We are living through a right-wing counterrevolution, and Jan. 6 was a milestone on America’s path away from democracy.
A century ago, Benito Mussolini called Fascism a "revolution of reaction," and strongman figures like Il Duce and Donald Trump hold appeal when nations undergo profound social progress that is experienced as a crisis of White Christian male authority.
In the case of America, eight years of governance by the first African-American president, Barack Obama, who legalized same-sex marriage and pushed through gender equity in the military, readied the country for an anti-Obama: a White supremacist and misogynist brute who boasted about shooting someone in January 2016 and was rewarded for his lawlessness with the Republican presidential nomination.
As I forecast on Feb. 1, 2017, Trump's ambition was not governance --he had zero interest in public welfare-- but autocratic capture. A coup mentality and logic were inherent in Steve Bannon's goal of using high office to strike at the state, creating chaos and fear that would enable the consolidation of executive power.
Over the next four years, Trump's own "revolution of reaction" took shape. Through threat and corruption, he converted the GOP into his personal tool, while relentless propagandizing, including over 100 tweets per day, created an alternate reality that suited his needs. The Big Lie, getting tens of millions of people to believe that he actually won the 2020 election, was made possible by the 30,000 lies and misleading claims that preceded it.
By pushing out critics and the noncompliant, and hiring zealots and sycophants, the Trump administration transformed federal agencies into staging grounds for a war against a growing catalogue of enemies of the people: climate activists, protesters, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, liberal intellectuals, journalists, and many more.
Attorney General William Barr came into his own under Trump as a counterrevolutionary operative. In 2019, he described Trump’s government to a police organization as a “unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.” In 2020, as coronavirus ravaged America, Barr used the excuse of a state of emergency to ask Congress to grant the Department of Justice the ability to request that judges detain people indefinitely without trial.
Trump's refusal to accept the results of the November 2020 election intensified this war on democratic institutions and set the stage for exceptional actions. To ready the final assault on democracy, Trump ordered purges of those who supported the rule of law, and used pardons to free up criminals to serve him. First-hour enablers of his right-wing counterrevolution (Roger Stone, Bannon, Gen. Michael Flynn) all returned to prominence in this period. They promoted the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the armed attack and served as co-conspirators of the coup.
Tellingly, the PowerPoint former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows turned over to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, which contained "options" for engineering a Trump "victory," took a cue from the right-wing authoritarian playbook. The idea of declaring a state of emergency to stop "foreign intervention" in an election by Communists (in this case, China) has a long history - one that has led to right-wing autocracy.
Whatever we call Jan. 6 --an insurrection, a coup attempt, or a riot-- it was a counterrevolutionary action. Its goal was not just to maintain Trump in office, but also to keep the forces of social and racial progress, like Vice President Kamala Harris, out of power. They didn’t succeed in Jan. 2021, and it is up to us in 2022 and beyond to show the reactionary forces now mobilized in our country that they cannot stop the movement of history toward freedom for all.