The assault on the US Capitol: echoes of the 1920s
The assault on the United States Capitol by organized groups of far-right protesters on Wednesday 6/1 to prevent the Parliamentary proclamation of Joe Biden as elected President sealed, as a "final act", the end of the scandalous presidency of Donald Trump. However, what happened in Washington D.C., a raw remake of the March on Rome by Mussolini's Black Shirts almost a century ago (1922), brings upon the phrase with which Winston Churchill referred to the second battle of Alamein during the World War II: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning".
An episode through which was possible to see clearly the "serpent's egg" that has been hatching in recent years. In short: the figure of Trump is the consequence and not the cause of something that nests in the “deep America” and represents, as many analysts have pointed out, a real challenge for democracy, not only for the United States. The racist, xenophobic, armed American paramilitary factor is a latent and underlying magma that, activated by demagogic leaders, configures itself as a 21st century neo-fascism similar to that which appears in other countries.
Let’s take a look at that story.
A hundred years ago, the end of the World War I brought air to an exhausted world. But, eventually, it ended up being just a parenthesis within which in each society of each country, in Europe and further beyond the old continent, the liberal democracies began to be threatened by the left and right extremes, between parties that saw the triumphant Russian revolution nearby and the fascisms that began to grow on the shreds of conservative parties and traditional forces devastating the parliamentary institutions on their way. Marshal Foch, commander of the Allied armies, anticipated this when referring to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919: “This is not a peace. It is a twenty-year armistice". And that is exactly how long that “twenty-year peace” lasted, in which European countries experienced the collapse of their democracies and the rise of militarism that would give birth to the Second World War and the Holocaust.
Europe was also emerging at that time from a pandemic that decimated its population, while Soviet Russia faced a fierce famine and the United States experienced the so-called roaring twenties, a period of economic prosperity that would end with the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
When speaking of the "serpent’s egg", an expression coined by Ingmar Bergman for his film about Berlin in the 1920s, we refer precisely to that interregnum into which Europe entered a century ago, then dragging along the entire world. Some misinterpreted the phenomenon and understood it or wanted to see it as temporary and circumstantial. Others, while believing to be fighting against it, gave it such centrality that ended up helping to increase its flares. There were also those who supposed would be able to take advantage of the marasmus, political and economic speculators, fishermen of troubled waters, who ultimately ended up being victims of the monster they helped create. We must remember this period of history, over and over again, while we observe the ease with which lacerating inequalities, expressions of fanaticism, hate speech and an abuse of trust that societies place in their leaders are naturalized, as if all this was not to have catastrophic consequences sooner or later. We must remember it also when, on the other extreme, danger is trivialized by constantly bringing up ghosts from the past and announcing the impending catastrophe.
What happened in Washington on 6J showed that it was not an exaggeration when we were warned about the real danger that Trump represented for American democracy, particularly when the electoral results were ignored and people were incited to insurrection and violence. The "fascism of the XXI century" showed its face that day, at the door of Congress and in the violent incursion of groups of protesters to the building, ending with five dead and several wounded.
“Will all those people return to their homes, or will they continue on stage in some way or another, weakening the American democratic process, and therefore affecting the lives and future of millions of Latin Americans who are connected to the United States, be it through previous or current emigration, or because of their economic future, or because of democratic hope?”, the journalist Jon Lee Anderson wondered these days[i].
The danger was averted, and perhaps it allowed the Republican Party to break with the extremist and anti-democratic drift to which the Trump leadership dragged it into and restore itself as an expression of the conservative tradition. Nevertheless, it can also be another episode of an ongoing process, in which the monster that is still there, lurking, barely showed its head. It will depend on various other factors and responses whether this disruptive alteration of history will be remembered as a mere anecdote or will be part of an even deeper degradation of liberal democracy, with further developments. This option sets a higher bar on the challenges that the Biden-Harris Presidency will face. For the United States as well as for its international projection and influence in the world.
Fabián Bosoer is a political scientist and journalist. Master in International Relations, professor and researcher at UNTREF/IDEIA, editor in chief of the Opinion section of Clarín. Author, among other books, of Generals and Ambassadors (Ediciones B, 2005), Malvinas, final chapter (Capital Intelectual, 2007), Braden or Perón, the hidden history (El Ateneo, 2012).