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.”
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.”
“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.