We should not be surprised that Donald Trump actively incited an angry and delusional mob of his supporters to attack the national Capitol Building on January 6. Among the hundreds or perhaps thousands of laws and norms of conduct that Trump has rejected, undermined or simply disregarded, we should never forget his declaration that “under Article II, I can do whatever I want.” Trump actually believes that and has acted accordingly since he won the Republican nomination. Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol is just the latest, and likely not the last, Trump anti-democratic, anti-American action.
The population appears to accept a certain amount of chicanery as “just politics” and “that’s how things are done,” and other such cliches. Such things have been going on in plain view since well before the beginning of the republic. It seems odd in some ways that evolution led homo sapiens to this state of affairs. I suspect it’s mainly a product of two forces: humanity’s advance (based on larger brains in key parts, opposed thumbs, etc.) reduced the influence of natural selection on humans in ways different than other animals and the recognition that unrelenting “tooth and claw” competition was less appealing and successful than cooperation. Such cooperation led to what we call “politics.” Politics involved a variation of the pushing and shoving competition but without the violence (although assassinations have played an important role to this day). You didn’t kill and eat your opponent, you outsmarted him, often with the help of allies whom you enlisted. Thus, coalitions and on and on. Argument, debates, voting.
Over the decades the temptations of power and money led to periodic excesses of chicanery. We evolved legal systems to address some of that, but the chicanery is so ubiquitous that the legal resistance has proved weak. Americans thought that their system was special, exceptional if you will, and the structures and processes established by the Constitution and laws were, in big-picture terms, sufficient to stem the tide of gross corruption at the highest levels of government. Until Trump.
From the dark recesses of America’s fraught past re-emerged a breed of people who seemed not only ignorant of how things were supposed to work, but who didn’t care. Although Trump was an over-entitled rich man, these people felt a kinship with his braggadocio, his seeming indifference and fearlessness when it came to breaking down historical norms. When asked to explain themselves, many Trump supporters say, “he tells it like it is – he doesn’t take anyone’s guff because he doesn’t have to.” They saw Trump’s apparent hostility to the “establishment in Washington and state houses across the country” as the way to rid America of the “swamp,” the “deep state,” the do-gooders who cared more about immigrants than “true patriotic Americans.”
Trump relished the attention paid to his histrionics to a pathological level. As noted at the top of this article, he came quickly to believe that his election vested him with powers beyond anything the world had seen. His followers came to declare that he had been sent by God to straighten things out, to resolve their grievances, to Make America Great Again. Trump’s buffoonery and incompetence were exposed time and again by the media that he also loved to attack, calling them the “enemy of the people.” The media couldn’t get enough of him and obsessed over every outrage while giving unprecedented exposure to Trump’s messages. He savored insane conspiracy theories, fictional characters and routinely called his adversaries by schoolyard names.
When Trump won the Republican nomination, his Republican allies bent the knee before him, recognizing the pathological attachment of his political base they dared not offend. The intra-party resistance melted away. Senior politicians who had publicly labeled him a “kook,” a “pathological liar,” an “unhinged nutcase,” all begged for positions in his administration and became leaders of the popular Trump Movement, a force within, but above and independent of, the Republican Party. In this world, you showed abject loyalty to Trump or you were “out.”
Members of the Democratic Party and other resistance groups warned of the dangers inherent in this situation, warned of what might happen if an unexpected disaster occurred that would make manifest Trump’s incompetence as a leader of substance. The Republicans were unmoved. The prospect of stacking the Supreme Court and federal judiciary with “conservative judges” and of reversing policies that supported women’s’ right to abortion, gay and transgender rights and all the rest were such strong enticements that the leadership of the GOP decided to look the other way and hope for the best.
The dreaded event occurred, not in the form of a war or nuclear accident but a plague. Trump instinctively recognized the threat that it presented to his re-election and decided to downplay the risk. His enabler went along. The result of the virus that was supposed to “just disappear one day” is US deaths over 370,000 and growing at about 4,000 a day. The economy tanked and allegiance to Trump weakened somewhat while many Americans still capable of independent reasoning came to see the threat that Trump represented. They believed that the remedy lay in the 2020 election. Impeachment had been tried and failed because Trump’s enablers in the Senate refused to consider the evidence of his corruption and acquitted him.
Trump lost the 2020 election by a margin of 7,060,140 votes, and the Electoral College count by 74 (306 to 232). Biden “flipped” five key states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the “battlegrounds” that became the focus of the post-election charade that led to the January 6 attack.
Trump, facing rejection for perhaps the first time in a major way, decided he would not accept the results. He had foretold this during the prior election when he said he would accept the results “if I win.” Well before Election Day 2020, he was vocal that the election was being “rigged” against him. He espoused that position despite openly using his control of the US Postal Service and the cooperation of Republican governors to stack the deck in his favor. When he lost, he claimed he actually won and that his concerns about voter fraud had proved correct. Sixty lawsuits later, he was 1 insignificant win for 59 losses, including rejection by the Supreme Court. All 50 states certified their results, in some cases after multiple recounts and audits. The just-former Attorney General who had generally served more as Trump’s private attorney than as chief legal officer of the national government announced that there was no meaningful case of fraud to be made. One by one, Trump’s allies abandoned his claims. Trump became more and more isolated.
Finally, on January 6, the damn burst. Trump gave an incendiary speech to a throng of supporters who came to Washington to protest his loss. They completely bought his claim of having been cheated. He urged them to go to the Capitol where the Congress was completing the final constitutionally mandated step of accepting the Electoral College vote count. Many members of the Republican Party in Congress had said they would vote against accepting the count because … Trump said he’d been cheated. No other basis existed to reject the count. They would put loyalty to him over loyalty to the Constitution or compliance with the oaths of office they took upon entering Congress.
Trump said he would go to the Capitol with the mass of supporters but, of course, that was just another lie. He stayed in the White House and watched on television what appeared to be thousands of his supporters assault the thin blue line of unprepared, undermanned and overmatched Capitol Police officers. [I will have more to say/ask about this extraordinary circumstance in a future post] They broke through the outer barricades, smashed their way into the Capitol and wandered around stealing objects, smashing windows and doors while preening for the cameras. There are extensive videos of the events outside and inside and they raise many serious questions.
I want to suggest that this was, at long last, a bridge too far. Trump overestimated how much power he could get away with throwing in the face of the country. His “anything I want” approach to government apparently led him to believe it was perfectly fine to send a throng of angry and delusional supporters to try to prevent the Congress, by force, from completing the final step in cementing Trump’s defeat.
It was always going to be by force because there was simply no other way the group could expect to gain entry to the building. If they thought about it at all, they apparently believed Trump’s “immunity” covered them as well, a judgment that is proving to be a catastrophic error of judgment. The arrests have begun and the process of identification of the perpetrators is being aided by large number of people with technical and other relevant skills using social media. The extent of the delusion driving the throng was so great that many wore no face covering and some displayed on their clothing nameplates and badges that identified their employers or conveyed other identity-related information.
The federal government has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice and a number of them have already been arrested back in their home towns. A variety of federal criminal charges will lie against them. I imagine their excitement and enthusiasm for their “achievement” in Washington is rapidly dimming as the reality of criminal charges and possible long-term imprisonment dawns. Jobs are being lost and families upended. For a delusional dream of some vague power to protect Donald Trump from the electorate, from himself.
One of the attackers was a young woman, a veteran possessed of overwhelming anger and irrationality displayed in social media postings, a devotee of QAnon conspiracy theory and a pure Trump loyalist. For that, she was shot and killed heading an assault on the doors leading to the Speaker’s Lobby in the Capitol. The Speaker’s Lobby is directly outside the House Chamber where the House of Representatives was in joint session with the Senate to complete the Electoral College count. The shooting was captured on video. Other videos show a Capitol Police officer screaming in pain as he is crushed in a doorway by the mob. Another officer died being assaulted and, apparently, maced by the mob. Three other perpetrators died from medical emergencies.
Five dead. The crowd high-fiving as they left, satisfied that they had achieved something. Trump – well, he has had nothing to say about the deaths for which he bears direct responsibility. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among other social media, have suspended Trump’s accounts. At long last, a bridge too far even for them.
Meanwhile, the Republican leadership gathered at Amelia Island, Florida for a retreat to discuss the Party’s future. https://wapo.st/3nupioS The Trump-loyalist leadership was re-elected, praising Trump the Almighty as if nothing had happened on January 6, no assault on one of the great temples of American democracy. Repeating insane claims still circulating on social media,
“Some members argued falsely that it was really “antifa” or other leftist groups responsible for the violence in the U.S. Capitol, people present said, and did not believe he had done anything wrong….
Attendees passed resolutions criticizing the news media and calling for attention to voter fraud, two of the president’s favored topics. One North Carolina official called for the reelection of the GOP’s officials partly so the news media could not say the party was in discord. A statement from a committeeman for the officer killed in the Capitol did not mention the president’s role in inciting the violence but said the Republican Party was the party of law and order.
New day, same old story. Read it at the cite above if you have the stomach for it.
So, maybe I am wrong in believing that this was a bridge too far. Maybe the Republican Party’s delusional obeisance to a criminally-corrupt and possibly mentally unstable president will override all the evidence as it has for the throng that invaded the Capitol Building. The president and the Republican Party that, with very few exceptions, continues to support him appear utterly indifferent to the world-record number of COVID-19 deaths, to the failed vaccine distribution program that was to begin restoring order and health to the economy and to the assault on the citadel of democracy. They appear only to be concerned with maintaining their political power.
In light of that, I contend, yet again, that Trump should be removed from power by whatever means are available. If that fails, with less than two weeks left in his term, he should be arrested as soon as President Biden is sworn-in and charged with multiple crimes against the United States and against humanity itself. His acolytes are beyond reason, it seems, so the only way to deal with them and him is the full force of the legal system. No future leader, of whatever party, must ever get the idea that repeating Trump’s conduct will be accepted as just more political chicanery. If we fail in preventing that, we will have doomed the great American experiment in democracy, ultimate rule by the people, to its death.