Welcome back to Anarchist Hot Takes, the weekly newsletter from Everyday Anarchism. This is another in my series of essays on the perils of proclaiming that American democracy is in peril.
I couldn't disagree more with the aims of the January 6 protestors. The America they want to create/return to is not only racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic, but also just dumb. They are the worst.
But they're the worst because of their shitty, catastrophic beliefs. (Or maybe not quite the worst. As much as I hate the Trumpian crypto-fascist ideas, at least it's an ethos. Larry Summers-style technocratic rule by economist isn't even an ethos. It pretends to be value-neutral; it's just a smart way of making policy. "We're so sorry, we have to fire all these people and some of them will starve; it's just what we have to do. It says so in the Harvard Business Review!")
So when a bunch of fucking nutjobs invade the Capitol, I can't muster much outrage. At least they're dressed like nutjobs, tipping everyone off. They do their violence themselves, rather than using US special forces abroad and SWAT teams at home? That seems preferable to me. They hate Congress and everything it stands for? Who doesn't?
Here's the key: everyone wants to change the American system, our "democracy," but everyone is always telling us that we have to do it the right way, within the system. And it can't be violent! As David Graeber has pointed out more than once, this is silly. We start the American experiment on July 4, 1776, but the violence started more than a year before that, at Lexington and Concord. Unless you count the Boston Massacre or that classic example of American direct action, the Boston Tea Party. Nutjobs dressing up in racist gear and attacking smugly powerful institutions is how we got an America in the first place.
George Washington led an armed resistance against a sovereign government. Abraham Lincoln sent federal troops to overthrow the will of democratically elected officials (and yes, the black people in the south couldn't vote, but the black people in the north often couldn't vote either, not to mention the women). FDR tried to pack the court, and succeeded - he never packed the court because some justices retired to get out of his way.
In short, America is a country founded on violent opposition to the current system and maintained by a combination of violent defenses and bad-faith arguments. That doesn't mean it's all bad, or even mostly bad. But it does mean that you can't condemn the January 6th stupid coup because it was undemocratic (so is the supreme court), violent (so were Washington and Lincoln), illegal (so is repairing an iphone), bad faith (so is every elected official), or anything else. Condemn them because you think they're wrong - sure. But don't condemn their fervor, their violence, or their contempt for the powers that be. That's what Mitch McConnell condemned them for. I don't recommend taking his side.