This is the only way the Trump presidency was ever going to end, with democracy in flames.
From the day he announced he was running for president, Donald Trump never cared about the job. He was a grifter on the make, interested only in his own reflected glory. He had no time for e pluribus unum, just unum and a round of golf on one Trump property or another.
And somehow, people fell for it. They fell for the lies. They fell for the phony populism. They abetted the naked racism. And Republicanism became Trumpism, and Trumpism became authoritarian demagoguery, and authoritarian demagoguery made no secret of its contempt for democracy.
That Trump, with his presidency in its dying throes, would incite a mob to attack the Capitol — the first time, historians tell us, the Capitol had been breached since the War of 1812 — is no surprise.
The surprise is that it took this long, from the president who embraces QAnon, who embraces the Proud Boys, who embraces whoever supports him. And as the mob moved on the Capitol, reporters say that Trump was stewing about the fact that loyalist Mike Pence, who was busily presiding over the Senate, was unwilling to even try to steal the election for him, as if he had the power to do so. It was all about unum. Just unum.
The insurrection was enabled not simply by Trump and not simply by Don Jr. and Rudy, but also by Cruz and Hawley and Scalise and McCarthy and Johnson and Pence and all the others who knew better. And now it is a stain on the Republican Party, which must decide, at long last, whether selling its soul to Trump was worth the price.
It all came to a head on Wednesday, Jan. 6, another date which will now live in infamy. And some Republicans are wavering. Some even want him impeached, according to reports. An impeachment and conviction wouldn’t simply remove him from office. It would mean he couldn’t run for federal office again. Some are even talking about invoking the 25th Amendment, in which Trump’s sycophantic cabinet would have to depose him. It is a fantasy, I suppose. But it’s all been a fantasy, a dark, ruinous fantasy.
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And so we watched in shock on our TVs, but there should have been no shock unless it was that mob took the Capitol so easily. Where was the National Guard? Where were the Bureau of Prison officers, with their name tags hidden, who took on the peaceful protesters as Trump made his Bible-wielding photo-op? Imagine, if you will, as many were to point out, that Black Lives Matter adherents had led the attack on the Capitol.
People around the world watched, but if they were shocked, at least their shock was earned. When many think of America, they think of democracy. Of course they were shocked to see the Capitol being trashed. With senators and members of Congress in hiding as the mob attacked. With Capitol police drawing guns in the Senate chambers. With offices ransacked. With tear gas employed. With a rioter sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s chair, his feet on her desk. With a Trump flag flying from the Capitol balcony.
With a man in standing at the dais of the Senate chamber, his fist raised, maybe in what he thought was triumph. And maybe, in a way, he was right.
These rioters didn’t come to Washington by chance. Trump invited them, and when he addressed them in what would become a pre-riot rally Wednesday, he told them, “There has never been anything like this — it’s a pure theft — in American history.” And then: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave. … We’re going to try and give our Republicans — the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help — we’re going to try and give them a kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.”
The attack came as the Senate and the House were separately debating a fact-free objection to Arizona’s electors, with Ted Cruz saying that since many people doubted the credibility of the election that we needed a 10-day commission to figure it all out, just 14 days before Joe Biden would be sworn in. It was a farce. The reason people doubt the fairness of the election is no secret — it’s because Trump and Cruz and Rudy and the rest keep saying the election was rigged. It’s circular logic: Because we convinced people the election was rigged, we owe it to them to investigate whether the election was rigged.
Mitt Romney got it right, saying the day’s horror was due to a “selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
An insurrection, yes. George W. Bush, while not naming Trump, also called it an insurrection. Just before the riot began, Mitch McConnell, Trump’s chief enabler, got in under the wire to object on the Senate floor to Trump’s attempt to overturn a fair election, not long after it was clear that Democrats would gain control of the Senate.
It’s funny, but Trump was once known for building things, although those things often ended in bankruptcy and were often actually built by someone else. But forevermore he’ll be known for destroying things, or trying his reckless damndest anyway. For destroying democratic norms. For destroying any respect for the truth. For seeking to destroy whatever institutions stood in this way.
That Trump was ever elected president will never be sufficiently explained for me. That 74 million people voted to re-elect him has to be the greatest con the country has ever known. How did so many — I mean you, Buck and you, Gardner and the rest — bend so quickly to his will?
Did you not realize what damage you’ve allowed to be done? How many times did you have to hear that history will not forgive your sin? How many times did you shrug and hide out in the cloakroom and dodge every hard question? How many times before Colorado sends someone like Lauren Boebert to Congress?
As the riot grew increasingly violent, many Republicans were begging Trump to ask the rioters to stand down. Trump sent out a few half-hearted tweets, to no effect. It came to Biden to make a speech, calling on Trump to do his job.
What followed was Trumpism at its Trumpian worst. Trump posted a minute-long video in which he said, for the millionth time, the election had been stolen and that “it was a landslide election, and everyone knows it.” Only after making his phony case did he ask his followers to go home. “We have to have peace,” he said. “We have to have law and order.”
And instead of expressing shock at the violence and at the assault on democracy, he embraced the rioters. Of course he did. “We love you,’ he said. “You are very special.”
We don’t love them. They are not special. And Twitter reportedly suspended Trump’s account after the tweet. Meanwhile, Republicans tripped over themselves after the fact to decry the violence as if many of them had played no part in it.
Jim Mattis, one of Trump’s disgusted former defense secretaries, summed it up as well as anyone. “Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump,” he said in a statement. “His use of the presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.”
The cowards and other members of Congress worked their way back into the Capitol after peace, at least for a time, was restored. And as I write this, the Senate was finally voting down the baseless objection to the Arizona electors. It all seemed just a little bit late.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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