The status quo is the status quo – until it isn’t anymore. You may not remember when the old status quo left. But you look up and there’s suddenly a new world that seems as if it’s always been there, and always will be.
This is what it felt like watching the US’s foreign and domestic politics this week.
In Washington DC, the 6 January committee hearings continue. This week, we learned that Donald Trump allegedly drafted a tweet calling on his supporters to march to the Capitol. The hearings also detailed a White House meeting at which Trump apparently grew frustrated with advisers for telling him his ideas were out of touch with reality. Afterwards, he called his supporters to Washington via Twitter. “Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted. This one he sent.
This is big news. But it is also not a break from the recent past. Last month, we learned from a former aide in the White House that Trump knew that there were people with weapons at his rally and encouraged security to let them in, knowing they could then march to the Capitol. I do not doubt there will be other revelations about Trump’s thinking and behaviour, that will be alarming for anyone who cares about American democracy. This is how we live now.
One hesitates to draw a direct line between the US’s domestic chaos and the state of its foreign policy, but one should also note that Joe Biden is in Israel this week. Saudi Arabia is reportedly going to grant access to Israeli air travel, at once something new and a continuation of Trump-era normalisation between Israel and Gulf states.
Shortly after arriving, Biden reaffirmed American support for a two-state solution. This has long been the US policy, but at some point, it started being something the US talked about more than something it worked towards. By the Biden administration’s own admission, it did not intend to try to restart a peace process. Biden said the line and moved on. Israeli-Palestinian issues would not be meaningfully addressed during the visit, and no one would bother to pretend otherwise. This is just how it is now. The new status quo.
None of this is a dramatic break with the past, exactly. The US’s democracy has always had reactionary, anti-democratic elements in it, as were on display in testimony about Trump. The US’s foreign policy has long said it is committed to human rights, while often looking the other way. But this week, something vital was missing: the hope that there were enough people working to preserve democracy and striving to match US foreign policy rhetoric with action, that the ideal could be upheld. For many of us watching the hearings unfold in Washington, and listening to the empty speeches being made abroad, that hope is gone.
[See also: Why shame in politics matters]