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Sensemaker: Insurrection reckoning

Sensemaker: Insurrection reckoning

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Novak Djokovic won an interim injunction against Australia’s decision to revoke his visa for the tennis Open (more below).
  • Pope Francis said couples who chose pets over children were selfish and responsible for a loss of humanity. 
  • Four Black Lives Matter protesters were acquitted of criminal damage after toppling a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and dragging it into the River Avon. 

Insurrection reckoning

The mob of Trump supporters that stormed the US Capitol last 6 January included vigilantes intent on hanging the Vice President and at least one woman who’d told her children she wanted to shoot the House Speaker in the head. 

Trump had fired them up in a speech that morning. Even senior Republicans who had backed him as president seemed to understand then that there had to be a reckoning, and a dismantling of the lie that the election had been stolen.

A year on, not so much. The FBI has made 715 arrests. 325 rioters have been charged with felonies. Jacob Chansley, the horned “QAnon shaman”, is in jail. Congress has vowed to get to the bottom of the events: what had happened, how it had happened and who was involved. But its work is slow and easily sabotaged. History is being re-written as the process drags on, and mid-term elections in ten months’ time could lead to it being scrapped altogether.

The select committee 

Senate Republicans blocked initial plans to create an independent commission comparable to the one that investigated 9/11, so it took until the summer for Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, to begin convening the House select committee that is now investigating the attack. 

By then Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, was no longer in the mood for serious scrutiny despite his earlier criticism of Trump. Instead he set out to derail the committee, nominating Republicans who had voted not to accept the election results. Pelosi rejected two of his candidates – and McCarthy ceased cooperating. 

The committee Pelosi created is nevertheless bi-partisan. She appointed seven Democrats to the panel and two Republicans: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. 

  • The take. The committee’s 40-strong team has interviewed 300 witnesses, issued more than 50 subpoenas and amassed tens of thousands of pages of evidence. But a public accounting of these facts is yet to come: there has been only one hearing. 
  • What they don’t have. The committee is still waiting to get hold of Donald Trump’s White House records. He’s been fighting against their release in the courts on grounds of executive privilege. The committee is struggling to pin down recalcitrant members of Trump’s inner circle too. Several acolytes (including former chief strategist Steve Bannon and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows) have refused to appear before the committee. Others (including the lobbyist Roger Stone) have turned up but pleaded the 5th. 
  • What’s next. Public hearings are likely to begin early in the year, continuing into the spring. The Washington Post says committee staffers are hoping to release an interim report by summer and a final report before the midterms in November.  

The committee has been assiduous in collecting evidence. Now it’s time for storytelling. Liz Cheney says the hearings will set out what happened – both at the Capitol and in the White House – “in vivid colour”. But will a compelling narrative be enough to convince the American public that Trump deserves the blame?

The voters. Most Americans think the Capitol attack was “threatening to democracy”, according to polling by Ipsos and ABC News.

But that belief is divided along partisan lines: 

  • 96 per cent of Democrats say the attack was a threat to democracy. 
  • 45 per cent of Republicans agree.
  • 52 per cent of Republicans believe the rioters were “protecting democracy”. 

And the conviction among so many Republicans that the election was “stolen” is proving impossible to dispel. Immediately after the election in November 2020, 70 per cent of Republican voters said they believed the vote was not “free and fair”. That number remains virtually unchanged. 

The Republican base is in thrall to Trump and party leaders are following its lead. Trump allies are running on “stop the steal” tickets in this year’s midterms. More than 150 of his supporters are seeking state-level posts specifically to be in position to manage the election and vote-count come 2024. Once-rising stars who dared to repudiate Trump are being frozen out of power, Cheney and Kinzinger chief among them. 

Trump himself has been persuaded by allies not to hold a press conference today. The real president will make a speech assigning his predecessor “singular responsibility” for the attack. Jimmy Carter, the former president, wrote yesterday that America was “at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy”. 

America has come back from worse, but not for a long time.

covid by numbers

19.8 billion doses of covid vaccine that could be produced by the middle of this year.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Sino slump
For anyone wondering how one big property company can cause the Chinese Communist Party sleepless nights, the FT has a good primer. Local Chinese governments depend heavily on land sales to developers for their revenues, and these sales have slumped as demand for urban property levels off and Evergrande shudders into bankruptcy with $300 billion of debts – equivalent to 2 per cent of Chinese GDP. The proximate cause of this bankruptcy is a government-imposed debt cap, clipping Evergrande’s wings as Beijing has clipped those of so many private sector giants in the past year. But the bigger picture is one of a debt-fuelled building bonanza outstripping demand, Chinese capitalism colliding with Xi Jinping’s neo-Maoism, and local authorities being left to clean up the mess. In Shijiazhuang, a north-eastern provincial capital, land sales by the provincial government fell by 30 per cent last year. Cue arbitrary fines and levies to make up the shortfall, and political strife that was never part of Xi’s plan. 


belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

American civil war?
Nicely timed to coincide with the anniversary of Washington’s January 6 insurrection (see above), a whole new American anxiety is coming to the boil: the fear of civil war. Ray Dalio, history’s most successful hedge fund manager, will talk about it in tonight’s ThinkIn, and Stephen Marche, the Canadian essayist, has a widely-excerpted book out on it, titled The Next Civil War. It’s part outrage and part pontification, but he’s done his reporting. One interviewee is retired US Army colonel Peter Mansoor, now a professor at Ohio State University. Can he seriously envisage a second American civil in the event, say, of another disputed presidential election? Sure he can. “I think it would be very much a free-for-all, neighbour on neighbour, based on beliefs and skin colours and religion,” he says. “And it would be horrific.” What he describes may sound like large-scale race riots, but it’s worth remembering the last time they gripped a big American city – in LA in 1992 – was the last time US armed forces were deployed domestically under the Insurrection Act. The on-ramp to civil war already exists.


New things technology, science, engineering

Real reality
The real world is increasingly built around and for video gamers. Two standout innovations on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are the Enki Pro Hypersense gaming chair from Razer, which can complement what you see on screen with 65,000 different jiggles and vibrations, and the Shiftall hot/cold simulator, worn in the small of your back, which can give you chills or sweats with breezes from 8 to 41 degrees C. The WSJ has the updates, which leave non-gamers little option but to suspend scepticism and marvel at humanity’s appetite for amusement. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Djok shock
“Rules are rules,” says Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, echoing the view of most Australians that Novak Djokovic shouldn’t be above them, and setting the scene for a legal five-setter over the weekend as lawyers for the world tennis number one try to overturn a decision to revoke his visa. Context is everything. This is about a big country fed up with Covid restrictions and damned if it’ll let a celebrity find a way round them; and a small one – Serbia – with a nasty record of nationalism which Djokovic has never quite disavowed, and a president who leaped to take his side in what he called a clear case of “harassment”. Djokovic hasn’t said if he’s been vaccinated and failed to show proof at the airport that he merited the medical exemption he’d been granted by the Australian Open’s organisers. In the unlikely event his lawyers win, it’s hard to see him winning much support from the crowd. 


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Split, majors!
Lord Browne of Madingley believes oil majors like Shell and BP should split into separate renewables and fossil fuels divisions for their own good and the planet’s. As a former BP CEO, he’s worth listening to. It was Browne who famously tried to rebrand the company as heading “beyond petroleum” – a decision his successors say cost it £10 billion, and one that will limit the amount of attention they pay to him now. But it’s hard to argue with his case for separating low and zero carbon activity on the one hand from fossil fuels on the other. “The former is rapidly growing, less capital-intensive and valued at a premium by investors,” he writes in Time, “whereas the business of hydrocarbons is capital-intensive, unloved by the market and in decline”. BP and Shell have resisted calls to split. They say they need oil and gas revenues to fund their transitions to clean energy. The big question is whether the investors Browne talks about would come through if the majors changed their minds. 

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Ella Hill
@_EllaHill

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Edited by Giles Whittell and produced by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images


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