Donald Trump gave a speech – then his supporters stormed the Washington Capitol. How does the president stir up anger? A conversation with the political advisor Martin Fuchs.
Yesterday, Wednesday, unbelievable scenes took place in the Capitol in Washington: Supporters of the US President Donald Trump stormed the building, barricaded doors, the police shot a follower, it almost looked like an overthrow. The president personally cheered the radicals: In a speech shortly before, Trump urged people to go to the Capitol.
But to what extent is Trump inciting his supporters? Martin Fuchs is familiar with language and its impact on politics. Fuchs lives in Hamburg, he works as a consultant for various federal and state politicians. A conversation about the question of the effect of Trump’s language.
Mr. Fuchs, yesterday Trump gave a speech in which he said: “And then we’ll run down to the Capitol. (…) And I’ll be there.” Was that the call to storm Congress?
These sentences are now often quoted to explain the escalation in the US. But I think they are being overrated. What exactly Trump said yesterday hardly mattered – what matters is the poison he has sown in recent weeks. His supporters have been lulled by him the whole time and repeatedly told the lie that the election was “stolen” by the Democrats. So the mobilization to move thousands of people to Washington has been going on for much longer. It follows a precise dramaturgy that keeps increasing – and that was the mix-up from which the escalation then started.
So you weren’t surprised by the Capitol storm?
Not really, but the radicalism surprised me too. The people have already understood that Trump expects them to use their own strength now to start campaigns with high publicity – of course, storming one of the chambers of the heart of American democracy is one of them.
Trump never explicitly called for such actions.
That’s right, he’s a communications professional in that regard, we’ve known that for four years. When he said he could shoot someone in the street, that was a milestone. This set the tone that violence is a legitimate means of this president in his political cosmos. Trump continues to convey this, including in his address last night, but without saying it directly.
After the escalation, Trump called on his followers in a Twitter video to “go home” – but added: “We love you”.
That’s pretty clever. So Trump can say: Look here, dear critics, I wash my hands in innocence – I have nothing to do with dirty, violent actions. At the same time, he signals to his fans: You are doing everything right.
Trump is now blocked on Twitter for twelve hours. What role does that play in his communication?
An insignificant one. Twitter is the president’s digital mouthpiece, his way of communicating with the world – but at the same time, many Trump advisors and confidants are tweeting. His messages find their way out into the world. And the lock on his main account should be lifted soon.
Do you now expect further escalations?
Unfortunately, yes, because: This dark day in US history showed the demonstrators that they can storm such important institutions. A woman was also shot who is no doubt now being hyped up as a martyr. And now many of the radical Trump fans might believe: If we have even made it in the Capitol in Washington, then let’s take a look at the government buildings in Texas or Wisconsin.
On January 20th, Joe Biden is sworn in as the new president. Will the violence end then?
That is still open. Trump has just given assurances that he will initiate a handover – but he’s actually already doing opposition politics, straight from the White House. He’ll continue doing that from January 20th, but then he’ll just be back in one of his hotels instead of in the Oval Office. And he will continue to drive his followers in front of him, and of course continue to fan them. We will then see whether there will also be violence.