US Capitol Riots: American Democracy in Crisis?

One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” – George Orwell, 1984

On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, a crowd of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to overturn his defeat in the presidential election by violently occupying a joint session of Congress, which was about to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. While the rioters violently gained access to the building just after 2:00 pm, the senators and representatives were evacuated. It was about 5:40 pm when the police declared that the Capitol was safe again. In the meantime, the mob had entered the Senate chamber, vandalised and damaged offices, looted belongings of the senators and fought security officers. Shots were fired inside the Capitol, dozens were injured, five people died, including an officer of the Capitol Police. During his speech at the ‘Save America’ rally, which took place beforehand, Trump once again declared that he had won the election and demanded the protesters “[…] to take back our country […]” and to “[…] fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Before breaking into the Capitol, Trump-supporters marched through the streets chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’ and ‘Fight For Trump’. In response to the riots and Trump’s rather inglorious role in inciting the masses, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump a second time. To prevent Trump from causing further damage, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and other social media platforms permanently suspended his accounts – but a community of alternative social networks already exists. However, June 6th, 2021 marks an assault on US American democracy, an act of domestic terrorism and manipulation, which foregrounds a rather dystopian future: the remaining danger of Trumpist ideology even after the presidency of the man who fostered far-right-wing authoritarian populism and divided the US even more. Two weeks later, the Capitol is getting ready for the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, January 20th. Security measures are high: non-scalable fences have been set around the Capitol, security checkpoints and different safety areas installed. FBI, Secret Service, National Guard and Homeland Security are working hand in hand – but they fear an insider threat…

If you are looking for literature and media that cover power abuse, manipulation and ideology, the following works will be useful:

  • T.C. Boyle’s novel The Harder They Come (2015) explores paranoia, ideological obsession and the Sovereign citizen movement – a militant group of people who regard US laws and law enforcement as illegitimate.
  • His novel The Tortilla Curtain (1995) foregrounds the social split in US American society, offering the perspective of Mexican immigrants and the fear, hate and racism against them. 
  • Noughts and Crosses (2001) by Malorie Blackman is a dystopian series of five novels that were adapted into a TV series, which offers perspectives on racism, oppression and the abuse of power.
  • Dave Egger’s The Circle (2013) is a dystopian novel that was adapted into a movie. It explores the danger of a social media company: manipulation, surveillance, data privacy, totalitarianism and indoctrination. 
  • The Wave (1981) by Morton Rhue and Todd Strasser explores the corruption of power, violence and a social experiment that gets out of control.
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) follows a group of teenage boys who, after a plane crash, establish a government on a remote island, which results in a civil war.
  • The film The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross and the novel (2008) of the same name by Suzanne Collins, show the danger and manipulative tendencies of autocratic governments.

Even though we are in distance learning at the moment, I do hope that you find reasons and time to talk with your pupils about these current affairs. Let’s hope for a safe and secure Inauguration Day.