The chaotic insurrection effort at the Capitol building today showed that 14 more days is far too long for Donald Trump to continue to serve as president.
As promised, Trump showed up early in the day to speak at a rally in support of his baseless charges that the presidential election was stolen.
Mostly, his speech reprised the recitation of imagined achievements and accumulated enemies familiar from his campaign appearances. But the enemies list got longer, now including former Attorney General William Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Their sins: not supporting Trump aggressively enough, and then clinging too tightly to the norms of Constitutional governance.
Trump (again, falsely) claimed an electoral landslide, whined about being cheated, and demanded that his followers fight on to keep him in office. He proclaimed that he would never concede, and announced that he would march with them to the Capitol building to stop Congress from accepting the Electoral College results. Then Trump went back to the White House.
The supporters marched on, and somehow forged a column that got through the blockades around the Capitol, and then invaded the building. (At least one video circulating seems to show police removing the barricades to invite the insurgents in.) You’d have to go back to 1814, when the British invaded (without guitars) to find anything remotely similar. Ironies abounded as the folks who march to support blue lives battled with police.
Trumpians raced up the Capitol steps, and surged through the hallways, claiming space on the floor of the House and the Senate, occupying Statuary Hall, invading offices, rummaging through desks, breaking glass, and looting–taking selfies all the way.
Although it seems likely that at least some of the vandals planned the incursion, it looks like a lot of the insurgents just got caught up in the moment.
There was little apparent coordination on a plan once security personnel had evacuated the members of Congress, nor any consideration of a common message.
There were oddly costumed demonstrators, a variety of flags brandished (see the Confederate flag above, almost covering what I’m pretty sure is a portrait of John C. Calhoun, the chief political theorist of Southern secession to preserve slavery), MAGA hats, but not many masks in deference to a global pandemic.
The vandals’ seemingly easy access to the building and their ability to disrupt the functioning of the national government raised obvious questions about policing.
Tweeters were quick to notice that blockades, arrests, beatings and chokeholds, tear gas, and gun shots came far more slowly to this group of white demonstrators than to discipline the Black Lives Matter demonstrators of last summer, much less the occasional Black or brown motorist, jogger, shopper, or sleeper.
Trump’s belated effort to promote public order came with a one minute video, in which he reiterated his unsupportable grievances about the election, and declared his love for the insurgents before encouraging them to go home.
Coordination of public safety was scattered at best, partly a function of a dysfunctional and disinterested administration, partly a result of the odd governance of Washington DC. Note that it was VP Pence who called out the National Guard, although the Vice President has no authority to do so. It took hours for a collection of law enforcement agencies to clear out the building, and, slowly slowly, the surrounding areas.
Congressional leaders announced that they would reconvene and accept the results as soon as the building was cleared, and presumably, when the tear gas had cleared as well. They were determined not to give the insurgents even the whiff of a victory to claim. It looks like at least a few of the members had abandoned their plans to challenge the votes from some of the swing states.
Reporting at this stage, no matter how earnest and well-intentioned, is unlikely to be fully reliable, so we’re waiting to get a fuller story, much less tease out implications, but here are a few guesses:
The insurgency will further challenge at least some Republican politicians’ faith in the president, exacerbating a growing split in the party.
Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leaders McConnell and (now!) Schumer will be trying to coordinate some way to remove–or at least muzzle–Trump to avoid more damage. (Twitter has, temporarily, frozen his account.)
Congress–and state legislatures–will install bigger barricades and staff more police and security forces, making it harder for people to confront–or even connect with–their representatives.
Maybe, there will be more urgent support for DC statehood–a governor could do things to protect public order that the mayor could not.
Maybe, there will be a little bit more support for modest gun safety regulation–depending on just what all happens next.
We’re living through an odd and disturbing chapter of the American story; I’d be fine with skipping the last few pages, and getting onto something different.
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