as interested in getting a good selfie from the Capitol rotunda as they were with overthrowing the US government and establishing Trump as an unelected dictator.

It was, as one commentator put it, a “Beer Belly Putsch.”

And yet, the insurrectionists’ actions – pathetic though they were – will have revolutionary implications for America’s self-image and standing in the world.

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol, on Jan 6, 2021, in Washington. (Photo: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

For the first time in the country’s history, a defeated incumbent president summoned a mob to intimidate Congress into violating the US constitution to keep him in power.

Aided and abetted by the right-wing press and rank-and-file Republicans, Trump’s four years of open contempt for democratic values, institutions, and norms have yielded precisely what he has always wanted: A lawless, nihilistic revolt against the “elites” by the “losers” that he has made into his core supporters.

Breaking windows and overwhelming the Capitol police, the rioters stormed into the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, forcing congressional members and their staff to evacuate.

As of this writing, one woman has been shot and killed, but it remains to be seen how many have been injured, and how much damage has been done to the Capitol building.

READ: Four dead, 52 arrested after Trump supporters storm US Capitol

READ: Commentary: The nightmarish end to Donald Trump’s presidency


One thing that Trump does have in common with Lenin is his contempt for the rule of law and the political figures who came before him.

Like Lenin, Trump resents norms that are meant to limit the exercise of power, and thus has little patience for the culture of compromise that underpins representative governments.

And, like Lenin, he has a feral ability to sniff out weakness – not just in an established regime, but in his own sycophantic hangers-on, some of whom have violated their oath of office on his behalf.

Still, the regimes that were confronted by Lenin, Napoleon, Mussolini and Franco were not only weak; they lacked the will to survive. The most notorious putschists in history were usually pushing on open doors.

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Judging by his own behaviour in recent weeks, Trump appears to have concluded that he was, too. To his mind, after four years of his attacks, America’s representative institutions lacked the will to defend themselves.

How else to explain his efforts to strong-arm officials in Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia to “find” enough votes to make him the winner?

Instead of seeing repeated official rebuffs as a sign that the American Republic was not yet ready to fall, Trump focused on the fact that he has paid no price for his efforts to subvert US democratic processes and institutions over the past four years.

Having faced no consequences so far, why wouldn’t he keep pushing until the system broke entirely?

READ: Commentary: Trump may be conceding but his scorched-earth antics are deeply troubling

READ: Commentary: Trump’s last stand will see dramatic endgame for US election play out in Congress


After all, the sad spectacle on Capitol Hill was also suborned by Republican lawmakers like Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and almost three-quarters of the Republican caucus in the House.

All had openly signaled their intent to object to votes that have already been duly certified by state governments.

Validating paranoid conspiracy theories of “voter fraud,” it is they who gave Trump – a true coward in any other circumstance – the bravado to egg on the baying mob.

But the “sedition caucus” is not the only culpable party. For four years, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party have looked the other way as Trump degraded the US presidency.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks from the Senate floor to his office on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Following Trump’s impeachment last year by the House of Representatives, Republican Senators voted to acquit him, and then initially lent credence to his false claims of election fraud.

Even today, as the mob approached the Capitol, McConnell continued to spread the lie that it was the Democrats who undermined American democracy first.

READ: Commentary: Lack of a landslide win in US election is worrying news

Similarly, Senator Susan Collins of Maine has for years expressed “concern” about Trump’s behavior, but offered no resistance as he waged war on American institutions throughout his one and only term.

These spineless politicians will live in infamy, but so, too, will every Fox News journalist (and the broadcaster’s owner, Rupert Murdoch) who has parroted Trump’s lies.

So, too, will the leaders of the social-media platforms – particularly Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – that have served as fire hoses of disinformation and lies.

READ: Commentary: Imagine a world with more than one Facebook. Here’s why you can’t


America now finds itself confronting something that hasn’t happened since the time of Abraham Lincoln: Rejection of the constitutional order by a significant share of the electorate.

While America’s adversaries watched the events of Jan 6 with glee, its many friends and allies around the world did so with dismay.

Like Lincoln, Biden will now need to confront this existential homegrown challenge head on. One thing is already certain: The Trumpian insurrection will not be pacified by soothing speeches about “moving on” without holding the guilty to account.

Nina L Khrushcheva, Professor of International Affairs at The New School, is the co-author (with Jeffrey Tayler), most recently, of In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching For The Soul of An Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones.


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