JANUARY 6, 2021, DAY OF INFAMY.
Years from now, we will remember this day with as much revulsion as now. We will remember to the minute where we were and what we were doing when we first learned of the news and then became glued to the TV watching a mob of zealots. They were oversold on the lie that an election was rigged, and their rights were infringed upon. They were egged on by the liar-in-chief who can’t stand the status of a loser since his supercharged ego wouldn’t allow it.
A mob of white fanatics assaulting a government office is nothing new in the history of this republic. What’s new is the widespread dissemination in real time of skullduggery, American style, to the whole world to see. It also provided a stark contrast of a security force at the very minimum politely treating the thugs emboldened on the spot by this tacit approval and at times as shown in videos, aided and abetted. When the participants are of a different hue, or a different political bent, the response is the exact opposite, no matter the validity of the cause. The security force always is present in mass, uses a low threshold to initiate violence and arrest the innocents. None of that was to be seen this past Wednesday.
Decent humans were appalled by such a scene. Objective observers were left to ask, how come? As if the horror show were not enough, the grotesque scenario of sycophants and apologists on the media were quick to try to convince us we were victims of an optical illusion: the mob was not a pro-Trump band of thugs, but this was an infiltration of left-leaning anarchists. This flies in the face of the fact that a lot of the participants were taking selfies, streaming their action on social media and were very clear about who they were and whom they were supporting and what cause they were holding dear to the heart.
What about the historical perspective? Many years from now, long after the dust has settled, historians will shake their head and wonder about this process of daily assault against democracy. It very likely will be strange to fathom that a leader was using his pulpit not for healing but as cudgel to sow conspiracy news, division four years running. He will be a case study as a demagogue espousing a personality cult, with basic instincts as low as a deep crater. We only need to remember that, “Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même.” The overarching charge underlying the angst against the result of the election was filled with racial undertone: the refusal to accept the right of vote, to respect the choice of enfranchised minorities when it runs afoul of the status quo. This is white mob violence redux. Lest we forget, we need to go back to history to learn the lesson that a certain sector of the populace feels very uncomfortable with the notion that it has to share political power, national wealth, with heretofore disenfranchised members of society. That segment of the populace is ready to go to extremes to protect its perceived loss of privileges. I emphasize the word perceive because the facts are the opposite; greater participation by all members of society results in an overall benefit by and for all members. It just so happens that racial animus can blind to such an extent that it prevents rational reaction, reasoning, and lends itself to group think, and persuasion of ever-present conspiracy against its interests.
The fact that a white mob can do damage to property and cause loss of lives with impunity is well chronicled. We have previously described the events surrounding the Tulsa Massacre and other such genocidal riots. Two events that mimicked Jan 6 and provide some serious insight into the mindset of decision makers in so far as crime and punishment, occurred in 1874 and 1876, as Jamelle Bouie from the NY Times reminds us (1-8-21). Both times, a white mob stormed a State Capitol as a reaction to an election result not to its liking because it entailed black folks who were till very recently holders of the very low status known as sub-humans, like… slaves. In 1874, in New Orleans, a group called White League held both City Hall and the Capitol because they wanted to depose Governor Kellogg and replace him with his opponent from the previous election that took place in 1872. [In those days Republicans and Democrats had the reverse order of social commitment from today]. That would have worked had it not been for President Ulysses Grant who had sent federal troops to restore order. However, the perpetrators received no punishment. That had sent a signal that seizing government property by force wouldn’t have been considered a crime. Hence in 1876, after an election in Louisiana, the same members of the White League again seized the same offices and installed manu militari Francis Nicholls as Democratic Governor. He saw to it that Reconstruction ended in his state. That method was duplicated in many other states to stem the participation of the freed slaves in the voting process, to begin the installation of Jim Crow laws and all of their aftermath.
The trouble that started outside the Capitol by lunatics found kindred spirits inside the chambers of Congress in two ambitious senators with impeccable pedigree each, having graduated at the top of their classes in Ivy League schools. Their political ambition and choice of scorched- earth policy to please a very conservative base hoodwinks our sense of decency, obliterates truth and lionizes mendacity. In the end, it reeks of a toxic notion of patriotism, in an exercise oblivious of its egregious assault on our intelligence. Fools come in all flavors and some of them are well educated, at least on paper. This brazen activity needs to be stopped in its track. The days of the hooded night riders running amok and terrorizing minorities must never return. Suits questioning our votes need to be driven out of office.
The silver lining maybe that such vile, open, demonstration of intolerance will result in new, resolute policy to stem systemic racism in government in both policy decision-making and enforcement. Let’s remember the “Summer of Hate” in 2017, when an equally revulsive show of raw hatred by white supremacists wielding tiki torches in Charlottesville. The then-president referred to them as “fine people.” This could be considered as a dress rehearsal for Jan 6. That march in the summer of 2017 has contributed to the election of that city’s first African-American mayor.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope the incoming administration proceeds with sweeping changes for the better for all of us in society.
Reynald Altéma, MD