For about four years, I've been one of many talking about the risks associated with the Trump Administration (for the year before that I was foolishly downplaying his chances of getting the nomination, let alone the presidency). Like loads of others, I've drawn comparisons between his regime and that of fascists, Nazis and authoritarians the world over - not just the paranoia of Hitler or the megalomania of Mussolini, but also the deep corruption of Suharto.
A lot of people have responded, to me and others, like we're over-reacting. When I made the comparison to Suharto, four years ago, a friend replied that he'd taken power in quite a bloody coup, whereas Trump had been elected. My response was that the Suharto comparison was his family - I predicted then that his children and wife (wives) would cash in and be at the heart of loads of shady deals. I think it's fair to say that I've been proven correct.
Where I differed from some commentators was in Trump's approach to authoritarianism. I believed (and still believe) that he's not trying to dismantle democratic institutions because he has some agenda - it's just that they stop him doing the things he wants, and so he wants to eliminate them. Others did see a willful destruction of democratic norms, whether because he wants a private army or because he's in the pay of someone like Vladimir Putin.
The attack on the US Capitol building this week sort of proves us both right - he probably knew exactly what he was doing when he whipped those people up and pointed them at the place where the November election was being certified. But it's also still hard to imagine there's some overarching plan to all of his machinations - he failed to get Mike Pence on-side for the coup, for example.
But I think the most important thing that's come out of this week's actions is that we can no longer ignore how right-wing extremism is the biggest problem facing America at the moment. The last few years we've seen people discount the problem, or suggest that we on the left will let Islamist terrorists off but we freak out more about supposed right-wing extremists. But the proof is there on the screen - they exist, they're being directed firehose-like at democratic institutions, and they're racking up a body count.
This isn't to discount Islamist terror, by the way. ISIS is out of the news because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they're still out there, organizing and inspiring attacks in Asia and Europe, including two in France just last year. They're an ever-present threat, but attacks in the US have been fairly rare in the last few years, with 9 taking place since 2012.
Right-wing terror attacks, however, have been quite common in the US in the last decade or so, with 13 occurring since 2012. They're less common worldwide than the Islamist ones, to be fair, but it's clear that in the US you're more likely to be killed by a white supremacist than an Islamist.
The feeling is that the authorities here have handwaved racist and xenophobic terror more than Islamist terror, probably because it's supposedly easier to identify Islamists than KKK members or neo-Nazis. In turn, this has probably left right-wing terrorists more emboldened to carry out their attacks - and that's even without taking Donald Trump's influence into account.
What's ironic is that there's not much dichotomy between Islamist and right-wing terrorists, even if they mutually despise one another - both rely on imperfect understandings of their foundational texts, and target men who generally feel passed over by society, among other similarities. Online content is also instrumental in radicalizing both groups.
While the attack on the US Capitol resulted in far fewer deaths than the 9/11 attacks, we can hope that it causes a similar alignment of policy (although hopefully with far less demonization of "the other" than occurred 20 years ago). 9/11 was a sort of wake-up call to the US that despite its victory in the Cold War there would still be challenges to its hegemony; this will hopefully be a wake-up call that conspiracy theories and economic devastation come with wider costs to American prestige, and America's ability to achieve its goals abroad.
After all, Islamist terrorism would only ever be a sideshow to Great Power politics in which countries like China attempt to challenge the US's superpower status. China and Russia can use the images from Washington this past week to paint liberal democracies as overly chaotic, and build the case for bringing other countries into their own orbits of authoritarianism.
This comment is intended to demonize either country or its people, by the way - but both China and Russia have heavily nationalistic media apparati that depend on negative integration to tell their populations that they alone are the chosen people (similar to what we do here, of course). Chaos here serves the purpose of those apparati elsewhere in stifling dissent at home and in getting smaller countries to fall into line. Therefore, if we in the US are truly the shining city on a hill that we like to boast about, we need to get back to showing the benefits of an open and free society, to counteract the lures of stable but illiberal governments.