Sara Polak: ‘We have seen a failed attempt at a revolution’

A flood of news reports, push notifications and even extra news broadcasts: on Wednesday, the world was shocked by the storming of the Capitol in Washington. Americanist Sara Polak discusses the events.

Sara Polak

Institutionalisation by the president

‘What we saw last night really was an insurrection, a failed attempt at a revolution,’ she says. A group of white supremacist, anti-democratic Trump supporters had serious plans to take democratically elected congressmen hostage.’

According to Polak, we cannot separate the people that stormed the building from the president they support: ‘Violent and armed militia groups, such as the Proud Boys, can be seen throughout history in the United States, from the Civil War (1861-1865) and the Ku Klux Klan to the riots in Charlottesville in 2017, but what is new, is that a president embraces them so openly and invites them to use violence. Trump – and quite a few Republicans in Congress – essentially institutionalised them.’

Nobody else but Trump

This institutionalisation of a group of white Americans who feel entitled to use violence and to disrespect federal institutions in order to affirm their own superiority makes it even more difficult for future President Joe Biden to succeed Trump. Polak: ‘Biden faces a hellish task. He may be able to achieve something now that he has a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the issues are massive and difficult to control: climate, the coronavirus crisis, the collapsing economy, racism, extreme polarisation. A large part of the electorate is simply not open to anything or anyone else than Trump.’

Faithful to Trump or conventional Republican

Yet Polak thinks there might be a silver lining for Biden: ‘If the Republican party splits up into a faction that is faithful to Trump no matter what, and more conventional Republicans, this could work to Biden’s advantage. Unlike now, he might be able to do some business with the second group.’

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