BY PAUL T HORGAN
Of course this is not the first time that the US Congress building has been successfully stormed by a hostile force. Back in 1814 the British Army mounted a raid on the American capital as part of the clearly incorrectly-named War of 1812. While the Redcoats respected the property of private individuals, no such mercy was shown to federal buildings, which were all set alight. Thousands of volumes of the Library of Congress were burnt such that Thomas Jefferson donated his book collection to the nation to restore it. The White House was quite scorched. It was only a combination of what may have been a hurricane and also a tornado that prevented buildings burning to the ground. A Divine Wind, no less. It was not until 1940 that the British government returned to the USA certain official documents confiscated by Army officers as war trophies.
It was inevitable that Trump would be an ungracious loser, and that this ungraciousness would permeate amongst his staunchest supporters. This was magnified by the belief that online social media was used to influence the result of the Presidential election, as is now the fashion whenever there is a controversial vote. There were accusations of rigging. The USA was founded by revolution, and this revolutionary spirit celebrating defiance of state authority is embedded into American culture in a way that the English Parliament’s uprisings against Charles I’s imposition of personal rule and the tribute act of James II, simply is not.
Demonstrations in the USA are getting more organised and violent. Masked demonstrators in Portland are equipping themselves with the civilian equivalent of riot gear for their regular acts of public disorder, and the forces of the law seem to be stepping back such that the streets and businesses of that unfortunate city, known nationwide for liberal tendencies to rival those of San Francisco, are no longer safe. Perhaps it is because a direct confrontation with rampaging demonstrators would escalate to worse disorder, but this approach is destroying what is left of Portland’s reputation. No sane businessman would consider setting up shop there if their investment would literally go up in smoke before it could make a profit.
And this is a potential problem for us here in the UK. There is no good reason why the egregious conduct of a police officer causing the death of a criminal in Minneapolis should spark protests here in the UK. Our experience of race relations is quite different, as is the way Police handle offenders, but this did not stop demonstrations and defacements in London and elsewhere, as well as offensive revisionism by public bodies. American culture has pervaded over here to the extent that certain communities regard our police and government as little different from their American counterparts when the difference is fundamental and profound.
Civil disorder seems to have its own fashions or fads. Storm one national assembly and why not storm another? The assault on the Capitol may have a way of legitimising such action in the eyes of those who would use disruption to impose their will on our society. America’s reputation in the world has been as tarnished as the USSR’s was when Mathias Rust landed his light plane in Red Square. The USSR never did recover from the humiliation.
Government officials should be looking as a matter of urgency how best to keep the Palace of Westminster secure against a mob organised through modern communications technology to rapidly converge, overwhelm, and penetrate the home of British democracy and deface decorations and statuary, not the least that of Margaret Thatcher. We already have MPs, notably John McDonnell, who celebrate and encourage violent direct action in the furtherance of a political agenda. Such violence must not be normalised and its promoters subject to obloquy. There are some things that have to be defended to the limit. Westminster must never be allowed to fall.
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.