These are the two points made by two of several guest speakers on NPR’s Here and Now today. These are two of my very, very, very favorite academics ever.
· Zeynep Tufekci: Yesterday was an attempted coup. It failed. Will they try again? That depends on what each of us do next.
· Ibram Kendi: Is American exceptional? Was yesterday exceptional? No. If you think so, you don’t know American history very well.
Today on NPR, Ibram Kendi and Zeynep Tufekci were interviewed about their reactions to yesterday’s demonstration and invasion of the capitol. I have written on FB already about my irritation with Biden who keeps speaking of “we” and “our” as if American is one nation, one people with one soul – it is not. I had a partner once who always interrupted me when I started a sentence with “we”. She would say abruptly, “who’s, ‘we’ white woman?” Kendi addresses this issue in reference to yesterday’s events.
I also wrote yesterday about my irritation with the CNN coverage of the attempted coup that happened yesterday. I always HEARD the criticism of 24-hour news stations. They turn serious events into entertainment, however morbid or frightening the nature of the entertainment was. I had never watched them do this. They did that yesterday by blowing the coup attempt out of proportion. Tufekci argues that the key take away yesterday was that 138 Republicans voted to overturn the PA election. This was lost in the mayhem of reporting yesterday.
Of course, this doesn’t make for compelling TV. Compelling TV distracts most viewers from what is really serious (Tufekc might say, “mistaking the ridiculous for the serious). I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of commentary about the double standard on clear display between how police treat white people v people of color. But even that tended to get buried by the looping video of protesters breaking windows and wandering around the House and Senate floor as well as by the competition among the pundits to say the scariest thing. But that is what the audience wants. If a car seems like it is going to crash (and fortunately, it didn’t yesterday), then we definitely want to be there to see it happen live, yes? And while we are watching for hours-on-end to see if it happens, we need to be entertained, an unenviable job.
Interviewer: Comparing the storming of the capitol with what happens in Third world countries – we are better, we are above devolving into chaos? What are you thoughts on this?
Ibram Kendi: It’s ahistorical. To read American history, to remember American history, is to remember coup attempt after coup attempt, whether political or economic. I am thinking, of course, about Tulsa, Oklahoma, or about all sorts of attempted or actual coups during the Reconstruction era, or even the Civil War itself. Or, even in the last year, what happened at the US capitol, has happened at state capitols. And as a result, particularly of people violently opposing shutdowns in their states as a result of Covid 19, or even plotting to assassinate sitting governors. This is America. People need to recognize that. [when people argue that] This is not a third world country [they are not acknowledging this history].
Interviewer: is this chaos a sign of progress against the yearning for regression? Is this a by-product of what happens during great progress or is this just truly a devolvement of our democracy?
Kendi: I think it is a fundamental clash, and I wrote about this recently the Atlantic. Historically, American has had two forces -- the force of justice and the force of injustice. And certainly when the forces of justice have advanced, the force of injustice has tried to stop that advance. Often times, violently. Americans need to recognize that both forces are inherent, have existed historically in this country.
Interviewer: what did you see yesterday? Was it a coup?
Zeynep Tufecki: It was an attempt to steal an election….maybe not very competently, but an attempt…so it was some sort of coup attempt.
Interviewer: [given that you grew up in Turkey and experience many kinds of coups], did this feel familiar?
Tufecki: absolutely, and, in fact, when you see that picture of the insurrectionists sitting at the Senate and the House…..and basically yelling “Trump won!”, it is intimately familiar…..the President of the United States was attempting to steal the election by falsely asserting that he won it, and trying to mobilize all the extra-legal forces he could muster from his office to try to get them to overturn the election in his favor.
Interviewer: and you were making it clear (in your article a while ago) that this was happening long before yesterday…what role you think Republicans and Trump’s allies had in helping him get to this point?
Tufecki: of course, the key thing here is, is that people are mistaking ridiculous with not serious. There are a lot of things going on that are kind of ridiculous, for example the President tweets with all sorts of punctuation errors. Some people yesterday wearing hats with horns. It looks ridiculous, but it is not unserious. It’s important to realize that even after the mob disrupted the certification process, The majority of the GOP caucus in the House, 138 representatives voted to overturn the results of the Pennsylvania election. Even the PA representative who was just elected with those votes voted against that election. These are not normal hiccups of a transition. These are attempts to steal the election. There are a lot of ridiculous coup attempts around the world too! A lot fail the first, second or even third time and then they succeed. I have to say that the vote in the House and the Senate, trying to throw out perfectly legitimate votes, that should scare us. Even the armed men and women breaking into the capitol did not alarm the Republican legislators enough for them to say, fine, this is it, we’re stopping this.
Interviewer: You said in your December article “what often starts as a farce may end in a tragedy” Do you still think that after yesterday?
Tufekci: it depends on how we react. A line has been crossed….it’s how we react that determines if they try again. ….next time it might be more competent…. This is an alarm for a potential 5 alarm fire. …we need to focus on the crucial need to unite as a country and react. This is not a partisan issue.