The nuanced way the world understood Donald Trump’s racially charged call to a mob to march on the US Capitol is best summed up in one headline. It was splashed across the frontpage of The Times of India, my old employer.
“Coup Klux Klan”, said TOI, in reference to the troubling motivations of the pro-Trump rioters.
Those three words said it all.
At last, there was a pithy way to sum up five years of Mr Trump’s racist remarks (on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016); his “very fine people” comment on the white nationalists who caused trouble (and one death) at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in 2017; his “stand back and stand by” injunction on live television to the far-right, neo-fascist Proud Boys group during last year’s presidential debate.
Even though “coup Klux Klan” is about an outgoing president, make no mistake it stains America itself. In the words of Ian Kelly, former US ambassador to Georgia, “This president has reduced the coin of our realm”.
As Timothy Snyder, Yale historian of fascism and political atrocity recently wrote, “post-truth is pre-fascism”. Mr Trump’s numerous lies – not just about the elections but race-related issues such as protests for social justice – came together when he focussed on alleged “irregularities” and “contested states” in cities that have large numbers of African-Americans. Professor Snyder says, “At bottom, the fantasy of fraud is that of a crime committed by Black people against white people”. He quotes Hannah Arendt’s account of the grand fiction of “Hitlerian anti-Semitism: the claims that Jews ran the world, Jews were responsible for ideas that poisoned German minds, Jews stabbed Germany in the back during the First World War.”
Truly, as The Washington Post notes, four years of Mr Trump’s presidency have “dimmed the United States’ democratic bona fides. The 45th president embraced right-wing nationalists who flouted the rule of law, while backing a handful of pro-democracy movements that served expedient political purposes. A chorus of ‘no’ went up against Venezuela, Cuba and Iran. But from Egypt to Honduras to Saudi Arabia to North Korea, Trump signaled tolerance for human rights abuses and offered authoritarians a new gift to dismiss accountability by popularizing the term ‘fake news’.”
Worse, the man who inspired “coup Klux Klan” remains unrepentant and apparently determined to wield power – one way or the other.