Lessons from the Beer Belly Putsch

capitol hill

In Europe we are not accustomed to seeing images on the television of thousands of Americans—right-wingers to boot—breaking the law, overrunning government buildings and violently attacking the police.

By rushing the Capitol, the heart of American democracy, President Trump’s supporters demonstrated that they are ready for a fight. Many of these fanatics would love to use their weapons beyond the firing range.

The students at the high school in Athens where I teach history asked me if civil war will break out in the United States. Their grim scenario goes something like this: Disappointing many of his critics, Donald Trump will not commit suicide (the American President is not made of the same stuff as the Capitol Police officer who took his own life on January 9.) Instead, he will create his own version of Twitter and rally his supporters and a segment of the armed forces and police. In a declining American economy, Donald Trump will galvanize support and grow his America First party into a force of the first magnitude that will hold power where it counts—in the streets.

Thankfully, this dire scenario is unrealistic and highly improbable. For all his swagger and tough posturing, Donald Trump does not have the stomach for the rough-and-tumble crowd that stormed the Capitol. The owner of Mar-a-Lago was repelled and embarrassed by the real time television footage he watched of these people in action. Some were graphic in their weirdness and many looked “cheap and poor” to him. After initially goading them on, Trump turned his back on them, even saying they deserved to be punished for breaking the law.

For an honest-to-goodness civil war to break out, you need a struggle to the death between mutually incompatible systems—as was the case in the American, Russian and Chinese civil wars. This will not happen now. Despite right-wing clamor to the contrary, the left in the United States does not pose an existential threat to the system. It is nowhere near the Rubicon of private property and free market capitalism, and has no plans to cross it. The left in the United States today is actually part of the system. This even applies to antifa, which is keen on fighting fascism but does not really challenge capitalism.

Racism is not the main reason so many more armed guards defended the Capitol during the summer’s BLM protests. There were black USCP officers present. More importantly, the BLM crowd and their white, Hispanic and Asian supporters include a lot of people who hate the system in a fundamentally different way than Trump’s radical supporters do. Many of these people have grown tired of trying to fix the system’s most egregious symptoms, including racism and sexism. They are convinced the system cannot be cured or reformed. Law enforcement understands this about them. In their minds, these crowds represent a potentially far more dangerous threat than Trump supporters.

Passions are running high in the land of the free and home of the brave. Looking ahead, it is likely there will be sporadic violence between disappointed Trump supporters and the police and/or left-wing groups like antifa. But there will be no civil war. Big business does not feel sufficiently threatened to condone any sort of coup by Donald Trump’s supporters. Big business does not need Trump the way the German elite needed Hitler in the early thirties to protect them from the communists. Any attempt by Trump’s supporters to challenge the establishment will be met effectively. This will not be difficult. One by one, the ringleaders will be arrested and the movement will cease to be a major problem for the authorities.

In the end, it wasn’t the left that stopped Donald Trump but big business. And Trump himself, of course.

Evel Economakis : I received a PhD in history from Columbia University in 1993. I have published numerous academic articles and my political commentary has appeared in various magazines, including The New Statesman and Dissent. An American citizen, I currently live with my family in Greece, and I teach IB history at Ionios Lyceum in Athens.



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