As the United States tries to survive a dangerous phase of its existence as a democratic republic, it is imperative to understand the high risk that the political movement engendered by the pro-Trump ideology may lead to a more violent, well-disciplined and radicalized organization whose dynamic may disrupt the very survival of the American constitutional and social systems. The danger has been minimized and underestimated until now precisely because Americans are strong believers in individual freedoms, ready to take arms against the enemies of their system, foreign and domestic. They do not believe in foreign style coups and cannot fathom the idea of seeing military tanks on the ellipse. But something quite similar to a coup has happened in their capital, an attempt to overthrow a government not yet installed, an auto-coup by a president who was determined to reinstall himself as chief of state, an America of the despots and caudillos that populate the planet, from Africa to Latin America. Donald Trump is a version of those presidents-for-life who will resort to violence to be just that. The question that should be asked is whether the strategy of the extremist forces in America contemplates the recourse to violence not simply to destabilize the existence of the constitutional order for the benefit of a one-time faux dictator or rather aims at something bigger like the state itself.
We have seen the violent escalation of armed political movements in other democratic countries. Italy and the grievous radicalization ushered in by the Red Brigades in the 1970s is a good example. Originally, the Red Brigades were a leftist terrorist organization that claimed to represent the working class. The government was unable or unwilling to tamp down the phenomenon that engendered a more radical group that was not afraid to escalate the violence. In 1975, the strategic directorate of the Red Brigades spelled out its goal as “a concentrated strike against the heart of the state”. It did strike at many government leaders, including the kidnapping and assassination of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. Only then were the Red Brigades no longer considered a leftist terrorist organization but a national existential threat to the government.
What saved Italy was the government’s strategy to create an effective barrier between the public and the extremist group. The strategy was aimed at identifying members of the group and preventing future attacks by arresting all known affiliates of the Red Brigades. The police infiltrated the terrorist network and it was only a matter of time before they broke it down. Admittedly, civil liberties suffered and many condemned the powers granted to the security apparatus. But the country emerged stronger from the crisis. A sense of national duty prevailed.
The United States is a nation based upon the rule of law, but the sense of national duty seems to have disappeared. In recent times it is grappling with the growing problem of personal and social irresponsibility. Clearly, there is a limit to the imposition of norms aimed at safeguarding public health through personal sacrifices. Nonetheless, they must be applied and respected.
Today, however, while we struggle to eliminate an invisible enemy like Covid-19, Americans must embrace a sense of national duty in the face of another obscure enemy, the violent radical movements that are preparing to escalate and bring their attacks to the “heart of the state”. While it is alien to the American DNA of civil liberties, the exercise of strength in defense of our democratic system cannot be delayed too long. America cannot countenance sieges of its Capitols. One can only trust that the new administration and the new/old Congress will respond quickly and forcefully to their national duty.