The recent US Capitol riot is a saddening development in what has quickly been viewed as both simultaneously shocking but also unsurprising depending on who was paying attention.
Those who are shocked, evidently including the US Capitol Police, cite the unprecedented nature of what was wrongly believed to be a normal protest and the general disbelief that such a will for mass insurrection could even exist in our country at all.
Those who are completely unsurprised, have been paying attention to the growing social divergence and public (social media facilitated) coordination of a violent militia. Many are students of history and sociology who understand the power of ideology and symbolism; veracity notwithstanding.
One trend emerging in the general commentary of the riot and events leading to it, is the idea that it ‘exposes the fragility of American Democracy’.
Let us examine that narrative. How exactly does one measure the integrity of American Democracy?
Here we assert that the integrity of American Democracy should be measured by the sum of its parts, not any individual piece. This is precisely because it is founded on a system whose design goal is one of checks and balances.
Much like an engineer would perform an ‘integrity assessment’ on a piece of civil construction or a ‘stress test’ on a high performance system, we can treat the relatively recent introduction of a modern-day fascist, Donald J. Trump, as an unscheduled system-wide test of American Democracy, and therefore in large part, the United States Government.
The United States Government
The United States Government is a machine. It is made of people, subject to localized failures, corruption, and incompetence — all the short-comings of its primary component: you.
The founders built a system that takes people as input, but produces a timeless governance machine as output. As such, we begin our measure of the integrity of American Democracy with a measure of the integrity of the machine that is the United States Government.
The US Government is fundamentally architected to be a machine that responds to a sufficiently large inertia. At rest it is a backstop, not a phalanx. It maintains the status quo.
The immediate sense of nervousness or panic that ensues as the threat-de-jour strikes its opening blows is because we instinctually fear aggression. Things always begin seeming as though the institution is ‘on its heels’ (much like the Capitol Police).
Recall September 11th, or Pearl Harbor. Each of these events viewed in their immediate context seemed like staggering blows. But, fast-forward enough in either case and the outcome is always the same: the system responds with overwhelming force, overcomes the threat and prospers.
The reasons to have a reactive government are manyfold, but key among them being that such a government is more resistant to individual attempts at manipulation.
While many are focused on the fear of Trump’s efforts to do just that, we should take thankful note of the actual lack of success overall; and not for lack of trying.
Overall, Trump’s efforts to subvert the system are being recognized as a threat, and are triggering the very reactive protocols designed to eliminate threats.
Not the least of which includes the participation of the population in taking the first corrective step via general election.
Even with the circle of corruption Trump has worked to infect around him, it remains a minority. Capable of obstruction, hooliganism, and now apparently mass vandalism disguised as insurrection, but falling well short of any actual usurpation of power.
International embarrassment may sting, but it is fixable and foreign governments are far from the final say on the American experiment.
The founders accomplished our systemic resilience with a government that is complex, awkward, massive, slow — and difficult to destroy or subvert by a single individual or confused cosplay mob.
The same things that make the machine frustrating (bureaucracy, inaction) in times of peace or ‘normalcy’, form the underpinnings of its resilience under threat.
In these stressful times, hearing a robotic Vice President repeat, “regular in form and authentic” fifty times could never have been more of a satisfying relief.
We can examine the behavior of the machine as distinct and separate from the behavior of our citizens all along Trump’s progression.
Trump Moments — from the perspective of the ‘machine’
2016: Election of Donald Trump
The fact that a fascist was ever lawfully sworn in as President could easily be construed as evidence that American Democracy is ‘fragile’.
Strictly speaking, the machine performed exactly as intended.
The US election system carried out the will of a sufficient number of voting citizens who believed a fascist would be the best choice for president. It also correctly reflected the absence of a sufficient number of voting citizens who disagreed, but anxiously waited until 2020 to correct their oversight.
2019: Impeachment of Trump for ‘abuse of power’ is acquitted by Senate
The fact that the legislative branch could not remove Trump earlier for ‘abuse of power’ again seems to support the notion of ‘fragility’ of a US Government as unable to truly protect itself from a fascist dictator.
This outcome was merely a reflection of our general cowardice and sluggishness in not confronting Trump sooner as a culture; as evidenced by the sudden dip in post-riot Senate support for Trump, each Senator has a personal threshold for how much public opinion has to shift for them to forego personal agenda. Again, this is by design, for better and for worse.
For this one, we cannot say the machine is fragile because it performed to specification.
We can say that the citizen and corporate leaders of our country who held back until now, at a time our legislative machinery needed them as input the most, were nowhere to be found; or worse, previously complicit.
2020: Failed Attempts to Overturn Election Results
These countless attempts at institutional subversion draw fear that a US election is no longer ‘sacred’ and cannot be trusted to carry out the peoples’ will. We will not distract and save delving into that sad situational irony for another time.
The unanimous and stalwart rebuttal from the judicial branch and resignation-driven protests from the executive branch represent the balance of power in proven action as the system successfully withstood every attempt by Donald Trump to subvert it.
2021: The US Capitol Riot
From a position of fragility, this event represents an historic failure to protect the physical symbol of the heart of democracy. Being compared to the actual Civil War as a benchmark for Capitol security, made easy by the disturbing-yet-also-farcical appearance of a Confederate flag bearer.
From a position of strength, this event merely represents yet another ‘first-strike’ type event against the machine that protects American Democracy. This has always been the necessary first condition to unlock the reactionary power of the US Government and is never inherent proof of fragility.
The true measure of the strength or the fragility of American Democracy can only be measured now by the response of the machine. Without delay, we can already hear the sleeping turbines of liberty roaring to life in defense our beloved country.
Biden’s authority was elected and has been upheld.
The Congress resumed their work hours after the riot.
New articles of impeachment are forthcoming against the fascist threat, Donald J. Trump.
Former Congressional allies, the private sector, the executive staff, and even social media (not to be confused with educated media), have instantly turned on that which challenges the machine; none willing to bet on being on the wrong side of what comes next.
Even Trump’s mob, in the face of the US Justice Department, is being rounded up. They are the unfortunate victims of the social irresponsibility, immaturity, cowardice, and greed of the internet hate generator built and cultivated on social media, and weaponized by Trump.
So to the question, ‘Is American Democracy So Fragile’?
We assert that the underlying machinery of American Democracy, the US Government, is not fragile at all. But rather, is perhaps so powerful that it is designed to allow even its most menacing opponents to strike first.
If anything, the cries of fragility we direct at our ideals or our systems, should sadly be directed at our individual selves as a law abiding population.
We must have the courage to stand up and speak out against the daily threats to true American Democratic cultures and values.
Take comfort in knowing that the machine of Democracy is not fragile, it is designed to protect itself.
But pay heed, our government is not a machine designed to decide the fate of American Democracy. It is a machine designed to carry out the will of the people.
So stand up, be fearless, and stay involved; and the machine will do its work.