OROn Wednesday, Trumpist protesters crossed the line into insurrection. Line is not just a metaphor: one of the great democratic characteristics of Washington is that it offers a vast physical space for people to voice their protest, but also clear limits of where the pressure on representatives must stop. The “March on Washington” is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution and yet it is a great American political institution. But it is about citizens who converge in their capital to challenge what their representatives do, not to put themselves in their place and usurp power.
This is what Trump incited his far-right movement to do, even though, in true Trump fashion, he was too lazy to join his own “March to Save America” and instead enjoyed it as a television show. . Similarly, its protesters often seemed more interested in selfies than delivering a political message; one, leaving the Capitol, with a police officer politely holding the door, announced that it was time for a beer. Those involved in what some observers have called a beer belly coup not only desecrated one of the great temples of democracy in the world; they also disgraced the tradition of political marches.
It would be fundamentally wrong if the result of Wednesday’s all-out frontal attack on one of the three branches of government were simply a call for more security and to protect politicians more effectively from citizens. It’s perfectly okay for people to reach out and pressure elected representatives. The world’s greatest living political philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, even uses the term “siege” in his fundamental democratic theory: civil society, he says, should besiege parliament and to ensure that the ideas and demands of the public are heard within the political system. Furthermore, according to Habermas, it is alright if society is characterized by a “Wild cacophony”; those who are afraid of yelling and other supposed forms of rudeness probably fear mass democracy as such.
It took many struggles for citizens to get physically close to what Thomas Jefferson described as a “natural aristocracy,” which refers to the selection of the best and the brightest through elections. There were already social justice marches in DC in the late 19th century; When the protesters finally reached the capital, they were immediately arrested. The entire area around the hill was forbidden for a long time, which is one of the reasons MLK ended in 1963 March for jobs and freedom in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Only after a cut decision in the early 1970s allowed citizens to be close to Congress; Members of the latter had argued to the end that their work was similar to that done in a library and that loud and unruly citizens would disturb the contemplation of the public good.
There is something undemocratic in parliaments that do not allow people to come close. Norman Foster’s remodeling of the Reichstag in Berlin it has been celebrated by its glass dome, through which citizens can see what their representatives are doing below (they cannot hear what they are saying). It is a beautiful symbol: the sovereign is placed above the deputies. But the reality is that large areas around the German parliament cannot be used for demonstrations. This tendency to keep people at bay was only reinforced when, last August, dozens of protesters unhappy with Merkel’s Covid-19 policies stormed the Reichstag steps (three policemen with only sticks prevented them from entering).
The demonstrations may signal what America’s civil rights leaders called the sheer “importance of our numbers.” One of the notable facts about the Trumpist insurrection was the unimpressive numbers (of course, things came full circle here with the rather sparsely crowded inauguration in 2017). What’s more, there was no clear main message, other than the perverse celebration of the fact that everyone is a victim (a rhetoric that stands in stark contrast to behavior inside the Capitol: titled white men sponsoring the police and crying out “this is our home ”).
It is ideal to have what the British scholar John parkinson described as a large space without gardens in front of a representative assembly (larger and more prominent than, say, the Orwellian-sounding “authorized assembly area” near Parliament in Canberra). Self-selected protesters can challenge representatives’ claim to act on behalf of the people; but the representatives, in turn, can argue that the protesters themselves are not representative. This democratic dynamic, without anyone having the last word, with each decision subject to review after new elections, is uniform, according to another scholar, perfectly symbolized in a less prominent feature of the DC landscape: the ever-changing “reflecting pond” in which we always see different faces.
Still, there is a difference between those outside and inside the Capitol: only the latter have been elected in democratic procedures. Therefore, while a siege is legitimate and even desirable in a democracy, it must never be successful. This is what Maga’s amateur soldiers and groupies (not to mention neo-Nazis) didn’t see; they have every right to resent Biden, but not to replace him.
It is fundamentally wrong, then, to call them mere “electoral protesters,” as Fox News did. But they weren’t primarily rioters or looters either; footage from inside the building they registered alleged ringleaders warning people “don’t touch anything” (a warning that was not always heeded, although, as we learned, when the whites start looting, they don’t start shooting). Nor was it a matter of non-American activities (according to Ben Sasse, “The Americans are not French revolutionaries who throw themselves at the barricades”; apparently the senator, who has a doctorate in American history from Yale, missed some parts in the 18th century). Rather, it was a deeply undemocratic, far-right crowd (with tourist and carnival side interests) that received marching orders from the victim-in-chief, a man who also feels entitled to the House he is in, though, fortunately, not for much longer.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism