Insurrections are common but Wednesday’s aborted insurrection on Capitol Hill was unique, because the purpose of mobilizing a mass of people and deploying their sheer momentum against the edifices of power, a Royal or Presidential Palace, or a Parliament is of course to seize power – through the very act of seizing that iconic building.
But that is logically quite impossible when the ruler is not the enemy to be replaced but rather the intended beneficiary of the insurrection.
What happened was certainly not an attempted coup d’etat either. By their very nature coups are subterranean, very silent conspiracies that only emerge when the executors move into the seats of power to start issuing orders as the new government – a very large, very noisy and colorful gathering cannot possibly attempt a coup.
There have been quite a few cases around the world of what is best described as mass intimidation directed against parliaments – but in all such cases it was some specific law that was wanted or not wanted, which legislators under the gun might then vote for, or against. For that to happen, the legislators have to be all gathered in the legislature – and kept there to be coerced, because no crowd can vector physical pressure in many different directions. That conspicuously did not happen because it was a crowd that invaded the building, not snatch teams sent to seize individual legislators to be cajoled or forced into their seats.
Given all these exclusions, only one thing remains: a venting of accumulated resentments. Those who voted for Trump saw his electoral victory denied in 2016 by numerous loud voices calling for “resistance” as if the President elect were an invading foreign army – voices eagerly relayed and magnified by mass media, emphatically including pro-Tump media.
Then they saw his victory sullied by constantly repeated accusations of collusion with Russia from chairmen of Intelligence committees, and immediate ex-intelligence chiefs who habitually signalled that they were accusing Trump of being Putin’s agent because they had secret information, which, alas, they could not disclose. What they did do was to deplore Trump’s “subservience” to Putin on a weekly basis for four years, while refusing to entertain the possibility that in a confrontation with China it might be a good idea to overlook Putin’s sins, just as Nixon embraced Mao to counter the Soviet Union.
A venting of resentments can be a healthy process, and when Biden is inaugurated, as he will be, on January 20, on schedule, Wednesday’s events may prove to have been beneficial. Biden’s own conspicuous refusal to adopt the language of resistance back in 2016, and his abstention from false accusations of collusion with Russia (even under extreme provocation about his son) makes it that much easier for the new President to be healer he convincingly promised to be. Overwrought talk of a coup attempt, or of an insurrectional threat, or even a military coup d’etat seems to induce a pleasurable shiver (the French frisson) in some people but on Wall Street the market was supremely unimpressed: stocks went up, strongly because they too know that it will all be over by January 20th.
Edward Luttwak is a strategist and historian known for his works on grand strategy, geoeconomics, military history, and international relations