A Vancouver perspective on the U.S. Capitol riot—and why Trump did a great favour for Democrats

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      The storming of the U.S. Capitol by a few thousand Trump supporters didn't affect me in the same way as many of my media colleagues.

      Maybe it's because I live in Vancouver.

      I've seen homeless activists take over Vancouver City Hall. One of their leaders sat in the mayor's chair in the council chamber in 2017 as the politicians scurried for cover.

      It's one of several times over the years when crowds have burst into the chamber.

      Vancouver City Hall has since dramatically boosted security, making it far more impregnable in the future.

      Then last year, demonstrators supporting Indigenous land defenders formed a human chain around the B.C. legislature. It caused the cancellation of the morning sitting, triggering outrage among many in the media.

      We've had two riots in Vancouver—both over the local hockey team's loss in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. These led to more hand-wringing and expressions of "shame". But life went on.

      What happened yesterday was triggered by a demagogue, Donald Trump.

      I have no doubt that it caused tremendous fear within the U.S. Capitol, which had never been the sight of anything like this.

      But people have been doing things like this ever since Parisians stormed the Bastille prison in 1789.

      This time, because it was done by a relatively small number of Trump supporters—one of whom sat in the speaker's chair and others who threw some files around legislators offices—it's somehow being viewed as "unprecedented" and threatening the very existence of the republic.

      Republican senator Ted Cruz can probably kiss away his presidential ambitions as a result of the riot in Washington, D.C.

      Hawley and Cruz are finished politically

      It's very sad that a deluded Trump admirer was killed in this event.

      But the political fallout can only be beneficial for the Democrats and devastating for Trump and his enablers, who are facing accusations of treason and other high crimes.

      They include Missouri senator Josh Hawley and Texas senator Ted Cruz, who both probably harbour presidential ambitions.

      Hawley and Cruz each attended elite Ivy League law schools. They opportunistically hitched their political futures to Trump. As a result, both politicians are now associated in the public's mind with a moronic, mindless, lawless, and violent mob.

      The Washington Post carried the following damning headline on an opinion piece: "Trump, Hawley and Cruz will each wear the scarlet 'S' of a seditionist".

      They will be shunned by their Republican colleagues. Their chance of becoming president in 2024, as a result of this event, is probably close to zero.

      The likelihood of any of the Trump kids mounting a presidential campaign is even lower than a snake's belly. The family is finished, politically.

      That's because the Democrats will be dining out on this event for years in TV commercials, speeches, and media interviews.

      It will be referred to as Trump's equivalent of Hitler's beer hall putsch. It even got Trump booted off Twitter.

      As a result, the Republicans will be increasingly viewed as the party that wants to end American democracy.

      It's part of the reason why the Democrats managed to eke out two Senate victories in a state that had not elected a Democratic senator in a generation.

      Trump's narcissism has delivered a serious blow to his party.

      It's reminiscent of Bill Vander Zalm, a former B.C. premier whose self-centred populist approach led to the demise of the Social Credit party in the early 1990s.

      This was the cover of the Georgia Straight in the days following the 2011 Stanley Cup riot.

      Riots are rooted in the brain

      Here's the real story behind the mob. They were amped up by Trump.

      They acted just like the hooligans in Vancouver's 2011 Stanley Cup riot, who were amped up by a hockey game.

      In both instances, crowd participants' prefrontal cortexes in their frontal lobes ceased to function effectively.

      This part of the brain is the centre of judgment and impulse control.

      As I reported back then, this phenomenon happens when a large group of people in highly emotional milieus are subjected to multilevel sensory bombardment. 

      The limbic system, a more primitive part of the brain, takes over in these circumstances.

      The group can start acting like a herd of bison, stampeding or acting out violently in a collective way. There's a sharp diminishment of personal responsibility.

      “Once you’ve had your frontal lobe taken out of the equation, you’re kind of driven by your impulses and emotions,” psychiatrist Elisabeth Zoffmann told the Straight at the time. “So the limbic system is quite capable of coordinating a lot of action—some of it not very smart.”

      She actually argued that this type of human behaviour—where a "group brain" seems to take over—needs to be seen for what it is: "normal", from the perspective of evolutionary biology, under certain circumstances.

      It helps explain why there are soccer riots, hockey riots, and, yesterday, a political riot.

      Anyone who saw the crowds climbing walls of the Capitol and nearby TV towers might have thought they were like a group of ants overrunning a mound of dirt. Or a school of fish swimming as one in the sea. Or a flock of birds flying in unison.

      This is not meant to exonerate the hoodlums who engaged in this behaviour. But the real crime was committed by the man who set the stage, Donald Trump, by triggering such an emotional response with his false accusations of a stolen election.

      Demagogues have done this elsewhere on countless occasions, including in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 when Indian politicians fomented genocidal attacks.

      And the enablers yesterday were the hapless Capitol police managers who don't seem to understand that a riot like this was probably predictable.

      Proper crowd-control measures would have had officers mingling with the demonstrators long before they even arrived at the U.S. Capitol.

      Good policing would have tried to keep the protesters living in the prefrontal cortex of their brain and diminish their sense of us versus them, which Trump always reinforces.

      That's something Vancouver police learned many years ago after the "Riot at the Hyatt" during the 1998 APEC conference.

      If things unfold along the lines of what followed our 2011 Stanley Cup riot, we'll see a great emphasis on collecting footage from security cameras. The participants in the riot will be identified, arrested, charged, and humiliated in their own communities.

      Some will lose their jobs. Others will be revealed to have links to extremist or white-supremacist groups. They'll bear this mark of shame for years.

      That will further taint the Republicans, and particularly Cruz and Hawley.

      All things considered—apart from the death of the one protester—it was a good day for senior Democrats. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer just might want to give each other some high fives.

      Who were the big winners from yesterday's gong show? Joe Biden and Kalama Harris.

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