14 January 2021
Chasing the Trumpkins.
By John Watson
A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so the impressions left by the images of the riots at the American Capitol provide a legitimate insight into what has been going on and where it may lead. Particularly striking was a pair of broadcasts by those appalled by the way in which the White House has egged on demonstrators. The first by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a retired Republican Governor of California, picked up on the similarities between the growth of the Nazi party in Germany and the direction which the Republican Party has taken. With analogies between the invasion of the Capitol and the Kristallnacht, it didn’t pull any punches. The second was rather different, put together by professional artists and containing, as you might expect, a fair amount of irony and triumphalism, celebrating the fall of an evil political regime.
Then there were images of the demonstrators themselves. Many of them were “rent a mob”, lovers of violence of the sort who lurk around the fringes of any extremist political party, but not all. There was a high proportion of women, for one thing, and quite a lot of young men who seemed genuinely to believe that they were protecting their country. Let’s call the latter Trumpkins and assume, as seems to be the case, that they really do believe in a fraudulent count, paedophile rings, environmentalist fictions and all the other ludicrous lies that go with them.
Now, with those images fixed firmly in our minds, let us think about the task which confronts Mr Biden and Ms Harris. No doubt there will be some last-minute fireworks over the next week or so but at the end of that they will be firmly installed in office and, with control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, able to put their programs into effect. That is the easy bit. What is much more difficult is persuading nearly 50% of the American Nation to return to politics as normal and to step back from the sloganised aggressive approach which threatens its future stability.
It is easy from our side of the Atlantic to sneer at the hostility which seems to be endemic in American politics. We certainly have our own disagreements but, generally speaking, members of different parties can discuss them amicably and there is a good-sized floating vote which helps to deaden them. The level of vitriol seems lower, but that is not because we are better people than our transatlantic cousins but rather because our politics are not based on fear. Yes, Labour supporters may fear that the Tories will make cuts when they should be raising taxes. Yes, Conservatives may believe that Labour will stifle the creation of wealth. But concerns of this sort are simply not as toxic as the concerns of white Americans that they will soon find themselves a minority in their own country and will lose control of the political process. So, back to Mr Biden. How should he tackle the fear and the divisions which walk his land, how promote a society which moves forward together?
The key audience here has to be the Trumpkins (the straight thugs will never be reformed) and the task as far as they are concerned is to persuade them that those opposed to them are not child pornographers, election cheats, or members of some “swamp” conspiracy but people rather like themselves who happen to think differently. That is the message which Biden has to get across and it is worth looking at our images with that in mind.
Let us start with Schwarzenegger and the Democrat satirists and imagine a hillbilly sitting in a rocking chair on his porch looking at the two broadcasts. He or she will know Arnie of course so the latter has a head start but the fact that the message was delivered straight will also add to its effect. The ironical “song and dance” approach of the Metropolitan Democrats will be much less effective here and you can imagine it being turned off midstream with the comment “yes, it just shows you what they are like, doesn’t it”.
I do not want this to be taken as some criticism of the jubilation among the Democrats at the fall – and probably the imminent disgrace – of Donald Trump. For four years he has trashed many things dear to them, with a breathtaking combination of dishonesty and abuse. On any reasonable basis they are entitled to revenge, but for President Biden that revenge would be a dangerous luxury if it merely confirmed the existing beliefs of the Trumpkins.
History shows us many examples of countries which needed healing; by and large the most successful results were obtained by those who showed moderation in victory rather than trampling jubilantly over the fallen, however odious. Charles II guaranteed the restoration by limiting reprisals to the regicides. Louis XIII closed down years of Huguenot revolt by pardoning the defenders of La Rochelle. The Marshall plan at the end of the second war brought Germany into the international community in stark contrast with the Treaty of Versailles. Healing requires generosity and that is best dispensed in the hour of victory. Mr Biden needs to have this in mind as he considers whether or not to go ahead with an impeachment. If he does nothing, Trump will become an irrelevance and Biden can begin a dialogue with his former followers. If he pushes ahead with impeachment and all the rest of it, the Trumpkins will start talking about “the revenge of the swamp” and honing their position for 2024.