Whatever happened to the peaceful transfer of power? On Wednesday, around the time that a Joint Session of Congress was assembled to count the electoral ballots, Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building, in a scene utterly unprecedented in American history. And guess who fomented it all?
At 2:38 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, our “law and order” president finally tweeted that people should “Stay Peaceful!” A little late. By then, Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Capitol, and rioters had made it inside. There were reportedly shots fired, and members of Congress were instructed to put on the gas masks located under their seats.
But the most mind-blowing sight was probably that of a rioter standing behind the dais of the Senate Chamber, yelling, “Trump won that election!” and sitting in the same seat that Pence should have been in, as if to say, “I’m the Captain, now!” Something about this really bothers me. When people get robbed, they often say that it’s not the loss of their stuff that bothers them, it’s the fact that the sanctity of their home has been violated. Well, our House was literally violated today.
This was a symbolic act of defiance and an undermining of authority. The rioters rubbed our nose in their disobedience and caused our leaders to cower in fear. That’s pretty close to an act of terrorism, if you ask me.
For those who believe that words have consequences, on Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he hoped Democrats and “the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C.,” adding, “They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen.”
I guess we know what he meant about how they “won’t stand” for things not going Trump’s way. Mob bosses rarely issue direct threats—nice country you’ve got there, it’d be a shame if something happened to it—but it’s easy to see how, after a few beers and a few hours of OANN or Newsmax TV, someone might (mis)interpret this tweet. He should be more careful, lest one of his passionate supporters confuse one of those RINOs for Thomas a Becket, a man who was martyred because he answered to a higher calling. To the MAGA crowd, Trump is, after all, effectively saying, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome veep?”
Wednesday started out with Trump delivering a bombastic speech calling out “the weak Republicans, pathetic Republicans…”
“Weak,” of course, means following the Constitution. And fighting means putting loyalty to Trump above everything else, including the Constitution. These are the new definitions. And don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line. Or else.
Trump’s threat was broad, but there was one person who probably felt an immediate need to worry. Trump really put the screws to his vice president, Mike Pence, the man given the thankless task of counting and certifying Joe Biden’s presidential win.
“I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do. And I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and stupid people that he’s listening to,” Trump said. At another point, Trump mentioned Pence, before adding, “I’m not hearing good stories.” (Pence was later pulled off the Senate floor to protect him from the angry mob.)
Left to his own devices, Pence would have found a way to walk the line. The “Silver Fox” would have done his best Reagan/Bush voice impersonation, and certify the votes, while feigning anger that the election had been stolen from his boss. He would have had his cake and eaten it, too. He would even be provided cover—by virtue of Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley’s attempts to challenge the validity of Joe Biden’s election—a process Pence would permit before finally certifying the votes for Biden.
But Trump didn't want Pence to have it both ways. He wanted Pence to choose, and it’s a Catch-22: He could either betray Trump, or he could do what is both his constitutional requirement as well as the thing that will salvage his reputation among decent, mainstream Americans. This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil.
“This isn't their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump's Republican Party!” Donald Trump Jr. declared. Imagine losing a presidential race, sabotaging the GOP’s control of the U.S. Senate, and then having the audacity to say that. Still, he’s probably right.
And Trump Sr. went out of his way in the morning to praise Rudy Giuliani (“he’s got guts”). Speaking of Rudy, he’s on the same page as Trump. “We should write down the names of all these senators who aren't supporting us and have serious consideration as to whether they really belong in the Republican Party,” Giuliani said recently. “I believe we're asking them to save the country, and they're running off like cowards.”
Politics is full of martial language. The term “fight,” for example, is usually seen as both positive and innocuous. But on Wednesday, a form of anarchy broke out in Washington, D.C., and these threats take on a different context. It’s one thing to threaten someone’s political future, it’s another thing to threaten their physical life. And that line is, lately, getting awfully blurry.