On Wednesday, a mob of the president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, shattered its windows, assaulted its police officers, and engaged in an armed standoff at the door of the House chamber while the nation’s elected representatives prepared to hide beneath their desks.
These rioters had learned to see November’s election as a fraud at Donald Trump’s instruction. They had gathered outside the Capitol to “defend” their republic at his orders. And as the mob made members of Congress fear for their lives, and instigated conflicts with law-enforcement agents that resulted in critical injuries, the president offered one more invitation to insurrection, tweeting, “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!”
Minutes later, some staffer seems to have alerted Trump to the events on Capitol Hill, or else to his potential legal culpability in the same, and the president finally asked his supporters to “remain peaceful” and “respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue.”
As though he had not spent the entire day preaching disrespect for the law, demanding that his vice-president nullify the Constitution so as to perpetuate his time in power; as though he had not spent the past two months informing his supporters that acquiescing to a Biden presidency would mean forfeiting their democracy; as though he had not given his most credulous supporters every reason to believe that if the courts and Congress failed him, he wished for “Second Amendment people” to act.
The president was not the sole author of Wednesday’s disgrace. Trump was radicalized by the conservative movement as much as he has radicalized it. Two decades ago, the mogul was publicly decrying the demagoguery of Pat Buchanan. Trump did not introduce authoritarianism to the Republican Party. He absorbed its revanchist rage through Fox News binge-watching, then regurgitated it in more bilious form. If the Capitol Hill riot was Trump’s Frankenstein, Trump was the conservative movement’s. All who helped empower the party of Gingrich, Limbaugh, and Ailes bear some responsibility for what happened at the door of the House on Wednesday (and for much worse things besides). More concretely, every Senate Republican who saw hard proof that Trump had abused the powers of his office to engineer legal problems for his domestic rivals — and then voted against his impeachment anyway, in the name of democracy — owns today’s lawless disorder.
The minority of Trumpist senators who came to the Capitol on Wednesday to oppose the certification of a democratic election’s results, meanwhile, have no business retaining high office.
The crisis these people have collectively engineered extends well beyond the Capitol grounds. Judging by polls and reporting, they have helped to persuade tens of millions of Republican voters that November’s election was literally stolen and that the U.S. government is now illegitimate. The leadership of the Republican Party has brought America to the edge of ungovernability.
Impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office in the next 24 hours will not redeem them. But it is the least they can do in the present moment to unearn every lucid patriot’s contempt.
Trump cannot be allowed the opportunity to pardon his insurrectionaries. He cannot be allowed to carry on using the presidency’s bully pulpit to propagate the incendiary lies that ease his narcissistic injuries at our democracy’s expense. He cannot be allowed to dissolve today’s horror in the acid bath of America’s inveterate amnesia and emerge three years from now as a leading contender for a major-party presidential nomination. He must be evicted from our White House immediately. He must be frog-marched out of our civic life in disgrace.
Republicans have gotten far more than they deserve out of their Faustian bargain with a protofascist. The Supreme Court is theirs for a generation. The billions of dollars in tax cuts are in their patrons’ bank accounts. We on the left like to tell ourselves that history will judge them harshly. But it’s hard to say with confidence that “justice” is where the moral arc of the universe is bending toward these days. So congratulations, McConnell & Co. You played your hand well. Now spare us all another two weeks of democratic backsliding before the U.S. ceases to be a figurative failed state and becomes the literal variety.
And when the Republican leadership declines to do this — when they decline to pay the United States that small courtesy after all that they have taken from it — the incoming Democratic government must recognize their opposition for what it is and fortify our democracy before the GOP gets another opportunity to destroy it.