Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

It Happened Here

Trump’s movement is a uniquely American fascism, built on a century of American imperialism.

By , the author of the upcoming Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire.
A pro-Trump rioter yells inside the Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
A pro-Trump rioter yells inside the Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
A pro-Trump rioter yells inside the Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Stunned by the bloodshed and chaos in the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Americans were left scrambling for comparisons. Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, compared the siege to his experiences as a combat officer in Baghdad. “I expected this as a US Marine in Iraq. I never imagined it as a US Congressman in America,” he tweeted as the would-be counterrevolutionaries overpowered the guards.

Others reached further back into America’s vocabulary of imperialism. Many, in the media and on both sides of the aisle, echoed former President George W. Bush’s statement that storming the legislature is “how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic.”

What those comparisons have in common is their sense of foreignness, the myth that these are things that rightly happen over there, and are less acceptable here. Even the words we use most for what the mob was trying, explicitly, to do—to stop the government from proceeding with a constitutional, democratic transfer of power away from their chosen leader—are foreign: coup d’état, autogolpe, putsch. Alien names keep them at arm’s length, easier to dismiss as an anomaly.

Stunned by the bloodshed and chaos in the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Americans were left scrambling for comparisons. Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, compared the siege to his experiences as a combat officer in Baghdad. “I expected this as a US Marine in Iraq. I never imagined it as a US Congressman in America,” he tweeted as the would-be counterrevolutionaries overpowered the guards.

Others reached further back into America’s vocabulary of imperialism. Many, in the media and on both sides of the aisle, echoed former President George W. Bush’s statement that storming the legislature is “how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic.”

What those comparisons have in common is their sense of foreignness, the myth that these are things that rightly happen over there, and are less acceptable here. Even the words we use most for what the mob was trying, explicitly, to do—to stop the government from proceeding with a constitutional, democratic transfer of power away from their chosen leader—are foreign: coup d’état, autogolpe, putsch. Alien names keep them at arm’s length, easier to dismiss as an anomaly.

But it did happen here. And the examples the officials tried to compare it to were extremely American. Moulton was in Iraq because Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade, for financial and political gain. “Banana republic,” meanwhile, was coined in 1901 by William Sydney Porter, better known as the short story writer O. Henry, to describe the chaos of living in Honduras under U.S. imperialism and an economy dominated by a single export crop. (Three years after he debuted the word, the U.S. Marines invaded there, to support a coup on behalf of the fruit company now known as Dole.) Americans brought the chaos with them.

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Jonathan M. Katz is a journalist. He is the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster and Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. His newsletter, The Racket, can be found at https://theracket.news/. Twitter: @KatzOnEarth

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