The last chapter in the most controversial US presidential elections in living memory unfolded on 7 January when thousands of outgoing US president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, the seat of the US government comprising the Senate, House of Representatives and Supreme Court buildings. The scene was dramatic and marked the most shocking in a series of events that have characterised the 2020 US presidential elections.
It is the first time in over a century that the US has been so divided over the results of an election that some have been encouraged to resort to force. Earlier in the day on 7 January Trump spoke to a rally of his supporters in Washington, urging them to march on Congress in protest against the ratification of the results of elections that had resulted in the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. Trump said nothing in his speech about storming the Capitol building or attacking the convened representatives of the nation. However, the rowdy mob decided that the speech was a signal from the president to take matters into their own hands and proceeded to storm the building.
Video footage shows that the mob was allowed into the building by law-enforcement forces before it stormed into the halls of the Capitol, smashing windows and brawling with police officers who found themselves overwhelmed. The tragic events ended in five people being killed, among them a police officer. Fourteen people were injured and about 53 arrested. Many of the rioters were not traditional Republican Party voters, but were from far-right groups such as QAnon, who propagate weird conspiracy theories. This group’s “shaman” Jake Angeli led the charge inside the halls of the Capitol building wearing animal horns and a fur hat, which added to the bizarre scene at the centre of American politics.
The tragic deaths of US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt and police officer Brian Sicknick were not widely covered by the US media, unlike in the case of the tragic death of African-American George Floyd in May 2020. Babbit’s death was widely ignored, along with injuries to other pro-Trump supporters, with these being treated by most outlets as mere statistics.
The riots have angered Democratic Party politicians to the extent that the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has called for another motion of impeachment against Trump because of his “responsibility” for the crisis, according to her claims. While Republican figures have condemned the storming of Capitol Hill as a blatant assault on democracy, Democratic Party leaders are trying to use it as a way of landing a knockout blow on Trump two weeks before he steps down from office as a way of preventing any future nomination.
But the Democratic Party leaders’ sanctimonious attitude towards this unprecedented crisis is unwarranted, especially as they have looked the other way and even endorsed in certain cases the rioting, vandalism and violence committed by the so-called anti-fascist group Antifa and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group since last May’s death of Floyd. Seven months of riots, vandalism and violence by Antifa and BLM across the US never really riled the media and politicians in the way the seven-hour crisis on Capitol Hill did.
The media coverage by the likes of the US TV channel CNN and other liberal media outlets was abysmal to say the least throughout the presidential election campaign. Aside from the fact that it was biased in favour of Biden, it also itself created havoc and fished for sensationalist news. CNN sounded like an American version of the Qatari Islamist propaganda news network AlJazeera.
CNN’s coverage of events leading up to the riots on Capitol Hill never felt professional. The network raced to rally members of the Democratic Party, who were given extensive airtime to belittle the president and his supporters. It has been one of the causes of the unprecedented rift currently seen within American society. Its anchors have over-dramatised events, including Christopher Cuomo and Don Lemon, both of whom could be nominated for Primetime Emmy awards for acting rather than for professional news coverage.
Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, which for a decade have claimed to be platforms for freedom of speech, also decided to jump on the bandwagon in their bid to control what can be said by account holders on their services. Twitter and Facebook went as far as to permanently suspend accounts in a show of power by social media moguls such as Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
These two men decided to block the US president’s social media accounts indefinitely, tossing aside the need to preserve freedom of expression. Both acted as national security experts, claiming that their move served national security interests. The Apple Corporation and Google have also decided to take the social media application Parler off their online shops. It had recently been used by Trump and his supporters as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter.
The last US presidential elections were a blatant display of the fact that political money now controls politics in the US in a manner unseen in decades. Over$14 billion was spent on the presidential and congressional elections, with Biden’s campaign spending almost double the Trump campaign. Even so, the involvement of corporations such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and Apple in controlling the news and even deciding for voters what is best for them to see is unmatched. It is a move that has made a sham out of the US elections.
Throughout his presidential term in office, Trump’s rhetoric may have sometimes been coarse and blunt, but he often said what his predecessors and other American politicians have not dared to say. His term was free of new US military interventions abroad, and he managed to bring many US troops back home. He was not a smooth-talking politician with great skills in oratory, such as former president Barack Obama, but he attempted at least to avoid sending tens of thousands of young American soldiers to their doom in foreign lands to spill the blood of tens of thousands of foreigners over oil or other geopolitical gains.
Trump’s rapprochement with North Korea and his attempts at reaching a peace deal in the Middle East would likely have seen any other president receive a Nobel Peace Prize. His predecessor Barack Obama received the award just by showing up at the Oval Office, and he hardly managed to honour it with peaceful deeds.
Trump was not recognised for his peace efforts or the historic peace deals between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020. Regardless of the naysayers about such steps – who have contributed nothing to the decades-long peace process – Trump’s were the first concrete steps to be made towards peace in the Middle East since the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. These efforts merit the Nobel Peace Prize. However, given the current political atmosphere and the shoddy choices made by the Nobel committee in recent years, this is unlikely to happen.
The assault on Capitol Hill is unlikely to be the end of the troubles in the US, and it could simply be the beginning of what could be a dark chapter in American politics, fuelled by irresponsible media coverage and personal political feuds. Biden will have an uphill battle in stabilising the United States and calming the growing fears of Americans. The Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis were large enough tasks, but the 70 million people who voted for Trump in the last elections, and believe they have been mistreated and duped, may be an even bigger challenge for the new president.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.