In describing Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer compared it to Pearl Harbor; not for the loss of lives, thank God, but for the impact it will have on the nation and the sheer shocking darkness of the day. After four years of Donald Trump spreading lies, anger, and division, the nation saw firsthand that the concerns over the corrosive effects of Trumpism were not exaggerated. A violent mob of radical insurrectionists, bent on nothing less than the overthrow of the United States government to preserve Trump’s personal power, seized control of the Capitol, drove representatives and senators from the chambers, and rampaged through the halls and offices of Congress.
They came to Washington at the invitation of Trump. They gathered on Wednesday morning to get their orders from Trump. And on Wednesday afternoon they assaulted the Capitol for the direct purpose of disrupting the counting of the electoral vote so that Trump could cling to power.
For the first time since British forces invaded during the War of 1812, the Capitol was taken. And to underline the racism at the heart of Trump’s movement, they did what no army managed during the Civil War—they carried the Confederate war banner into the halls of Congress and waved it in triumph.
For four years, Trump has been promising his supporters the chance to get rough, to take it to the streets, and to bully their way to victory. He set up the Congress, everyone else in government, and the media, as enemies and liars fit only to be trampled under the boot. And he fed them a stream of constantly violent rhetoric that kept them at a constant boil.
It was far from the first time something like this has happened. Throughout the summer, violent Trumpists invaded state houses across the nation at Trump’s direction in a series of protests against governors who attempted to protect their citizens from COVID-19. Trump supporters have planted bombs. Encouraged perpetrators of mass shootings. Attempted to kidnap and execute a governor. Trump has continually encouraged this violence and defiance of the law.
And, of course, Trump has been careful from the beginning to stay close with militia movements, with conspiracy theorists, and above all with white supremacists. He coddled them at Charlottesville, encouraged them to “stand by” for his orders, and explicitly called out for them to join him in the assault on the nation that happened Wednesday. He has defended their racism. Encouraged their violence. And allied their cause with that of the Republican Party.
Donald Trump is a racist, nationalist, authoritarian demagogue—a fascist—and for four years Republicans in Congress have pretended not to see that fascism because it was conveniently directed at Black Americans, or Democratic officials, or at other people who were explicitly not them. For four years, they’ve not just ignored Trump, they’ve encouraged him. If Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham were delivering angry speeches on Wednesday night, it wasn’t because they were upset over the violation of the “sacred” halls. It was because Trump finally pushed it far enough that the curtain got pulled back—revealing exactly the man they knew was back there all along.
With Trump not just refusing to force the terrorists from the Capitol but sending them messages of support and “love,” it fell to Mike Pence to temporarily set aside his role as Trump’s ever loyal assistant for four years of steady attacks on the nation’s moral character and critical institutions, and call up the National Guard. But even with thousands of troops brought in, the police stood back to allow Trump’s people to file from the Capitol building with their hands raised in triumph. So far there have been only 52 arrests, the vast majority on minor offenses, despite thousands engaging in violent insurrection. That includes extremists who showed up in military gear, carrying large zip ties, with the intention of taking hostages. That includes those who raised a gallows on the national lawn for what they hoped would be the “trial” of those who opposed Trump.
At the end of a very long day—actually, at after 3 AM on Thursday morning—Mike Pence finally read the totals of the electoral vote and declared Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the victors. That came despite continued objections from Republicans who not only know their claims of election fraud are lies, but are fully aware of the role those lies played in driving the insurrectionists to assault the people’s house. That evening included Josh Hawley needlessly subjecting the nation to two hours of debate on Arizona’s votes, during which he did not mention Arizona. Then two hours of debate on Pennsylvania’s vote, during which he didn’t bother to speak.
Those additional hours of debate did serve a purpose. They allowed Republicans like Matt Gaetz to showcase their latest lie—that the mythical busload of antifa was behind the attack on the Capitol. That all those people who attended Trump’s rally, wore Trump hats, waved Trump banners, and chanted Trump’s slogans … were secretly not Trump supporters.
Of course they did. Because four years of feeding Americans angry lies has worked out so damn well.