By Marzieh Hashemi
On Wednesday, the Capitol of the United States was occupied by supporters of President Donald Trump. To understand what took place on Wednesday, the 6th of January, 2021 in Washington, D.C., will help one to understand the history of the country. The event epitomizes a nation, which was built and has thrived on privilege for some and sacrifice and death for others. One may ask, how does an event like the taking over of the Capitol relate to the racist roots of the United States? The answer is multifaceted.
Let’s start off by looking at the reason Congress was even in session. The body was there to verify the votes of the Electoral College. Why does the Electoral College even exist? Why can’t the American people directly vote for their president? Why does a select few individuals get to decide the vote of over 150 million people who casted their ballots this time around? 538 electors, the elite, actually decide who the president will be, not the average American.
The creation of the Electoral College process came about in 1787, during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Representatives at this meeting wanted to derive a political process on how the president would be chosen. They did not trust the ability of the public to have the sophistication or information to be able to elect the president directly. They derived a system, which would appoint electors from each state to actually decide who the president would be. There was one other problem though. Northerners had a larger population, thus southerners felt they would be at a political disadvantage. The south had a large population also, but forty percent of their population was Black people, who were slaves and were not counted as human beings, thus could not be represented. Southerners wanted to create a way where they could have more political clout, but at the same time not enfranchise Black people. Thus, the Three-Fifths Compromise was agreed upon by both sides. This is a clause in the Constitution, which states that enslaved Black people could be counted as three-fifths of a human being! Thus, the south could use Blacks to gain more political power, without even giving them the right to vote or any rights at all for that matter. After much debate over many issues, the two sides agreed to the Electoral College system, along with the Three-Fifths Compromise.
Let’s fast forward to the present, where that same system is in place and the reason for the Congressional meeting on Wednesday was to certify the vote of the electors. The inequitable roots of this process were laid centuries ago and continue to reiterate the importance of the elite and the concept of exceptionalism in the US’s political system.
Due to the feeling of "being exceptional" that is part of the DNA of many White Americans, we witnessed the other part of this extraordinary event which took place at the Capitol. Remember, the first part was the elite continuing to try to safeguard an inequitable system and the second part focuses on the White Americans who think that they too are part of the elite. They are privileged, which could be seen by the way they were able to occupy the Capitol, without a shot being fired, but they are not part of the elite or the one percent. In the United States, with one of the most well-armed and aggressive police forces in the world, people were able to breach the security of the Capitol, while Congress was in session with basically nothing happening to them. Whereas, we have seen that for some Black Americans, simply carrying a phone or sleeping in one’s own bed can be fatal when encountered by police.
This is the story of the United States. There are a few different Americas. There is the US for the elite and for others. There is the US for Whites and non-Whites. There is the US, where the people really feel that they are exceptional at home and abroad. And there is the US that the people know not only are they not exceptional, but that they can easily become the target of others. The United States is once again at a crossroads with its race struggles. The difference between being Black and White in the US was quite clear on Wednesday at the Capitol for those who want to see. And class struggles were also illuminated with one group, created to protect the interests of the one percent and the other feeling they are no longer properly represented. There are those individuals in power whose interest is just to protect the empire because their personal interests are deeply intertwined with doing that. And to be fair, these individuals come in all races, just as long as the goal of the empire is protected. And there are others who really believe in the concept that the United States is simply trying to spread good at home and abroad! Either way, both these groups are the products of exceptionalism, in thinking that they know better and can decide for others. Whether it is the one percent making a decision for the other 99 percent of Americans or it is the US thinking it knows best for the rest of the world, both perspectives are based on hegemonic perspectives and both concepts are not only dangerous for their own country, but for the rest of the world.
Will this country make a change? Will the dynamics of power transition in this country? Remember, this is a country where billionaires can be proud of making unprecedented profits, during a pandemic, when millions of Americans have lost their jobs. And this is a country where a White man, taking over the US Capitol, can feel safer than a Black woman at home, sleeping in her own bed. Yes, America is at a crossroads, but it is not the first time. And it is unlikely that the pendulum of real power and real change will take place via an election process that has been originally designed to ensure that the elite are empowered and others should simply work to protect the capital of the one percent. And that the majority of Black Americans should remain at the bottom of the political and economic spheres of society. This is the story of the United States, a country that is anything, but united!