If you grew up African American, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, part of another community of colour, Jewish, sometimes Roman Catholic, you know of an American phenomenon. RWP: Rampaging White People.
Its latest manifestation came on January 6 last year, when RWP made one of its most spectacular appearances to date. That was, of course, at the Capitol of the United States, the nation RWP insist they will fight to the death to support.
It was fitting that one of them marched through that American holy-of-holies, National Statuary Hall, carrying a Confederate battle flag. The hall, lined with statues, also contains a plaque marking the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s desk once stood, though I doubt the RWP knew this.
More than likely he was on his way to join his fellow “freedom fighters’’ in search of speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, arch-nemesis of all RWP. One even vowed to drag her out of her office by her heels, taking pleasure in watching her head bump on every step of the stairs on the way down. Congresspeople of colour and the people of colour on their staff knew exactly what the mob was about and that Trump was simply their latest flag of convenience.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of being convinced that she would be raped, a fear echoed by a few women of colour on Democratic Party staffs.
One African American congresswoman said she worried the police might assume she was not a member of Congress and not rush her to a safe zone. A policeman faced a barrage of racial insults, in spite of the mob’s reputation for “backing the blue”.
The statue of John Lewis, the African American congressman, civil rights activist and youngest person to speak at the March On Washington in 1963, was desecrated. Somebody was a student of history.
Richard Nixon’s campaign slogan for his 1968 presidential run, “Vote Like Your Whole World Depended On It”, was certainly not directed at my generation of student activists who battled against segregation and the Vietnam War.
The great Don Siegel directed and produced Dirty Harry, the holy grail of RWP. And you know this is true because the original writers wanted to ask the question of how far a free and democratic society would go to protect itself. “Itself” being the demographic that Harry Callahan represents. If you watched its first run, as I did, fresh from anti-war demos and anti-racist activity, you knew exactly who this film was aimed at.
As was The Godfather. At a meeting between Don Corleone and Don Zaluchi, the latter says that drugs should stay in black areas. “In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloureds. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”
So January 6, 2021, was no surprise to me. Frankly, I wondered why it had taken so long.
Donald Trump, television shill and real estate huckster who, for a fortune, sold bottled water with his name on it, was, without doubt, the guy to bring the RWP to the seat of the US government.
The US has managed to successfully brand itself as some sort of bastion of democratic civility. In fact, this experiment in democracy has been shaky almost from its inception. The
difference is that Instagram was not present, for example, when Fort Sumter was fired on before lowering the Stars and Stripes and surrendering to sedition at the outset of the American Civil War.
Americans fool themselves because we are, at heart, a deeply romantic people with equally deep contradictions. The Wizard Of Oz, our shadow national text, was written by a man who, in his day job as a journalist, advocated the extermination of the Indigenous people of the Plains.
‘‘WOZ’’ advocates that you do not have to really have an education, just a credential. You do not really have to have a heart, just a machine to show folks that you have one. And brains are definitely not required – just bluster.
The difference today is that some of the RWP are being confronted on social media by their own children and grandchildren. Gen Xers, who were little kids in the Obama era, are confused, and challenge their parents, some of whom actually voted for the first African American president.
One kid turned in his dad to the FBI after seeing him storm the steps of the Capitol because he said that his dad brought him up to be honest. Another tweeted to her mum: “Is that you?” after seeing her mother, who had said that she was just going to Washington for the day, striding about in a red MAGA cap and waving a Trump flag.
But it is the men and boys of Charlottesville, marching in 2017, the very guys who inspired Joe Biden to run for president, who chanted the true raison d’être of January 6: “You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.” This is the manifesto of what is known by RWP as “The Great Replacement Theory.”
As Republicans position themselves in the statehouses, ready to take over the machinery of elections – local and national – Biden has made his most powerful speech to date. Maybe the defining speech of his presidency.
He entered the presidential race after decades in the senate, eight years as vice-president, and at an age when “seen it, done it” is not a slogan. He said that he did it to “restore the soul of America.’’ And America does have a soul. It’s just that from time to time it has to be restored.
Biden knows about soul. He knows these people, too. If anybody can face them down, Joe can. Buckle up.