Donald Trump must go. He’ll be leaving soon anyway – Joe Biden will be inaugurated in two weeks – but Trump can’t be gone soon enough. The president who came to power by denouncing the “American carnage” has brought unprecedented violence to the heart of American democracy.
True, for much of the past year Americans have witnessed scenes of riot and destruction in their cities. True, the Democratic Party has encouraged chaos for electoral reasons, and it is true that most of the media have applauded the “protests” as a crude form of racial justice.
But Wednesday’s riot was not just a rejection of the law. It was a raid on the symbols and forms of American democracy, perhaps the worst symbolic assault since the September 11 attacks. He was summoned by a sitting president who was still promoting a conspiracy theory about a “stolen” election even as his supporters faced each other inside the Capitol against the National Guard.
Images of the crowd that forced their way into the Capitol showed a large contingent of this uniquely American figure, the Patriotic Great Plunge: the bearded man, the odd old man type in the ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie, the shamanic climate activist dressed as Sitting Bull, the battalions of gas masked comic warriors and wearing homemade armor.
These clowns are the thin end of a wedge that’s million strong. In early December, a month of counterfactual claims and court cases had convinced nearly 40 percent of Republicans Trump had been robbed of. Another 23 percent of Republicans didn’t know who really won. The fake news had gnawed at the public’s understanding of reality to the point that even a third of independent voters doubted Biden’s victory.
And the barbarians at the gates have support inside. Ahead of the riot, as Trump’s attorney Rudy Guiliani called for a “combat trial,” Republican senators like Josh Hawley, the Missouri poster Trumpist, and Ted Cruz, the late Texas trumper-lite , rejected the count of the Electoral College. and questioned the reliability of the election result.
On Tuesday, Hawley and Cruz had recruited 11 of the 50 Senate Republicans for their cause. They and Trump have hoisted the party on a paranoia firecracker. And paranoia and violence are not on the fringes of American politics: they are the virtues of 1776. Even Joe Biden, after his usual wheezing at the microphone, improvised a phrase from the common mythology of the popular uprising: ” It’s time for the Americans to stand up ‘- like it’s time to dust off the muskets and fight King Donald and the Redcaps.
Instead of forcing Congress’ hand, the Republican insurgents pushed their party into an account. Republicans must now decide whether they are the business, public order and opportunity party of the middle class – or the bosses of the disenfranchised and lawless whites who stepped out of the middle class. The parties were divided on less.
The Trump coalition is taking cover. Michael Ahrens, the Republicans’ communications director, speaks of “domestic terrorism”. Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader who worked badly with Trump, warned rebel Republican senators that “our democracy will enter a death spiral” if an election is “overturned by mere allegations on the losing side.” The National Association of Manufacturers, a partner and beneficiary of Trump’s efforts to revive U.S. industry, has suggested that Vice President Mike Pence invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and remove Trump from office.
Earlier today, Pence refused to endorse Trump’s “Stop the Steal” fantasy. During the riot, it was Pence, and not his Commander-in-Chief, who called the National Guard. It was unconstitutional, but then few of the day’s proceedings were legal.
American politics are a costume drama, but every once in a while someone gets killed.
Trump’s reality TV presidency ends in disaster: a president inciting mobs against elected officials, the first assault on Capitol Hill since the War of 1812, the collapse of civilian command and the discrediting of a party in a two-party system.
Besides the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which allows for the removal of a president for health reasons, Pence might want to consider Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. This prohibits “any function, civil or military” to those who “have engaged in an insurrection or a rebellion” against the government, or “have brought aid and comfort to its enemies”. Pence and his fellow Republicans have two weeks to save their reputations and repair some of the damage Trump has done to the American Republic.