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Jan 6, 2021: The roots behind the rage

Left JAB by John Bell

January 9, 2021

As of 2016, more than 20 million Americans lived in so-called mobile homes. (The comparable number of Canadians is around 360,000.) Any road trip through the U.S. reveals vast trailer parks, sometimes adjacent to urban centres, often just dotting the rural landscape. 

They are more than just cheap housing. They represent a pathetic remnant of what is known as “the American Dream”. The myth that every American is equal and any one, through strength of character and hard work can succeed. And success is defined by ownership, being rooted in the accumulation of commodities. That rootedness somehow gives you mobility–that’s dialectics for you.

Many people living in trailer parks are not even owners–they rent. Canadian census stats show that a majority of people living in mobile homes have no full time employment. They either depend on low-pay, no-benefit part time work or are unemployed. This is surely the case in the U.S. Trailer parks are where the dreams of a once powerful American working class go to die.

It would be a gross over-simplification to say that 20 million mobile home inhabitants are automatically fodder for Donald Trump’s populist cult. But that’s a fair chunk of the 72 million who voted for him. If I were a far-right organizer, I could think of worse places to start recruiting.

Trump’s mob

I say all this not to ridicule Trump’s mob; quite the opposite. Like it or not, the bedrock of Trumpism are legitimate grievances: under-employment, precarious work, rising cost of existence, declining hopes and expectations for future generations. 

It is worth noting who has been arrested in the aftermath: a lawyer, the son of a state supreme court judge, a business owner, a new-agee hippiie "shaman". These are not the caricatured down-and-outers usually associated with Trump. It is the "middle-class" that leads Trump's mob. And it is big, annonymous corporate donors who fund it, the same corporate donors who have been backing Trump all along. 

In 1984, about 20% of American workers were in unions. By 2018 that was down to 10.5%, or just over 6% of private sector workers. Their manufacturing jobs were shipped offshore thanks to “free trade” deals. Their organizations have been under concerted attack from bosses, courts and governments for decades. 

Even at its height, American trade unionism had a morbid pre-condition: racism and white supremacy. This wasn’t accidental. It was fostered over decades. From the McCarthyite purges of the socialist left to Reagan’s smashing the air traffic controllers strike, the strength of working class solidarity–and along with it potential anti-racist action–has been systematically attacked and undermined.

This is not to say that American workers are born racists. Rather it puts the lie to any idea that Trump is an aberration, that resetting to the Joe Biden default will make any substantial difference. 

The U.S. has been lurching, sometimes by inches, sometimes by leaps, toward fascism for decades. This is not a uniquely American condition, witness the rise of the far right across Europe. This a condition of capitalism.

What we saw on January 6 was not a coup. (People who keep using that word should be made to study what happened in Chile in 1973, a coup made with the encouragement and aid of the U.S. government. Democratically elected leaders murdered by the military. Tens of thousands rounded up, murdered, imprisoned or “disappeared”. That was a fucking coup.)

But it was not a joke either. After 4 years of Trump inching toward fascism, it was a leap, a test of strength. 

After coddling and abetting him for 4 long years, with less than 2 weeks to go, the U.S. ruling class is tripping over itself to somehow absolve itself of complicity. The main lobby group of U.S. manufacturers is calling for Trump’s removal. Repulsive Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham are trying to recant after years of being Trump’s co-conspirators. Footage of Graham being chased through a D.C. airport by a howling MAGA mob gives an indication of how these last second conversions will play in the hinterland.

We’re better than this

Watching the coverage of the white riot, a number of repetitious motifs began to emerge. “We’re better than this.” “This isn’t who we are.” “Our sacred icons of democracy have been violated.” “Violence is never okay.”

What a pile of double-talk, and worst of all refusal to truly appraise and confront the reality of the event. So it is at once over-inflated (It’s a coup!) and trivialized (It’s Buffalo Horns guy, and the bozo who accidentally zapped himself to death by tazing his own testicles). The real dangerous forces at work on January 6 were not taking selfies in the Rotunda, they were moving in the shadows, planning how to use the event to recruit and organize.

Violence is never okay? This is a nation founded on slavery and genocide (not that it is alone in that). A 2017 study found that the U.S. had been involved in some sort of war for 222 of its 239 years. It isn’t called the “Military-Industrial Complex” for nothing. Violence is as American as chicken-fried steak.  

It is interesting that the same voices denouncing “violence” were also lamenting that lack of violence from police. 

It is telling and accurate that Black and POC commentators were quick to point out the difference in policing between this white riot and previous Black Lives Matter marches. Yes, if that had been an almost exclusively Black riot, they’d still be hosing the blood off the capitol steps. There are strong elements of fascism within police forces, and January 6 laid that bare. But how to bridge the double standard: less repression and violence at BLM events, or more at events like this?

History shows that for fascism to grow, socialism, working class self-organization and solidarity have to be broken. In the U.S. and elsewhere that counter-power has been deliberately weakened, but not smashed. If we allow January 6 to be trivialized, it will take its place in that weakening. 

Instead we must take it as a call to organize, to reject the idea that Trump was an aberration and now we can get back to business, and to seriously take on the task of beating the far-right. The task is huge but unavoidable. And the first, giant step is to break with the liberal idea that there is some magical, middle way to politely defeat fascism without confronting the system–capitalism–that nurtures it.


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