Yesterday, crowds of Supporters of President Trump surrounded and stormed the US Capitol as Congress confirmed the electoral victory of new President Joe Biden. Congress was evacuated when rioters smashed windows and smashed the floor of the Senate; there was clearly an armed stalemate and a woman was killed after a shootout. Rioters hooked a noose on the west side of the building and law enforcement discovered several improvised explosive devices on the ground.
What happened was primarily the fault of Donald Trump and his allies and enablers – his children, his White House aides, his right-wing amplifiers and media cronies, the Republicans who, moments before the invasion of the Capitol, stood on the ground. in undemocratic efforts to overthrow a legitimate and concluded election. Trump in fact gushed his allegations of baseless election theft to the crowd earlier today. It was, in a very dark sense, a team effort, a network of individuals stoking the flames for their leader.
The storming of the Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon – with a full session indoors, two weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris – also showed, once again, the vital importance of words to describe threats to democracy. These problems will not disappear into thin air on January 20, and the undervaluation of language in American political discourse by mainstream media and social media platforms only threatens to name these dangers for what they are.
The seriousness of word choice has been too often dismissed over the past four years. After a white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, when President assimilated anti-racist protesters with right-wing terrorists wearing Nazi insignia and chanting “The Jews will not replace us” – “there is blame on both sides,” he said, after a woman was murdered – many media, or experts for that matter, still wouldn’t call Trump a “racist” or “anti-Semite.” We cannot know the exact intentions of officials in the Trump administration, a political reporter told me.
When Trump lied thousands and thousands of times, in many cases regurgitating the same blatant lies ad nauseam, the same hesitation was applied (at least for a while, to some) to the use of the word “lie” . Yet, as Masha Gessen writes in Survive the autocracyA reporter who assumes Trump’s intention is unknowable, that repeated false statements – when the truth is indeed knowable – do not, in fact, constitute a lie, abdicates responsibility for telling the story, for providing the context of what happened a year ago, yesterday, or even in parallel with the lie. This clearly defies the reality of continuing to lie when the truth is widely known. Social media companies calling Trump’s lies “disinformation” instead of disinformation – the former projecting a lack of intent, the presence of an accident – fit into this same mold. It took years for Trump’s lies for platforms to apply a simple label to them and until a coup attempt yesterday for Trump’s Twitter account to be suspended for the first time.
This apathy for rhetorical correctness – not saying ‘racist’ or ‘liar,’ exposing claims that Trump ‘was presidential’ the second he pulled off a half-consistent sentence not overtly linked to vitriolic – helped downplay Donald Trump’s threat to democracy. It was full screen yesterday.
Immediately after election day in November, Trump began filing legally baseless challenges to the counting of ballots in several states, nothing more than one authoritarian ploy take power by any means possible. Again, imprecise descriptions of the pattern – a “side-show,” a “distraction,” the mere tantrum of a man who cannot accept loss – downplayed its autocratic nature and violent inspirational force. . Because if it was a “side-show”, he devoted many hours of his time, just like countless facilitators in Washington and across the country, to convince supporters to believe in “fraud” and to give money to steal elections in the courts. If it was a ‘distraction’ it certainly captivated these angry people. conspiracy of violence on right-wing forums and organize yesterday’s events on social media platforms weeks in advance. If it was a tantrum, it was led by an adult, helped by other adults, and inspired other adults to violence in the nation’s capital.