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The rhetoric coming from mainstream liberal and conservative media and politicians is as troubling as the riot on Capitol Hill. They are calling it an insurrection, an attempted coup, an attack on the sacred temple of democracy.

It was none of those things. It was thousands of Americans (not traitors, Americans) expressing their anger at being deleted from the American story. It was a riot of people fueled by conspiracy theories and egged on by their President who has used them to carry his own grievances – and then, labelling them “low class,” abandoned them on their march to the Capitol.

Yes, on display were misogyny and racism and jingo patriotism. But America (and Canada) have those same fault lines. It’s just that these guys wore on their sleeves and tattooed on their bodies what we prefer not to confess, even to ourselves. We, especially we Canadians, prefer to hide our misogyny and our racism among a variety of laws and practices. We are not as raw as the rioters; we are more systematic.

The Capital rioters are not alone. A look at how the country voted for President Trump tells you that. The recent Georgia vote was a vote for whose America will prevail. Rural Georgia voted for Trump’s. Urban Georgia voted against. But it was a nail-biter down to the last ballot.

The Capitol rioters are not wrong. They have been pushed to the sidelines of the neoliberal economy that has manufactured so much inequality there, and here. Injured on the job and in despair for their fortunes, they are dying from that other epidemic – opioid addiction.

Look at the guy, the so-called “QAnon Shaman,” with the buffalo horns and the racist tattoo on his chest screaming “Freedom!” into the Senate chamber emptied of its lawmakers. Can there be a clearer image of frustration and irony and impotence?

His costume speaks for him. The American buffalo horns (horns are an old symbol for power, but the near extinction of the plains bison nearly extinguished First Nations in the US and Canada). He is a Hollywood idea of medicine men, who themselves watched over the displacement and marginalization of their people. His flag is a sacred staff, a spear-tipped battle banner (yet neither bloodied nor honoured). The bullhorn is to be heard (and yet he was not).

If they feel displaced, it’s because they are – hence they displaced the lawmakers. If they feel tread on, it’s because they are – hence all the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags. If they feel they’re on the losing end of a lost cause, they are – hence the battle flags of the Confederacy.

This is not an apology for the chaos on the Hill. It is a warning we not dismiss it, that we see the ironies of history in real time.

Their impotent insurrection was more a doomed resurrection of the old idea that “all men are created equal” – except for Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Aboriginals, Jews and women.

If the riot was treasonous, it was treason against how mainstream America wants to see the nation – a land of opportunity, equality, inclusivity, and democracy. Except it isn’t.

David McLaren, Neyaashiinigmiing, ON




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