Photo: Capitol Building, Washington DC, USA. Credit: Freepik / Illustrative photo.
As pro-Donald Trump rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6th, the world, once again, stood in awe. And in awe we have stood before. Shock has become our most recurrent political currency. If some seek to shock at any cost, others never cease to be baffled. And so we seem to reach the irresistible conclusion of contemporary political discourse: we are irrevocably, deeply, insidiously polarized.
2020 was, in many ways, a year of awakening. Perhaps a dangerously delayed awakening, that many of us in western societies had the privilege to postpone – To only face the burden of inequality in times of exceptional crisis is a token of one’s comfortable place in society. Those who cannot hide, those who everyday face the staggering limitations of our democracies do not have the chance to ignore the evidence.
Yet, whenever we debate, it is on these people that we place the responsibility of proof. They are the ones who have to convince the audience that their cause is fair, that inequality exists: people of colour must convince us that racism is systemic, women must tell us that safety is not something that can be taken for granted, and that the right to govern their own bodies is not self-evident. Trans people are tasked with proving their very existence. If identity politics took center stage it is simply because connected with certain identities are completely, overwhelmingly different ways of experiencing the world. And so they fight. And so they take to the streets and demand more. Not more than the majority, but the very same – safety, respect, dignity.
This “they” is easily interchangeable with “us”, even if this may not be clear at first. And this is not to say that we all face the exact same challenges, as this is definitely not true. However, only a very small number of people benefit from upholding a system that creates a “they” and an “us”. And there lies the real polarization of our time – between those who suffer and those who benefit from this suffering. The division, the polarization, is the work of some, profiting from the silence of many. They are the true minority that seeks to subjugate the majority for their own exclusive benefit.
Donald Trump is one of those people. He is not the voice of the people, he voices nothing but their fears. Isolating them, distorting them, echoing them, giving them shape – turning shadows into monsters. This is not novel, but it is however a reminder of our true enemy. After all, he who advises the people against the people is the enemy of both. Trump, Órban, Duda, Le Pen, AFD, UKIP, Vox, Chega… They are but machines of fear.
These considerations should not be misinterpreted for an apologetic view of the actions of those who stormed the gates of the Capitol. The battle would be lost from the start if we saw the perpetrators of hate absolved, portrayed as mere victims. If we do not recognise agency in hate, we do not recognise agency in empathy. Their rage, their violence, seeks not to liberate but to uphold oppression.
Still, it might be wise to recognise an additional meaning in the events of January 6th. The images tell a story of a failure: the failure of liberal democracy as we know it. As several rioters took turns in the dais in the U.S. Senate, as others sat in the office of the House speaker, feet up on the table, something was clear: there was absolute contempt towards the symbols of democracy. In a very perverse sense, these images display a sentiment shared by many on the left-leaning side of politics: that we are part of a laughable, expired, fragile system whose foundations resemble declining fantasies of XVIII century men, haunted by the chimera of absolute individuality, where one is absolutely responsible for both their failure and success.
Meanwhile, the powers of the establishment have continuously refused to address the alienation of those whom they are supposed to represent. They have constantly denied significant change in the name of moderation. And in doing so, they are also to blame. With their well-balanced, barren, unimaginative words; with their speeches uttered with perfect diction but lacking sentiment or intent; with their eyes blinded to injustice and inequality they have brought democracy to her knees. Every promise of change that goes unfulfilled is another nail in the coffin.
As Trump leaves office, did we learn something? Did we learn not to appease a platform that runs on hatred? But more so, did we learn that in the absence of democratic solutions, authoritarian ones will prevail? Ours is a herculean challenge: to reconcile without impunity, to bridge without silencing. We must stand strong in empathy. As the Capitol windows broke, we were, once again, shocked. Are we so naive?
Disclaimer: Opinions and views expressed in the text above are of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.