Wannabe Stormtroopers

August Kleinzahler

It was the virus that undid Trump. Without Covid-19 and the misery, devastation and economic shock it brought with it, he would have almost certainly have won the 2020 presidential election, perhaps by a wide margin, and America would soon have gone the way of the authoritarian states of which Trump is so clearly fond. His wannabe stormtroopers were all eagerly lined up to do his bidding, with a quiescent Republican Senate and compromised Justice Department under my old high school classmate Bill Barr, who seemed to think he’d died and gone to heaven in the role of Trump’s consigliere and henchman. Barr, like the dozens of others who attached themselves to the president, are terminally stained and diminished by their allegiance to the monster, or so one hopes. They are now, at very long last, beginning to distance themselves from him, after he incited his armed acolytes to break into the Capitol Building in Washington DC yesterday afternoon.

But Trump might still have prevailed last November had it not been for the heroic determination and nous of two African-American political giants, Stacey Abrams of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina. Congressman Clyburn, aged 80, three days before the South Carolina Democratic Primary on 26 February pledged his support to Biden, and carried the flagging, nearly beaten candidate to his primary victory and the White House. Such is Clyburn’s power and the regard in which he is held – not least through his annual fish fries, which have been attracting Democratic presidential hopefuls for thirty years – that once he hit the stump for Biden, the game, at least in South Carolina, was over. The two men seemed to be on friendly terms and have been for many years, but what Clyburn knew, apart from Biden being the last best hope for the Democrats to supplant Trump, was that Biden was a friend to African-American voters and their only hope of getting a fair deal, or something like it.

Stacey Abrams, 47, a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, lawyer and voting rights activist, founded Fair Fight Action in 2018 after narrowly losing the gubernatorial election to her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, who was accused, rightly, of employing all manner of shenanigans to cook the vote in his favour. Raised in Mississippi, of modest background (like Clyburn in South Carolina), Abrams was educated at Spelman in Atlanta, a historically Black college, and then Yale Law School.

In any event, she got her revenge on a generally corrupt, racist Republican Party who did all they could to suppress the vote but, thanks to the work of Abrams and other Black women in getting the vote out, failed to carry the state in both the presidential and Senate elections. Biden was the first Democratic contender to win Georgia since Clinton in 1992. Then, against all odds, Abrams helped to bring about the election of two Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Warnock is the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr once presided, and now the first African-American senator from the state of Georgia.

Stacey Abrams didn’t achieve that all by herself, nor did Jim Clyburn get Biden to the White House by himself, but they’re the principal reason this country remains something like a democratic republic, at least in the near term. And if you want to consider putting a couple of Black faces on Mount Rushmore, you need look no further.


  • 8 January 2021 at 5:33am
    Joe Morison says:
    As we have Covid to thank for Trump’s defenestration, one has to wonder whether it has been a blessing in disguise. It’s easy to imagine that, for all the death and misery it has caused, a second Trump term would have been far worse.

  • 8 January 2021 at 10:38am
    Mick Mooney says:
    They were hardly stormtroopers, instead this was a posse called out and 'deputised' by Sheriff Trump. Trump has always relied on a comic element to his delivery. This single episode will have removed any such comfort, and a re-run in 2024 is now out of the question. Yes, the marvellous Stacey Abrams on Rushmore would be a delight and fully justified!

    • 9 January 2021 at 7:28pm
      Graucho says: @ Mick Mooney
      I think sans culottes is closer than storm troopers.

    • 20 January 2021 at 3:34pm
      Reader says: @ Graucho
      Sans cerveaux, surely.

  • 8 January 2021 at 5:28pm
    Andrew Clark says:
    "Biden was a friend to African-American voters and their only hope of getting a fair deal, or something like it."

    Is it a generally held view that none of the other Democrats cared much for the issue?

  • 8 January 2021 at 6:21pm
    Donald Mccabe says:
    Clyburn prevented Sanders from getting the Dem nomination. Sanders would have had a much easier job beating Trump (as he would also have had in 2016,) and his victory would have meant something. Unlike Biden's, which has just returned the Establishment to power. An Establishment that now appears bound and determined to take revenge on a white working and middle class that had the temerity to vote for Trump.

    • 8 January 2021 at 7:15pm
      Graucho says: @ Donald Mccabe
      Much as I prefer Sanders' policies to Biden's you can't ignore the system for electing presidents in the U.S. Biden promised to deliver the key states of WI, MI, PA and MN for the Democrats and he did. As LBJ said in politics you have to learn to count. I do agree with you that Sanders had a far better chance of winning in 2016 than Clinton. Among other things she really was such a poor campaigner.

    • 8 January 2021 at 8:01pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Donald Mccabe
      “Sanders would have had a much easier job beating Trump.” Really? We’ll never know but it sounds incredibly unlikely to me (and for sure Trump was desperate for it to be Bernie). One of Trump’s main lines of attack against Biden was that he was a ‘radical socialist’, patently absurd but it still struck a chord with a large proportion of Trump voters. Sanders, on the other hand, really is radically left wing by US standards; the GOP would have had no problem digging up enough things he’s said and done over the years to convince much of the US electorate that it just wasn’t safe to trust him.

      Biden couldn’t have won without many former Republican voters switching to him, I doubt many of them would have voted for Sanders. Where exactly do you think Bernie would have made up that shortfall from?

    • 11 January 2021 at 11:21am
      David Levine says: @ Donald Mccabe
      Jeez, man. there was enough insane, antiquated, discredited red-baiting of the quite moderate ticket. If Bernie had run, I guarantee that he'd have sunk himself by waspishness and continued identification of himself a a "Democratic Socialist," which isn't even true. Bernie is a fairly moderate Social Democrat of the northern European-type. Trump's goons don't know the difference, but I maintain that Bernie (despite the fact that many had already--especially after the Woodward tapes--decided to dump Trump) would probably have lost. This is BEFORE we won back the Senate. Again, THAT might not have happened because some (but probably ENOUGH) voters would have been leery about a "runaway red Congress." At least that's how I see it.

  • 8 January 2021 at 7:02pm
    George Hoffman says:
    Amen, Brother. The most discriminated and oppressed class in American history, African Americans, literally saved the soul of this country and the Democratic Party. But I disagree with your characterization of that motley crew of white insurrectionists as Stormtroopers. That's almost libel against Stormtroopers' deserved reputation as shock troops. They reminded me more of the goofy redneck chucks I knew in Vietnam who used to call me "nigga lover" just because I lived in a black hooch. Quite frankly, I found their obsessive display of weapons, Nordic Viking costumes, war painted faces and faux macho strutting more performative rather than menacing aptly suited for what Guy Debord termed "the society of the spectacle" in our Internet age. But Trump opened a Pandora's box with his tenure which will surely continue to haunt the political landscape long after he retreats to Mar-a-Logo Club in Palm Beach. I fear America is still on a slippery slope of its decade-long decline as a nation and become a failed state with nukes unless the moral compass isn't righted with Joe Biden's presidency. The Democrats have control of both Congress and the Presidency, and they better deliver like FDR did with legislation in the Depression. Or they will surely voted out of office by a very angry and disillusioned electorate in the next midterm. And we will continue our slide as Yugoslavia broke up into anarchy after the death of Tito. This will be a decades-long battle.

    • 11 January 2021 at 11:28am
      David Levine says: @ George Hoffman
      I rather agree, except that when I'm in a realistic frame of mind, it seems obvious that we are a failed state. A failed constitution and an educational system designed to create a nearly total ignorance of American institutions and how they're supposed to operate. There are magnificent ways to teach history; all sorts of innovative approaches that have actually worked. I worked in every level of public school in NYC, and it's been obvious to me from the first day that "regular" (that is, non-AP) classes were so ineffective that the only available conclusion was that it was PLANNED that way. and believe me, my contempt for conspiracy theorists is profound. But then...there really ARE some conspiracies. Remember that No Child Left Behind was a Bush initiative in Texas and was considered "fabulous," until it was demonstrated that the results had been fudged. They don't WANT people with a working knowledge of American History or the details of Civics.

  • 9 January 2021 at 6:47pm
    Michael O'connor says:
    absolutely right.
    we can bring down a couple the others to make room ..

  • 10 January 2021 at 9:29am
    MattG says:
    Calling them "stormtroopers" is a Hollywood tableau but shows a complete ignorance WW1 military history. Comparing the right in the US to the SA, the squadristi, falangists requires more thought.

    The next issue of LRB carries a very good article by Adam Shatz on the framing and language. I especially liked his idea to look at events in the light of John Crow rather than use "foreign" bogey men.

  • 11 January 2021 at 11:20am
    Abigail Watson says:
    I likewise disagree with the label 'stormtroopers'. The term implies smart, disciplined and ruthless teams in co-ordinated action. My observation of footage indicates (as Trump himself allegedly noted with disappointment) that the rabble looked poor and mismatched.
    It is to be hoped that these poor confederate-longing whites will eventually realise that their hero does not care one tiny jot about them, only about himself and his image. Their rage may turn.

  • 11 January 2021 at 5:00pm
    Squeeth says:
    Trump and Biden are continuity, not change. The Democrats rigged better than the Republicans this time....

    • 11 January 2021 at 6:30pm
      Graucho says: @ Squeeth
      The 2020 U.S. election has been the most thoroughly investigated and scrutinised one in U.S. history. Trump's lawyers have not been spending their time playing dominoes since November 3rd. All their researches have produced a big fat zero. Finding fraud in the 2020 election has proved to be as elusive as finding a shred of integrity in Ted Cruz.

  • 11 January 2021 at 5:02pm
    Squeeth says:
    "Sanders, on the other hand, really is radically left wing by US standards" i.e. fascist by the standards of normal people.

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