New York (Brussels Morning) The scenes in Washington Wednesday were the coda to a four year period of democratic rollback that has done lasting damage to the ideal of American democracy.
While Americans have every right to be outraged, angered and even frightened by the vision of violent, but oddly pathetic, thugs storming the capitol seeking to overturn a lawful, and not particularly close, election, they should in no way be surprised by what happened.
From long before the first vote in the 2020 election was cast, it was apparent that Donald Trump was not going to leave office peacefully. The violence in Washington Wednesday is the direct result of Trump’s rants, threats, fantastical thinking and angry dishonest Tweets, not just since the election, but since he became a public figure.
The people who stormed the capitol did so with more than a nod and a wink, more like a cheer and a thumbs up, not just from the president, but from his enablers-every single one of them, even those who in the last few weeks have sought to distance themselves from Trump.
In the coming days leaders of the Republican Party will tell a few stories about what happened today. Some will downplay it and will describe these people as patriots or otherwise defend them. In short, they will cast their lot with those who sought to overthrow a free and fair election and indeed the US government.
Other Republicans will seek to present themselves as more reasonable they will speak out against the violence condemning those who stormed the capital. However, it is important to remember that every one of these Republicans, every single one of them is complicit in this.
Any Republican who voted against impeaching Donald Trump, any Republican who helped cover up the findings of the Mueller report, any Republican who stood by when Trump time and time again encouraged radical right-wing and white supremacist forces is also responsible for what happened Wednesday. Whatever they say from now forward doesn’t change that. For all intents and purposes, they wanted this to happen, or at the very least they stood by quietly as it became clear it was going to happen.
There are many questions that are raised by the attempts by far right activists, backed by a defeated and disgraced president, to disrupt last step of the legal and Constitutional process of electing an American president.
Perhaps the most important questions this raises are what happens next and can we expect more violence like this in the future. It is too early to know the answer to those questions for certain, but we must recognize that there is little reason to be optimistic about the future of American democracy or to believe that today’s events are the end of an ugly chapter for the country.
Throughout the Trump era, many pundits, journalists and other public figures have struggled to recognize the gravity of the threat represented by Trump. From the time Trump announced his presidency, the punditry told the American people that the latest development, during the campaign that included calling Mexican rapists, insulting John McCain, asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails or boasting of his proclivity for sexual assault during the campaign, meant the end of Trump’s candidacy.
When Trump became president, this same punditry assured us that when Trump put children in cages at the border, tried to threaten the Ukrainian president, voiced his support for white supremacists and continued sordid relationship with the Kremlin, each of these events would lead to the end of the Trump presidency. Ultimately, there were no deus ex machinas.
The Mueller Report, the impeachment process and the midterm elections came and went but Trump remained. Instead, it was the people themselves, more than 80 million of us, who voted to restore American democracy.
Since that election, the struggle to finally close the door on the Trump presidency continued while Trump and his supporters fabricated increasingly bizarre stories about election fraud in a desperate attempt to illegally overturn the election. At every step, in the courts, in the electoral college and on Wednesday in congress, they failed. It was in that context that Trump’s supporters stormed the capitol.
The capitol was cleared and some of those who broke into the capitol may be prosecuted, but there is little reason to believe that we will quickly or smoothly return to stability. The leadership of the Republican Party, with only a few exceptions, has made sure that a large chunk of the population, roughly a third, believe this election was stolen.
Those people will continue believe that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president and may very well resort to violence again, particularly if a former President Donald Trump, and his allies, continue to stoke this view.
It is tragic but nonetheless fitting that the Trump era will conclude not with the comforting American formality that is how we usually finalize the election of a new president, but with riots, more erosion of our political institutions and a president and his party on the sidelines refusing to firmly stand up for American democracy. This is what Trump has wrought. It was never going to end any other way.