The images, seared into the brain since the now hallowed day of January 6, retain an appalling power. To encounter them again is to be cast into a stomach-churning grief at the darkness we have endured, all the fears of the past four years fully realized. In the end, we did not escape the bullet millions of us had seen aimed at the heart of our country.
We were not “deranged” after all—merely clear-eyed about who the 45th president has always been, and the dire threat he has represented all along to our democracy.
Today, he remains unrepentant and defiant as ever, even as his second impeachment trial reveals, in stark, still frightening imagery and words, the full savagery of the mob he invited to the nation’s capital to perpetrate his evil deeds.
The one consolation: it all could have been much worse. So terribly worse.
Oh, one more consolation, too: he is no longer the president of the United States.
Ex-President Trump’s culpability for the insurrection he unleashed on the Capitol—the murder, the mayhem, the attempted illegal retention of power by violence after voters had soundly rejected his re-election—could not be more obvious.
Nor could his conviction be more necessary.
To ignore his direct, primary role in inspiring the siege is to willfully inhabit an alternate reality, a blatant, self-blindfolding denial of the facts as they are.
The evidence is everywhere, for all with eyes to see.
Not far outside on the Capitol grounds, an enterprising few of them had constructed a makeshift gallows that did not in any way suggest a toy replica.
It saturates the 13-minute video the House managers unveiled on Tuesday—a kind of dark “highlight” reel connecting the months-long barrage of the finally deposed president’s tweets and rally exhortations, his tentative probings of generals who might support him, the pressuring and threats against his own party officials and vice-president, his defiant claims of righteous indignation that the election had been “stolen” and the result would not stand, could not stand, if only his supporters would stand strong for him.
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he tweeted on December 19, giving his followers plentiful time to make travel plans. “Be there, will be wild!”
Wild it was 18 days later, his followers marauding through the Capitol building chanting, “Hang Mike Pence! Bring out Pence!” as they roamed the halls in search of him.
Not far outside on the Capitol grounds, an enterprising few of them had constructed a makeshift gallows that did not in any way suggest a toy replica.
In the previously unseen video from Capitol security cameras shown in the trial yesterday, Pence and his family are being hustled out a side door, some 60 feet ahead of the rioters.
Meanwhile, other hall wanderers and office ransackers engage in sing-songy chants of “Nancy, oh Nancy! Nancy…Where are you Nancy, we’re looking for you!”
Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi had been escorted from the Capitol earlier because she among all Trump antagonists over the years had been a target of perhaps his most vitriolic rhetoric, and his followers had been listening closely for a long time.
The terror of all this as it was experienced by members from both houses of Congress, their staffs, and the outmanned Capitol police cannot be overstated.
Nor the devastating possibility, almost unbearable to imagine, of what actually could have happened if the mob had been able to get their hands on Pence and Pelosi, as they most decidedly were looking to do.
Nor can this be stated too many times: The entire event was invited, incited, inspired, encouraged and approved of over many months by the sitting president of the United States, who for the first time in our nation’s history refused to concede an exhaustively reviewed, free and fair election in accordance with our Constitution.
Please read that last sentence again, and don’t ever forget its essence.
If the date of December 7, 1941 will “live in infamy” as a former president said of an attack on our shores by a foreign power, how much more “infamous” will January 6, 2021 be when the history of this era is written?
It was a day, after all, when our own duly elected president turned against his own people and legislators and his own vice-president, whipping an adoring crowd into a frenzy and then setting them upon the Capitol building to disrupt what has always been a routine final counting of electoral ballots from the recent presidential election.
And then, in a kind of coup de grace that left zero doubt about what his intentions had always been and his complete disregard for the fate of all who were in harm’s way from the mob he had unleashed, Trump watched the mayhem on television. He was reported as gleeful that the Capitol building was breached, despite the police he had always purported to venerate now fighting for their very lives. Then, some 10 minutes after his own vice-president had been evacuated under emergency conditions, he tweeted the following:
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
All of this is supported in the factual public record, as exhaustively reviewed by the House impeachment managers over three days now as they seek to convince the Senate that Donald Trump deserves to be convicted of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of inciting a mob to nullify a duly certified election in order to remain in office.
In other words, a blatant coup, and installing himself as a de facto dictator. How else to characterize an attempt to violently overturn a democratic election?
The Republican senators’ response to this so far seems to have been, with a few notable exceptions, a mixture of a big yawn, anger (at Democrats), deflection, and irritation that they are being forced to contend with an issue they have already made up their minds about (despite the oath they took at the trial’s commencement to serve as “impartial jurors”).
And that is very possibly the most discouraging and darkly portentous aspect of this entire sordid event.
Truly, if these actions are deemed unworthy of conviction and prohibition against ever holding public office again, what exactly would one have to do to deserve it?
What more grievous assault could there be in a democracy than trying to forcibly overturn the will of voters and refuse the peaceful transfer of power?
Fox News strained mightily to posit the following equivalence during an interview with Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah by playing tapes of Democrats Chuck Schumer, Maxine Waters, and Cory Booker urging followers to actively call out opposing members of Congress in public settings.
Lee’s ostensibly conciliatory but actually highly irrational response:
So, if we should forgive Democrats for sometimes overheated rhetoric about making opponents “uncomfortable,” so, too, goes the implication, should we also give the president of the United States a “mulligan” (a golfing term for a “do-over” on an errant shot) for gathering a mob of ardent, armed followers and perhaps overheatedly suggesting the violent overturning of a United States presidential election.
An effort that he carried on for months, and which reached its apotheosis in a carefully staged rally suffused with inflammatory rhetoric and with the express purpose of disrupting the constitutionally mandated counting of electoral votes.
Nothing to see here, time to move on, just some impassioned words, it’s a free country, though yeah, things did seem to get out of hand. Happens sometimes…
Meanwhile, a tweet at second day’s end from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd.”
Offensive? Absurd? It is hard to know what to say to this, other than, perhaps, to note how offensive and absurd it is.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz laid all the blame on the rioters while offering this assessment of the House managers:
“They spent a great deal of time focusing on the horrific acts of violence that were played out by the criminals, but the language from the president doesn’t come close to meeting the legal standard for incitement.”
If you suspect that would pass neither the sniff test nor the basic common sense of a toad, you will enjoy plentiful company among those who actually followed the ex-president’s words and actions over these past months and even years.
So there we have it—what appears, on this Thursday night, to be a foregone conclusion of an exoneration on an insurrection fomented without reservation by a deposed president whose takeaway from all this, which will surely be noted not only by himself as 2024 nears but by all our foreign adversaries (and sadly, allies…), along with those who might follow in his nefarious footsteps in the future:
I refused to accept the certified results of an election and then urged and inspired an insurrection that overran the United States Capitol, ransacked the House chambers, caused multiple deaths, and nearly led to the murder of my vice president and untold numbers of other elected officials—and I suffered no consequences. And now I am welcome to come back and do it all again. Is this a great country, or what?
Two links here, the first powerful and important—the video the House managers put together showing the horror of the Capitol siege. The second, thoughtful, impassioned, and also important: the text of Lead Manager Jamie Raskin’s opening statement on Day 2, laying to waste defense arguments and setting the whole sorry mess in the context of the great violation it did to our country, its self-identity, and the rule of law. There was as yet no complete video of the latter at the time of this post’s writing.
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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Daytime rioter photos by Blink O’fanaye, Washington, D.C. https://www.flickr.com/photos/blinkofanaye/
Gallows and evening insurrection photos by Tyler Merbler, USA https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/
Thanks, Andrew, for your thoughtful analysis and commentary on yesterday’s powerful Impeachment Trial. I thought the Impeachment Managers laid everything out in such a thorough and logical way, while adding the personal stories and horrific video evidence to bring home the impact of the facts. To hear the rude and demeaning comments from Lindsay Graham and some of his fellow Republicans was simply depressing. Some of these folks have sold their souls so that they can stay in office and get re-elected. A few were more respectful and reflective. I’ve gotta say it’s hard to take so I took a bit of a news holiday today. Back to the news tomorrow. This is something we cannot afford to turn away from.
Oh, do I ever hear ya on your last line, Linda. I approach each political post here with great trepidation, partly because I never intended to write about politics when I started this blog, and also because I know such posts are unpopular among many people who just want to get away from it all, for what I know are their own good and understandable reasons. But you are right: “We cannot afford to turn away”—and that’s what pulls me back to posts of this nature.
Watching the PBS News Hour every night as is our habit now reminds us not only of the costs of turning away, but also the treasure that human freedom is, and how its absence has such drastic consequences for the people in countries where it does not exist. Stories of coups and civil wars take up a regular portion of The News Hour (God bless them for that), but the dismal and terrifying thing about last month is that we sidestepped an actual coup attempt here, in the world’s supposed cradle and paragon of democracy. This is something I could not ever have dared imagine, but it happened, here, in 2021, in our lifetimes. That means it could happen here again, and pretty much anywhere else, too.
It turns out the threads holding our democracies together are thinner than we knew, and eternal vigilance truly is required. To turn away from that reality, or worse, to trivialize it as so much of today’s Republican Party is doing, means the danger remains all the more severe. Thanks for bringing these thoughts to the fore.
All insightful and true Andrew. But if you could add a few coincidences and conspiracy theories, add a few lies and idiotic ideologies, mix in some highly emotional feelings, and a sprinkle of Hannity/Carlson gems, you could increase your reader list by 74 million.
Right you are, Kirk, but unfortunately, I flunked out early from the Hannity Carlson Institute of Idiotic Invective. Just couldn’t bear the cost of the tuition, as it were…
You are most welcome, Marilyn.
Instinctively I want to vent about the depravity and irresponsibility of Senate Republicans and their Trumpist denialism. But I have been doing that in other conversations and social media platforms since before the most recent impeachment hearings began. Since the outcome of the hearings was reached i have tried a different approach to make sense of it all. Rather than continue the path of outrage and mystification at Republican votes in Congress on Trump impeachment and investigative hearings, I have worked to stretch my imagination into a world occupied by those who defend him and acquiesce in the violent, crazed actions of his followers. It occurred to me that no political framework and its implementation works for all people all the time. Our democratic republic has been exceptionally resilient since its inception; so effective and resilient, in fact, that our citizens have long thought it to be the most effective form of human governance ever known to humankind. That viewpoint is exceptional and has hardly been challenged throughout our history. Until now. It is plausible that for some (Republicans supporting Trump) it is a form of government that does not ring true. In fact it may run harshly counter to their interests, beliefs, instinct and, indeed, threaten their sense of self preservation. We are stunned that elected officials to The United States Congress could support a man like Trump and look past the violence of his followers. Yet over 70 million people voted for him, and a Congressional District in Georgia elected Marjorie Taylor Greene and District 3 in my state of Colorado elected Lauren Boebert. Trump, Greene, and Boebert embody the values of those voters as do other members of Congress that have stood in support of Trump and looked past the violent hatred of his followers. Their actions, and their view of the Mueller Report, and their votes in the impeachment hearings are not disingenuous, dishonest, or inconsistent with their values. They represent all those people for whom our form of government simply does not work and is not consistent with their view of humanity.
Jay, you remind me of the Churchill quote we all know from 1947, coming off the debacle of consecutive world wars:
“‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I think you correctly and compassionately perceive that there’s nothing inauthentic as such from at least the base of most Trump voters—all those who feel left out of the American dream (though we should not extend the same understanding to Republican politicians and their naked exploitation and stoking of their voters’ grievances). But we can also not deny that underlying much of that grievance is racism and other forms of bigotry that spring from ignorance and fear, both of which are promoted and exploited to the hilt not only by the ranters like Trump, Hannity, Carlson, Jordan, Boebert, et al—but also every one of the 43 Republican senators who consciously decided to give tacit approval last week to violence as a political tactic in voting to acquit Trump. This appalling lack of leadership, this unwillingness to actually try to inform their electorate and tell them the truth about the election but instead sanctioning violence in order to overturn it, represents a sea change in our political life, and I think the implications are dire.
I think we can also not underestimate the pure cultism that has descended on the party. Polls from as far back as 2016 consistently show Republican voters more closely aligned to Trump as a person than the party, and others show crazy levels of support for upending the election, not just a second but a THIRD term, and even lifetime tenure. From a Forbes poll the other day: “68% want Trump to remain the leader of the party, and 40%, a plurality, want the GOP to move FURTHER TO THE RIGHT.” (CAPS MINE…) So yes, as you suggest, they’ve tried democracy and are truly ready for something else—an autocracy with a cult leader at the top.
I must say, I’ve got my own issues with democracy, and the absolutely crushing level of engagement required to actually keep up with one’s government in a responsible way while also tending to jobs, kids, and the fate of the Giants, 49ers, or whomever. This leaves conditions ripe for politicians to demagogue issues to death, obfuscate and distort like mad, and PT Barnum the hell out of the electorate, with a huge assist from modern media and its highly refined, algorithmed propaganda methods.
My own feeling which I have stated before is that democracy is a mostly untenable governance system, fragile at its core, highly exploitable, and the world would be a better place if it were governed by a benevolent dictatorship, the dictators learned and pure of heart, dedicated servants to their people. Problem is that dictators are still, unfortunately, human beings (at least until we can manufacture them using AI), subject to all the usual human foibles, with the power that comes from dictatorship somehow always managing to subvert and soil even those with the best of initial intentions, not to mention the obvious conmen and swindlers like Trump and Putin.
Churchill said it with “this world of sin and woe.” How do we best blunt those to the greatest degree possible while lifting up grace and compassion with the same intense focus? With great and consistent leadership, I think—which requires the training of great leaders who can manage to get themselves elected in a flawed democracy made up of flawed and distracted, overly emotional human beings. Our track record with that isn’t so great lately, with a few notable exceptions (Jeremy Raskin near the top of that list).
No easy way forward, eh? My greatest fear, though, is that January 6 represented a crossing of the Rubicon we will now have a very difficult time retreating from, as Trump & Co. even now plan their triumphant return to a party that continues to embrace them with fervor.
Trumpism is alive, it is real, and it is not going away. I am not certain that a democratic republic is the type of framework that can accept and integrate it. If not, a new model must emerge. Constitutional Framers could have never foreseen what we now face. Perhaps the time is approaching where we must go back to the drawing board. I cannot imagine how that would be organized, led, and implemented, but it is clear that Trumpistas have upended our beloved and heretofore functional democracy.
I have been thinking rather intensely about this since your comment the other day, and it seems we are dealing with an almost perfect definition of a conundrum: “a confusing and difficult problem or question.” Yeah, I would say so…
Seems to me it is all up for grabs now—old norms broken, battle lines hardened, no town square as such, no place where a set of core values can at least serve as a starting point for dialogue. Democracy, capitalism, globalism, work, the role of government and political parties, the use and misuse of religion, the nature of free speech, social media as a public utility—every piece of it is lit up with controversy, conundrums, ferocious attacks and counterattacks.
What does democracy do, how does it respond, when voters vote in an undemocratic regime? Or an autocrat just grabs the levers of power as Trump tried to do, and a huge portion of the population approves, with a smaller but still significant portion even willing to employ violence to achieve their aims? It seems our Constitution may just not be equipped to deal with that because the Founders assumed a certain adherence to norms, an extra-Constitutional agreement that certain bounds would not be broken. And now that they have been, what does the Constitution equip us to do in response? Is it enough, sans a common commitment to basic shared values & civilized comportment?
In many ways, it feels to me like the relatively small thing of Trump calling his opponents names in the 2016 primaries, attacking their physical appearance, their wives, etc. was the beginning of the end. The fact that his doing so didn’t immediately knock him out of the race was a harbinger, an implicit permission, for all that was to follow, with its crowning “achievement” occurring on January 6. Did our democracy truly survive that day, or did it just win a perilous battle in a larger and longer war, with the enemy now regrouping and planning other lines of attack? And what are the implications of even calling that faction of our national leadership and its voting population “the enemy?”
What an interesting discussion y’all – a conundrum indeed, we are swimming in uncharted waters to be sure. I have no idea what will happen in terms of the fate of our battered democracy and all the dysfunction that has raised its ugly head the past couple of months. Yet my take is a bit more on the 1/2 full side of the glass, which is my default mode anyway so not claiming it is correct but here goes.
I think there is a silver lining in all of this tumult and it presents a unique opportunity for the Biden administration to “go BIG”, possibly in a way that could have serious longer term results, including the possible galvanizing of a reinvention process that our fragile democracy so clearly calls out for. The twin challenges of getting enough vaccine in enough arms to reach some form of “herd immunity” and passing an economic relief/stimulation bill to fire up a meaningful recovery. Recent polls show Biden nearing a 60% approval rating, Trump is at an all-time low of 39% with 57% (Gallup) disapproving. Given the problems with polls one can’t put too much store in any one number but the trend is clear. Some 70% support Biden’s proposed Covid package including many GOP mayors and governors. All of which is to say the time is uniquely ripe for making some headway in the next 6-12 months that could pave the way for long needed reforms including dumping the filibuster, passing the John Lewis voting rights bill (and other steps dealing with institutional racism), addressing the climate change disaster and much more.
As social media companies figure out how to better regulate themselves (Facebook’s “Supreme Court” will be interesting to watch) address their pernicious AI algorithms, schools more aggressively address teaching Civic Online Reasoning (see: https://cor.stanford.edu), etc the future does potentially suggest some positive changes. An NYT editorial today by Timothy Egan makes similar points, see: (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/opinion/biden-democratic-majority-winning.html). There are no easy answers or quick fixes here, the GOP has been rotting from the inside out since at least the “Gingrich revolution” and was ripe for Trump’s brand of authoritarian, grievance driven cultism. It is an open question as to what type of direction the GOP will take in the near term, it certainly looks Trumpish all the way down but as his brand continues to rust a center/right housecleaning or perhaps third party is not inconceivable. Bottom line for me, much is riding on the success of Biden et al in the next 6-9 months, couple that with some successful Trump lawsuits and things could look considerably better for our embattled democracy.
Thanks, Kevin, I needed that! Sometimes, indeed, the darkest hours are before the dawn, and it is certainly possible we are at a nadir, poised to begin the long climb out of this morass. I heard a commentator a few days ago suggest it will be a two-generational project at best before the strange rot of the Republican Party washes itself out, which sounds about right to me. In the shorter term, how we begin the climb depends, I think, on how ardently obstructionist McConnell & Co. become to Biden’s legislative agenda. If it’s a repeat of his approach to Obama, he can still gum things up to an unconscionable degree, even in the minority. And then there’s the overt lunacy of pure Trumpism to deal with, and the poisoning of all political and cultural discourse it brings. And haunting the whole enterprise is January 6, which I may be overly obsessing about, but whose implications and reverberations I fear we haven’t even had time to process and begin to find a place for yet.
Thanks for taking this where you did—I may yet keep my head from exploding when offered enough alternative takes on my reality!
Kevin, I was beginning to turn the corner earlier today after reading commentary/analysis similar to what you have outlined. That is, Biden success with vaccine and stimulus could lead to an economic boom and rebirth of some modicum of faith in government: perhaps a kind of post WWII euphoria with New Deal, etc. Now, coming across your comments and some further thought (along with an abundance of Colorado sunshine and a long walk in the woods) I’m making the turn with full faith that we will see our way through and emerge strong and vital with Democracy and the Constitution intact, welcomed back by our allies with open and hopeful arms. Trump will wilt away like all wicked forces in fairy tales, new challenges will arise in new forms and so it will go.
Now, that feels much, much better. Thanks Kevin and Andrew for the opportunity to come full circle in processing all of this .