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Like everyone else, I was stunned by the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. I followed the proceedings from the start to see what stunt Trump might pull. I watched as the mob approached and stormed the Capitol, where Electoral votes were being counted. What happened was a violent desecration of the Constitutionally prescribed process for transferring power from one president to the next. It was an attack on our government and our Constitution. The ceremony is typically dry as dust, and no one watches it.
This time there was an air of anticipation because some 140 Republican members of the House and at least 13 Senators had announced that they would oppose certification of Biden’s victory unless there was an “audit” of the states that Trump thinks he should have won, despite multiple recounts and 60 failures in state and federal courts and two rejections by the United States Supreme Court. Not a single court agreed with Trump’s claims of election fraud. (Remember that Trump said on the famous phone call with Georgia election officials that he couldn’t possibly have lost Georgia; not only did he lose it on November 3, he lost it again in the Senatorial elections of January 5.)
I have visited the Capitol many times for meetings with members of Congress. I always thought security was tight, but then I was always in a single-file orderly line, not part of an angry mob. Trump invited his base to come to D.C. on January 6 to take part in his effort to overturn the election. He predicted on Twitter that January 6 would be “wild.” On December 26, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote a widely read article warning that there might be disorder in the streets of D.C. on January 6. Former Defense Secretaries worried that Trump might try to stage a military coup. Yet no extraordinary security precautions were taken.
Trump held a rally in the morning to stir up his loyalists. He urged his angry partisans to march to the Capitol. They did, and they broke through its feeble defenses, meeting little resistance. For hours, the mob had the run of the Capitol, sitting at the dais of the Senate chamber in the Vice-President’s chair, rummaging through private offices, looting, smashing windows, and showing their contempt for our government. Several boldly marched around with huge Confederate flags. They were domestic terrorists.
As the rampage continued, Trump was silent. After a few hours of lawlessness, he released a video telling them to go home. He reiterated his lie that the election had been stolen. In the video, he also praised the crowd, who broke into the Capitol using force, stole items from its rooms and posed for photographs in the legislative chambers. “We love you,” Trump said. “You’re very special.”
Yeah, very special thugs, looters, and terrorists.
It was frightening and sickening. I expected the National Guard, the city police, some authority to drive them out, handcuff them, arrest them, and put them in jail. That never happened, unlike the Black Lives Matter protests where armed guards are always a large presence. The Mayor’s curfew of 6 pm came and went, hundreds of terrorists milled about, and no one was arrested. Why are the police hyper-vigilant when African Americans protest, but gentle and patient when faced with a siege of the nation’s Capitol by thugs?
It was a humiliating day for our democracy. The realization dawned on those too blind to see: The United States of America is under attack by the president of the United States. Even some of his loyalists in Congress lost the faith. Six of the 13 Senators backed away from their commitment to abet his last desperate effort to overturn the election. (The Senators who refused to certify Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania: Ted Cruz of Texas; Josh Hawley of Missouri; Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming; Roger Marshall of Kansas; Rick Scott of Florida; Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.)
If ever there was a time to force this vile man out of office, it is now. His Cabinet could activate the 25th Amendment and force him out; he is unfit to lead, even for two weeks. The leaders of the Republican Party could call on him and demand that he resign at once or face bipartisan censure and other sanctions. He put their lives and our nation at risk. He is our leading national security risk, and it’s terrifying to know that he holds the nuclear codes for two more weeks.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post summed up what many felt: an angry, vengeful Trump committed treason. He incited an insurrection against the seat of his own government, so desperate to cling to power that he would unleash violence on the members of Congress who had convened to confirm his loss.
President Trump broke any number of laws and norms during his ruinous four-year reign. He just added one more on the way out: treason.
He lost the House in 2018. He lost the presidency in November. He lost the Senate on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, with nothing left to lose, he rallied a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to toss out the election results, ignore the will of the people, and install him as president for another term.
Trump fomented a deadly insurrection against the U.S. Congress to prevent a duly-elected president from taking office. Treason is not a word to be used lightly, but that is its textbook definition. “We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about,” he told a sea of MAGA fans and Proud Boys on the Ellipse outside the White House at noon. From behind bulletproof glass, he told them: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Earlier, Trump ally Rudy Giuliani had proposed, to the same crowd, a “trial by combat” to resolve Trump’s election complaints. And Donald Trump Jr. delivered a political threat to lawmakers who don’t vote to reject the election results: “We’re coming for you.”
The elder Trump worked the crowd into a frenzy with his claim that victory had been stolen from him by “explosions of bullshit.” “Bullshit! Bullshit!” the mob chanted.
Trump instructed his supporters to march to the Capitol — “and I’ll be there with you” — to “demand that Congress do the right thing” and not count the electoral votes of swing states he lost. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong,” he admonished them, with CYA instructions to make themselves heard “peacefully and patriotically.”
Wink, wink. “We’re going to the Capitol,” he told the mob.
With that, Trump snuck back into the safety of the White House fortress. But his supporters, thus riled, marched to the Capitol and breached the barricades. They overpowered Capitol Police, climbed scaffolding, scaled walls, shattered glass, busted into the Senate chamber and stood at the presiding officer’s desk, and broke into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hastily abandoned office. They marauded about the Rotunda and Statuary Hall wearing MAGA hats, carrying Confederate flags, posing for souvenir photos and scribbling graffiti (“Murder the Media”).
Police rushed legislative leaders to safety. They barricaded doors to the House chamber and drew guns to protect lawmakers sheltering inside. They fired tear gas at the attackers. Shots were fired inside the Capitol; a bloodied woman who was wheeled out later died. The District of Columbia declared a curfew. And even then it took Trump nearly three hours before he released a video telling those ransacking the Capitol to “go home” — even as he glorified the violence by saying “these are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots.”
Before he lost the election, Trump refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power. During the campaign, he defended militia violence and told his violent white nationalist supporters to “stand by” — part of a well-documented pattern of encouraging violence since he launched his first campaign in 2015.
Yet, somehow, the men in the Capitol who enabled Trump for all those years were shocked that he would unleash a mob against Congress. “What is unfolding is unacceptable and un-American,” declared House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who just hours earlier had announced he would support Trump’s effort to annul the electoral college count.
“Violence is always unacceptable,” tut-tutted Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who along with Josh Hawley of Missouri was leading the effort in the Senate to nullify the election results. Just moments before the MAGA mob burst into the chamber, Cruz gave a speech saying “democracy is in crisis” because many Americans think the election was “rigged” — in large part because Cruz et al. kept telling them so.
As Trump’s goons began taking over the Capitol, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who had called the attempt to set aside the electoral college tally an “egregious ploy,” yelled at Cruz and his co-conspirators: “This is what you’ve gotten, guys.” Romney later issued a statement saying: “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States.” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House GOP leader, told Fox News: “The president formed the mob. The president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”
Trump’s inept legal challenges amounted to a clownish coup attempt. The Cruz-Hawley scheme amounted to a bloodless coup attempt. And now, Trump has induced his MAGA mob to a violent coup attempt.
As it happens, moments before the barbarians busted into the Senate chamber, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, long among the most faithful Trump enablers, had denounced the effort to overturn the election. “The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken,” an emotional McConnell said, in perhaps the finest speech of his long career. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
Or maybe the spiral has already begun.
Most Americans never imagined they would see such banana-republic images of violence from the seat of American democracy. But Wednesday’s mayhem and violence form a predictable coda to a presidency that has brought us far too much of both.
Republicans must now decide whether they are going to return to being the party of small government, individual liberties and national strength, or to continue being the Trump and Cruz party of violence, racism and authoritarianism.
Are they small-d democrats or are they fascists? After Wednesday’s terrible scene, they must choose.