Illustration Credit: Cagle Cartoons, Jeff Koterba
On Wednesday, January 6, members of the U.S. Congress met to count the results of the Electoral College vote and to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Although typically a staid, largely symbolic affair, this cycle’s certification process was clouded by claims of widespread electoral fraud promoted by President Donald Trump and his allies, and by the promises of prominent Republican senators and congressmen to contest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Near the White House, President Trump gave a speech to thousands of assembled followers, repeating the claim that the election was “rigged” and warning his supporters, “if you don’t fight like [expletive], you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
At the president’s urging, the crowd—which included heavily-armed members of various far-right extremist groups and at least six Republican state legislators—marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, overwhelming police barricades and storming the seat of American legislative democracy. As legislators and members of the press were forced to take shelter in the House and Senate Chambers, evacuate to secure locations, and don gas masks, rioters spent three hours ransacking, vandalizing, and looting congressional offices and facilities before police and National Guardsmen finally secured the premises.
Politicians and media pundits were quick to respond to the events of January 6 with shock and revulsion. However, as Laura Weiss notes in The New Republic, many personalities chose not to analyze the attempted Capitol insurrection in terms of America’s recent history of polarized political violence. Rather, they alluded to “banana republics” and “third-world nations.” Ironically enough, as Weiss explains, the term “banana republic” itself is derived from the long history of American imperialism and anti-democratic interventionism in the Global South (and particularly in Latin America) at the service of multinational business interests, such as the infamous United Fruit Company. Whether they referenced “Kabul,” “Baghdad,” or “Bogotá,” Weiss argues, mainstream politicians and commentators alike are incapable of fathoming “the scenes of mob violence [from the Capitol] without implicating the same parts of the world … that the U.S. has had a hand in destabilizing or otherwise degrading.”
While the political and legal fallout from the Capitol riot persists, President Trump has become the first president in U.S. history to earn the ignominious distinction of being impeached twice, as ten Republican representatives voted with House Democrats to charge him with “inciting violence against the government of the United States.” Meanwhile, the incoming Biden administration continues to take shape ahead of the President-elect’s inauguration on January 20. This week, President-elect Biden announced his plans to nominate former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and his intention to nominate veteran diplomat William Burns to lead the CIA.
However, despite the prospective nominations of Power and Burns and his announced slate of National Security Council advisors, with less than a week to go before his inauguration, Biden appears poised to enter office with the fewest number of confirmed Cabinet members of any president in recent memory. (As Ayesha Roscoe reports for NPR, “Former President Barack Obama had six cabinet members confirmed by the Senate before his Inauguration Day in 2009. President Trump had two. But when President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week, it’s unclear whether he’ll have any cabinet members in place.”). Confirmation hearings are set to begin Friday, with those of several high-profile nominees—Lloyd Austin (Secretary of Defense); Janet Yellen (Secretary of the Treasury); Alejandro Mayorkas (Secretary of Homeland Security); and Antony Blinken (Secretary of State)—scheduled for the day before Biden’s inauguration.