Tag Archives: electoral maps

Mobs and Jobs

We had been waiting for the barbarians for some time. The President had been, over four years, mapping the threat of the barbarians advancing from across borders. But we imagined that they would arrive from the edges of empire, the edges where the acting President had been mapping threats of their arrival for five years, informed by the images of a border that without adequate defenses, as he evoked a breaching the ramparts of defense as the primary threat to national security.  Maybe that was a feint. For the crowds assembled on the Washington Mall, a mob crowd-sourced, whose fight or flight responses were stimulated across their vagal nerves, were ready to sack the Capitol building, invading the offices of congressional representatives as if to interrupt a peaceful transition of Presidential power. These were not the barbarians of whom we had been repeatedly warned as arriving from without borders. Rather, it was those who had been alerted to the danger from the southern border, and had arrived on busses from across its states, carrying not their belongings but the sense of resentment and anger nurtured on the apparently unjust maps of electoral votes, to stall consensus about the end of Donald Trump’s presidency–then were a crowd that had been energized and nurtured on social media, at Trump rallies, and in chat rooms that bewailed the fear of a loss of liberties.

FOX News

In the very final Presidential debate, Trump had taken pains to evoke the marauding crowds that would fill the streets after the election of his opponent, to illustrate that Biden should be trusted–he promised the public the mantra “jobs not mobs,” ensuring that the jobs would materialize as he kept “illegals” who had undercut wages out, and ensured an America First policy. The barbarians had arrived at the Capital, not at a frontier settlement, but at its center, as they hoped to promote America First; rather than arriving as migrants from across the border, they came on busloads, airplanes, and cars, in busses paid for by Trump evangelist, the Republican donor who believes the President chosen by God–or by itineraries to Washington, DC, that PeacefulRedStateSecession had mapped.

This invasion did not cross national divides, or defend anything other than endangered liberties. It was not on foot, but they were dressed for cold weather. But it was an actual seizure of the U.S. Capitol, by an inside job, utterly unlike the visions of invasions threatened during a series of National Emergencies in recent years–from the Migrant Caravans, enabled by the “humanitarian visas” given out by the Mexican government, that had made it so urgent to “fix” America’s immigration laws–a pedestrian pilgrimage on a sacred calendar that had necessitated the first $1 Billion to be transferred from the Department of Defense to remedy “critical readiness issues facing our military” as the caravans “thumbed their noses at our drug and immigration laws” as they advanced in four massive caravans “in an effort to enter the US” and threatened to breach borders.

Migrant “Caravan” Approaching American Border (March, 2019)

Their routes were longer, and were not conducted on foot–but these barbarians were truly at the gate, if they didn’t come as vectors that wold pierce our borders. They were, rather, crowds that were sourced on social media, in reaction to the threats of regime change that would come by elections, by the creation of consensus.

They could not be traced to transnational cartels or the “historical routes” of migrant caravans; these threats at the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol were crowd sourced, promoted in multiple Facebook groups, where, in hours after the refusal to accept the results of the U.S. Presidential election had been called in several states, verb tenses became unhinged from reality in the waning hours of election night, as what would be the largest-growing Facebook groups ever in the history of the platform grew online, a virtual crowd, not able to be tracked by GPS or viewed as puncturing our borders, but rather aimed at puncturing sovereignty from within: the boundaries of states were less important know, despite threats of migrants overwhelming those fortified border check-points by rushing them en masse, but the crowd that was assembling on January 7 before the sun rose was threatening to pierce the perimeter of the Capitol, to finally stream down the Mall, down Constitution Avenue, down Pennsylvania Avenue, energized by having been urged “we’re going to have to fight much harder” and reverse the betrayal by “traitors” in the U.S. Senate of the electoral maps that they were all convinced were rigged. They advanced not on the edges of empire, for over two thousand miles–

–but by moving several thousand feet to cross scaffolding set up for inauguration day, tearing down fencing that separated them from the Capitol, pushing past barricades into a citadel of governance.

New York Times

The barbarians were not of migrants, this time, approaching the border, that animated their sense of urgency, but of a certification of the deep danger of an end to the Trump Presidency–even though President Trump had, equipped with with U.S. Border patrol statistics, traced national threats and states of emergency throughout four years of his Presidency, in the specter of invasion evoked by transnational threats.

But if all maps depend on consensus–few migrants saw themselves as crossing a border that was a crime to cross–the Despite images of the Caravans we had watched as they arrived from Central America, determined to cross our national boundaries, these barbarians looked as if they were all white–a crowd celebrating, signing, and dancing as they wore red MAGA hats, scarves, and carried TRUMP 2020 signs and other campaign paraphernalia, and had arrived to conclude a campaign that had not gone as they had expected, while the collective mug shots of those guilty of “immigration crime suspects” that had popped up on billboards throughout the nation had effectively under-written the need for racial profiling.

Mug Shots of Immigration Crime Suspects

Rather than crossing the fortified border at the edges of empire, this threat grew before and as if in opposition to the chambers of representative government occurred from a stage erected in previous days, but an event that was promoted since the electors had met in individual states to confirm popular votes for U.S. President. They had been alerted by the dangerous maps of a subversion of votes by electors or at the ballot box, specters of which had haunted viewers of FOX and

How two polls predicted Trump's surprise victory | Fox News

and the several states that were “still in play” and “what if” maps of the battleground states that Trump might need to win to secure a nearly materialized victory in 2020. As if egged on by the charges that corruption had disrupted this map, and interrupted the hopes for Trump 2020 many banners bore, charges of voter fraud, doctored ballots, and the ability to flip what was once a “magic screen” to show red states created a sense of the danger of making any predictions, as if unveiling the strength of Trump long underestimated, as if to dull the minds of a nation by a “very tight race” where “despite predictions” many challenges were being waged on the ground. Why not stage a challenge to the certification of electors, to press the charges of challenges that seemed. The foregrounding on Fox of Trump’s deep opposition to ‘shutdowns’ that would hamper the economy, or cast the process of selection of a President lay in counting votes more than casting ballots. As pro-Trump attorneys launched a “stop the count” movement on November 5, was a “stop the steal far behind? As the Trump campaign continued over six and a half weeks to express confidence and predicting victory, asking how much the live counting of votes that showed a margin of 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, then 14,000 in Georgia, or entertaining the possibility of one elector in Nebraska made the democratic process almost openly venal and ridiculously debased.

So why not debase democracy and restore a diret vision of process, unclouded by faulty tallies and unobserved vote counts? This crowd was crowd-sourced on social media, by hashtags like #StoptheSteal, Large crowds had begun to arrive before sunrise, occupying the rows of seats on the Mall. They seemed benign, but would set up a conflict between the power manifest in crowds and the allocation of representational government by states’ electors. The confrontation before the primary seat of representational government was arrived at by varied routes–busses organized to Washington DC, often by the same groups who had sponsored Rallies for Trump but the underlying map was a call for a new form of governance, interrupting smooth progress of transition of power that had been mapped out from Election Day in November to the meeting of electors in respective states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to the certification of electors by a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This timed progression of an assembly of representative structures dedicated to mediate the popular vote was interrupted by a crowd that claimed the American flag, lest it be desecrated, as certification was interrupted by an alternative manner of government of acclamation by a crowd, eager to oppose the immediacy of its collective unruliness and deep conviction to the stately dome.

2021 storming of the United States Capitol - Wikipedia
East Side of Capitol before Crowd-Sourced insurrectionist Crowd

These were not the barbarians that had overwhelmed empires of the past. They were not the caravnas we were long told to be expecting from across the southwestern border, but they posed a far deeper national security threat, and lay in the electoral system. Those who arrived to rectify the vote arrived dressed the for part, displaying their patriotism. Some were in revolutionary or paramilitary garb; others who had attended of past Trump rallies wore election garb of the concluded 2020 campaign. They channeled a mythological past of the defense of the constitution,–more than crossing from “barbarian” lands, to destroy a vision of empire that had promised civilization to the world, they arrived from the red states to the center of corruption in Washington, DC, hoping to stop the change of government, and change the course of history.

Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonne Las Cases, A map, exhibiting the . . . . destruction of the Barbarians, that invaded the Roman world (1800)

The detail of the routes by which those barbarians had arrived from all Europe and Asia were detailed with elegance in post-Napoleonic Paris, where they must have been prepared with reassurance of a sense of some stability after the restoration of the July Monarchy, from a place of security before 1848 revolutions brought a new wave of urban uprisings across much of Europe from a large urban working class.

“Invasion of the Barbarians,” E. Soulier Paris, 183

Rather than arriving from outside our frontiers, as we had been warned, this invasion came from within, by those who ostensibly sought to set the Empire right, rather as an invasion in the sort of ur-maps of invasion and historical decline that were framed in the elegant color-coded historical maps of the post-Napoleonic July Monarchy, that looked back on the invasions that eroded political stability.

This was a crowd of believers, and was not a spontaneous crowd: it was truly crowd-sourced, sourced and summoned by sirens of social media. This consensus assembled from all America would not be an invasion, but would invade Washington, DC, to ensure not its destruction, but an alternative universe of electoral victory: the results would change the course of global history as consequentially as that ur-map of invasions, mapped in detail in a masterpiece of historical geography, that condensed barbarian invasions at the fall of the Roman Empire, collapsing many years in a moment of destruction. If hard to map with any comparable historical or analytic distance, they seemed to seek to awe us with their spontaneous presence, as they were seeking to impose a judgement on the process of the election, to take back the clock not to just the early hours of election night, when Donald J. Trump appeared from initial results to be in the lead, but to the height of his President, if not to the first inauguration; he nourished fantasies of his own of accepting acclamation as President for Life, jokingly entertained the possibility of accepting as an honorific half way through his term, in 2018, proposing in a private speech at Mar-a-Lago to Republican donors he would “maybe . . . have to give that a shot someday” at the position, planting the seed to claim by April 2019 his base may well just “demand that I stay longer” as President or extend his term “at least for ten to fourteen years.”

1. The culmination of Trump rallies and crowd management techniques that had developed since the summer of 2015: this time, the crowd was reliably sourced. The assembly of the crowd improvised a new form of government, a new form of staging a putsch of the sort never seen in America, whose members would themselves rectify Donald Trump’s own disappointment and inability to process an election he argued “we were getting to win,” until the tallies changed as absentee votes were tallied, in ways that didn’t fit his narrative: convinced he in fact had won and did win the 2020 election, in keeping with models of fringe news media sources that had predicted his victory, early tweets that warned “They are trying to steal this election” had set up an alternative reality over two months–“Frankly, we did win this election” and then “We are up BIG but they are trying to STEAL this Election. We will never let them do it!” —that set in motion the logic of an alternate reality by an alternative structure of governing, in the arrival of a huge crowd eager to preserve the vision of an electoral victory that did not occur. As the crowd’s momentous size was described to its members repeatedly, that had its own entity able to overpower representative structures, they gained momentum to overpower the representative structures that had badly served the President’s plans. This was the map to project the vision of Donald J. Trump’s second term by a crowd in the Mall bigger than on Trump’s inauguration, a crowd joined to their President, more than the faithless Vice-President or Secretaries of State who had confirmed what Trump appeared convinced were faulty tallies of votes.

The invasion by these barbarians was animated by a different mythical vision of the historical past. They attacked, possessed by starting an imagined revolutionary uprising to appeal to a revolutionary fervor of asserting belonging and agency. They arrived inspired by claims that the vote had been stolen on a scale of “widespread, nationwide, massive voter fraud” since mid-November, even if his lawyers were hard-pressed to say where the fraud lay, even as allegations shifted to charges of “good-faith errors in operating machines,” or to corrupt tallies in machines themselves that were operated by companies lying outside the United States, or just glitches in electronic voting machines–if not the fraud of mail-in ballots that Trump had warned since the spring of 2020 might have been fabricated en masse in foreign countries. The evanescence of any sense of agency as to who was manipulating fraud on such a scale had driven them to desperation that they could only correct by taking the Capitol building themselves, to stay the election at the very last minute.

The crowd came to impose an alternative reality he demanded, to interrupt the due process of the electors’ certificaiton. Busses paid for by one of the last remaining Republican donors, the MyPillow Guy, Mike Lindell, ferry millions of patriots to Washington, DC, a Trump Base meant to replace institutional distortions that had allegedly obstructed the election’s transparency.

The Patriots who arrived on The Ellipse where they had been invited by Donald Trump, immediately sensing belonging, removed from the social isolation of being sutured to screens since the election, from fears of the disruption of a stolen election in the confidence of the crowd, listening to music as they warmed up from before seven in the morning. If the crowd met a moment of what crowd theorist Elias Canetti termed “release”–the moment of cohesion–as they were harangued for an hour by a President who described the failure of all the structures in place he had expected would lead to a second term. Upon hearing Vice President Pence, acting as President of the Senate, would not disrupt the certification of electoral votes at 10:02, reminded again by Trump how “they rigged it like they’ve never rigged it before,” they took matters into their own hands, with the agency they felt the U.S. Constitution promised. The invitations offered a time to meet with President Trump, and make their voices heard to representatives in unison with his complaint about the certification of the electoral vote.

The FB Group PeacefulRedStateSecession.com, which long nourished the secessionist fantasies, set the stage for an overturning of the very structures of government–assembled at a red star on Constitution Avenue, to Save America. The project of national salvation reveal the deeply corrosive of an increasingly oppositional mapping of the nation into “red” and “blue” states that has increasingly been mis-mapped around the defense of constitutional freedoms, before Trump promoted the constitutional crisis by inciting crowds to storm the Capitol to interrupt a joint session of Congress. The crowd that had been released as Trump finished his speech, stormed the capitol with anger and entitlement, indignantly yelling at Capitol Police, “We were invited here. We were invited by the president of the United States” as if entitled to bring down the state in an “exercise in patriotism,” an undefined “call to action” that promised to change the election’s outcome–an invitation extended widely on social media surviving only as screenshots apprehended from a social media sea. And once they arrived, these messages were reinforced, urged by the Tea Party activist who founded Women for America First to protest the first impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019. This time, Trump urged the assembled crowd-sourced crowd that it was imperative to show strength, in this final effort that awaited them: “It is up to you and I to save this Republic! We are not going to back down, are we? Keep up the fight!”

Rushing the chambers of the U.S. Congress would forestall not only the tally of electoral votes and their certification responded to the need to overturn the illegitimacy of the “hoax,” widespread corruption, and sullying of American democracy and the civic ritual of the in-person ballot. Those storming of the Capitol as not exactly a siege, but would trigger the sudden pressure of an energized mob to shatter the bureaucratic process of Congress, meeting in their chambers without cell phones, by needed pressure, to overturn the election Trump had assured them was indeed a landslide that audits had not yet fully revealed, but the demand for full transparency would immanently reveal, and create consensus only waiting to be mapped.

2. This crowd sourced mob assembled with a sense of urgency, listening in an almost relaxed manner to Village People’s rousing choruses of YMCA as they developed their identity in a sea of flags of discontent long before they were activated and directed energy to the Capitol building before which they’d been asked to assemble. Crowd theorist Cannetti argued the most important moment of the transformation of the crowd from within is “discharge,” the moment of unification behind a sense of purpose that mobilizes and realizes is new identity as a crowd. Before that moment of collective self-knowledge, the crowd does not actually exist in the same way, but it suddenly erases any sense of distance in a shared purpose, and shared identity, a feeling of equality and relief where they are collectively oriented in a moment of release in a blessed moment of orientation. When did the moment of discharge arrive? The process of assembling this crowd had begun of the sixty five days since the election, as snowballing #StoptheSteal groups took Trump’s tweets to nourish faux stoic solidarity. When Trump urged,”You have to show strength,” the words percolated with desires to defend Constitutional liberties in ways that masked the contradiction that they were disobeying the law.

Discharge arrived at the crowd over several stages in the rally, boosted by the simultaneity of being addressed by the President and being tweeted to by him, that “Mike Pence doesn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country,” as he refused that he would ever concede, live, and growing in their minds while hearing him wield truthful hyperbole as magnified it to beyond a million, bending time and space, while investing the crowd that had been assembling since 3 AM with a directionality and purpose that became clearer over time. The goal of changing the election that brewed behind all those optimized electoral maps crystallized around the goal of forestalling of the goal of Pence changing the certified electoral, as if he was empowered to do so, their goal strengthening their common identity, energizing the crowd with a renewed sense of immediate purpose. How much did it help that a Black and a Jew had been elected to enter the Capitol building the previous night, electrifying the Base by alerting them this was not business as usual, and demanded interruption? This crowd arrived filled with the sense of indignity as if entitled to overthrow their government when it took their rights away–the promise was embedded in the Gadsden flags that they waved, as much as the MAGA ones, and the banners that they took pains to bedeck the Capitol in a major media event, as they arrived with cell phones and Trump 2016 hats and Trump 2020 banners in a four-hour Siege of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, long after the election was lost.

Their sense of urgency was apparently echoed in their use of survivalist rock-climbing skills, knee-pads and gloves, some in paramilitary outfits and some in fantasy garb, they scaled the neoclassical facade, wrapped in American flags and bearing Gadsden Flags to forestall regime change and equipped with cell phones. They also brought, in those backpacks, unregistered ammunition, unregistered firearms, tasers, ropes, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks, and megaphones, to fulfill a patriotic duty to the nation, filmed on iPhones to make sure it would be covered in global media markets and across the nation. Enraged at the identification of the Vice-President presiding over the certification of electoral votes, who they called a “traitor” the crowd seem to have stormed the Capitol for their own duly elected representatives, as Secret Service members tried to secure the Senators, representatives, and VP who had become targets of wrath by an almost entirely white mob bearing weapons, storming the chambers of Congress like a lynching mob. The image of Pence as a traitor and turncoat, betraying a President who refuses to accept electoral results. Had the evangelical Catholic Pence been replaced by those who believe Trump was “chosen by God”?

Scaling the Perimeter Wall at the NE Corner/Michael Robinson Chavez/Washington Post

They cheered as they planted American flags atop the Capitol building, hanging banners reading “Trump 2020/STOP THE BULLSHIT,” equipped with signage to keep hope alive after the election was lost. They weren’t the barbarians we had expected and were long announced as at the gate. But they came with a sense of vengeance, gripping the walls they had prepared to scale the stone facade on a mission with tenacity and a sense of duty after having received a Presidential benediction. They had just been chanting “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!” as the black-gloved President told them he would never concede, and “We will not take it any more, . . . and to use a favorite term that you people will came up with, we will stop the steal.” Trump bemoaned the state of corruption in the nation, alerting the crowd of the dangers posed by fake news media and big tech as surrogates for a global war. He placed the certification of votes as the final chance for populist groups to defend freedoms as if it were the eve of a monumental battle of civilizations, not at the border between the United States and Mexico, but to rush the Capitol building, where the senators and congressmen were cloistered, without cell phones, voting to confirm Trump’s removal as President as the end of an era.

3. If Trump did not directly communicate plans for staking siege to the Capitol, on that day, but communicated indirectly to the assembled crowd who seem to have understood the plans for an insurrection or seizure of power. Just after Christmas, images predicted the arrival of a storm as if by an act of divine vengeance to break the delivery of the electors’ vote. The size of the crowd was difficult to estimate, but seems to have been difficult to estimate, but the number was far fewer than seems to have been widely expected by each of the groups who predicted “low number a few hundred thousand, in high numbers 2-3 million, imagine the scene” drawn from all fifty states, in a scene of mass consensus achieved by massive-crowd sourcing from vigorous online promotion to the announcement at rallies of “Stop the Steal” held as electors met on December 12.

We know Trump’s words, whose intention was transparently clear, but can only imagine their effect. Amidst a befuddling tally of votes he insisted were misreported by a Fake Media, he had bemoaned again the scale of the “egregious assault on our democracy” in the theft of a landslide that was itself a a threat “our country be destroyed” and a threat to “America First,” with urgency. The invitation to advance–where was there left to go?–got only crisper as the speech advanced. Truthful hyperbole allowed him to exaggerate the crowd that he imagined stretching to the Washington Memorial, as if it were a new inauguration audience. The date had been grimly pre-announced, and the urgency to “Save America” hardly needed to be spelled out.

The urgency grew, as the crowd had entered an alternate reality, as the hour continued. Trump bemoaned that “our media is not free” asked them all to turn on your cameras, as “we’re going to walk down to the Capitol,” “that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” ramping up the energy of the crowd that had been listening to music for hours, thanking his “incredible supporters” as he asked them to refuse all hoaxes, to remember why they had come to the event, how they were all waiting for the Vice President to act as President of the Senate, and join him in demanding “sweeping electoral reforms” and asking them, his soldiers, finally and conclusively to drain the swamp, to restore vital civic traditions of in-person voting, as the representatives and senators who owed their election to him alone would not. Without such a renewal of the Tree of Liberty, the worst would happen, beyond a feared end of liberties: “they want to take down the wall” and “let everyone flow in,” Trump concluded with urgency, imagining the destruction of his long-vaunted project to raise the stakes. Instead, the MAGA minions would “be pouring in to Washington, DC” to restore order and affirm the intensity of their personal relation to the state in a transparent manner that the corrupt tally of the vote obscured.

“We are going to–we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol,” he wrapped up his remarks to the audience he cherished. “. . . So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he urged his minions, asking them to retake the very halls of government that obstructed his second term, making the transactional nature of the march clear. Even the President did not incite the crowd to violent entrance of the Capitol Building, the publicity that announced the “march” showed its target–and the site to demand election integrity–clear. The rapt audience was ready to assault the building and strike down the police guards they encountered with flagpoles to answer the President’s personal “call to action to us to come back to Washington on January 6 for a big protest” by “taking back the country from corrupt politicians,” and wrest the nation from the political class, intensifying its sense of urgency.

They all knew the endpoint of the Save America March and had iPhones in their hands, but weren’t using their mapping functions, as they recorded the scene that the news media would not report. They were being invited to reveal their patriotism, and stand up for the U.S. Constitution and the country by the Commander-in-Chief in the face of “pure theft” of what was a landslide, and came dressed for re-enacting a drama of insurrection and revolution, in a rally that would consume the halls of government, uniting the size of the momentous rallies of the five-year Presidential campaign that Trump had been boosted to the empyrean, beyond Reality TV, to a new level of transcendence. But few have spent much attention to map from where they came. Few members of the mob needed to use their devices’ mapping functions or GPS, as the mission of retaking the government could be seen behind the bullet-proof glass from which Trump had addressed them.

Trump had magnified the size of the crowd considerably, describing the “tens of thousands” he saw before him, inviting those in attendance to turn their cell phones back to cover the size of a crowd he said the media would underestimate, and magnifying what was estimated as a crowd of 10,000 by trademark “truthful exaggeration” by magnifying it to “hundreds of thousands of people here” and describing the “hundreds of thousands of American patriots [who] are committed to the honesty of our elections” across the nation. The number was guesstimated at “several thousand people . . . even 10,000, maybe.” After Trump’s moment of truthful hyperbole, social media photographs and claims magnified the crowd and multiplied its loyalty on social media. The filming of the breaching of the Capitol’s perimeter spread on social media, as members of Congress without cell phones remained in the dark, and protestors counted on the element of surprise: even as Trump insisted that “the media will not show the magnitude of this crowd,” recalling the disputes he had had with the crowd on Inauguration Day, describing “hundreds of thousands” to rival even an inauguration crowed, famously falsified as the largest ever, estimated at 300,000-600,000, to keep the Trump flame alive. Trump insisted that the marchers themselves film the event for history and the nation, from the start of his hour-long harangue to turn their cameras on, and to “Turn your cameras please and show what’s really happening out here because these people are not going to take it any longer.” “Go ahead,” he urged, making the audience part of the spectacle, “Turn your cameras, please. Would you show?” In his subsequent public address, at the United States southwestern border, the President fondly remembered how “Millions of our citizens watched on Wednesday as a mob stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government,” before pivoting to affirm his respect for America’s “history and traditions” and “the rule of law.”

They existed on the media they created and streamed. Live-streaming the assault was a way to trigger a national movement, if not to create a testimony of the great attempt to keep an outgoing administration alive, and with it an alternate reality. Amidst cries of disbelief from “They’re going up—go, go, go, go!” and “Oh! They’re climbing up the wall!” to ecstatic rejoinders of “Let’s go, let’s fucking go!” to “There’s so many people! I can’t believe this is reality! We accomplished this shit! Together! . . . We’re all part of this fucking history!,” to “Holy shit, there’s so many people!” the ragtag group wrapped “TRUMP NATION” banners and “Trump 45” jerseys, the oddly dressed one said “Wait a second, I’m filming this!” a mob advanced past guards they saluted as “bro” as they sought to seize the House chambers, blowing vuvuzelahs chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” saying You guys gotta follow the Constitution!” and, more festively, “Fuck, that was awesome! Let’s burn this shit down!”

As this potential orgy of destruction was unfolding, President Trump had assured his overeager audience that he would be marching with them to the Capitol–“after this, we’re going to be walking tot he Capitol, and I’ll be there with you.”–but retired from the lectern of the Save America March to enter an awaiting limousine in his motorcade, to watch the fate of the joint session of the U.S. Congress on cable news in the White House, as the rest of the world watched in disbelief and shock the last fruits of the Trump Presidency unfold.

If the National Guard had been activated across the nation in response to the George Floyd protests, as social injustices and police profiling were protested in a scenario of reckoning with systemic injustice, in what was described as national disorder, the protesters seems to move “going wild” to Washington DC, concentrating their pent up rage as observers of a changing country into an uprising against a representative system that seemed to have failed to recognize their urgent needs.

The New York Times on Twitter: "Protests have erupted in at least 140  cities across the United States over racism and police brutality. Some of  the demonstrations have turned violent, prompting the
Weiji Cal, Juliette Love, Jugal K Patel and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas/Daily Kos

A false social media post had eerily circulated in the summer of instability that had claimed protestors had caused Trump to flee the White House, including the image of the same Capitol Building that these protestors would assault. Disseminated on Facebook, YouTube, and news sites of uncertain authority as well as Twitter, the breaching of the boundaries of “Fake News” seemed a cause for global panic, prefacing the destabiization of authority for a global market–with some qualifications confined to the comment section.

Did Protesters Storm The White House? A Fact Check
June 1, 2020

The mock up concealed that the footage was not even in Washington DC, but this time the crowd had assembled in a real place, at the Capitol, even if the war they were waging was Fake News.

Their ears were already electrified by their President, as POTUS allowed the crowd to discharge, and even to envision this pathway to the future, and the they vital fight they would wage, affirming that he would never concede, and with the gestures of a television preacher he evoked how “we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give —” before breaking off his thoughts in midstream, and entering a limousine, having planted plans for an insurrection to his best ability.

The routes to the Capitol building itself would be less direct, but would flow about the building that the Capitol police tried to secure, and to overwhelm them in the immense discharge of their collective energy, overwhelming the limited number of Capitol Police they had already judged insufficient to protect the legislators, or obstruct a crowd of their size: Trump had given a benediction to move forward as Christian soldiers, and to surge beyond the Ellipse in an illustration of their own agency and apparent liberty.

Save America March/Pete Marovich, New York Times

Reports are that Trump watched the insurrection as it unfolded with excitement, pleased at what he saw on television. On the ground, cheers drowned out reality, elevating to a vertiginous ecstasy the idea of a seizure of power of which the participants ensured a live stream continued, as they breached the upper chambers. “We did this shit! This is surreal scene! What reality is this? Fucking did this shit!”Hell, yeah!” “About time!” “Oh, my bad–I didn’t know I hit it that hard.” The mob paused in the Rotunda for selfies while chatting up guards, reminding them of the futility of resistance and admiring the cupola, amazed at the scale of their accomplishment, pinching themselves that this “was real life,” urging one another to “treasure this moment,” and bursting, without anything else left to say, into chant–“We want Trump! We want Trump! We want Trump!” to make their voices heard. They were confident there were too many people to for bullets to be used against a crowd whose size they seemed to magnify, until the arrival of the police. Then, they were shocked a gun was actually fired and someone entering the chambers–amazed a moment of violence had in fact occurred, but also glad and still excited to have gotten it on film, not noticing Donald had left them alone.

Roberto Schmidt, AFP/Getty/Quartz

Born on a sea of insurrectionist flags of all stripes–Gadsden flags, American flags, Trump flags, Confederate flags, and sporting a range of Trump gear, they were ready to confront forces of Darkness. It may not have mattered that Trump was no longer with them, as he was presiding over the entire event, and they had internalized his litany of baseless complaints and groundless assertions. Waving triumphal flags overhead as they approached the Capitol, they entered the House of Representatives’ and Senate chambers, chanting “Our house! Our house!” and “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” they told guards not to put their hands on them, telling them they were impotent before events that were unfolding as they clung to their freedoms. Among these America Firsters, the right of “the people to alter or abolish any government that does not secure inalienable rights” seemed, on the morning of January 6, 2021, the only agency that remained in their power to stop the transmission of power that they felt a rigged system of elections about which they had ben warned for years was about to take place in the pro forma certification of electoral votes underway in the Congressional chambers as the Save America March had assembled to hear purported heroes of an outgoing administration. Did America First entail subverting the electoral process, or was it about defending liberties?

4. President Trump did not directly encourage the crowed to enter the joint session of the U.S. Congress, but affirmed its logic. Students of revolution have long studied the crowd as an actor of revolutions, and tried to study the logic of crowd behavior: fear is a major motivator of crowd behavior, and the fear of a loss of rights, an impending restriction of rights, from the panic of the Great Fear of 1789, as rumors spread of an “aristocratic conspiracy” to overthrow the king created a massive rural panic that triggered a convulsion of possibly anarchic character at fears of a restriction of grain supplies in the near future: the logic of the fear of a loss of liberties was fed by the growth of rumors across the countryside of the impending absence of a great protector, which historians have tried to map across rural regions as transmitted by their own rural circuits of considerable historical consequence, most powerfully in the work of Georges Lefebvre:

If Lefebvre worked hard to map the overlooked spatial and temporal progression and identity of the fear that spread through France, the twitterverse registered similar waves of panic transmitted among online groups. For if we are still unsure of labeling the even an insurrection or act of sedition or uprising, looking only at the movement on the ground near the capitol reminds us of the need to examine the charges and accusations that were long coursing on social media, increasing expectations for a day of wrath, imagined to attract up to three million, if permissions only expected 5,000, the rumors of millions of marchers suggested easy overwhelming of the Capitol police.

Their size increasingly magnified to punctuate the lists of grievances Trump listed for just over an hour, the magnification of the crowds who had felt isolated with the mandate for social distancing many so deeply opposed were released as they gained a new density on the Ellipse, no matter where they had come from. They were encouraged to tap into a sense of being wronged, and the hectoring of the audinece must have heightened their already long-nourished fight-or-flight response, as the representative structure of the capitol was in sight. The speech didn’t need to list the other grievances that Trump might not have mentioned theis time, but were implicit–a curtailing of freedom of gun ownership, a silencing of speech, a turning back of religious freedoms–which were fought over in the election. Those fears of a loss of liberties and change in administration had already been amplified through social media across the nation, far more electrically than Lefebvre’s spatial map of primary currents of the Great Fear through rural France that demanded historians recast their research of what was long seen and studied as an urban revolution: this revolution was born on social media, if it arrived in busloads or by plane, to witness an event they could only dream, but seemed to call for their own participation in nothing less than a new model of government.

The intensity of currents of fear that had run through chat rooms, TheDonald, and various citizen militias and Trump supporters came to a head at the condensation of these groups as a false populist force outside the Capitol building as the certification of the 2020 Presidential election was tried to be obstructed. Rather than fear spreading on the ground, however, or through popular movements, the mass-based nature of rally based on Facebook groups assembled a sense of purpose and direction that might be embodied in the busses that stopped in twenty-five American cities to collect Patriots, often in parking lots or airplane hangars from Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Florida seemed to summon a virtual confederacy to Washington. Riders foud collective experiences on the bus, having had their vagal nerves electrified by barrages of claims that the electoral vote had been distorted on NewsMax, FOX, OANN, that Trump had promoted–seeming to bestow his favorites to escalate temperatures across the nation that seemed evidence that the election raged, as “news bubbles” of 2016 bore fruit in adherence to different sets of electoral maps.

We had all watched how the margins of votes broke in different states, parsing them by voting groups, but as we watched them, the nation that had hived into groups broke into different alternate realities that called into question the election’s validity before it was even held, and drew out debates about its validity. And as they did so, the very institutions of representative government had been eroded. In polls that promised to refresh “the most up-to-date and accurate tallies in the Presidential race” from OANN, the contest had become a horse-race, undercutting the validity of the results that would be announced on Election Night, and creating a fake drama that ran against the predictions of most major news networks, hiving off America into two separate media silos which doubted the validity of the mainstream media. In what was seen as only an attempt to out-Fox News, the electoral maps that were projected on news sites predicted clear signs of victory that undercut the representational value of the electoral map, before and after the election-, that dislodged the ontological status of the electoral map, long before protest of certifying electoral votes–to turn back the clock, perhaps, to the very first tallies of votes, made before Democratic and internationalist tampering, when Trump led in Georgia and Pennsylvania by credible margins of victory–the provisional and unstable nature of all electoral tallies were made apparent, even after states had certified results. If FOX projection models long predicted a certain victory for Trump, the aftermath of the election and the contestation of votes eroded the ontic stability of the electoral map in a strategic way, as if playing a long game for overturning the vote.

Electoral Prediction
OANN November 16, 2020
DigiKai Marketing (@digikai_mj) | Twitter
November 11, 2020

These maps erased contingency, increased conviction, and unmoored a map once the bedrock of democratic representation, validating assertions “Trumpland doesn’t believe the election results” and would contest them, and denying any consensus of a map that had no role but to create consensus.

The squabbles between the size of crowds nominally assembled by joint crowds brought to Washington by Women for America First who organized the March to Save America and the Stop the Steal and MAGA crowds came to bolster the claims that this was a “real Million Man March. Unlike the Women’s March, that once embodied the Trump Resistance, or the Million Man March, these foot soldiers embodied the true electoral map that the size of crowds at this rally confirmed: as Trump had argued that he knew he won the election in Georgia by the greater size of his crowds compared to those reported for the Democratic ticket, the size of crowds provided a true direct illustration of democracy that the electoral maps based on fault tallies only disguised. The logic of the crowd’s behavior was promoted as evidence of fears of the loss of liberties a Biden administration would bring, planted long before their arrival in Washington DC. The fears were magnified in the increased urgency that Donald Trump gave to the erosions of liberties as a direct result of an illegitimate transition of power to convulse his audience. The fears rendered evident the need to stop the joint session of Congress. lest they validate the false electoral map Fake News had promoted. Until Trump agreed to concede, they would provide the defense of rights and liberties a Biden presidency would erode, and the declaration of a victory for two Democratic senators in Georgia the night previous only augmented the intensity of pressure on embodying a physical presence that would overturn the tally of electoral votes by a sea of supporters in bright red MAGA gear that embodied a real, authentic electoral map before the Capitol itself.

Trumpland did not believe in counting, so habituated had they been to rallies, rather than just tallies. With such systematic ontological destabilization of the electoral map, evident in the sea of distinctive bright red hats, could the end of the protracted drama of the election be announced? The sense of being on the side of righteousness was affirmed in the Invocation that proceeded the Capitol Siege, as Donald Trump was prayed for as the divinely sanctioned leader of the nation, chosen by God to lead America, in ways that invalidated the need for electoral approval of the President God had selected for the nation.

The fear and the logic of a loss of liberties promoted online was very old regime and premodern, if they were cast in an imaginary of defending early modern nationalism. For while the Capitol Siege has been argued by Jill Lepore to be considered a race riot, the conflict cannot be captured save as a deeply anti-parliamentary tactic, a coup, as Fiona Hill insisted, a “self-coup” of the sort strongmen like Recep Erdoğan staged in 2016, before Trump came to power, to seize power outside established parliamentary process by an autgolpe that renders impotent the parliamentary system. The confusion of a sense of lawlessness and the demands of restoring a legal order that was in danger of being eroded was considerable, as the crowd was augmented by the possible and alleged presence of off duty police officers from Seattle, Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Fire Departments in New York City, Florida, ready and willing to help strategize as they entered the building, unlike a disorderly mob. It might be that the two-color division of map might reveal, but the range of those light blue states, that weren’t such strong blue, belied the far, far greater intensity of a MAGA crowd.

5. The right to declare a separate region of like-minded liberties was promoted in the maps in online Facebook forums that promoted “peaceful secession.” Maps provided for online Facebook forums redrew the nation with the promise that red states might secede from the nation that had been gaining steam on Twitter and elsewhere, while we all socially distanced, the need for DIY nation-making emerged, as local Republican Party Chairs sanctioned, endorsing Rush Limbaugh in suggesting the not so secret conspiracy that Republican-governed states exercise their “rights” and freedoms in what was a compact of states. The need to “keep the American parts of America American,” as the Facebook group had it, would become clear as Limbaugh urged they “band together” as Texas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Montana, Alabama, and Mississippi join others–and break from the nation that the electors were about to saddle with a new President they had not chosen and did not want, and in America liberty was, in the end, that everyone should get what they want.

The moment of violence from which this birth of a new nation would begin might be commemorated in the future as January 6, 2021, bundling national security, sacred identity, and second amendment rights that defined an ecoystem of identity-based authoritarian systems, but ensured a good sleep at night. Yet as Lindell continued to tweet proof of broad hacking of the election–and eagerly contested Democratic margins of victory in a full six states–he undermined any sense stable resolution might be expected in electoral maps.

5. The potentiality of secession was sketched as a redemption of rights began atop the Manichean antagonism of battle lines, as they were encouraged by chromatic oppositions of red v. blue state maps to nourish secessionist fantasies as overlays atop the two-color dichotomy of electoral maps: by pooling the resources of all those smaller red dots, and overpowering or just excluding those blue dots–and sacrificing some, as in the Central Valley of California or upstate New York, in hopes they might migrate to North Dakota or Montana, and getting creative in Arizona and Colorado, but focussing on the parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota that in “a county formed from red states–or individual counties–“would follow the constitution.” Gerrymandering the nation, rather than only a few states, might more fully proceed to actual secession, confounding the map with the territory, and obscuring that the excision of backed-out counties would offload actual sites of wealth-production, major centers of population, and impose consensus in falsified ways in an eroded union.

The next time they are in control,... - Red-State Secession | Facebook
PeacefulRedStateSecession

This vision of secession would be nominally “peaceful,” but any sense of tranquility would be for observers of an online map. The cartographic fantasy adapted newsmaps everyone had seen on election night, and used to draw a new sense of sovereignty, which might be imagined as meriting an even more insurmountable wall:

Red-State Secession: “Potential Borders if Trump States and Hillary States Split into Two or More Countries, and States Allow Certain Counties to Join another Country”

Secession need not be a bad thing, those who held high Gadsden Flags realized. This was about defending the imaginary of a new nation, forever resilient, and might create either the basis to restore the rightful ruler or if not trigger the secessionist movement that might follow in the country, as a number of simultaneous protests were planned across state capitols–demonstrations that might be pushed to create a unifying protest that awoke a sleeping red giant, and many of the overlapping groups of Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, secessionist movements in varied states and alt right groups.

Demonstrations at State Capitols on January 6, 2021

Severed from national laws that were no longer representing their interests, the members of Red State Secession (when exactly was the modifier added?) had been cut off from the laws that DC sought to impose on them, and had, they convinced themselves, the longer that they looked at the Gadsden Flag, perhaps, and the map that it created as a call to arms and indeed military recruitment to defend the denial of liberties: the image that Benjamin Franklin had devised as a rallying cry to join an army against Great Britain and throw off the yoke of British Sovereignty: only by being divided into segments would the power of the nation be denied, but the “duty, to throw off such government” after a long series of abuses and usurpations described in the Declaration of Independence would merit the altering or abolition of “any government that does not secure our inalienable rights,” from second amendment rights to gun ownership to religious freedoms. The disparate segments of vigilant MAGA groups, from the Proud Boys and militant Oath Keepers and 3%ers, offspring of Patriot movements formed lest the Obama Presidency diminishing freedoms, would storm the Capitol united for “We the People,” with aims far beyond rights of assembly or freedom of expression.

III%ers Tweet Promoting January 6, 2020

The rally that had long been planned was, after all. Those who attended anticipated an orgy of open carry, and an affirmation of religious identitarianism, where rioters, as the original American revolutionaries who fought for their inalienable freedoms, might assemble beneath the Washington Monument with thousands of AR-15s in an unstoppable show of force, equipped with high-capacity feeding devices, even if carrying handguns without a permit is an offense in Washington, DC.

The event was, after all, planned in mid-December as a major event of Free Speech, shortly after the electoral college had met, and Pennsylvania electors had cast their ballots for Biden, as a conclusion already envisaged if the attempts to audit the vote and suits to dismiss votes as invalid would fail; it would celebration of Second Amendment rights by fiat; and if one wonders at reports that the rioters had come to Washington, DC, having widely shared maps of tunnels under the Capitol Building to concretize their plans for surrounding and taking the Capitol building. While described as insider knowledge, and perhaps facilitated by taking tours of the site in advance, they probably had only cobbled together tourist maps of the tunnels under the Capitol building that seemed routes to prevent Congress members they sought to make their views known to from not hearing the demands that they, the crowd We The People, felt it was their right to make: the protection of rights to assemble, freedom of speech, and rights to bear guns had all been obscured by how fake news had stolen the election. The recent escalation of #StoptheSteal tweets confirming the stolen nature of the election in 1.3 million tweets since election day suggested something like a seismic register for the Base that had jumped on the eve of the rally.

Popularity of hashtags

While the President did not directly invite the marchers who had assembled in the Ellipse to breach the Capitol, the incessant reminders of the stolen nature of the election had baited them since state electors had delivered the Presidency to Joe Biden. Trump tweeted out falsehoods with vigor, questioning the legitimacy of the transfer of power, as many flagged as false grew from Election Day throw the day of protest.

Washington Post

6. The indignation that tweets channeled was mapped onto real space on January 6, in ways that drove momentum to real moment of release. While announced as a First Amendment Activity, this was a second amendment rally, a rally asserting religious freedoms and religions nationalism, with fervent conviction, with many other fellow travelers convinced of the infringement of their rights and the need to Save America and their duty to do so. As their Commander in Chief animated the crowd assembled by affirming “we will never concede” and that at this moment, “we will stop the steal,” the heady disorientation clarified a map of affirming what was just ‘right.’

The claims of purifying the Capitol and the center of power was not a cry of a Presidency in its death throes, but a concerted effort that might prompt the restoration of a form of government transparency in asserting and protecting rights by reclaiming the chambers of government in misguided hopes to start a revolution. Many might have procured the maps of these tunnels in anticipation of storming the Capitol to defend the “true” results of the election by downloading them off an ESRI story map; a map of entrances to tunnels would also be confirmation of the plans of action that readied their disparate forces to enter the grounds to force the election. Online chat groups had already reasoned and spread the news in anticipation: “He wouldn’t be calling us to Washington unless there was a purpose that would ultimately end in him winning the election.” The maps could be easily gotten; the marchers would retake the Capitol building from entrances off of the ellipse that must have illustrated not only the vulnerability of the Capitol to attack but direct access to government.

Washington Tunnels on Capitol Hill/ESRI

Maps of tunnels available from visitors map circulated as “the most important maps of the day,” the basis to look for anyone fleeing the Capitol, rather than as a point of entry; it was disseminated in color-coded urgency with instructions to form “a TRUE LINE around the Capitol and the tunnels” in conspiratorial tones:

TheDonald.win/Distributed Map of Underground Exits from Congressional Chambers to be Blocked as Congress Certified Electors

The hopes for surrounding the Capitol, in hopes not to allow any legislators to leave the premises, and indeed to paralyze the government’s regular function, as it prepared to, in the words of the planners of the event, “certify the steal,” led rioters to enter the building from numbers of sights, to overwhelm security by multiple breaches of the building, first from the east, approaching the west front by breaking open doors (5), having scaled rim of the portico (3) as others scaled the walls on the northeast portico (6)–all areas marked “very important” to man–to enter the Senate wing (7). Security was at the same time clustered at the west front (2), as reinforcements were unable to be called. Only after crowds broke into the House chamber and the Speaker’s Gallery did law enforcement officers draw guns, hoping to disperse the rushing rioters at the buildings entrance (4).

But is the on-the-ground assessment of the movement of rioters only able to scratch the surface of the ways fears were incited and communicated across the masses of marchers who moved on, like Christian soldiers, animated by a sense of duty that had cascaded into different causes and chatgroups, constituencies of the movement Trump had triggered that were swirling under all those different flags–flags of Confederates, Gadsden flags of insurrectionists of 3%’ers and Oath Keepers or Second Amendment groups, and Trump 2020 banners that created a sense of a sea of red, American flags and the Thin Blue Line flags, popular among pro-police groups that won broader currency among White Supremacists after Black Lives Matter, emblems that placed those who flew them in the space Trump extolled the police as occupying “between civilization and total chaos. The uniting of these groups, in an echo of the “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville, assembled to fight forces of darkness.

“Visualizing a Riot,” Curbed

While these graphics of mapping the on-the-ground situation suggest the coordination of forcing entrance and taking the building, the hope was perhaps that the logic would unfold as a mob scene, able to be deflected from responsibility, but generalized an image of crowd violence that would “build momentum and pressure and the on the day change the hearts and minds of Congress, peoples who weren’t yet decided, or who saw everyone outside and said ‘I can’t be on the other side of that mob,’” as a right-wing activist who helped organize Stop the Steal claimed he planned with U.S. Representatives since late December, or since the electoral college met, when plans to interrupt congressional certification of the electoral votes began. As those who saw the seeds of dangerous crowd behavior, in mid-nineteenth century Paris, in prisons, brothels, and asylums as grounds for breeding criminal behavior, the proliferation of falsified revolutionary fantasies of seizing the state and interrupting processes of government to prevent loss of liberties proliferated online.

As much as map the routes of the entrance of what has been called a mob, we might pay more attentio to mapping how it was crowd-sourced. How did social media channel the Stop the Steal votes in multiple states by magnifying calls in chamber of accusations of illegitimacy to prepare for a populist putsch on January 6? To be sure, the manufacture of crowds asserting false populist claims began not only online, but in Stop the Steal rallies in individual states, as individual rallies for “stopping the steal” in Arizona, Philadelphia, and Virginia grew in November and December, as “President Trump’s path to victory appears to shrink,” according to national media group Nexstar.tv, leading Trump allies in Congress, as Arizona Representative Dr. Paul Gosar, to tweet a demand tha President-Elect Biden “should concede” on the eve of the certification of electoral votes in Congress, tagging the Stop the Steal movement. With Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, Arizona’s Andy Biggs he had planned since mid-December the massive rally on January 6 in DC.

As much as focus on the routes of an angry mob, filled with whites dressed in gang-like colors of passionate intensity, was there a possibility that tours of the Senate Chambers were given to members of such populist groups agitating for Second Amendment rights or Christian Nationalism the day before crowds assembled?

The anticipation was fanned on chatrooms and TheDonald amplified as they intersected with the script of historical re-enactment that Second Amendment defenders defended, far more than a mere First Amendment activity: the images of a threatened end of times asked viewers to envision the capitol in apocalyptic terms. Gun ammunition websites had explained that “a failed state is to post-modernity what the nation-state was to modernity,” and the incapability of our current states from “exercising authority over all of its nominal territory” was in fact a “hallmark of our age,” but the rights to overthrown government that denied rights, as was not doubted for gun owners, sanctioned the state of emergency to Save America. The “map” attributed to founding father Benjamin Franklin survives in the Gadsden Flags many held at the insurrection that they imagined would be the start of a new revolutionary war to defend local liberties, to defend the “sacred landslide election victory” Donald Trump had affirmed that morning by the “trial by combat” Rudy Giuliani had ominously foretold. The compact was able to be secured by “We the People,” and invited contingents to identify themselves by Gadsden flags that illustrated their commitment to the cause, diffused by the “3%ers,” a militia group of Patriots who since 2008 have vowed anti-government extremism, often based in Canada.

Engraved Map of Thirteen Colonies, Philadelphia Gazette, ed. Benjamin Franklin (1754)

There was something more than deep theater here: Trump, who had lost the election, was desperate, with a group of lawgivers who had decided to stall the confirmation of electoral votes that day for as long as necessary, saw the “Stop the Steal” rally as a final attempt to give those who remained in his base a sense of their agency as true patriots, attracting disparate groups from Oath Keepers to Q Anon to deep loyalists, to claim their new identity as domestic terrorists, convincing them that they might stage a new revolution, and be part of a truly historical “experience” that transcended them all, using the Capitol building as a prop in a final Reality TV show that exposed the falsity of the official popular vote by the sheer force of passionate intensity, in a last-minute attempt by which true patriots could move collectively to Stop the Steal definitively.

There was a sense of collective brainwashing at that Rally as they readied for combat, ready to have their adrenaline and fight or flight impulses energized as they had at other rallies in the past. But this time was different, and they had packed nooses, axe handles, hockey sticks, heavy duty zip ties and flexi cuffs, repurposed cattle prods disguised as flagpoles, molotov cocktails and other handmade armaments, and backpacks concealing ammunition: as improvised police, they arrived to take control of the congressional chambers. Despite the DIY nature of many improvised weapons at the riot at the Capitol, many counter-terrorism experts believe encouraged or animated as an inside job, if one that betrays the Commander in Chief’s fragile state of mind–an inside job that was allowed by the absence of any security cordon, the long-term denial of an electoral loss, and the false urgency of preventing a ratification of an electoral tally Trump willfully wrongly argued might be stopped. When the crowd entered, Nancy Pelosi had to place a personal phone call to Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, to secure the arrival of the National Guard, as other representatives turned to their offices to ask why more security forces were not on the way.

As for the fear of invasions, it was not that we had long mapped it wrong–it is just that the Deep State was within, and a lynching mob that went straight into the Capitol, without pausing for nicety, might fulfill the needs of the moment that allowed the disbanding of laws, and defense of liberty, fueled by escalating claims of voter fraud, and summoned to defend the system of elections that were sacred to the nation, in the “Second American Revolution” that the secessionist group announced was scheduled to start “on Jan 6,” to be noted on one’s calendar. The night before the rally assembled, Trump again promoted it on social media, reminding his base on Tuesday evening that “thousands would be pouring into Washington DC” to shake things up, if not shut down government for the specific aim of preventing the certification of electoral votes, the final “line in the sand” that the Trump administration seemed to see fit to draw.

7. We had told the barbarians were coming from the start of the Trump Administration, and it was reliably mapped from the southern border. This invasion of Washington, DC was not an overthrowing of empire, but rather the final chance to punish the Deep State, and change world history by securing and defending the liberties of the Gadsden Flag. It aimed at a major historical change, reversing the election by a false populist putsch for broadcast on global media. After all the attempts at audits, lawsuits, and recounts, the confrontational Schmittian Moment of a “state of exception” with the enemy began–to quote the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, who adopted a vision of politics structured by the dichotomy between “enemy” and “friend” that gained new traction for Trumpers as those who were ready to allow the certification of electors to proceed became clear, and the image of Mike Pence certifying the election grew–even if Joe Biden’s victory had been almost uniformly projected by news outlets in mid-November and had been officially confirmed by Electoral College votes in mid-December. At the heady moment when electors were certified at the Capitol building, the formal decorum of the roll call could be punctured in a final revelation of agency and anger, as the Vice President made it clear he would not reject the electoral college in the manner the President wanted, overturning the law in the way that Schmitt argued followed a “higher law” than parliamentary procedures.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

This depended on the continued loyalty of the crowd who attended the march to their leader. From his arrival, Trump readied himself behind the bullet-proof glass, steeling himself for the appropriate moment for stepping out of the law, into a State of Exception, adopting parliamentary decorum and shattering the reverence for the norm that was manifest in the largely ceremonial joint session of Congress, whose procedural function was going to be shattered, after the final objections for discarding Biden electors had been launched, but failed to delay the procedural vote whose outcome was now clear, and the time to create a crisis at the Capitol had arrived.  “I hope Vice President Pence has courage today,” prayed a marcher on the Ellipse, echoing the words Trump had just spoken and proceeding to Pennsylvania Avenue with the President, “and I hope any politician who thinks he has a future shows courage to stand up and do what’s right.” “I hope,” President Trump had just told the rally, “Mike Pence does the right thing, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election . . . ”

Was he readying himself for the advance of rioters on the parliamentary chambers? They had betrayed him. Unlike the representatives, these groups would advance in an incarnation of will of “We the People” groups would affirm the direct tie of people to sovereign, a principle of fascism, embodying Carl Schmitt’s notion of “present government” and the invoking of a higher law, in a negation of democracy, and a determining moment of rejecting norms akin to other revolutionary moments in world history: the impending certification of the vote constituted a need to reject norms, in the “decisionist” school of thought Schmitt nourished, and promised the rioters a sense of agency. For the moment of rushing the Capitol would incarnate a will able to substitute for elected representatives needing to be stopped, physically in the process of betraying the people’s will; at the very moment of the ceremony that would start the formal transition of executive power, the walls could be breached, one of the lucky groups of rioters could seize Pence and his family, Pelosi, Schumer, and Clyburn, and place their heads on pikes outside the Chambers, as Steve Bannon had boasted the heads of FBI Director Christopher Wray and public health officer Anthony Fauci be placed on picket as a public warning on both sides of the White House in Trump’s second term, following the precedent of Tudor England or medieval Italy, but that Bannon argued gained precedent as “how you won the Revolution” in November, 2020. The rumor that Trump had peevishly demanded to place the heads of any Republicans who supported his first impeachment on pikes suddenly seemed more credible than ever. If we had been sloppy in using the political term of fascism as a label for disparaging the anti-democratic, the political enthusiasm of broad-based mass organizations that were manifest at the Ellipse for what was announced as a rally and a protest march as senators and congressmen were meeting.

The rally assembled a convergence of mass movements to contest the certification of the democratic election. In contesting electoral certification fascism in America seemed to have arrived, as pro forma certification of electoral votes they refused to accept compelled the overthrow of the government that had now been complicit in falsifying the election. The need for accountability had led the crowd to assemble in defiance of the very dangers of a new international order that Schmitt had feared, promoting globalist agendas threatening the national legal order, calling for defiance.

The President enjoined the audinece to fight “big tech and the fake news” who stood for the internationalists who demoralize and control Americans by rigging the election. Mike Lindell was all too ready to blame China and Iran for the Democratic victory, although Trump seemed to have refrained from going there. Trump insisted on allegedly falsified election results on a variety of fronts, leaving it vaguely situated between miscounted the ballots counted by machines in other nations, resolving to “finally hold big tech accountable” for concealing his victory now that no other means than direct action remained. If the rioters have effectively suspended the speed of such transition to occur, or forestalled the formation of a new administration, they did so not only through the rehabilitation of an image of a confederate past or “Lost Cause,” but the precipitation of the very “State of Emergency” Trump clearly felt, and that some believed would precipitate a break from the political order and a leap into the state of exception that Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic feared in 2016, before the election and even start of his Presidency, suspending a constitutional transition of power, inaugurated, as it were, from the sovereign’s own articulation of the state of exception by virtue of the “extreme peril” that the transition of power poses to the state. As the rioters were encouraged to fight for Donald Trump’s second term and his survival, as if trapped in his narcissistic fantasies that blinded them to actual events.

They were not really invading the Capitol, but provoking the transition to a new stage of history that, despite earlier marches, needed to finally clear the bureaucratic obstructionism of the liberal state that might be poised, in future weeks, to dismantle the very Border Wall that had given America its sovereign integrity. The moment of breaching the citadel instead occasioned a release of vertiginous empowerment for those who we were waiting to preserve democracy and ensure the safety and security of the accuracy of the Presidential vote. Their arrival had been something we were long envisioning, and many indeed also knew was coming. They had, indeed, been planning to dash hopes for a peaceful transition and to save America, more than overthrow it, but the crisis of destabilization of national security was far greater and far more immediate: in order to fulfill plans for Making America Great, they had downloaded travel routes to DC and memes to promote the march from the Washington Monument, across the Ellipse, envisioning scenarios by which “we’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country.” The forum called “The Donald,” which had addressed “patriots” from 2015, if it migrated from Reddit until the excited agitation of the subreddit expressing solidarity with the President who had lost the election was removed, in June, 2020, after it began bubbling over with Donald Trump memes for the election, now migrated to alternative media, moved to TheDonald.win, had promised a virtual apocalypse of a shitstorm. Proud Boy Joey Biggs, well schooled to “stand down and stand by” by his leader, boasted on a video uploaded to Parler, “Watch out, January 6 — you ain’t gonna know who the fuck it is standing beside you!” with glee.

Envisioning the storming of the U.S. Congress and routes of breaking into all federal buildings on the day electoral votes were due to be tabulated, readers of the online forum known as “The Donald” ruminated about the prospect of bringing their own guns to D.C., even if doing so would be a crime in Washington DC, due to the capitol’s stricter and perhaps more reasonable gun laws. Rather than carrying guns on routes across borders, they would illustrate Second Amendment freedoms on the President’s Park, while it still “belonged” to President Trump. After all, many of the communities where they had found most meaning were disrupted, and this was their historical legacy: they had been invited to take back a seat of power for the final chapter of a long-promised draining of the swamp to prevent the stealing the vote–surrounding the Capitol in a burst of glory. Marchers who rebuffed police as they had been “invited by the President” reflected the crisis of authority that would be a culmination of the Trump Era, offering the last time to Make America Great Again, even by subverting gun control laws and destruction of federal property, as part of a new revolutionary tide.

They were, after all, invited in, even if they did a bit of breaking and entering, and invited to partake in a redemptive act–and could not be able to believe their good fortune as what seemed to be starting as they entered the Peoples’ Chambers, and the chant turned to another Trump Rally cry, “Stop the Steal!, Stop the Steal!” as they wondered what the officers were doing to contain their movement, and tried to film as much as possible of what was an almost orgiastic experience of iPhones, elevated banners, and a huge effort to enter the locked doors of the chambers, incredulous that they had gained access to the building and could break down the chambers’ doors, or jimmy them with a knife, pausing reflectively amidst everything to wish that they had only thought to bring boom boxes to play music that might match the drama of the occasion.

They had all, in the end, been invited to an event to which Donald was himself the master of ceremonies and host of a final melding of his career in public politics and DIY Reality TV.

Donald had, after all, started the machinery of the MAGA crowd on December 19, several days after the electoral college voted, as he begun to plan the massive rally that he might bring to Washington as a direct manifestation of democracy and patriotism that was a last attempt to “Save America” from Joe Biden. Trump let let his base know, as Rudy Giuliani was running a smokescreen by distracting the nation with claims of widespread fraud, to plan a “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” The President hectored the crowd about what really matters on social media, and Jack Dorsey must rue that tweet which had seemed so harmless when it was sent on Dec. 19, cryptically addressing his base, “Be there, will be wild!” as he sanctioned abandon at the biggest Stop the Steal rally ever at the Capitol, the one they’d all been waiting for. And he continued to hector the crowd angrily, mentioning the upstanding nature of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who had recently lost their elections, reminding them of the danger of granting a Democratic majority to the US Senate, reminding them of the need for only 11,779 votes–just 11,000 votes and 779–and the scale of the fraud that must have occurred, in a tormented world salad of obsessions that had so filled his mind in previous weeks.

Members of the Facebook group whose members were already visualizing secession read remarks urging them to put aside other business for this truly Manichaean battle, not waged at the polls: “If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism!” Is it enough that Facebook has barred Trump, now that the base has had time to migrate to Parler and Gab? Was it surprising that cellphones were the weapon of choice, as if they might unleash the revolution online that would cascade across the country in the same way that they were alerted and summoned to Washington, DC? In case any one had missed it, and was not planning to arrive, Republican Attorneys General both helped fund the “Stop the Steal” rally, and promoted it by robocalls that rallied the troops with the heady news “At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” in a rally at the Ellipse in President’s Park, with doors opening at 7 AM, . . . we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal!” After disclosing the plans of action, the robocall concluded with the reassurance “We are hoping Patriots like you will join us to continue the fight to protect the integrity of our elections,” nothing its sponsorship by the “Rule of Law Defense Fund,” a group to which anyone reasonable Republican would want to belong. 

 Rule of Law Defence Fund and other Groups sponsoring March to Save America

The battle seemed truly world changing, and a moment of history where the opportunities for martyrdom might abound, as well as true heroism, a new historical age beginning, or a sun kept from setting, seen with the sudden clarity of newfound depth of field as a contest of civilizations in which they could partake.

Albrecht Altdorfer, Battle of Alexander at Issus [Alexanderschlacht] (1529)

The gap in understanding in the nation was captured by the Newspaper of Record. To capture the Capitol Siege underground journalist Elijah Schaffer captured by following the crowd into the chamber offices, the riots were described for all who were not there to witness as anti-climactic in the absence of violence, even after the huge rush of adrenaline breaching the walls of the Capitol building met. The riots were not an invasion or desecration of a house of government, but oddly unplanned as those who waited to incapacitate the officers of the Deep State in their tracks may have realized they had no plans–or been so overcome with the ease of entering the Capitol building where they found such limited resistance until the arrival of Police from Washington, D.C., that they abandoned all plans for using subterranean corridors to plant explosives and aimed to rush the chambers of Congress directly.

8. The New York Times did the nation a deep disservice in describing a tragedy as low-level comedy. The Times characterized the arrival of rioters at the Capitol who had rushed suspiciously few number of capitol building police to enter the inner sanctum of power as a moment as awe-struck protestors per the newspaper of record. After breaching the walls, they paused, as if utterly at a loss that seemed more giddy than violent, filled with awe rather than breaking all sense of order and respect for lawfulness: “inside, there was a strange mix of confusion and excitement, and the almost lack of police presence in the beginning amplified the feeling of lawlessness” as an extreme game which they had only tried to visualize in the past unfolded. Struck by the grandeur that comes from not having visited museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was time for selfies. “They gawked at the place of wealth and beauty, adorned with art and marble, a domain of the powerful,” as if it was all wrongfully procured by their tax dollars, feeling for a moment, in those four hours of insurrection that left five dead, “for a short while on Wednesday afternoon, [they] were in control . . . [and] could not be ignored.” The odd assortment of DIY equipment, zip ties to take prisoners, and even the occasional noose suggests something much more terrifying was at hand as the chambers were vandalized.

But if this was a tragedy of national proportions, it was also a farce, a battle that was enacted in costume, and with imaginary weapons. The Washington police who arrived rightly treated them as folks who were possibly dangerous, but could be most sensibly escorted out of the building after ensuring that they were not laying the sort of pipe bombs that had arrived, that very day, at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee alike, by domestic terrorists who the administration may well have facilitated, in a marriage of convenience that demands broad investigation.

Was this only for four hours, or was this a declension of how the government was to be understood in post-Trump America, where the promise of democracy was only about breaking walls? After all, this would be the last time in a while that they would be invited in. There was a sense of the declension of history in the member of the mob that entered the Capitol posing with loot from the Speaker of the House, before a picture of the surrender of General Burgoyne who attempts to present his sword to General Horatio Lloyd Gates, Adjutant General to the Continental Army,–

Protesters enter the US capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/AFP/Getty

–and the landscape scene of the honor of U.S. Military was a sharp contrast to the looter who mugged for the photographer Win McNamee: a story of the declension of patriotism, perhaps. The young Floridian father who was leaving the Rotunda with the Speakeer’s podium had devoted hours to social media alternately mocking Black Lives Matter and defending pro-Life groups. He church-going Baptist who was also animated about attacking abortion rights shared his mounting anticipation at being part of the March, filling his Facebook feed with images chronicling his itinerary to Washington, DC, to stall confirmation of electoral votes, and taking the speaker’s podium was sort of doing his part.

Back at the real American Revolution, after General Gates had defeated the British forces at Saratoga, he graciously showed his honor to posterity by offering Burgoyne hospitality and refreshment in his battle tent, as a motley band of American soldiers of disparate rank looked on to witness the former British soldier’s decorum, in which he seemed to show himself forever the gentleman, burnishing his reputation despite rumors of his participation in a conspiracy to take General Washington’s place at the charge of the revolutionary army. The historical painting of the former British soldiers was planned by John Trumbull for a series of historical canvasses that would serve to “meditate seriously the subjects of national history, of events of the Revolution,” including Bunker’s Hill, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown, based on local landscape studies.

John Trumbull, Surrender of General Burgoyne (1826)

The 1777 Battle of Saratoga that was fought by the white men who joined the Revolutionary Army were being led by a man accused of having sought to replace Washington, and it was fitting that this picture was the background of a misguided attempt to disrupt the completion of electoral process if not stage a coup as an inside job. The scene was a model of America First.

Blurred in the background of the widely shared news photo of the man participating in the mob that rushed the Capitol building to obstruct the lawful transmission of power, an iconic image of the Siege of the Capitol, is perhaps a reminder of the plaintive nature of the frayed bonds of government to people that led some to enter the chambers of members of the U.S. Congress. This time, they arrived to pry open locked doors that had failed to represent the common will, and would break into congressional offices to liberate information, seeking to steal unlocked “open” laptops, private property they eagerly removed from the capitol building to scour for evidence of corruption which they had hoped to cleanse the nation.

One rioter boasted on social media he had found a mine of needed information on Pelosi’s laptop as if its seizure provided a moment of clarity: it revealed in transparent ways “all facets of this complex Election Theft using Vatican Bank to give Obama CIA 14 pallets of $400 million cash to Leonardo!!” at military bases in Texas. Luckily, Trump was on his way to arrive in Texas, that bastion of liberty, to decode the conspiracy that the man who stole the laptop would present to him, on his final lap of victory of a long campaign. Another stormer of the Capitol, citizen journalist Elijah Schaffer of BlazeTV, channeled the coursing adrenaline flowing through everyone’s veins who illegally entered the government building, shocked at the vertigo of having penetrated the Capitol building, and detailed the pleasure of collective cosplay before he was banned from Facebook and Instagram: “I am inside Nancy Pelosi’s office with thousands of revolutionaries who have stormed the building. To put into perspective how quickly staff evacuated, emails are still on the screen along side a federal alert warning members of the current revolution.”

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Filed under Capitol Riots, Donald Trump, Red States vs. Blue States, Secession, social media

A Socially Distanced Franchise?

While I was phone banking in Texas, Nevada, and other states in months before the 2020 election, I fielded a surprising number of questions of access to absentee ballots and mail-in voting, as well as being assured by many voters that they had refrained from mailing in ballots, and were planning to drop their ballots off directly in polling stations, or brave the lines, to ensure their votes counted. I’d like to think they did. (The woman I reached in Texas who had moved from Nevada and was awaiting an absentee ballot to arrive two days before the election, past the deadline of registering in Texas, may have not.) Even as we advance through “Trump’s final days of rage and denial,” and charges of fraudulence and the robbery of red states from the Grand Old Party’s self-appointed King haunt public White House pronouncements and social media posts, the electoral map that provide the formal reduction of how votes were tallied is cast as a contested ground, questioned on the basis of voting machines, absentee ballots, and socially distanced voting practices, as if these inherently distance the franchise and undermine democratic practice. Donald Trump invites the nation to squint at the map, examine its mediated nature and instability, querying the resolution of any election as, shockingly, only a handful of congressional Republicans admit he lost a month after voters cast seven million votes for his opponent, whose victory 88% of Republicans in Congress refuse to acknowledge.

Unlike other elections, for a month after Election Day–November 3, 2020–the nation waited in eery limbo, uncertain about the legitimacy of the election so that even by December 2, CNN was projecting victors in several “swing” states. Although the New York Times and AP projected the conclusion of the election on paper, announcing late-arriving news of electoral victory almost a full week after Election Day, seeking to invest a sense of conclusion in a protracted debates–if oddly channeling “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

New York Times, November 8, 2020

The inset map still indicated three states still “not called.” But the new President Elect appeared boosted by the classic alliance of Democratic voters that Donald Trump saw as unlikely, and had failed to align in 2016.

Months after Election Day, CNN was still “projecting” Biden’s surpassing the electoral vote threshold of 270, shifting two midwestern and one southern state to the Democratic column, with Arizona: the delay of verification in a range of legal gambits still being followed by the Trump campaign, which raised over $170 million to press its case for recounts, investigations into allegations voter fraud through the Save America PAC, disorientingly stubbornly refusing to admit the validity of the electoral map, and even repeating, into December, hopes that  an opening for a Trump victory materialize if one state select electors, to reassemble the swath of red that flooded the national map back in 2015 as if playing a puzzle: “If we win Georgia, everything falls in place!” The electoral map was something of an idol of the Republican Party, as Donald Trump’s hopes for electoral victory faded, but refused to recede into mid-December.

CNN, December 2 2020

Weeks after Election Day, we entered into a weirdly protracted attempt to game the electoral map, long after the initial tallying of votes had ceased. A range of recounts, hand-counts, investigations of absentee ballots and even querying of the legitimacy of voting machines have been launched to challenge the representational validity of the electoral map in ways that should give us pause for how it aimed to undermine the representational value of the voting practices. In querying the functions of the map as representation–by querying the tabulation of votes that comprise the electoral map–Trump has stoked tensions in representational democracy. With unsettling abandon, Trump stoked national tensions by refusing to acknowledge he did not win the election, as if determined to break with Presidential decorum for a final time, as if seeking to leave a legacy of disruption in his wake.

To be sure, gaming the electoral college has emerged as a recognized campaign strategy in 2020, increasingly distancing the franchise of the nation, as campaigns focussed with assiduity on the prospect not of “swing state” voters as in the past, but in flipping or holding a slate of states, that left the electoral map rendered as a sort of jigsaw puzzle that would add up to 270 votes from the electoral college, as the Wall Street Journal reminded us by mapping the Republican “game plan” that Donald Trump long knew he faced for holding onto tot the states where often slim majorities put him in office, as Democrats aimed to flip states to their column: the rhetoric of “gaming” the map to create the victorious outcome was echoed in the news cycle,–and not only in the Journal–in ways that seemed to have dedicated the distribution of public rallies that Donald Trump held long before announcing his candidacy officially, almost as soon as he entered office, in an attempt to solidify the bonds of the red expanse he celebrated as America’s heartland with his political charisma.

If Trump may have wished he didn’t take the southern states so much for granted, he had targeted Pennsylvania, Florida, and Montana–as well as Arizona and Nevada–by staging rallies, in those pre-COVID years, as if to shore up his support as if investing in the electoral votes of 2020.

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/18/733505037/trump-set-to-officially-launch-reelection-but-hasnt-he-been-running-all-along

If that map from National Public Radio, based Cook’s Political Report and the White House, only takes us through 2019, the campaign stops of Biden and Trump show a density to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina that suggest the depths of commitment to the gaming of the electoral map, and a deep battle in Arizona between the population centers in Phoenix and its suburbs and more rural regions.

The metaphor of “gaming” the map was hard to stop, and its logic seems to have inevitably led to the endless endgame that may result in clogging the nation’s courts with suits about the circumstances of mail-in voting in multiple states. Trump’s insistence in claiming the election not “over,” as if unfamiliar with someone else setting the parameters for television attention, speechless at the unfolding of a narrative shattering conviction of his inability to lose–that “in the end, I always win“–is not only a deepest reluctance to admit losing.

The logic of the gaming of the electoral map clearly has him and his campaign in its sway. The deeply personal sense of the election as a referendum on him and his family may have been rooted in a sense o the legal difficulties that his loss might pose: among the many emails that were sent to his base, pleading for campaign donations to the “Save America” PAC, which seemed the last line of defense to Make America Great Again,” supporters were begged to do their part in “DEFENDING THE ELECTION” and hope they hadn’t “ignored Team Trump, Eric, Lara, Don, the Vice President AND you’ve even ignored the President of the United States” given how much was on the line. The sense of impending alarm reminds us of the confidence that Trump lodged in preserving the red electoral map of 2016, a confidence that seemed almost born from his ability tot game the electoral map yet again, and overcome the polls even after they pollsters had tried to recalibrate their predictive strategies and demographic parsing of the body politic.

1. The very close margins voting margins suggest we narrowly escaped an alternative history of a second Trump term, and can explain the tenacious grip that Trump seems to have had on an alternative outcome, an outcome that he has tried to game in multiple ways and strategies that eerily echoes with the strategies of gaming the electoral map that seems to have occurred through the orchestration of telling postal delays, delayed returns of absentee ballots, and the strategic gaming of the distribution of a distanced franchise. It forces us to contemplate the counterfactual history of the far darker reality of a scenario where his expectations came true. Indeed, it should make us consider the closeness of overturning democracy. In was as if the reporting of the timestamped electoral map of Saturday, November 7 that was an inset of the Times only encouraged resistance to admitting the failure of Trump to preserve the “red swath” of 2016 across what coastal elites long bracketed as “flyover country,” where the effects of economic recession had never stopped.

New York Times, November 8 2020, “Results as of Saturday at 10:30 Eastern/ Map Shows Maine and Nebraska statewide vote

It had almost happened. In Trump’s White House, a boisterous watch party was underway, crowded with FOX anchors, watching the big screen that FOX results showed to the audience, anticipating the reality of a second Trump term. But all of a sudden, Trump was so incredulous he refused to admit seeing Arizona called at 11:20 as a Biden victory, shouting to no one in particular, “Get that result changed!” Hoping to calm her triggered boss, who must have been catapulted into alternate scenarios of having to leave the White House where he had expected to encamp, former FOX employee Hope Hicks fretted about the newsfeed.

Could the map be changed? Trump was frustrated at his in ability to manipulate the news, and already apprehensive at what endgame was in store. At this point, it seems, Trump’s every-ready servile son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hurriedly placed a direct call to Rupert Murdoch to rectify the call, assuring better data would arrive from Arizona’s COVID-denying governor, Doug Ducey (R), to restore the state’s redness on the electoral map, in desperate hopes of jerry-rigging his electoral fortunes. Back in 2016, Trump had indeed only won Arizona by the narrowest of margins–by about half of the margin by which Romney won in 2012–and only third-party candidates’ popularity concealed that Democrats boosted margins of victory in precincts beyond Republicans, flipping seventy precincts to their column–perhaps as Maricopa County featured a PAC that attracted millions of dollars to defeating Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid to consolidate an anti-immigrant agenda.

Trump quickly recognized the danger a flipped state posed to hopes for another red swath, as the contestation over the state that he had hoped to pry from the Democratic map was a poor omen of the election, and needed to be stayed.

In 2017, Trump was so enamored of the expanse of his electoral victory to given paper copies to White House visitors–until he framed a version for the West Wing, five months after the election. And if the state is visibly fragmented in an identical mosaic in the map that Trump framed in the White House, the brilliant red of nearby Nevada and bright red diagonal suggest the state was more firmly in Republican hands than we might remember. After hoping that The Washington Post might celebrate his hundredth day in office by featuring the “impressive” the electoral map on its front page, his pride in the map led it framed the map in the West Wing, a reporter from One America News Network obligingly showed.

This alternate world of electoral victory created what must have been a prominent counter-factual map that had dominated the Trump team’s plans for victory in 2020. The White House watch party must have been haunted by the very same map of which Trump was so proud.

Trey Yingst (ONN), May 11, 2017/Twitter
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Filed under 2020 election, data visualization, Donald Trump, electoral maps, Presidential Elections

Narratives, Agency, & Electoral Maps

The entry of the data visualizations into the pitched narrative of the Presidential election is not new. If thought to begin in the collective unfolding of the election-night drama on television screens, as the casting of ballots long understood as a collective action of union has prompted a narrative of division, CNN offers a new model to personally intervene on one’s iPhone or android, as if to offer the means to ramp up agency on social media, inviting users to tap on one’s personal screen to build-your-own electoral map, perhaps to assuage one’s heightened anxiety, granting the illusion to allow yourself for entering your own alternative future. Echoing the algorithmic thinking of tallying “pathways to victory” we’d been following to exist the Trump Era with increased desperation, courtesy FiveThirtyEight and others, we imagined scenarios of the electoral constellation that might prepare for the dawning of something like a new age.

We’ve rarely had so divisive a President as Donald Trump, who has sought to divide the country by race, region, religion, and income, and the hopes for emerging with a new vision of the union are slim–making the amount of weight and meaning that rests on the map appear greater than ever. How it would spin out was unclear, but the red block that Trump had pulled to the considerable surprise of all political pundits was promised to be able to be chipped away at in multiple ways, sketched by so many algorithmic story maps as “paths to victory.” The array of paths each candidate faced–though we focussed on Biden’s range of options and winced at those of Trump–could be organized in what seems a rehearsal for the glossing of possible eventualities, as multiple data visualizations that led to alternative futures like so many forking roads out of a dark, dark wood.

The hope to find coherence in the map seems even greater than ever, as if it might finally purge the divides of the last four to six years. There was a grim sense of being defeated by the electoral map during the 2016 and 2020 election, with the skewing of electoral votes to low-density rural states–skewed further by the increasing distance at which those local problems appear from Washington, DC. The configuration of the electors, as the configuration of the federal representative government, are compromised by giving more pull to residents of many rural states and creating a red block that one can only hope to chip away at in the age of coronavirus either by online donations, phone-banking, or, at this late stage, by imagining alternative futures, and playing around with the map to see how the post-election endgame will play.

This election, sequestered behind our walls, often having already cast our ballot, the parlor game of playing with the CNN interactive graphics may come as a relief offering an interactive model for adjusting and tweaking the electoral map, playing out alternative scenarios whose conclusion and potential endgames we can indulge ourselves and to an extent confront our fears in this most anxiety-producing of elections by imagining alternative scenarios playing out, using a tentative set of color choices, more familiar from polls than television, to suggest the possible outcomes of the elections as we try to assemble the final tabulations of the vote, and the disputes that may arrive in each locality about margins of victory this time round, hoping to heal the abrupt chromatic divide still huring from 2016, using polls’ take on “battleground” states to game outcomes of potential electoral maps.

Polls and Potential Electoral Distribution of 2020, CNN

The above (imagined) electoral map would be the narrowest of Democratic victories, but affirm some deep divides across the nation from 2016, but might be arrived at only after recounts and disputes. The fantasy map suggests not only the open-ended nature of the vote this year, where the large number of absentee ballots tabulated during the pandemic poses problem of tabulation exacerbated by local restrictions on when the tally of votes is able to begin.

But cognitively trained as we were over the previous months–conditioned?–to entertain multiple contingencies of electoral paths “to victory” in the ecosystem of data visualizations, schooled by the acumen of considering “paths to victory” entertained by Nate Silver, the CNN maps offered not only a parlor game, but a rehearsal for glossing electoral configurations based that might emerge on November 3, 2020, should we be forced to entertain multiple “pathways to victory” that might emerge–or, as it happened, remain–as the evening proceeded. They cued possible narrative scripts.

In retrospect, of course, we could barely imagine an electoral map that was so delicately balanced on tenterhooks. The dramatic unfolding of multiple “roads to 270” suggested a possibility to reclaim the dominant metaphors from sports, pace Silver, to a narrative of democracy. Although some petulantly suggested that the mail-in ballot was more than a bummer but a trap, presenting more possibilities of limiting votes and discarding ballots, by making us more dependent on mail delivery and USPS, the expectations for vote-counting that were a byproducts of the COVID era may well have furthered democratic discourse, and the focus of the voting drive, as well as affirming the democratic centrality of the mail: as much as provide a route for the current joyless hack of a Postmaster General to intervene in the expression public will, the narrative of tabulating every vote and creating a true paper record was an unexpected reform of the tally of votes and voting process, as tabulation foregrounded political participation as a schooling in votes nowhere more evident than in the unexpected drama of the slowing down of the tabulation of votes and arrival of data into the electoral map provided an unexpected lesson of democracy.

Electoral Map as Ballots Tallied in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania

We expected little conclusiveness in the electoral map on election night, even into the wee hours, unlike the intense drama of earlier years. The election will continue even after the counts are finalized in each state, as it is bound to be contested in perhaps ongoing and painful ways, if it proceeds not only to polling places but up through the federal courts, as new complaints about the validity of votes are posed by the Republican Party. The hope to restrict the franchise in any way possible plays to fears not only of aliens who are exercising a vote, but a new array of restrictions on the franchise.

2020 Electoral Projection of Nate Silver, Election Day 2020

And we could fear an endgame destined to subvert the narrative drama once located only on the electoral map, its narrative unhinged from the map, pursued in cases that debate the ways votes were tallied, compiled, tabulated beyond November 3. Nate Silver’s map as not purely prognostic. If it reinforces the deeply divided nation fractured on broad-based faults of terrifyingly portentous contiguity, it suggests a painful endgame narrative, as court cases were pressed, recounts demanded, and charges of illegal voting launched in the face of attempts to aggregate votes from mail-in ballots in states predicted to “go blue.” The possibility of such “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” was not at all appealing.

Even if static, the alternative electoral maps staged a sort of drama of hypotheticals that anticipated the dangers of deep dissatisfaction across the nation. There is a deep fear that if no souther state “flip blue,” even a truly “tenuous win” might be almost pyrrhic. The narrative is grim, if its end result may have positive elements. Is its biggest impact not in delivering a President–the outcome of the electoral system–but, this year, it is also a map of the painful endgame of litigating the vote, even if the nation is haunted by a Mason-Dixon latitudinal divide among electors which most of the nation valiantly hoped we somehow might soon put behind us.

The narrative is displaced from the election. While Nate Silver notoriously went wrong in prognosticating 2016, he reminds us, in case we forgot, “Trump didn’t win the last election by that much.” This year the true terrifying story may well be the aftermath, and the difficulty to call the election, and what this means for the nation–which is a narrative that one may only gloss from the map, which threatens not to materialize in any trustworthy way until all the votes are counted–and all legal battles around their tabulation are hopefully resolved. But the most despicable sort of battles about VOTER ID, and the deeply divisive questions of the legitimacy of who could cast a ballot, were immersed in the heady waters of debates about immigration, seemed game for inclusion, as eighteen states now require VOTER ID, in ways that pose broad risks for disenfranchisement that local administration of elections threaten to perpetuate, after the refusal to amend the historic Voting Rights Act whose teeth were removed.

As other nations puzzle over the arcane methods for employing an electoral college that dilutes the actual popular vote that is distributed among apparently aristocratic holdovers of electors, but is in fact far closer to an ideal model citizenry of those honorable to place nation first over sectarian interests, the passionate intensity of division made such ideals seem destined for planned obsolescence, for reasons maybe not far removed from media technologies.

The liberating nature we find in designing our own DIY electoral maps on our peripherals offer more than a fun exercise in alternative realities in a national compact; playing with the maps are far more effective and engaged than most other forms of narcotics for assuaging anxiety, and do lower blood pressure. There was some pleasant chutpah to seeing Phillipe Reines put out his own prediction of an overwhelming Biden electoral victory that kept Trump below 200 electors, on November 2 2020, with a prescience reveals that the narrative was indeed there to be unpacked.

https://twitter.com/PhilippeReines/status/1323473321107857408

There was a sense of liberation in the ability to easily enter alternate futures, thanks to CNN graphics team and your smart phone, of greater national harmony–if the possibility of harmony seems in many places pretty illusory or lost, across the red dust bowl of arid lands Great Plains, echoing John Wesley Powell’s “lands of the arid region,” now only starting to be imagined to be rendered other than red, and Appalachia. This alienated “forgotten” American persists even in the DYI electoral map that not based on tabulations of votes. But such a map seems telling: tapping states to flip their votes invest a sense of agency in our ability to make possible predictions, even more important than the vote: we have ingested so many polls in news maps, there is something liberating in playing with the electoral map ourselves, gaming multiple scenarios, fidgeting with the map as an outlet for nervous energy as we wonder how those polls will translate to an electoral map,–

Fantasy Electoral Map, Built on CNN

–and how those states will add up to produce the only numeric legend the will really in the end count.

If we once relied on television pundits to explain the translation of the “raw” popular vote and the possibility of a win of electoral victory without a popular vote victory–then a deeply doubted as an eventuality–in describing the contest for “the percentage of the republican vote” as an obscure statistical construct. When even in the 1980 election, pundits bemoaned this “long electoral season,” the “magic map”

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President of Some?

Donald Trump has presented a new notion of the Presidency to the United States: the open claim to be President of only some of the nation, and to have that model of Presidential rule become the standard for political decisions. This policy was not Trump’s own decision: the retreat from any interest in bipartisan governance that had been the basis for American politics for two hundred years began in the pitched nature of pointed acrimony in the U.S. Senate that erased the decorum and respect among different interests in a model of collective action for over two centuries.

Already by 2011, the nation divided into spectral schema suggesting slight chance of local bipartisan governance, disguising often narrow margins of political victory, despite eighteen states where Republicans controlled both the legislature and governor’s mansion in 2011, some eighteen were split.

Republican States, 2011

While the pitched fervor of some of our national divisions bears the imprint of faith-based movements, they are replicated in the pointillistic logic of the electoral plans of REDMAP–a concerted attempt of regional redistricting. For the reconfiguration of electoral districts has staked out a problem of governance as a strategy of victory that would erode the project of governance, by privileging “states” as an amassing of electoral votes,– rather than positing the coherence of the interests of the nation as a whole. The concept of governance seems fragmented, bolstered by regionalism, states rights discourse, and the cruel new isolationism of go-it-aloneism. In ways recast in the 2020 election as a choice between “darkness” and “light” of truly terrifyingly Manichean proportions, evoking near-apocalyptic scenarios to recast public debate as issues of identitarian self-interest. The divide of states on the 2000 electoral map, which didn’t change much over eight years, enshrined a blue versus red state logic, dovetailing with a deeper plan of retaining electoral control. This was the map was parsed in the seventh season of The West Wing, in 2006, at a time when the television newscasters needed to remind their audience states shaded blue sent electors to vote for Democrat Matt Santos (modeled in 2004 on then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama, who just delivered the nominating speech at another convention), red ones for his Republic opponent, Arnie Vinick–as Campaign Director colored a dry erase board red and blue as results were announced.

The West Wing, “Election Night” (April 2006)

Obama provided a model for Santos as a candidate not defined by race, pivoting from race to underlying unity among red and blue states, but the restate-blue state divide was militarized. And when Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, the Republican state legislators in Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio adopted the idea of ensuring Republican victories by rigging the Electoral College according to the congressional districts that they had redesigned, rather than in bulk, in the hopes to skew the distribution of electors by the congressional districts they had guaranteed would be firmly red, having designed districts that even in what were considered “blue” states had “red” legislatures. m so that districts would be assured that they would not be “outvoted” by urban metro areas would dictate a future.

This gave rise to the logic that asserted the “rural” non-metro regions should reclaim a place at the table by recrafting representational politics to give new meaning to those who increasingly feared–or felt–that their vote just didn’t count but felt that their futures on the line. By redrawing districts, legislatures magnify rural interests outside large metro areas, offering a logic magnifying their political representation through congressional districts as power bases and political divides: not by blue and red states, but by a red republic, in need of its voice. The plan to separate electoral votes from the popular vote can only work by recasting electoral districts on party-skewed lines, independent of any geographic shape save benefitting one party, at the expense of another, at violence to the republic. It was echoed in a tactic of political obstructionism that provided the logic for “red” areas to be increasingly opposed to current governmental policy in the Obama administration.

Republican-Majority Electoral Districts of America, 2013

The reduction of debate between parties may have begun on a local level, but metastasized nationally in legislative maps. The rationale of legislative bodies has shifted on local levels from a representational logic of governance to a pitched battle–as only one party wields legislative power in all but one state in the union.

The Current Partisan Power Play (2019)

The disorienting nature of an overdetermined power play means that there is not much discussion or debate in the local states, or legislative bodies, but a sectarian consolidation of demographic identity as destiny.

The division of parties cast “red” and “blue” as forms of governance that essentialize the color-choices made in news maps as almost existential terms. Indeed, the increased casting of the 2020 Presidential election as a battle between “light” and “dark” was gained distinctly pocalyptic undertones fit for the age of the Coronavirus, mapping the current elections as a referendum of the “future of American democracy” or, for President Trump, a “bright future” and “dark future” whose oppositional terms echo a religious eschatology. Was it any coincidence that the separatist blood-stained banner of the Confederacy reappeared at Trump campaign rallies in 2016, jumping the logic of a chromatic divide into opposing visions that could be understood as a nation divided in war?

Brandon Partin, of Deland, Fla., at 2016 Trump rally in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As candidates proclaim themselves to constituents as an “ally of light, not darkness,” the choice of the election has turned on the complexion of the nation’s political future in ways that concretize the removal of maps of support of political parties as an existential struggle for the nation’s soul, removed from questions of political representation. The eery blocks of political division were apparent in the long led-up to the election, as the fracture lines in the nation were only less apparent because of increasing tension as to which way the highly colored states in play would slide, and how the electoral prism would mediate the popular vote.

The notion that a specter of socialism haunts America, to be promoted by the Democratic Party, is the conclusion to a logic of deeply sectarian politics of belonging.

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The New Cold Warrior in the Triangle of Terror

When addressing the new Latin American policy in Miami’s Freedom Tower in late 2018, the new National Security Advisor John Bolton targeted Nicaragua and Venezuela in a striking geographic metaphor. He offered a new metaphor for described the dangers of a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua,” in November 1, 2018, demonizing Latin America and the island of Cuba in terms that suggested possible plans for “taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty and basic human decency in our region.” As if to displace attention from the Northern Triangle from which so many asylum seekers have fled to the United States in recent years, including unaccompanied minors, and where civil society is overwhelmed by drug trafficking, gang violence, and police corruption, the new triangle Bolton seeks to shift attention is a target.

So it may have been no surprise that when attacking the legitimacy of Socialist Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela by imposing expansive sanctions ton Venezuelan oil and gas, Bolton seemed to tip the cards of power. Upping the ante from defining the Socialist regime of Venezuela as an apex in a triangle, in previous saber-rattling that committed the United States to striking a blow at a “triangle of terror” tied to the Socialist heritage of Hugo Chavez and to Raúl Castro, Bolton “appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad” to reposition military troops to Venezuela’s border, standing before a global map the divided the globe in no uncertain terms, as if announcing a new configuration of power in his role as National Security Advisor for Donald J. Trump. The “triangle of terror” Bolton warned of in November 2018 seemed to essentialize the fundamentally dangerous notion a Latin American region ripe for instability. But it may have also been sheer coincidence that alliterative force of a rather pointless if powerful polygon was a powerful cartographic conjuring of a strategy of national defense, not located in the Northern Triangle, or the former Triangle of Terror where ISIS cultivated troops, but a new borderless triangle of even allegedly even greater danger–a triangle with a rich political genealogy from the Cold War.

Bolton’s adoption of the rare tired stock term of a triangle seemed to shift attention from the other Triangle of Terror, located when it was most recently in the news on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the very site from which negotiations have been announced to start to withdraw American troops. It may have been sheer coincidence, but Bolton seemed to shift attention from a triangle in the Middle East where American troops had been long stationed and that had been a hide-out of Osama bin Laden and Taliban fighters, as if by the powerful abilities of the friction-free nature of GPS–

–to a triangle that was closer to America’s own sphere of influence from the triangle of Peshawar, Quetta, and Kabul, from which the US was busy extricating itself. Bolton’s November speech was quickly taken, one might remember, as defining the intent of team Trump in relation to focus on a new Axis of Evil, adopting a hard line in Central America as sphere ripe for intervention–“This is not a time to look away. It’s a time to increase pressure, not reduce it,” Bolton announced–and the recent exercise of economic muscle to bolster American refusal to recognize the self-declared electoral victory of Nicolás Maduro, and to declare the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó as President of the nation, demanded a map to concretize the global geopolitical stakes that Bolton and Trump were ready to commit to Venezuela, although the map before with Bolton spoke revealed few of the roots for the focus on this new Triangle, but rooted confrontation with Maduro’s claims to legitimacy in the defense of democratic liberties.

Bolton cast the region as a geopolitical battleground for American interests in stark and rhetorically powerful alliterative terms. He openly opposed the United States to a “Troika of Tyranny”–a term that lexically hinted at a vehicle driven by Russia, but wasn’t the 2016 Presidential election–and almost openly evoked the chills or breezes of a new Cold War, with its division of the world to spheres of recognizing two possible Presidents in Venezuela in ways that expanded an electoral map of one nation to spheres of geopolitical influence–if not alliances–expanding in bizarre terms an electoral map to the world to show that it had global consequences–as if global power dynamics were as simple as an electoral map.

The infographic seems to advertise how much “other countries” had at stake in who was Venezuelan President, keeping mum as to why they did. It helped that Bolton looked the part of an inveterate Cold Warrior. And one could not but recall the openly proprietorial terms of last November, when he announced “Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not disproportionately profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses” but pointedly attacked Venezuela by imposing sanctions on its gold, and attacking the “triangle of terror” or “troika of tyranny” perhaps metaphorically tied to a Bermuda Triangle, redolent with weirdly alchemical associations of unknown dangers near islands on the high seas–

–as if one could pretend that the declaration was about the rocky shoals of securing needed democratic reform and less to do with oil revenues and resources, as with the defense of democracy.

The transposition of the polygon of a triangle from Afghanistan to the hemisphere was close to a notion of hemispheric dominance, if it also turned attention from a long war in Afghanistan to a closer, seemingly more surgical, winnable military confrontation. The map affirmed the need for using economic muscle by seizing income from oil as a way to undermined as a Socialist dictator, however, whose socialist government was corrupt and based on cronyism, linked in the global map to authoritarian governments in Turkey, China, Russia, and Iran, and their allies, linking an argument of hemispheric dominance to broad geopolitical warning of the consequences of failing to recognize Guaidó as being Venezuela’s legitimate President in American eyes.

Bolton Declares Sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil and gas company at White House Press Briefing/january 28, 2019
Evan Vucci/AP

Maps often lie, as do infographics: but the international magnification of the lack of legitimacy Bolton had been preparing to declare for some time came not only with trappings of objectivity, but with a not so coded message, that might be the true legend of the global divisions in the infographic, and was the major social media take away: a proposed movement of US troops whose removal from the Syrian and Afghan military theaters was in the process of being negotiated by the Secretary of State: the image, unintentional or not, immediately raised fears and concerns about American military plans and sent a shudder in global media.

While it may have been sheer coincidence that the metaphorical migration of the triangle of terror from one theater of global confrontation to the next was occurring in Bolton’s rhetoric and was mirrored in the imagined frictionless switch in deployment of soldiers in the legal pad Bolton displayed to television cameras–

NSA Advisor Bolton’s Yellow Pad

The mobility of the metaphor and the military seemed to echo the new logic of the Universal Transverse Mercator map, where territorial boundaries and sovereignty have far less prominence than specific sites of dispersed geographic location, and imagined transfers of military power could be a frictionless motion in space.

The infographic provided a sort of parallel world carved up and divided by entrenched political interests but whose alliances helped sovereign boundaries to recede similarly. The global two-color map almost made it difficult to understand that he addressed Venezuela–the topic of his Press Briefing in January, 2019–save by the legend identifying red as “Maduro” and blue as “Guaidó”, elevating each man who had claimed the presidency as holding a global constituency, and dividing the globe to magnifying the geopolitical centrality of the Venezuelan election. In the early February State of the Union, Donald Trump elevated–behind the rubric “Abortion”–the pressing concern of Venezuela immediately after “National Security” and “North Korea,” in ways that similarly monumentalized the question of recognition of the future president of the nation, under the rubric of “never apologize for advancing America’s interest, moved from the Border to “National Security” and withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a historic arms control accord of forty years in standing–with the commitment to “outspend and out-innovate” all other nations in weaponry–to North Korea and Venezuela, regions that were almost designated as areas of future combat.

Trump’s pledged to the union in a mid-February address to “stand with the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom” against unspecified enemies, but targeted dictators tinged with Socialism. The gripping evocation of a struggle against “the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation . . . into a state of abject poverty” may have foregrounded the prominence of Trump’s interest in targeting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasion-Cortez as Socialists, in order to taint the Democratic party. But it was also a crisis that recalled how John Bolton, his new National Security Advisor, had conjured a new danger for the United States’ geopolitical position, independently of nuclear disarmament treaties, but which evoked our historical need for intermediate-range missiles to protect domestic interests.

The role of Maduro in Venezuela has been disastrous for its citizens, to be sure, and mismanagement of natural resources by the state demands attention: But much as Trump distorted actual policies by targeting the “Socialist regime” of Venezuela in a speech marked by excessive flag-waving, patriotism, and rally-like chants of “USA, USA,” the prominent place of map before which Bolton spoke distorted the situation, by literally taking our eyes off of the ground. The map obscured the flows of refugees from Venezuela and the humanitarian crisis in South America, as well as access to the vast oil reserves lying beneath the Orinoco River basin’s Belt. The extensive reserves to which America has limited access is mapped by USGS, but was left tacit in the American declaration of sanctions, but motivating an abrupt change in returning attention to the Western hemisphere for the National Security Advisor. And the assumption of Venezuela as OPEC Presidency, as much as the defense of democratic principles, made the clear ties of National Security to the preservation of access to and production from the Orinoco Reserves–shown below by PDVSA–and the truly globalized investment in the fields shown below, estimated to include three hundred billion barrels of bitumen–the black, viscous, organic “sludge” that contains petroleum–in what are estimated to be the largest reserve on earth, involving multiple international players–from Statoil of Norway to ExxonMobil to Chevron to BP, but also CNPC of China and TOTAL of France, as well as even if the private ownership in the Orinoco Belt was ended in 2007 by Hugo Chávez, whose Presidency haunts the current crisis. But although nationalized in name, the project of oil extraction are only majority owned by he vast majority of bitumen remains too deeply buried for surface mining–some 88-92%–by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)–creating a site that was used by Chávez to finance social reforms and projects, and created revenues of $30 billion annually in 2011, making Venezuela a sort of bit of an economic bubble in a globalized world, tied to international markets for carbon and oil, and making Venezuela a “hidden” global petroleum power, estimated to have hundreds of billions of barrels of oil.

Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)

The international ties to projects of extracting bitumen and refining oil in Venezuela–which produced about 2 millions of barrels a day in 2015–estimated to have far more technologically accessible reserves. The decision to amplify the level of rhetoric used to isolate Maduro and acknowledge Guaidó as President surely has close ties to the assumption of increasing attempts of national oil and gas company to reroute its oil supplies to Europe and Asia, as members of the Maduro regime told the Russian news agency Sputnik, not only responded to the sanctions, but undercut the Venezuelan crude that usually flowed to CITGO refineries in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Illinois which made access to crude that lay in Venezuelan territory a national security question–as Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino tweeted hopes to “continue consolidating strategic alliances between PDVSA and Rosneft” in November, disturbing images of hemispheric dominance, as well as undermining American energy security.

.

USGS has estimated 513 billion barrels lying in the Orinoco Oil Belt, without determining or publishing the proportion technologically or economically able to be extracted
Venezuela Oil Holdings – Deep Resource
CITGO’s Petroleum Terminals in USA/CITGO

Bolton’s–and Trump’s–description of Venezuela as an ideological struggle is all one sees in the two-color division of the globe that almost heralded hopes for a return to a Cold War where maps were understood primarily as a global battleground, recalling the days at which a vertiginous sense of power in postwar Europe led us to map exchanges of nuclear missiles, and imagine apocalyptic scenarios where the world was divided by global war–but a global war that seemed to really be about American interests on access to energy reserves, hiding behind the scrim of a ratcheted up rhetoric of democratic legitimacy.

The economic crisis in Venezuela is both tragic, and an acute crisis of humanitarian scope. But the global map seemed to reduce it into a global confrontation of two blocks, if not a crisis of global consensus about representation and political legitimacy, that seemed to hollow out the term of democracy of its content: despite national sovereign division in South American, the sharp divisions of the blue of North America and most South and Central American nations described inexistent international blocks of consensus. What seemed a legitimate record of global divisions about the crisis the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government to lay claims to Venezuela’s rich reserves of oil. Without acknowledging the political or economic actualities in the South American nation, the map hinted at a global crisis, its stark red v. blue color-scheme reflecting the offers of Russia to restructure the debt of Venezuela’s oil and gas companies, and China to lay claim to a stake in Venezuela’s oil, by asserting the reserves to lie within America’s hemispheric interests, and equating those interests as lying with America’s National Security.

As if to bolster Guaidó’s claim that he is backed by the democracies of the world–in ways that nothing better than an infogram can attest–

Just 25% of the world’s governments have publically recognised Guaido as President; the remainder recognise Maduro’s election
(Paul Dobson / Infogram.com/February 6, 2019

The map before which Bolton spoke has become a topic of recurrent interest, as the nature of the global divide has been parsed and examined. The divide, this post argues, was less an informative one–deisgned to generate debate–than to paper over the situation in Venezuela’s political crisis as a question of alternative candidates for President, treating the contest as an election, and using the colors of an electoral map to suggest that the election was conclusive, and the legitimacy of Guaidó reseted on clearly ideological foundations.

Bolton spoke at the White House briefing before a map revealing a broad global divide ostensibly about recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy as Venezuela’s President but that hauntingly recalled the geopolitical divide that was firmer than many since the Cold War. It provided an image of the Cold War as it was seen from Washington, in some way, as if ideological divides that are clearcut still maintain legitimacy in a globalized world. The infographic on two screens seemed to affirm the broad global consensus of questions of the legitimacy of Maduro’s government, as if this justified the decision to block access to all property located in the United States of the national oil and natural gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), place its assets in escrow, and prohibit American citizens from paying the company directly for access to unrefined or refined oil assets. But the “press briefing” was also a transformation of the White House into a new newsroom of sorts, that exposed the illegitimacy of the Maduro government through a map that tied the United States to the defense of democratic principles–coded in blue, with other democratic allies, in opposition to “reds” linked to Socialism or Communism–China, and Russia, even if it was not Soviet, but also some questionable allies–that reinstated the for-us or against-us global space to make a point. The disclosure before this map of a threat of sensitive statement that echoed a bespectacled Bolton’s assertion that “all options are on the table” provided a powerful infographic that tied Washington to an image of legitimacy, even if the awfully crude map lacked legitimacy to orient American viewers to global affairs.

The new global imaginary that Bolton promoted as he stood beside U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin painted a global schism as the consequence of Maduro’s declaration of his victory in a second term as President, as a violation of that nation’s constitution–and as standing in violation of the Venezuela’s constitutional elections–but was as much a response to the defense of a restatement of American economic sovereignty in the Western hemisphere, a phrase going back to the turn of the last century, if not the Monroe Doctrine, but which gained new currency in the Cold War as issuing from the Dept. of State, and as a question of national security rather foreign affairs, by tactically magnifying the geostrategic role of the Venezuelan election, rather than offering evidence of a constitutional argument about sovereign legitimacy. The question of sovereignty seemed intentionally blurred, as the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury took questions about sanctions against a foreign state-owned oil company, currently OPEC chair, whose assets were being frozen to promote democratic legitimacy, but in fact to strengthen America’s hemispheric dominance.

This time, the map–whose stark divisions into blue and red blocks suggested a map of American alliances, echoing an imaginary of detente, rather than legal rights–seemed to place the defense of denying the flow of economic goods from American territory as a globalist argument, by reframng the issue of constitutional rights or legality in globalist terms that preserved an image of American dominance within the color scheme that it divided the world.

And National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in less than a year in the Trump administration has become an advocate for military interventions in both Iraq and Iran, used the briefing before a map to raise rather openly the possibility of a military resolution of the crisis over the Venezuelan Presidency, as the Commander of US Southern Command, General Mark Stammer, is set to meet the Ministry of Defense of Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia, and Maduro has conjured fears of a “coup” driven from the United States. But the fear that the invitation of American oil companies to organize the refining and extraction of Venezuela’s abundant crude reserves after the January 23, 1958 Democratic uprising, just before the Cuban revolution, sent shock waves into the United States, pushing the Trump administration rather precipitously into a search for infographics that could substantiate dangers of infringement of its hemispheric interests and geopolitical dominance, and to convince the world of the danger of Maduro’s disenfranchisement of elected members of the Congress, and the lack of legitimacy of a regional vote that supported Maduro’s government against a fractured opposition–and led to the invitation from Russia to restructure the state-owned oil and gas company’s massive debt, recasting the struggle about the government’s legitimacy into new global terms.

The colors on the global map reflect, to be sure, the contested results of elections in Venezuela, where compromised elections had produced the heavily disputed endorsement of Maduro’s Presidency just last May. After an offer from Russia to restructure the massive national debt in November, 2017, Maduro declared new elections in May 2018, which the opposition decided not to recognize, and which polls suggested he wouldn’t win, but in which he was victorious–coincidentally at the same time thatJohn Bolton gains the portfolio as director of the Trump NSA.

October, 2017 AP/A. Cubillos
2017 Regional Elections of State Governors in Argentina
Distribution of votes for Maduro in the election whose low turnout led its legitimacy to be quickly questioned by the EU, US, and OAS

Familiar blue v. red electoral maps were used to describe the votes of the Great Patriotic Pole and opposition  Coalition for Democratic Unity that were recast suddenly in global terms in late January in Washington. Socialist Maduro affirmed independence in his inauguration, and in rebuke Parliamentary President Guaidó won immediate support from Donald Trump after he declared himself Interim President and leader of the nation and of oil company, precipitating a powerful infographic to be devised in Washington that oriented audiences to an electoral map in global terms. But for Trump–and for Bolton, who cast the election as a question of National Security–the global divisions in globally strategic terms.

Trump’s segue in his February 7 State of the Union from the INF to Venezuela, included a transition about North Korea, but suggested global imbalances that any obscure the question of access to petroleum reserves in Venezuela, and the deep, implicit question of whether the American military should or would be used to guarantee access to Venezuelan oil. In ways that must have crossed Bolton’s radar, but have faded from most public comments, Maduro when he pledged to decouple the pricing of Venezuelan crude from the dollar, use of non-dollar currencies as the Chinese Yen for Venezuelan oil, and seeking to cut oil production to “stabilize” oil prices–and entertaining the cryptocurrency Petro, based on the five billion barrels of oil found in Field No. 1 of the Orinoco Oil Belt–possibly less than a quarter of Veneuela’s considerable total oil and gas reserves, whose accessibility to the American economy has suddenly become increasingly tenuous.

PDVSA

The events tied to the assumption of the Presidency of OPEC led to ‘slow coup’ of January 23–the anniversary of the overthrow of the Jiminez dictatorship by Venezuelans in 1958–as opposition politico Juan Guaido auto-invested himself with the presidency with broad American support, followed by a chorus of right-wing governments in Latin America, including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

The result was to pretend that the elections which the opposition party had boycotted last May could be cast again as an electoral map, this time not involving Venezuelan votes–or the self-determination of the nation–but symbolically recasting the election in terms of a global map. Even as Maduro offered to negotiate, he bristled “The presidential elections in Venezuela took place, and if the imperialists want new elections, let them wait until 2025,” perhaps reacting to the provocative recasting of the national elections, whose legitimacy has been questioned by observers, in ways that led Bolton to take to Twitter to threaten “serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaidó”–as if he were the victor of an election. Bolton had escalated attacks on the “legitimacy” of Maduro from mid-January and the “illegitimate claims to power” of the Venezuelan “dictator” as abrogating the “a government duly elected by the Venezuelan people” and democratic practice. But the stark divide of the global map seemed to resist any discussion of negotiations and affirm the United States’ ability to shift troops from Afghanistan to Venezuela’s border immanently–while preserving something of the illusion that the “blue” votes for Guaidó would be affirmed by American muscle.

Win McNamee/Getty Images, off CBC

The gruff determination and stoniness that registers in Bolton’s face as he sought to communicate the divisions of the world that potentially lay in the failure to affirm America’s recognition of Guaidó bled far beyond the defense of democratic principles, and seems to have threatened to cast more than a shadow over Europe. Bolton’s slightly veiled message of national security seemed, in classic America First style, to cast a shadow over European allies, here symbolized by the actual shadow that his pensive head cast on the United States’ traditional NATO allies.

Was Bolton in the act of forging global divisions of a new Cold War, military detente and hemispheric dominance, sneakingly if all too familiarly tied to defense and affirmation of democratic principles?

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Filed under geopolitics, latin America, national security, news graphics, Venezuela

Mega-Regions, Super-States, Micro-States, Islands

Like a patient rising from bed to look in the mirror for superficial signs of illness  or searching for visual evidence of clouded thoughts after a hangover, we compulsively turn to data visualizations for bearings on our body politic, preoccupied by its bruised appearance and searching for visual distillations that tell the story of its apparent fracturing into red and blue.  Anyone reading this blog is compelled by the search for a rendering in iconic form of this sharp chromatic divide by which we seem beset, as if to mute its edges and suggest that a possible contexts of such stark political divides.  But how one can provide an account of the map–or map the meaning of these divides–has created a cottage industry of visualizations, images that serve both as glosses and counter-documents, against which to gainsay the meaning of the impasse of the most current electoral divide of 2016.

We seem to search for a sign of meaning in our body politic, if not  in our representational institutions, and to understand political divides less as signs that all isn’t *quite* all right, and the coherence can be found in how the democratic process balances local interest.  But most importantly, we seem to try to process deep concerns that the electoral map lied:  for if the electoral map is in some sense a powerful measure of our coherence as a community, it seems important to affirm where that coherence lies, if it does indeed still exist–and can be detected in a map.

And in the long aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, it is not surprising, somehow, that we are still eager to understand or imagine what that “new America” is or what a new map might reveal.  Uncertain in our ability to question our representational institutions, we are pressed to ask how our electoral predictions “lied,” and whether the electoral map itself “lied” by serving to magnify the political voice and agency of a demographically diminishing region.  At a distance of two and a half years from Donald Trump’s surprising election as U.S. President, we continue to seek more refined district-by-distict distributions to pore over the stark chromatic divides, reading them as tea leaves for some sign of what will happen with the 2018 midterms, or as entrails to divine what to look for in our nation’s future.  And then we try to reframe the issue, and see what we can salvage about our actual divisions.

 

 

Come to termsNew York Times/Mapbox

 

Skilled at reading maps, and at detecting their distortions, we also seek to recuperate a sense that maps do not lie.   We pore over data vis to restore a sense of unity in an era when it seems we’re saliently divided by race, class, and religion, but are compelled to locate a sense of home in those divide, and seek a sense of balance and objectivity that can distill the intense rhetoric of deep-lying divisions.  For rather than suggesting or asking how an electoral map may lie  in ways that balanced a widespread sense of shock with a skepticism that that was our map.

And the continued skepticism and uncertainty in the meaning of the divisions of the electoral map lead us to try to dissect and parse their meaning, filtering and sifting their data within other data vis to illuminate, by new granularity and spectra, a broader spread of variables, in hopes to unlock the questions and overcome the challenges that our representational system pose.  We peek deeper into its red heart, as if in hopes to find the coherence or possibility for change in its red center, as if in a form of national introspection performed on the most superficial of registers, whose “truth” cannot even be gainsaid, hoping that it lies there, perhaps in the heightened distortion of electoral votes that distilled from district maps.

 

Red Center?.pngDetail of above

 

Do electoral maps lie more than other maps?  Any is something less like a reflection of actuality, than a puzzle, in which we can uncover not only telling traces among electoral divides  But the new configuration of space that the 2016 election bode, as well as the greater sensitivity that we like to think we’ve gained at measuring spatial configurations in meaningful terms.  The attractiveness of remapping the voter distribution may be a bit of a red herring and distraction from the magnification of divides elaborated in internet chatrooms from 4chan to 8chan, as much as above ground, but the searching for new signs in the entrails of the voter maps–a post-mortem on the body politic–carries as much sense as the foreboding that the representational institutions of states, counties, and other traditional geographic units might make less sense as a basis for structuring a truly representational democracy.

Seeking to stabilize current fears of a crisis of our democracy, we keep on returning to maps, insistently and repeatedly, as if out of trust for grasping how politics is shaped by deep-seated divides by finding a new way space is configured–as if that would help us understand the appearance of our divides.  And so, in hopes to digest the dilemma of representational democracy in we look for cartographical terms, to provide it with some grounding or objectivity, that offer some sense of purchase, other than by affirming the intensity of our divisions and to see that the institutions of political representation we’ve long trusted might make sense with the migration of populations to urbanized areas or the recasting of politics discourse in dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Perhaps, convinced of our increasing savviness to read the display of information in a colored sheet, we try to grasp the distributions of data as a configuration of space by which to grasp what happened in the 2016 election,  What is shown to lie in the deep splintering–does this take many by surprise?–across a body politic and economy afflicted by a politics of intense opposition seems suddenly normalized and explained by maps that normalize our divisions, and set them before our eyes.  But we have been poring over maps of the nation for years–or at least multiple election cycles–to be able to better process the tensions between regionalism and federalism in ways we might be able to come to terms with or effectively digest as presenting–and representing–an actual record of the status quo that is not so fragile.

 

imageColin Woodward (2013)

 

The representational system is oddly sidestepped, of course, by placing the divisions of a fractured electoral map in terms that see it as a lay of the land. The questioning of the fifty-state primary system–or whether our version of representational democracy best accommodates local interests in a fifty-state system–are not seen as being able to be adjusted  to balance regional interests or economic needs better, but reflect a lay of the land.  So much is suggested in by the growth of tribal senses of belonging that provide affective ties that lack in the state or even region, and span space in ways that online groups and news sharing seem to have filled an increasingly pronounced need for meaningful political involvement, in ways television once afforded a social glue.  The deep uncertainty and sense of social dislocation that defined the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States, manifested in the mistakenly salvific power of social media memes seem to have gained as a substitute for other forms of belonging, seems to find a resolution in the power of maps.

Of course, this was the third election cycle that we were divided by maps, and electoral projections, a division that Trump–and his allies, whoever they may be–only sought to exploit and reflect, or unleash with greater intensity by playing them for whatever they were worth in broad circulation.  Maps provided a form to counter that dislocation.  The rage for maps to comprehend an icon of the spatial promise of a United States has led, empowered by GIS, to an intense search for a more meaningful system of maps than that of counties, states, or congressional districts that the economic realty of the metropolis can no longer afford.  The role of GIS here is less instrumental than a sense at grasping for straws to identify the meaningful regions on the map, puzzling the potential for future unity in a terrain whose political processes and practices map poorly onto its divisions.

We were compelled just not to make sense in a fundamental way of the coherence of the political map, if it existed,  but to process what it means for a rearrangement of political constituencies.  If any map presents a puzzle that can be read for its argument, we compulsively returned to the past-time of glossing the electoral map as a way to find resolution.  We returned to data visualizations, especially if paradoxically, as a trusted form of post-traumatic healing, and continue to look to them to try to embody and diagnose our deepest divides, if not overcome those seemingly salient divisions.  Faced by a feeling of fragmentation we turn to maps to better grasp where these divides lie and to try to bridge their fractures.  We turn to maps, to prevent a sense of loss, or prevent the foreboding of a lost unity, and deep-seated fragmentation.

Whether maps can do so much reparative work is open to question, as is the power of maps to explain the deep discomfort at our social divides.  Since they are so salient, and oppressive, the thought goes, they must be able to be mapped.  The relatively recent re-imagining of the nature by which the United States are united led, during the heat of the last election, to a proposal of ordering districts around the metropoles that were foreign to if linked with them–Seattle, San Francisco/Bay Area, and Los Angeles and San Diego were his in this cartography of mega-regions where urban corridors defined the map’s meaning, as much as the regions in which they were nestled or situated, emphasising a metro-cartography of political identity keeping with the times.

 

image.png

 

Dissatisfied with the state as a parsing or unit that was forward-looking, we accepted new geographical units as “megalopolis” to designate the sites that have superseded the city in this cosmopolite model of America, reflecting hubs where the large bulk of the GDP is located, and economic interests increasingly located, although this may neglect the extent to which GDP is linked not only to abstract able figures of income generated, but urban snarls, pollution, garbage production, and greenhouse gases and other forms of waste, using a variation on a five-color map to suggest the units of productive regional planning that might be able to better connect localities–or local needs and economic interests–with a federal government perceived as distant and removed.

 

1.  The notion of using the map to reaffirm a connectivity and continuity that seemed lacking provided a new way to ramp up our 2-D cartographical concerns less to foreground fractures than meaningful commonalities which could be acted upon as the borders between states seemed far less meaningful to suggest  economic connectedness, and indeed national borders seem less profitable fictions to provide possibilities for future economic growth–and indeed the state university structure provided a far less practical basis for public education, despite its value, as public universities seem more removed from educational opportunities or research funds, and others are somewhat vengefully recast as public employees, teaching mission be damned.

The map affords a prospect of tangibility and coherence, particularly compelling in its abandonment of the “state” or “county” as a unit of the polity, and appealing in its potential encouragement of a new sense of infrastructure–a term that provided such an appealing keyword way back in the midst of the  2016 American Presidential election–even if the New Map for America was presented for the lower forty-eight as a sort of forward-looking economic blueprint before the General Election, as if to orient us to a vision of the pastels of a future less brash than the red vs. blue electoral map, its regions far more recognizable, and decisively upbeat, from Cascade through the Great Lakes and Texas Triangle to the Southeast Manufacturing Belt.  The hope is to respond to a sense of dislocation by more meaningful economic units, and indeed an agenda to move forward advanced in Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilizationa hopeful manifesto to shift debate from territorial units and semantics to a vigorous statement of economic power.

 


New York Times/Parag Khanna

 

The shifting of attention to the divides in our electoral map to a the sorts of channels of connectedness Parag Khanna proposed were not to be–or aren’t yet, so strong was the localist and isolationist tide against them.  The cartographical intervention was a view of globalization that was sunny–and with an emphasis on affirming possibilities of connectivity, as opposed to the terrifying sense of an exposure of unraveling and intransigence that the formation of a Trump Train–rather than the sort of proposed High Speed Rail lines–were proposed to create as a new economic infrastructure for a nation that seems increasingly unsettled, and seems increasingly unsettled, and might be hoped to be healed by a remapping of its economic interconnectivity, rather than its divides–an image of interconnectivity that the election erased.

To be sure, the use of the map to affirm needed connectivity (and continuity beyond proximity) among states was long realized to lie in the potential of the map to create further connective lines of communication and economic development.  The promotion of surveying projects, from the railroad lines by Abraham Lincoln through areas of Appalachia in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the President realized the possible vitality of an economy not rooted or based on enslavement of populations provided a basis to encourage unionism.  Walt Whitman saw, in 1860, the nation as a great nation “of many nations,”  and Lincoln argued to survey the region to increase its connection, and offer a new basis to integrate the economic complexities of a union divided on an apparently intractable political debate.  The notion of mega-regions and economic corridors is not, in this sense, so new at all;  fostering economic interests has long been tied to the need to try to envision future possibilities in maps–a need that the 2016 Presidential election has undoubtedly necessitated, although the Trump administration seems dedicated to obscure that need.

 

2.  But if the model was conceived in the midst of a tense primary season that saw political splintering and a large fear of depression in a search for a politics of meaning, the fears of a distance from Washington, DC became the victors of the 2016 Presidential election, as we saw a new and apparently heightened red-blue division imposed on the nation that we have been still trying to wrestle or digest and place in political or historical context, and to parse meaning from a map that seems all too neatly clean-cut after all–unless the fracture lines were indeed that strong that the nation might once again divide, as if reporting on the electoral results were a sort of performance art.

 

Sea of Red

 

Blue America or Red America?

 

The fissures of red and blue reappeared again as what seemed a safe bet of a Clinton majority victory repeated, although newscasters and talking heads found it hard to say anything interesting about it, just three days from the 2016 Presidential election.  But the confidence of these electoral projections that seemed to give a fragile if solid coherence to a Clinton electoral victory, if one that would hardly unify the nation–

 

 

 

–but contain its increasingly evidence divides, rather abruptly ceded to a sea of red, where alternate projections failed to alter the depths of a geographic solidity of those voting for Trump, even if a majority of them seemed resigned that the election would not make a substantive difference.  As multiple electoral night watch parties disbanded with disillusionment, we were resigned to accept these divides, not knowing whether the geographical cleavages had either surfaced or crystallized in the actual electoral map, but suggested a somewhat surprising rejection of the status quo, and an eery sense of a red state continuity, as though we were divided regional blocks after all–

 


 

–and so we pored over visualizations of the nation’s new voting patterns that were increasingly and perhaps over-generously provided to stunned media viewers with a sense of collective trauma, to be processed only by reviewing endless cartographical parsings of the deep reds of the adjusted choropleth of 2016 revealed the coasts could hardly understand the intensity of the interior, seeming to reveal a convincing record of a deep-set urban-rural divide in a map of county-by-county voting trends.

The map of electoral votes was just as widely championed by Trump himself, of course, who not only seemed to have installed it in the White House, but to present his candidacy as victory over the interests that he proclaimed had “rigged” the election, as if it provided a demonstration that the process not so rigged.  (For Trump followers,  the championed results, in which the President “elect” exulted, might have in the “Fake News” of predictions of his electoral defeat, and the false predictions of their marginalization from the country.)  In an election when “rigged” seemed to have defined the 2016 Presidential election as it was used to invest emotions by different candidates, Trump had exulted in what applied equally to the economy, political process, and judicial inquiry as if applied to a “system” that he seemed to disdain, if only to recognize that the “hot term” he used became a basis to showcase his alleged outsider status.  But the electoral map provided, for all its distortion of population, an argument that the “rigged” nature of the vote and “system” was undermined by the electoral system–the same system that he may have called “rigged” at one time.  Trump’s claims for having “introduced the term”–“I’m the one that brought that word up!’–was in fact suggested to him by Roger Stone, who argued within two months after Trump descended his escalator to announce his candidacy, and recommend he base his candidacy on claims ‘the system is rigged against the citizens’ and that he is the lone candidate–did this offer any ideas to Bernie Sanders?–‘who cannot be bought.’”  Trump didn’t immediately adopt the term, but by the Spring of 2016, the term became used to insert himself into a corrupt system of which he could be the savior.

Trump ran so insistently and deftly with the idea to make it his own, treating it as a term to cathecting with his rallies.  He soon began to inveigh against the whole “rigged, disgusting, dirty [political] system” as being rigged, first the Republican primary and then the Democratic, discrediting the electoral process as a “rigged, crooked system that’s designed so the bosses can pick whoever they want” that revealed itself to be during the primaries to be “totally rigged to keep incumbents in power.”   Arguing that the word was his intellectual property, as he had used it before Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton adopted the term he claimed to merit authorship for having introduced into  the election, it cemented new constituencies in an age of increased income inequality, playing very well to an anti-establishment crowd as a new language of empowerment–so that the electoral map seemed to some a populist victory.

 

 

After insisting and bemoaning the extent to which the voting process was “rigged” during the primaries and into the general election by parties and elites, openly fostering distrust in the political process, the narrative suddenly switched when the electoral map–that map that so shocked the nation–was presented as a true victory that rather preposterously confirmed the success with which Trump had presented himself as not beholden to outside interests to a specific audience, as if it was a record of reality.  Enamored of the map of electoral votes’ distribution, Trump presented the electoral map as confirming a populist victory that occurred against all odds., at the same time as his skill at gaming a system of electoral votes.   He wanted the Washington Post to display the map on its front page, as if to announce it as a new reality, a hundred days into his administration, in a bizzarro illustration of his desires to run the press, asking reporters Aren’t you impressed by this map?¨–and regaling reporters with copies of the map as a testimony of reaching a broad audience of voters, as a source of pride and a deeply personal accomplishment of which he was the author, as well as a form of evidence he wanted the entire nation to be entranced–whose stark divisions he even had framed for the White House, as a confirmation of the extent of his appeal outside of coastal media elites.

 

imageThe Hill

 

The electoral map showed a defeat of the so-called “elites” on both coasts.  The majority of voters’ opinion mattered less than how divided we had become, over the next year and a half.  It was hardly a surprise to find these divisions, but their salience seemed a strong shift in political decorum.  As Trump’s Presidency continued, we mapped rise of hate crimes inspired by Trump, as if to conjure the sense his Presidency and rhetoric had changed the nation, and suggested a new meaning of the term “red state” based not on majority voting but confirming a sense of deep-seated anger against an “other” embraced by a good share of the nation, as if tolerance for violence not acceptable elsewhere.

 

 

 

The crisis in belonging seemed, in this red-hued preoccupation, almost about blood, and innate differences, and an anger that had been unleashed either on the campaign trail or its social media spin-offs and detritus, where suddenly the most marginal of voices, rarely recognized in print, began to circulate, and reached a large and strikingly contiguous electorate, from which “we” were actually removed.

 

image

 

 

3.  Which brings us to the deeper crisis of understanding how much of the nation seemed to rally around the idea of a need to garrison and fortify a southwestern border long left intentionally open, as if this would somehow Make American Great Again, and affirm its aging economy, persuaded they had been huckstered by international trade accords, as protection of the border gained greater reality than the civil liberties and rights of due process by which the nation was, for an actual strict constructionist, long defined.

The demand to think “beyond states”–plus ultra!–has been conceived not as a possibility of growing connectivity, but as resigning ourselves to deep divisions as if they were embedded in the territory in the revival of what were argued somewhat misleadingly to be “southern interests” or heritages, and accommodate and instantiate in a map that Colin Woodward has long argued reflects the dynamics of their original settlement–rather than economic development and local political cultures–as if to accommodate the “local cultures” of politics, such as they are, as fundamentally distinct economic patterns that transcend the division of states or economic development.

Possibilities of new sorts of economic interconnectedness be damned, Woodward would have us recognize the long shadows attitudes toward work and not toward race, education, gender, or religion cast across the political fracturing of the once United States, as if to suggest that the notion of being united was itself a bit of a big fraud, or a pretense needed to unite what were long fundamentally different regions, in a new fracturing that reflects eighteenth-century precedents as if to trace the differentiation of ethnic or racial stock in ways that he claims effectively map on our own political divides, and offer new tools to help us understand different points of view that even a Continental Congress was foolhardy to pretend they could ever adequately reconcile, so steeply do they haunt the current polity.

The oracle of Freeport, ME reminds us that “regional cultures” have existed since the era of the continent’s first colonization in ways that command attention, despite the burning issue of apparently recent hot-button concerns from terrorism or immigration, despite their salience in the political debate and their prominence in motivating sectarian hostility.  In a sense, the map may consolingly remind us that Trump has not appealed to “Make America Great Again,” but festered its deepest historical divisions and divides; its commanding division into colors of distinct hues a refutation of the idea that we are living in an era without intersectionality, where divisions deriving from historical priority trump any of the effects of economic inequalities and disparities of income.  It indeed seems to naturalize race relations that have gained ugly  prominence in recent years as being a world that must be accepted as “modeled after the slave societies of the ancient world,” where “democracy is the privilege of the few,” as if this were a tenable cultural position but demands to be appreciated as such.  Rather than describe racism, or race relations, Woodward lets us know that “black people confronted” dominant cultural norms, a formulation that strips them of much agency indeed–or denies it altogether, more accurately.

The quite flat five-color schema of 2013 was recycled in the news, perhaps, because of how it seems to erase the far more finely grained visualizations of the election that appeared in late July 2018 in the newspaper of record, five days previous, as if the precinct-by-precinct map of Ryne Rhola could be made to disappear beneath the far flatter overlays of Colin Woodward’s breakdown.

 

National Precinct Map.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox

 

For Woodward’s map viewed the United States not as a composite of populated blue islands in a sea of chromatic shades of red that slid to scarlet expanse, but rather crisp lines whose constitution was defined in the eighteenth century, and perpetuated in the self-sorting machine that the United States has become, arguing that the affinities of each place attract their own political brand–a notion that Woodward emphasized in the new iteration of this map that adheres more closely to the national boundaries of the lower forty-eight.

 

New York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

Forget any preconceived ideas of geographical mobility or migration, Woodward enjoins:  the map suggests the computational shape-sorter that the deep circuits of the United States’ history has defined.

That such divisions inform the breaking lines of the new “partisan landscape” hardly require a five-color map.  But Although meant to displace a divide between urban and rural, they may remind us that we are in fact living in an age that might be as easily cast–and we’ll return to this–as a trumping of the local, where states have faded away with the accentuation of local interests.  In ways that are filtered and refracted though the relative homogeneity of media markets and the traditions of certain areas of the nation where immigrants are indeed less openly welcomed or accepted may tend to the slogans of America First championed by Trump, and lines of gender are differently drawn.  Such regions might be less likely to be sympathetic in a deep way with a woman who reminded them, rightly or wrongly, of coastal elites, and accepting of the very caricatures of coastal elites that Trump, in a canny exercise of deflection and personal rebranding, managed to project on her–palling with Goldman Sachs; attending as Secretary of State to foreign relations and not the American worker–that the more removed regions would accept.

The divisions in the “partisan landscape” of the nation that Woodward presented are considerable and are economic–

 

Partisan landscape.pngNew York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

–but curiously suggest the deep red remove of the very region of Appalachia that President Lincoln once sought to integrate better both economically and infrastructurally in the United States, but has sadly lagged further behind, and felt further removed from Washington.

And not only from Washington, DC, but from the complex of the news that is so demonized by President Trump as being an “enemy of the people” today.  For though it is never made precise who this collective is–“the people”–it is not the folks who read newspapers or watch the nightly news, but those who feel far less represented in them, and by them, and less familiar with them to less present to them–for the known density of reporters and correspondents appears an odd echo of the parsing of the lower forty-eight into “Yankeedom,” “Tidewater,” “Greater Appalachia,” “Far West.” and “Left Coast,” as not only different media markets, and different areas that are represented in the news–

 

local qotient reportersDept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

employment correspondents 2017Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

–but that feel alienated from its constitution of reality, because that stands at a remove from their lives and regions.  The existence of pronounced “news deserts” in areas as Appalachia suggest a fragmentation of our news economy that weakens local solidarity and opinion, and creates large voting blocks that are terrifyingly coincident with the paucity of local news sources, as Chisolm’s below burnt red interactive Carto data vis rather scarily reveals, as it invites and allows one to explore in even more fine-grained from over the lower forty eight.  The blanked-out regions of lightly hued regions reflect areas aggrieved areas by the absence of a diversity of local newspapers–institutions long identified with reflection on local political institutions and practices.  They are, in other words, afflicted with the absence of a plurality of avenues for the shaping of public opinion and political debate, and bound to rely one less active political debate.

 

Carto-News Deserts

 

The striking thinning out in many regions of Appalachia as well as the south of so-called “news deserts” is not a longstanding historical divide–the death of the local newspaper is

 

Appalachia News Deserts multipleAmerica’s Growing News Deserts/Columbia Journalism Review (2017)

 

–in which limited investigative reporting on local issues, discussion generated by print, and indeed informed local political decisions and checks on local power seems to create a vacuum into which rushes a new tribalism of largely symbolic issues.

 

 

The difference between these regions is not necessarily so continuous, or suggestive of nations, despite the startling continuity in “news deserts” and areas of the low level of occupational employment of journalists or correspondents that is its correlate.  Deep divides of terrifying continuity are at basis economically driven, and seem impossible to reduce only to cultural divides–or reduced to existing historical divides, so much as an erosion of local institutions designed to foster reflection on political institutions and discourse.

The increasing gaps in sites where only one newspaper–or no local news–exists will be made up for in new ways, but the growth of News Deserts from 2016 marks a change in the information economy, and a change in which the role of newspapers in constituting and encouraging the community long existed.  The rise of digital news outlets that have taken up the nourishing role traditionally and long played by journalism is promising, but the attack on the few remaining news sources that exist and on which folks rely stands as a new challenge, with the number of reporters covering local news having dropped in half since 2004, and some 1,800 newspapers–many venerable institutions in communities that helped make new communities–having folded in the same time, leaving all the tanned out regions with one newspaper, and the burnt siena dots counties with no local newspaper at all–areas reliant on other news sources and online information, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy of UNC’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which points more deeply at the need for a new business model for local news, but also the increasing vulnerability of many counties–and many individuals–to the older, less educated, and poorer, farther from metropolitan areas in parts of Texas, the Dakotas, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, where our democracy may fracture.

 

Abernathy, 2018

 

The problems of an engaged citizenship through newspapers is not, of course, the only line of fracturing in the social body.

The increased divergence of the age at which women have a first child in different regions of the United States suggests a huge difference in life-perspective–or “life style”–which is clearly identified with those areas of denser presence of reporters, correspondents, and news reporting, suggesting a huge difference–and deep divergence–among the priorities, and negotiation of labor markets.  Although the different preferences for childbirth in the United States’ regions are not a big surprise for many women, the strikingly different age of women at birth maps onto the “regionalism” and regions of the United States in striking ways, unsurprising in an era when birth control and abortion are seen as the “issues” that define political divides–both around appointments to the Supreme Court and around what makes up privacy, personhood, and rights.  The pronounced oscillation around the age of a mother at her first birth is striking, not only in its divergence but the large span of the nation where birth is defined at twenty-four years of age, and what this mans for families and women’s work–and of female experience at the same time as the first female candidate became nominated by a major party–and the huge gaps this created.

 

Motehrs age at birth

 

New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)

 

Does the puzzle fit together better now, looking at the relative number of reporters and correspondents employed and stationed in areas of the United States, and the remove of many regions–either apparent or real–from the media markets that exist, and the sense of alienation and remove of those areas  from actualities reported in the “news”?

Woodward’s “map”–updating or revisiting the divisions he had in fact foretold in 2013, just after President Obama’s second election as President, reprised for readers always hungry for a good data vis, that distilled confusion to stark lines of a 2-D paper map, called less “nations” (as he previously had) than “regions” which transmitted through the ages the spirits of their respective colonizers, in a complete revision of the image of the nation as a melting pot, economic integration and disparities of wealth be damned.

Rather than a melting pot having ever existed, the oracle of Freeport has it, distinctions between a Puritan legacy with assimilates others by championing a common good, the multicultural materialism of Dutch founders, the manorial society of the British gentry, quakers and pluralistic protestants of the midlands, and rigorous independence of the Scots Appalachians abut slave-holding southerners from the Barbados and Spanish-American periphery, shaping the nation’s fractured political present:  aside from some limited intersection of these realms, the melting pot not only never existed, but “deep cultural” values provided an optic that refracted every political event of the twentieth and twenty-first century, as if a deep memory of the mind that we will not escape.  The rigorous and purposive historical flatness of Woodward’s “map” seems a point of pride.

The schematic map recalls a study sheet for  high school U.S. history, claiming to reveal a landscape that lets scales fall from its viewers’ eyes.  Such radical essentialism–or deeply conservatory if not reactionary cartography–reminds us with considerable offhand pluck that we’re in fact far less mobile than we would like to think.  Rather than dig into the data in any depth, the map “shows” that we remain dominated by almost essential cultures that have been perpetuated by local institutions for all our championing of free will; we are, yes, really cultures, but cultures that no person can actually make.  Indeed, Woodward had originally cast the divides as separate “nations” that were both in evidence “today,” but revealed a deep geography of eleven nations in a 2013 map first published in the fall of 2013 as a guide to the “deep differences” into who he argued people in the nation sort themselves, as if into political preferences.  If a degree of self-determination surely remains, geography has the commanding upper hand, Woodward seeks to let us know, but his argument verges on an environmental conditioning by which the continent’s settlement runs against the idea of any  easy arrival at consensus:  indeed, “to understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns” that defined the matrix.

 

Washington Post/Colin Woodward (2013)

 

Woodward responded to the stark fragmentation of the electoral map in 2012, to be sure, but has reprised his divisions again to explain the Trump phenomenon, and effectively raise questions about the midterm elections as if to suggest that no real deviation from a foretold story will occur.  And it is no surprise that the area of Greater Appalachia he has mapped, colored bright red in the image of 2013, which consciously riffed on the red state/blue state divide, without mentioning it.  Indeed, those “eleven nations” break into what look like voting blocks,–even if they are meant to remind readers that “lasting cultural fissures” were established by  “Euro-American cultures [that] developed in isolation from one another,” reflecting how “the American colonies were [first] settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles” who we shouldn’t confuse.  Woodward presented his map as evidence of deep roots for the sectarianism we think of as modern, and “there has never been an America, but rather several Americas,” even if we all share one legal code.  Deadlock is natural on gun control or other issues,–but to appreciate that you “need to understand history” that political debate cannot alter.

When Woodward revived the twelve nations as divides as tools to explain a sense of regional divides to replace the truism of thinking about America in a rural/urban dichotomy, he wanted to go deeper than the big data of a district-by-district map and its information overload.  But leaving aside that his geographic divisions handily capture some of the largest cities and urban areas in the “Left Coast” and “New Netherland” region, the map seems deeply flawed in its use of voting preferences in an era when voter turnout is notoriously low–voter turn-out was not substantially lower than in other years, but hovered about 58%–and the areas where Trump surprisingly outperformed the previous Republican Presidential candidate in a majority of states–

 

image.png

 

The divisions map most precisely on regions that perceived their economic remove from the coastal elites with whom the Democrats have been wrongly identified.  Indeed, it is not surprising that the Greater Appalachia region that Woodward’s original 2013 map cast as bright red assumes a pretty monochrome hue when chopped out of the elegant Mapbox visualization, suggesting that that region played a large outsized role in the last election, or as much as Purple America, and occupies the heart of the area where Trump outperformed Romney in the 2016 election, reconfiguring the red-blue divide.  The deep crimson area, with scattered islands of blue to the east and north, where Greater Appalachia ends, suggests less a new nation than a remoteness,

 

Greater Appalachia.pngArea roughly corresponding to Greater Appalachia/Mapbox/New York Times

 

not only removed from broadband or access to health care, but relative per capita income rates in relation to the United States average, completion of high school, ethnic diversity, and women in the workforce and unemployment among young men–in short, a nation apart from the nation, less exposed to racial diversity and who the federal government had let down in its priorities.

 

Women in Worksplace, below average in tan.png

New York Times (2015), tan counties from below average; violet (above average)t

 

 

This was just the sort of area where Hillary Clinton would have the hardest time with her message, and possessed striking insularity.

 

 

Minority presence Appalachian Avg 2010U.S. Census Chartbook, 2010 (2011)

 

The trap of thinking in states may distort the above map, but the increased number of votes  seem rooted in “Yankeedom,” as well as “Greater Appalachia” and “Midlands,” than the logic of Woodard’s map would have us believe.  Of course, Woodward’s map might be more convincingly read not as a divide between rural and urban, but a heightening of the local, and a collapse of cross-regional collectives that once animated our politics and were known as parties, or groups that bargained for collective interests as unions.

For it surely takes into account the deep crisis in our democracy of a disconnect that many feel compelled to seek affective ties that are deeper than the remove they feel from Washington, and hard to find in a map.  It is saying something that even a year and a half from Trump’s inauguration as President, we continue to return, as if to find more information, to even more detailed parsings of the political map that might allow us to explore and, more importantly, come to terms with the extent of fracturing in our political landscape, where urban “voter islands” in Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and New York are so strikingly pronounced–and try to understand what that heightened insularity can mean.

 

Ryne Rhola/Mapbox (2018)

 

We are asked to use the map to avoid being in a “political bubble,” and to explore the area that you “know”–no doubt where you reside, where everyone first turns in a map–as if to measure what you expected that you knew against the “extremely detailed map” of our political divisions, courtesy of Mapbox, where even the divisions in a reliably “blue state”–as where I live, California–can be parsed in greater detail, as if to gain intelligence of the political lay of the land, in time for the mid-terms, and to learn what districts you might to go to canvas or contribute to a political campaign, as possible on many partisan apps,

 

California.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox (2018), 2016 US Presidential Election

 

The divisions in political or electoral preference seems hardly surprising, but the divides show up as stubbornly sharp in the Bay Area, whose insularity is long supposed and often championed, but where the directive to “explore” an area you “know” to see if you live in a political bubble seems all too apt.

 

Bay area

 

east bay alone with Danville

 

For the “areas you know” still seem ones that you can’t quite get your head around, too much like bubbles than regions, where fault lines of political opposition are located a bit more inland, but seem sadly inscribed on the land.

 


 

The maps remind us that, rather than live in nations, we seem to live in tribes.

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Filed under data visualization, infographics, news graphics, political geography, political preferences