It’s too easy to point fingers at U.S. President Donald Trump and his rhetoric about the election having been “stolen” from him as the reason that an angry mob physically breached the nucleus of governance of the most powerful nation on Earth. Indeed, it wouldn’t have taken much to rile up protesters who suddenly found themselves awash in fervent like-minded company. But to blame it all on Trump is to ignore how Trump got this far in the first place, and how some of his followers self-radicalized to the point of interrupting what should have been a boring formality of democracy.
Let’s start with the fact that a lot of those people apparently believe democracy has already been corrupted. They don’t trust the validity of a presidential election. They don’t trust what they’re told by those who are supposed to be democracy’s gatekeepers. And why should they?
The word “democracy” itself has been completely perverted. For decades, Americans have heard it bandied about by government officials from both parties as a convenient pretext for invading foreign countries that don’t fall in line with American interests. The U.S. government has been involved in coups d’etat under the guise of installing democracy in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Panama, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia and Sudan, among other nations.
In many of these places, democracy has yet to flourish, and those who bought into the con job of democracy-building via foreign invasion have proven to be suckers. So how can anyone blame American citizens who witness all this and then believe that they, too, are being played for suckers when the same elites evoke the notion of democracy at home? Why should they trust that it’s not just the same kind of scam perpetrated on the citizens of foreign countries?
Every member of Congress who has ever used the word “democracy” as cover for promoting regime change abroad is guilty of eroding the concept of democracy in the eyes of the average American. So please, spare us the whining about how angry, fed-up people attacked democracy by storming the Capitol. Elected representatives have used and abused the word to suit their interests, and so “democracy” became synonymous with hidden agendas.
Also to blame for the fiasco at the Capitol are the talking heads who exploit the gullible. Partisan media members played up nonexistent “voter fraud” as a plot against Trump. They compromised personal and professional integrity in favor of catering to consumers more interested in confirming their own biases than in being exposed to contradictory arguments.
These public preachers have much in common with radical imams who preach perverted scripture to suggestible souls who make easy candidates for radicalization. The question is why so many people have turned to these false prophets.
Social media platforms have played a big role in the radicalization of some Americans, in much the same way that these platforms are used by jihadists for recruitment and brainwashing. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, these platforms allow easy access to a wide variety of voices and sources from around the world for those interested in adjusting their perspectives based on credible information. On the other hand, that’s not how many people use these outlets. They’re not interested in expanding their horizons or adjusting their thinking. Instead, they bubble up in a virtual universe with like-minded individuals and confirm each other’s biases.
A mob of such people congregated in Washington, D.C., last week to manifest this phenomenon in person, whipping themselves into the same sort of frenzy they routinely whip themselves into online. When the riot at the Capitol was over, the tech giants figured that things had gone too far and censored problematic accounts and posts. That included Donald Trump’s permanent expulsion from Twitter.
Clickbait conspiracy theories and hive-mind nonsense have made social media platforms wealthy. This is part of their business model. They can’t be absolved of responsibility for what they’ve helped foster. It’s far too easy for them, and for partisan media, to scapegoat Trump. They’re part of the problem, too.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.