Wednesday’s violent coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol was incited by the president of the United States.
It is chilling to write and re-read those words. But each one of them is the truth. On Wednesday at midday, President Donald Trump escalated his weeks-long effort to undermine democracy in America by standing before a mob of his supporters and calling upon them to march to the Capitol while it was in session to certify his electoral defeat.
He stirred up the crowd as he has done throughout his presidency. He spoke to the angry and the disaffected, the racists and the right-wing extremists, and he did the opposite of what leaders do. He sought to promote division and confrontation. From his cheerleading for white supremacists in Charlottesville to his encouraging police officers to use force, from identifying non-existent threats from the left and encouraging mobs to hunt them down, Trump has been telegraphing that this day was coming for years.
The polite members of the right-wing media establishment and Trump’s party shrugged it off. But when he told Proud Boys to stand by or turned himself into the national spokesman for the Michigan Militia even as they plotted the kidnapping of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, he was announcing his intentions.
When he began to warn of a rigged election even in 2016, he had insurrection in mind. In the run-up to this year’s election, he did the same. What is more, he did not do it alone. The GOP and Fox News and Breitbart and OANN were not simply apologists. They took up the cause.
Eighteen state attorneys general participated in his effort to challenge the election results. Batteries of lawyers peddled lunatic and discredited conspiracy theories. And even as they lost in court after court, they did the damage Trump sought. They cast doubt on legitimate results. They created a fog in which millions of Americans became confused about what to believe.
So all the disinformation and inflammatory remarks, all the seditious plans and phases of the coup attempt to date led to Wednesday. Trump’s rally. Trump’s mob. Trump's supporters attacking democracy from within the chambers of the House and Senate. Trump's thugs storming the Capitol and assaulting its history and its traditions and the rule of law in America and everything that the building has stood for.
Wednesday’s scenes were shocking. But they should not have been. They have been incubated since the day in 2015 when Trump oozed down the escalator in his tacky Manhattan skyscraper and inserted himself, unwanted, with nothing positive to offer the American people, into our political life.
How it was that the Capitol and D.C. police were so unprepared for this is certainly a scandal demanding investigation. But so too is why so many of us were unprepared for it as well despite years of warning signs. Why were those signs ignored by so many? Why was the president not stopped at the first signs he broke the law in 2016? When he obstructed justice? With each subsequent corrupt act? With each outrage? When he was impeached and evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors was so crystal clear?
The Trump throngs that tore down barriers and breached the corridors and chambers of the Capitol should be held accountable for each act of violence, for each violation they committed. But we should not lose sight of the fact that for every grotesqueness, shouted slur, menacing act of the foot soldiers of the Trumpist “militia,” there was a corresponding violation of enabling, excusing, overlooking, permitting, ignoring the warning signs by the legions of GOP officials and their media handmaidens. They led that crowd too. They fed its fire. They violated what the Capitol stands for. They were part of the seditious plot. They were in on this first coup attempt in American history.
The greatest responsibility lies, of course, with Trump himself. The impunity his party granted him, the encouragement it offered even in the face of his every outrage, played a role in getting us to where we are today. But in the end, we would not be here without this monstrous, dangerous, unstable man. And therefore we must acknowledge that we will not be safe until he is gone.
Trump reminded us of his despicable role in this with his repulsive video statement in the wake of the onslaught he inspired. It was not a sincere call for peace or order. It actually aggravated the situation, justified the coup, and embraced the lawless mob. It will no doubt make the situation worse and stood in stark contrast to the solemn, well-chosen, strong, clear words of his successor, Joe Biden. In this contrast lay both the explanation for why Biden won and why Trump remains such a threat to us all.
His party leaders should go to him and encourage him to make that departure sooner rather than later. Given Wednesday’s events, the two weeks between now and the Biden inaugural loom large and ominous. We have seen how at-risk Trump and Trumpism make our system. For the survival of that system, it is essential he be contained, that he be put in a position that he can do no more damage, and that after he is gone from office that he and all those responsible for this nightmare be held accountable.
For if the past four years have taught us anything, it is that so long as Trump and men and women like him are sent the message that they can debase and desecrate our democracy with impunity, they will do so. It is finally time for patriots from both parties to stand up and put an end to this madness conjured by Trump, enabled by the weak-minded legislators who joined his plot and exacerbated by extremist mobs like the one that invaded one of our most cherished temples of democracy today.