3 min read

It Has Happened Here

It Has Happened Here
Washington Crossing the Delaware, or Portrait of Imperial Greatness

Welcome back to Anarchist Hot Takes, the weekly newsletter from Everyday Anarchism! This is another in my series on Democracy as Peril.

According to David Graham of The Atlantic, we’re focusing on the wrong coup. Graham takes the standard line that this country is democratic, democracy is under threat, and it’s under threat from Trump. And, giving Trump and his allies far too much credit, Graham wants us to pay attention not to the idiots in the Capitol on January 6 but masterminds behind the scenes. Here’s Graham:

"This is a tale of two coups—or rather, two attempted coups.

One is the well-known January 6 insurrection, memorialized in iconic photographs, gripping videos, and minute-by-minute reconstructions, and followed by hundreds of arrests, more than 50 convictions, and a House select-committee investigation. The other attempt took place over weeks and was mostly waged in closed-door meetings, legal memos, and private phone calls; it has thus far produced little accountability."

Closed door meetings! Please save us from closed door meetings without accountability. Think of our democracy! If there’s one thing we know, it’s that a coup, even a paperwork coup, would mean the end of the US Government, the end of democracy, the end of America. Unless, of course, that’s how the US Government started.

Although we celebrate the Declaration and Constitution together, there was a decade between them. And one of them stated that people could always rise up against their rulers. The second one, well, not so much. Here’s Randolph Bourne:

"The sentiments of the Declaration remained mere sentiments. No constructive political scheme was built on them. The State ideal, on the other hand, had ambitious leaders of the Hamiltonian financial classes, who saw in the excessive decentralization of the Confederation too much opportunity for the control of society by the democratic lower-class elements…There was no inclination to make the new State a school where democratic experiments could be worked out as they should be… The ambitious leaders of the financial classes got a convention called to discuss the controversies and maladjustments of the States, which were making them clamor for a revision of the Articles of Confederation, and then, by one of the most successful coups d'état in history, turned their assembly into the manufacture of a new government on the strongest lines of the old State ideal."

The Constitution, in this reading, wasn’t the culmination of the American experiment inaugurated by the Declaration. It was the end of that experiment (American Democracy: 1776-1789. It has happened here). And instead of democracy we got what Bourne calls “the Old State ideal.” Here’s Bourne again:

"The modern State begins when a prince secures almost undisputed sway over fairly homogeneous territory and people and strives to fortify his power and maintain the order that will conduce to the safety and influence of his heirs. The State in its inception is pure and undiluted monarchy; it is armed power, culminating in a single head, bent on one primary object, the reducing to subjection, to unconditional and unqualified loyalty of all the people of a certain territory. This is the primary striving of the State, and it is a striving that the State never loses, through all its myriad transformations."

Washington and his allies, through violence, overthrew the legal government of the colonies, and installed a potentially democratic one in the 1770s. Then in the 1780s Washington and his allies held a paperwork coup, and created the United States Constitution - an undemocratic restoration of the monarchical ideal of a state. Since then, Washington’s heirs have maintained power, even fighting a civil war in the 1860s to maintain this pure and undiluted monarchy over the unconditional and unqualified loyalty of all the people in these here “United” States of America.

That’s all January 6 was about. Would Washington’s heirs hold the seat of power? Or Trump’s? I prefer Washington’s, of course. But spare us all the blather about “democracy.” If you’re an American, you were taught in high school that people were afraid that the constitution would create a new king, but those fears were unjustified. Bourne thinks that new monarchy did happen. And I can’t see January 6 as anything but a pretender to the throne being stopped by allies loyal to the “one true king.”

The creation of the United States was a paperwork coup. Every peaceful handover of power this country has had has been a paperwork coup, because all of them go back to that original paperwork coup by Washington, Madison, and Hamilton. It’s not that this country has never had a coup, or never lost its democracy. It’s that we have a little paperwork coup every 4 years. And we call it democracy.