Thoughts on Yesterday’s “Insurrection”

Many people seem stunned, baffled, and outraged by what the media is calling the siege and storming of the Capitol. But it shouldn’t have surprised us, and we really have no right to be outraged. This is what we’ve been working toward, in America, for the last half century.

Personally, I’m a always a bit mystified by the support for Trump among “blue collar” Americans. This is a term usually used to refer to people without college degrees, regardless of the kind of work they do. In my town, support for Trump is enormous. I can look across the street and see “stop the steal” signs on neighbors lawns, or walk down the street and see, on the lawn of a town civil servant, a lawn jockey holding a Trump/Pence sign.

For years, I’ve been unclear about why these people, who are the very ones Trump’s policies harm the most, are so passionate in their support of him. Before the corona shutdown, I used to sit in the coffee shop and ask some of these men: Are you better off than two years ago? Than ten years ago? What specific thing has Trump done to make your life any better?

I’ve never gotten an answer to this question. The response is always sputtering anger and personal insults about what a failure I am. But nobody has ever been able to name even one thing that Trump has done, or one Republican policy generally, that they believe has made their life even a little bit better.

My conclusion is that they admire Trump simply because his presidency is a way to express their fury. Their lives have gotten harder since the 2008 economic crisis. A booming stock market hasn’t helped their income, which has not come close to keeping pace with inflation. They are furious, but so woefully ignorant of how economies work that they cannot conceive of the cause of their declining standard of living. So they buy the standard answer of the right-wing media: it is intellectuals who are causing all the problems, usually with some kind of obscure conspiracy against ordinary (non-intellectual) Americans. These people support Trump not because they have any clear idea of what he might do, but because they identify with his incoherent anger.

The news this morning, both the New York Times and the television news, want to blame Trump’s statements for the “insurrection” yesterday. And clearly, as I’ve been saying for decades now, the man is severely mentally ill and intellectually challenged, always a dangerous combination—but one that usually leads to great success in American capitalism in many different fields. But the cause of this event goes back decades.

For over forty years now, we have been systematically increasing, to astounding levels, economic inequality in America. To the point at which we now have levels of inequality not seen in any other so-called first-world countries.

At the same time, we have systematically dismantled liberal arts education, to the point where it is estimated that more than half of all high school graduates cannot read. Education has become job training, and educations departments and high school hiring committees now take as an obvious given the mantra “smart people don’t make good teachers.” Our children spend their days in school watching YouTube videos, or learning from pre-packaged online programs because their teachers have no knowledge at all of the subjects they are paid to teach.

And so we wind up with a generally ignorant populace, unable to understand the causes of the misery their lives have become. On top of this, we have produced a culture in which to change one’s mind merely on the basis of overwhelming empirical evidence and logical argument is seen as a sign of weakness and hypocrisy. To stick to a falsehood, once you have proclaimed belief in it, regardless of any evidence or argument, is seen as a sign of integrity and strength.

This situation is dire for socialists. Because the enormous unrest would seem to suggest that the country is ready for change. That the majority has had enough of impoverishment by neoliberal “trickle-up” economics, and might demand change.

The problem is, socialism can never be won by storming a building. Smashing some windows and taking selfies sitting in senators’ chairs won’t bring about real change.

No, socialism can only be achieved by rational argument, by persuasion. And for a socialist society to survive, people will need to be capable of reasoned debate, and able to change their minds when the arguments against them are cogent and based on solid evidence. Because socialism will depend on true democracy, not violent oppression.

Capitalism has always required an ersatz democracy, backed by the threat of violence. It has always depended on a state designed to protect the interest of the few against the needs of the many. And to keep this oppressive system going, it has long recognized the importance of keeping the populace uneducated. Yesterday’s events are the fruits of that effort.

Because I believe that we, as humans, have the capacity for reason—and I believe that socialism, and eventually full communism, can only be accepted by people capable of using their reason—the only thing I can think to do is to keep doing what I’ve been doing: working to help people learn how to think better. As this is forbidden by the current educational institutions, my small attempts are not likely to have much impact. But I’ll go on trying, failing, and trying again. I’ll move forward with Imaginary Relations with the hope that analysis of ideological practices can help move us toward becoming reasoning beings.

Because what else is to be done?

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3 Comments

  1. Craig

     /  January 7, 2021

    Watching all of this unfold yesterday I refused to play into the ‘liberal media narrative’ and tried to explain to my kids that these people storming the capital are as oppressed as anyone else and have more in common with the plight of poor folks, immigrants, minorities than with anything Trump/government has said or done. I was reminded you a post you made after a public shooting a while ago. You said that this shooter was an example of the lack of ideologies. No choice but violent outrage at the constant lies and dumbing down from media. It’s very clear that we live in a system where everyone exists to enrich a special few. This is my conclusion about every crisis, issue etc. All of our problems come down this basic fact that is essentially unthinkable in our culture of anti-reason and the lack of any sort of good faith discussion.

    What is to be done? Sometimes I’m able to ask a Trumper ‘why’ and just listen and try to have a conversation, but when conspiracy theory is the truth now it’s impossible. What I find even harder is to engage with current Democrats on the need for socialism. They are as Neo-liberal as the rest of them. I hope we can move to a more social democracy to alleviate some of the suffering. Even then capitalism is genius at pitting all of us against each other while a few sit on the abundance we all could share. There will never be a need for any sort of military lockdown or the like. Getting people to think is part of the answer. I only see this happening on a micro scale through blogs like yours, podcasts, conversations among friends. So all is not lost.

    Incidentally, these Trump folks have always been around, Trump just made them more visible and more audacious in their actions. I personally have seen my mother change into a cruel/evil person when talking about politics. It has been scary, but now the norm.

  2. nicky

     /  January 7, 2021

    “Well that is your perception/ you have your opinion, I have mine”.
    Just one Example that drives me mad and makes me want to never talk to that person again.
    Or when people argue just so cruelly and don`t see the brutality of their arguments..
    Then I wonder how to not despair, can one persuade people like that?
    From what moment is it like, nope, unreachable?
    I have this impression often, I can not reach that person with reason.

  3. compatty

     /  January 8, 2021

    I received an email from the superintendent of the town’s public schools and principal of my daughter’s school yesterday about the rioters which basically says that even though we may be horrified by the event at the Capitol, teachers and staff at the schools will only talk about it “neutrally” in order to be respectful of different perspectives. Huh?

    That’s the problem that got us here. That’s what you’re talking about Nicky, and what Tom has been saying. There is truth here. There are laws. This is a right and wrong. It seems to me that that is what schools should be teaching our children: the difference between truth and lies so they can understand the world. Teaching the value of reason and evidence. Until we do this, and schools are apparently NOT capable of doing this, these kinds of incidents will be allowed to continue.

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