|“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next! You’re next!”
WHO CAN FORGET the penultimate scene of the 1956 movie classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers? The wild-eyed doctor, stumbling down the highway, trying desperately to warn his fellow citizens: “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next! You’re next!”
Ostensibly science-fiction, the movie shuddered with political unease. Something had taken over the American body-politic. People had begun to question whether their neighbours were still their neighbours: people to eat, drink, talk and argue with; recognisably loyal Americans. Had something really turned them into something else? Something alien?
The crisis currently gripping the United States is far from over. Within 72 hours, it is possible that catastrophic violence will have broken out in all 50 state capitols – as well as in Washington DC. The fanatical followers of President Donald J. Trump have called a million of their far-right comrades onto the streets – with their guns. If even half that number show up, armed to the teeth, the US authorities will face the greatest challenge to the constitutional integrity of the republic since 1861.
Hyperbole? Not really. There are growing fears at the highest levels of the federal government that a so-far-undetermined percentage of law enforcement officers and military personnel may have secretly repudiated their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
They are concerned that Americans may encounter at the state level the same curious reluctance on the part of law enforcement to confront and challenge what was clearly an insurrectionary mob hellbent on preventing the Congress from certifying President-Elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College majority.
A number of congressmen and women have reported to the American documentary film-maker, Michael Moore, that when they parked their cars outside the Capitol Building on the morning of Wednesday, 6 January, they were struck by how much it felt like a Saturday. Where were the Capitol Police? Why was the place so quiet? Asking around, Moore learned that out of the more than 2,000 Capitol Police personnel available, barely a fifth had been rostered-on for duty that fateful Wednesday.
This was in spite of the fact that the hostile intentions of the tens-of-thousands of angry Americans summoned to Washington by President Trump had been flagged for days. To the congress-persons and their jittery staff-members, the situation must have seemed eerily reminiscent of the scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone arrives at the hospital in which is father lies gravely wounded, only to find the place more-or-less deserted, his Police guard withdrawn, and the imminence of a second “hit” palpable.
The hit came in Washington, claiming five lives, and avoiding perhaps hundreds more only by virtue of the bravery and quick-wittedness of such loyal Capitol Police officers as were willing to do their duty. That, and a fair measure of dumb luck saw the insurrection – the coup d’état – thwarted.
Whether America’s luck will hold until 12:01pm on Wednesday, 20 January 2021, when Joe Biden assumes the powers of the USA’s Commander-in-Chief, remains to be seen. With Donald Trump still in possession of the awesome weaponry of the presidency right up until mid-day on the twentieth, the survival of American democracy must be considered an open question.
It’s easy, so far from these daunting events, to feel smug. New Zealanders, we are confident, could never disgrace themselves so completely as Trump’s lumpen stormtroopers. Such confidence is, however, misplaced. New Zealand’s political system may differ considerably from that of the United States, but culturally we are blood brothers. The same racial neuroses, born of the same historical transgressions, afflict both peoples.
Americans and New Zealanders, and in this context those terms refer to the descendants of the European immigrants who subjugated the indigenous populations of both countries and built upon their confiscated territories what they anticipated proudly would become a shining (white) city on a hill, have much in common. Both peoples were raised in the deadly coils of Nineteenth Century capitalism and the blood-soaked imperial networks that kept it fed. Slavery and its successor institutions may have made the culture of the United States more vicious, but the racism that exonerated both peoples’ colonial excesses is embedded no less deeply.
As the Twenty-First Century gathers momentum, and the moral compromises of the Twentieth begin to fray, New Zealanders must accept that the makings of “Trumpism” are here already.
We are next.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 January 2021.