Much has been written and spoken about last Wednesday’s ferocious assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob egged on by President Donald Trump. Yet there is much more to be said.
The thousands who heard Trump’s incitement to riot and the hundreds who actually followed through, trashing the building that represents American democracy, were nearly all white and mostly “working class” male.
They were, in fact, the sort of people described by author Isabel Wilkerson in her bestselling study, “Caste” — which explores the remarkably similar hierarchies of America, Nazi Germany and of course India, the nation Westerners associate most strongly with the centuries-old Hindu system of dividing a population into permanent, rigid castes.
Wilkerson notes that despite the many obstacles facing them, some African-Americans, the descendants of slaves, have managed to rise to the level of dominant-caste whites, culminating in the election of a Black president in 2008.
“This left some white working-class Americans in particular, those with the least education and the material security that it can confirm, to face the question of whether the commodity that they could take for granted – their skin and ascribed race – might be losing value,” Wilkerson writes.
And that question — whether being white is “losing value” in our society — lies at the heart of what happened on Jan. 6 in Washington D.C.
“It is not by chance that most of the individuals who descended on the nation’s capital were white, nor is it an accident that they align with the Republican Party and this president … [nor is it] a coincidence that symbols of white racism, including the Confederate flag, were present and prominently displayed,” writes Hakeem Jefferson for FiveThirtyEight.
“[This] is the violent outgrowth of a belief system that argues that white Americans and leaders … should have an unlimited hold on the levers of power … And this, unfortunately, is what we should expect from those whose white identity is threatened by an increasingly diverse citizenry.”
And given an American caste system that reaches back to 1619 and the arrival of the first Black slaves, stolen from Africa, the events of the past week are entirely natural.
“Many have said that what transpired on Wednesday was not America. They are wrong. This is the America that Black people know. … This is America, and it will continue to be America, until white supremacy is dismantled,” wrote newly seated Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) in the Washington Post.
The relatively few Capitol Police officers facing the huge crowd were left largely unprepared for the onslaught that was coming:
Many commentators noted dramatic differences between the way the president and law enforcement officers treated Black Lives Matter protesters last year, and the protesters-turned-rioters last week.
“After the pro-Trump mob stormed the hallowed halls of Congress, [Trump] did not denigrate the rioters as ‘THUGS’ or warn that he was prepared to greet them with ‘vicious dogs’ and ‘ominous weapons’” as he had threatened largely peaceful BLM demonstrators, wrote Aamer Madhani, Associated Press White House reporter.
“Our collective rearview mirror still has the National Guard in full military gear, the helmeted police on horseback, the rain of rubber bullets and the clomp of jackboots during the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer,” wrote Michele Norris in the Post. She added:
“The reasonable conclusion after this week is that White lives matter more.”
One observer suggested that the events of last week are dividing the nation into three adversarial camps.
“America … is breaking into blue America, red America, and Trump America — all with distinct politics, social networks and media channels,” wrote Jim VandeHei on Axios.
“The Republican Party is splitting into two, starting with the relatively small Never Trumpers breaking off in 2016 and joined four years later by a new slice of establishment Republicans repulsed by President Trump’s post-election actions. … [But] There’s no hard evidence yet that Trump America has shrunk significantly, despite the lies about the election and mob assault on the U.S. Capitol,” VandeHei said.
The racist nature of the Capitol invasion was clear from the start:
Another commentator warns that there could be much more, and worse, to come.
“[W]while this act of insurrection, spurred on by the president himself, has no national precedent, it stems from a long history of white supremacy and far-right extremism, and could erupt into further violence,” wrote Deirdre Fernandes in the Boston Globe.
“The riots involved hundreds of primarily white Trump supporters and occurred on the day after Georgia, with strong turnout among Black voters, elected Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, its first Black and first Jewish senators,” Fernandes writes, citing Chad Williams, chairman of African & African-American Studies at Brandeis University.
“The timing testified to the country’s constant struggle with race, and the backlash against building a more inclusive country….”
Numerous critics called for holding pro-Trump Republicans to account.
“The mob assault on the Capitol … followed a heavily racialized campaign by a president who falsely portrayed African-American cities as hot spots of voting fraud, while endearing himself to white supremacists,” wrote Brent Staples in the New York Times.
“Republicans who subscribe to this toxic strategy deserve to be held responsible for the chaos it reaps.”