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Biden Arrives and Republicans Play With Fire

Biden Arrives and Republicans Play With Fire

Wednesday, 20 January, 2021 - 13:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

This morning on the American national radio network, an American general who was in the Iraq war said that the presence of 25,000 American soldiers in Washington reminded him of Baghdad. How bizarre!


The population of Washington is American; the soldiers are American. This is not a foreign army on the streets. The American state, including its security forces and its judicial system, is strong unlike the Iraqi state. Iraqis died by the thousands monthly when the general was there; in Washington five died on January 6. There is no foreign state giving aid to the American extremists; Canada and Mexico are not Syria and Iran. There is huge irony that the American government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to fight terrorists in the Middle East and then disparate groups of rightist Americans launched the first attack on Congress and the Capitol since the British army attacked in 1814. The Department of Homeland Security, created after 9/11, said in a report last October that the most dangerous and persistent threat inside the United States is extreme right-wing groups who promote white racial domination.


The problem in America is much bigger than white racial supremacists. I had a conversation last week with the head of the Republican Party organization in my town in Maine. Maine has very few black citizens and racial issues do not direct politics as they do in some parts of America. Here the concerns are jobs, incomes, health care, and good governance. Like other parts of rural America, central Maine is suffering. Trump won most of the votes in our region, and my Republican friend warned that most Republicans here are sure the election was not clean and they reject any reconciliation with the Democrats. He is not alone. An opinion survey from Morning Consult organization last week showed that only 22 percent of Republican voters in America think the 2020 election was fair and only 27 percent have confidence in the election system. (By comparison, 72 percent of Republicans had confidence in the election system last September.) In addition, the poll indicated that only 45 percent of voters who call themselves independent from the two parties have confidence in the election system. This means that in total fewer than half of Americans have confidence in the election system. Despite investigations and over sixty court decisions, Trump and the Republican Party succeeded in convincing most Americans that fraud disfigured the 2020 election result. The attack on the Capitol building on January 6 was our first harvest of their efforts. It is not a long step from no trust in the election system to protest marches at the Capitol building. Even if only a small percentage of anti-system protesters accept using violence to change the government, the number of extremists will become significant. During the attack on the Capitol building, a young woman from the state of Tennessee told a reporter “it is the start of a revolution.” She looked middle class. She didn’t look like a revolutionary. That is America’s problem now.


Some analysts hope that after the attack of January 6 the Republican Party will help marginalize extremists by convincing the majority of the rejectionist camp that, in the end, the political system can respond to demands for change. Unfortunately, many in the Republican Party still claim the 2020 election was unfair; 147 Republican members of Congress refused to certify the election result even after the January 6 Capitol building attack. Some Republican leaders, especially at the local level, ask why the violence was unjustified or they claim without justification that the violence on January 6 came from a leftist conspiracy or that violence from rightists and leftists is the same. Important national leaders in the Republican Party will not challenge the Trump supporters with the truth about the election because they want to exploit them politically in future elections. Some Republican leaders will encourage conspiracy mentalities among extreme rightist groups and perhaps give them political cover. The rightist rejectionist camp is large and the Republicans are playing with fire. That worry pushes Democrats in Congress to make an example of Trump and obtain his impeachment in Congress. The impeachment in its turn will provoke more anger, and perhaps violence, from the rightist rejectionist camp. This camp will not bring down the American state. I think of Western Europe – not Baghdad – and how the Baader Meinhoff gang and the Red Army didn’t bring down the West German and Italian states 40 years ago. But as Biden and his team arrive the threat of violence is real, the arguments about truth and reality are real, and the erosion inside the political system is real.


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