In the winter of 2014, protestors filled Independence Square in Kyiv. Upset that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, had refused to open the country further to European trade and commerce, hundreds, then thousands, and ultimately millions of people converged on Kyiv and rose up throughout the country, battling police and military units to have their voices heard.
Moderates stood side by side with radicals—neo nazis, anarchists, socialists, liberals, and conservative moderates, atheists and devout believers joined together in outrage, and united in common cause against their joint enemy. Yanukovych fled to Russia rather than face the consequences of his criminal attempts to subdue the protests. The effects of what’s called the Euromaidan Revolution are still felt today in Eastern Europe, and can be seen in the ongoing protests around Viktor Lushenko’s dictatorship in Belarus.
Ukrainians describe Euromaidan as a revolution, but it was really more of an uprising; a spontaneous explosion of dissatisfaction with Ukraine’s ongoing dependence on Russia and Moscow, and the brand of corrupt capitalism endorsed there. Ukrainians from all walks of life had become fed up with a government that wouldn’t or couldn’t listen to the priorities and problems of the people. Meanwhile the comparatively few who benefitted from personal proximity to Yanukovych were vastly outnumbered. This, of course, is a well-known historical flaw of governments centered around a narrow ideology or a specific personality, too many people get left out, and when push comes to shove, there aren’t enough of them to defend it against its opponents.
To return to the protests on Independence Square—its success depended on many factors, but among them, the cross-sectional composition of its crowds was probably the most important. Had only far-right or far-left protestors opposed Yanukovych’s administration, everyone else would have remained home, correctly seeing the crowds as partisan. If Yanukovych’s military and police had been fighting against some niche political movement, it would have been easy to dismiss the disorder as illegitimate, behavior to be avoided. But the crowds were not partisans, even at first, and the anger at Yanukovych was deep. And so when the military cracked down, people didn’t see officers beating fascists or anarchists, they saw them beating their sons, their daughters, themselves.
Partisans, as everyone knows, do not have everyone’s best interests at heart. Partisans have an intense belief in their own world view that excludes the perspectives of everyone else. This is why governments and systems imposed by the rare successful partisan insurrection are always brittle, and quickly fail—they don’t enjoy sufficient support to survive. Starved of the love and loyalty on which a nation depends, partisan-fueled movements ultimately end in violence and defeat, whether that’s on a scale of years, or decades, it is inevitable.
The storming of the US Capitol building by Trump supporters on January 6, as well as the promised “million militia march” of January 19-20, did not represent a broad faction of American citizens. People may have had various intentions within the crowd of January 6th—kidnapping, murder, vandalism (historical allusion intended), to engage in civic protest, or just accidental sightseers, pulled up the steps and over the line of police as though by some mysterious attractive force—they all shared one thing in common: hostility toward the current electoral process, and support for Trump’s negation of the results of the 2020 election.
The Trump supporters framed their actions as dependent on systemic reforms—a movement to transform and overhaul a government and leadership-system riddled with corruption and nepotism. The ostensible hypocrisy of supporting the corrupt and nepotistic scion of a real estate empire built on legally dubious maneuvers and precisely the type of insider dealing they find objectionable does not factor into this schema, because a hallmark of Trumpism is a willingness to overlook Trump’s flaws, and to see him as a means to an end.
The attack on Congress was made by the radical right. It’s not accurate to describe them as a “fringe,” as their desecration of Congress was supported by (according to polls) at least 45% of the people who voted for Trump, a number that’s somewhere in the region of 35 million people, or somewhere around 10% of the US population. This is a big number! It’s certainly large enough to support some form of insurrection or counter-revolution (the counter-revolution being a revolution against democracy and against the traditions of the United States). In the long run, it’s probably not sufficient for that insurrection to succeed.
Trump enjoys the passionate, even fanatical loyalty of some supporters, a fanaticism that led many to bet heavily on his victory, and to support him financially, and to do other illogical, irrational things that weren’t actually connected to his success. Everyone who voted for Trump is not a “Trump” partisan, many voters likely supported him out of loyalty to the Republican Party, or as a protest vote against the leadership team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who do not inspire the same level of passionate devotion.
That passion is so powerful among the people who do love Trump (or consistently behave as though they do, which amounts to the same thing) that it blinds them to the fact that the high esteem in which he’s held by them is mirrored to an opposite degree by just about everyone else, who, if they have any position at all about Trump, dislike or even loathe him.
It should be obvious to anyone that a modern country cannot be led by someone who’s loved by 10% of the population, grudgingly accepted by a further 10%, and then disliked or hated by the remaining 80%. Certainly not a country with democratic traditions as old as those of the United States.
Only one question really remains: 10% might be able to seize power through swift and organized violence—they’ve been planning and organizing to do this for years, it’s certainly feasible—but how long can they remain in power? ISIS ruled large portions of Syria and Iraq for several years, before being overcome. The “thousand year Reich” promised by Hitler and his supporters lasted 12, though its demise was hastened by Hitler’s imprudently attacking every neutral Great Power possible. The Confederacy barely lasted as long as ISIS (and, counting the people they had enslaved to work on their behalf, were nearly as popular).
With a weekend of violence on the horizon at every state capital, and promises to disrupt the inauguration of the next president, the US faces a dangerous moment in its history. No help will be forthcoming from the federal government, as, obviously, the current president is disinclined to use his authority to do anything substantial to stop his supporters from seizing power on his behalf. Those state governments that have the vision and spirit to lay out aggressive and robust plans of defense should “protesters” again mysteriously transform into “hostile insurgents” (as many of them have said they will do on social media) will survive a furious but shallow assault. State governments that treat this threat unseriously may get lucky and avoid disaster—or something much worse could happen.
Come what may, what is happening in the United States is no “Euromaidan,” no broad, durable critique of the system at large. It’s a naked power grab by a minority of ideologically-motivated extremists who’ve gathered around a (to them) beloved personality. If they do follow through with their threats, they’ll either seize power through violence and lose it quickly thereafter, or fail to seize power, and ruin the peace known and enjoyed by Americans as their birthright for generations—one of the best parts of being an American, freedom from fear, freedom from want.