In my case, however, I was literally writing the opposite column. I was crafting an upbeat essay about how America’s institutions survived the Trump presidency, and how the American system of government, as designed in the Constitution, proved that virtue alone was not necessary for the republic to survive.
I still believe that to be true: President Trump is a failure, and political failures fail in America. That’s one of the things that makes America great.
But what transpired Wednesday is part of America as well, and the enablers of political carnage need to be discussed with as much blunt language as this newspaper will allow me to put into print.
After the mob breached the perimeter of the Capitol, it was interesting to hear House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sound scared and angry as he called into Fox News and elsewhere:
McCarthy sounded like a lot of fellow Republicans who talked to reporters Wednesday. They would start with platitudes about how America was the greatest democracy in the world and then pivot to condemning the violence by Trump supporters.
Others who planned to object to the affirmation of Joe Biden’s victory also spoke out. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted, “Violence is always unacceptable. Even when passions run high.” Fellow GOP Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) said, “the violence must end, those who attacked police and broke the law must be prosecuted, and Congress must get back to work and finish its job.”
My question to McCarthy, Cruz and Hawley, et al, is simple: How did they think this was going to end after they spent the past two months coddling a wildly immature, temper-prone leader who refused to acknowledge that he lost?
Back in November, we know what they thought. One senior Republican official told my Post colleagues, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change. … It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
I was dubious about that logic two months ago. On Wednesday, we saw proof that while Trump was not planning to prevent Biden from taking power, he was not opposed to trying anything at the last minute, including mob violence.
All along the way, folks like McCarthy, Cruz and Hawley indulged Trump’s efforts to fire up his base. Some did so in the hopes of winning some Senate seats in Georgia that they lost. Others have their eye on 2024 or 2028.
What happened Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol is the fault of many people. Trump bears responsibility for appeasing rather than leading his base: as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) put it Wednesday evening, “the best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.” The U.S. Capitol Police should have prepared for this contingency, because it was pretty obvious that it was a risk. McCarthy, Cruz and all of Trump’s other ambitious quislings bear some culpability as well. Demagogues like Tucker Carlson also deserve to feel shame.
With all that said, however, this denies agency to those Americans who actually did the storming of the Capitol. As Olivia Nuzzi noted, “Many Trump supporters have been preparing for a violent clash for months. Gun purchases spiked. I’ve talked to MAGA voters who have collected weapons, worried about a Civil War. This was utterly predictable.” My colleague Megan McArdle notes, “Conservatives aren’t supposed to believe that people are like amoebas, who cannot help but react mechanically to negative stimulus. The responsibility for this riot rests [in part] on the shoulders of the rioters.”
Nor is this a small fringe of MAGA supporters. A snap YouGov poll found that 45 percent of Republicans “actively support the actions of those at the Capitol.” As noted in this space earlier this week, that is a deplorable attitude to hold.
That same YouGov poll showed an overwhelming majority of Americans are appalled by what took place on Wednesday. I will talk about that portion of America next week. This week, however, we need to acknowledge that this vocal, violent minority is a part of America, and will be so for quite some time.