Political instability in US likely to continue even after Trump’s departure

(What follows is a mock analysis piece written from the perspective of an intelligence officer in a more or less neutral country, such as Switzerland or Norway. They’ve been asked the question by the policymaker: Is it over? I’ve written it in the style of intelligence analysis I was trained in and propagated for several decades: Make your main point in short paragraphs and then provide supporting data or amplification in bullets. The idea being that a reader should be able to get your main points even if they only had time to glance at the piece.)

Just a few days after the violent occupation of the US Capitol, American politicians have returned to the partisan squabbling that fails to address the country’s widening social, political, racial and economic fault lines.

  • Twitter’s permanent ban of Donald Trump was necessary given the possibility he could again move to incite supporters, but Republicans have used it to pivot to a more popular topic: defense of “free speech.”
  • Democratic Speaker Pelosi’s move to impeach the President again, intended to demonstrate that Trump’s reckless, if not premeditated, behavior demands consequences, nevertheless serves to divert attention from the declining legitimacy of the American democratic system.

Public opinion polls indicate the overwhelming majority of Americans disapproved of the attack, but nevertheless just under 10% expressed support for a violent effort to overturn democratic elections. Analysis of posts on social media platforms reveals the assault on the Capitol had been planned for weeks; recent monitoring suggests that more protests are likely in the run up to and during Inauguration Day on January 20

  • In addition to Inauguration Day, protesters are declaring January 17 as a day of “armed marches” on all 50 US State Capitols and again in Washington, D.C.
  • The recent purge by Twitter and other social media companies of hundreds of thousands of extremists and QANON supporters from their platforms is intended to disrupt extremists’ planning efforts. However, extremists likely will migrate to fringe sites and closed messaging applications to communicate, platforms that are harder for authorities to access and monitor.

President-elect Biden believes he can calm the political turmoil and restitch the union, but he faces significant obstacles.

  • Polling from December indicated that 75% of Republicans rejected the election results. This is a historically high number; in 2016 most Democrats (65%) accepted the legitimacy of Trump’s victory. The skepticism of the Republican base will embolden GOP legislators to obstruct Biden’s agenda.
  • Ending the COVID19 pandemic is Biden’s highest priority, but efforts to do so, such as encouraging mask mandates and restricting social gatherings, will only further antagonize extremist groups, many of whom have staked their “freedom” agendas on opposing COVID-19-related restrictions.

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