On 6 January, something happened in Washington DC that has not happened since the US-UK War of 1812. The Capitol building, that instantly-recognisable symbol of US democracy, was stormed by Donald Trump supporters.
I watched, agog, as many of the same people who called peaceful BLM protesters ‘thugs’ donned assault rifles, gas masks and body armour, and attempted to reverse the results of a legitimate federal election.
Rhetoric has consequences.
Just like the ‘Stab in the Back’ myth that fuelled Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and ’30s, the lies of Trump and his cohorts have stoked the fires of outrage into a roaring cacophony of right-wing white nationalism.
During the storming of the Capitol, there was a lot of behaviour on display that I can only describe as naked hate. One rioter’s face was so twisted with primal rage he reminded me of Danny Boyle’s zombie epic, 28 Days Later. Makeshift gallows outside the Capitol building and chants of ‘hang Mike Pence’ (Trump’s vice-president) demonstrated that, not only did the rioters embrace violence, even the most historically ardent Trump supporters are no longer safe.
Now that the well-documented parallels between Trump’s methods during his rise to power and Hitler’s extend all the way to the Reichstag Fire, the truth has never mattered more in the United States.
During Trump’s political career, conspiracy theories have become almost mainstream thought among his supporters. From the infamous QAnon claim that the world is run by a network of Satan-worshipping paedophile cannibals, to Trump claiming via Twitter – in the middle of a global pandemic – that vaccines cause autism, many of these theories are actively harmful, if not downright dangerous.
Where people can accept these outlandish claims as ‘truth’, it is not surprising that so many readily accepted the falsehood of a stolen election.
As I write this, we are 48 hours from Joe Biden’s inauguration.
There are ‘protests’ planned on the day in almost every state, and such is the fear among security services of an insider attack, that Associated Press has reported that the FBI is performing extra vetting on all 25,000 National Guard troops deployed to secure state capitals, and the inauguration itself.
While I am eagerly anticipating the end of Trump’s presidency, and a return to governance guided by logic and reason, I am on edge.
The kind of naked hate on display on 6 January does not simply evaporate. My Stateside friends and family harbour genuine fears of another US Civil War, or at least more violent insurrection.
Donald Trump’s looming trial in the senate should be used not only to convict him; it should be used as an opportunity to put the absolute truth of Trumpism before the US people in such stark terms that it can no longer be denied.
The inflammatory language, the three-word slogans reminiscent of the Brexit campaign, and the unabashed, abuser-style, psychological manipulation of the masses through gaslighting and outright lies, must be laid out for all to see and digest.
People must be shown the parallels between Trump and monsters like Hitler and cult leader Jim Jones, as well as the absurdity and illegality of Trump’s words and actions in office.
The trial must also shine a light on the fact that US society, as demonstrated in the differences in policing styles used during the peaceful BLM marches last summer and the Capitol riot, clearly considers anti-racists more of a threat than armed white supremacists.
Changes to the law must follow: fascism and racism must no longer be tolerated by those at the top of US society.
For Trump, the consequences of his rhetoric are already beginning to bite.
Previously supportive members of congress have voted to impeach him for a historic second time.
Cabinet members and other Republicans are abandoning him in droves.
Even pro golf tours have cancelled use of Trump’s courses.
His personal lawyer, Rudy Guliani, is being disbarred in their home state of New York.
Trump also has the dubious honour of being the first world leader to be banned by a growing collection of social media sites. With his trial in the senate looming, the US – and the world – is holding its breath to see if the president really is subject to the same laws, and subsequent justice, as ordinary citizens.