The Assault on the Capitol: Trump’s Foot-Soldiers Attack Representative Government and the Legislative Branch

Donald Trump is engaging in a seditious crusade against the US government while neglecting his presidential duties.  Wednesday, he incited supporters to march on the Capitol, where they smashed windows, trashed the building, and beat a police officer to death.  They terrorized lawmakers intent on affirming Joseph R. Biden’s lawful election to succeed him as the next president.

Americans must face and tackle how fundamentally radical and seditious Trump’s machinations are.  He is using the cover of the executive office to wage an ongoing campaign against representative government, Congress, and any fellow Republican, from the vice-president on down, who dares to speak out or break away.  Ever since taking office, but increasingly since the Republican senate acquitted him of impeachment charges last February, Trump has steadfastly implanted an ideology of hate, intolerance, and grievance in his followers’ minds.  This ideology involves labeling fellow Americans as enemies and dangerously “wrong” liars, who must be opposed because they threaten Donald J Trump and his supposedly righteous campaign to stay in power.  Members of the legislative branch, who are doing their Constitutional duties, he dismisses and demeans as “weak” and “corrupt.” Ditto honorable state officials who won’t do what he wants.

Trump has consistently proclaimed these lies and methodically popularized them through tweets, speeches, and interviews.  Since early November, he has continued to insist that he won the presidential election. (It was “a sacred landslide.”)  He has never conceded defeat nor admitted lying.  His doublespeak continues, and will continue after he leaves the presidency. (Even in what some regard as his concession speech, Trump never admits losing, nor acknowledges the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.)

Trump’s core followers completely believe the false narrative he tells.  They believe that the Democrats and Joe Biden stole the election; that massive election fraud occurred (particularly in urban areas of swing states with lots of black voters); and that Trump is the rightful victor.  Trump preaches that his followers are “the true Americans,” and that if his people do not “take back the government,” through violence if necessary, corruption will reign, and the greatness of the US will disappear for good.

What we saw of the assault on the Capitol in real time was superficial.  Initial footage, much of it filmed at a great distance, failed to convey how nasty, violent, and intentional part of the crowd really was.  In some of the early videos, we saw protestors strolling aimlessly through the Capitol, documenting their innocent-seeming transgressions with selfies, whooping like children.  We saw guards opening barricades to allow “protestors” to flow past.  Some Capitol Police chatted and posed with rioters, showed them courtesies, or stood around doing nothing.  In contrast to the savage response the peaceful BLM protests elicited in the capital this summer, police applied a double standard Wednesday, giving a gingerly, kid-glove treatment to the mainly white crowd. Black Capitol police officers later complained that their superiors did little to prepare for what they privately knew would be, not a peaceful protest, but a violent assault.

As more footage has begun to circulate, and more bits of news come together, can we appreciate how deliberate, pitched, and murderous the incursion really was.  Trump’s “army” was handicapped in that it had been warned against carrying firearms in DC, and those who marched on the Capitol were mainly unarmed.  Nonetheless, members of the crowd carried cruder weapons, such as flags and staffs.  Some had flash-bangs or zip ties for binding people.  Some had ear-pieces and two-way radios; others had maps of the network of tunnels under the buildings.  Two bombs were planted around the perimeter of the Capitol, but police found and defused them before they went off.

Though there appears to have been no coordinated plan of “attack,”  elements of the crowd battled fiercely to break into the building by climbing through windows, bull-rushing officers, and battering the heavy reinforced glass of the main entrances and House Chamber.  Trump’s forces beat and trampled one officer on the Capitol steps; he later died.  Another policeman was pummeled nearly to unconsciousness, as a phalanx of rioters pressed to get through a sliding door.  

Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran traveled across the country to take part in the assault on Congress, tried to climb through an opening into the door to the House Chamber that armed police officers were defending. She was shot in the neck and later died. She is just one example of a large subversive population who will follow Trump to the death, falsely believing that they are serving a noble and patriotic cause.

Inside, the Senate and House were ignorant that the Capitol Building was being overcome and assailed.  They were engaged in debate when suddenly security officers ushered the Vice President and the House Speaker out.  The senators, too, were quickly cleared and moved to safety in an undisclosed location.  On the House side, some congressmen and women were trapped inside on the main floor of the chamber and in the balcony when the rioters began ramming the doors from outside.  Security officers barricaded the door and drew their weapons to defend it, as the remaining MCs were evacuated.  Staff and some representatives who were not in the chambers were instead trapped in a lockdown in their offices for hours.  Only later did Congress have an opportunity to reckon with the grave danger latent in the massive assault.  

There are now speculations about “a crowd within the crowd,” a highly militarized and well-equipped group intent on gaining access to the chambers, destroying the Electoral Votes, kidnapping or executing lawmakers, or forcing them to overturn the election under threat of harm.  Recall that before Christmas, Donald Trump met with the leader of the Proud Boys at the White House, and that many members of this violent supremacist organization were visibly active in Wednesday’s crowd.  It may take a few days for senators and House members to recover, but when they do they will realize how close they were to being killed, captured, or otherwise victimized.

Traumatic though it was, Trump’s open insurrection against the legislative branch was merely an opening salvo.  Thugs leaving the building were heard to say “this is just the beginning,” and “next time we come back we will be armed.”  Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, heard many in the crowd lingering around the Capitol saying they were proud of what they had done.  Videos are circulating in various backrooms of the internet, priming Trump’s forces to renew their violent assault on January 20, Inauguration Day.  One hopes the threat of renewed violence against Congress and the institutions of government will galvanize Republicans and Democrats to join together against Donald Trump and his treachery.

Image by Mike Maguire, from this source.

 

The Grim Dawn of 2021

New Year’s Day in my corner of the world was wet and grim.  The temperature was in the thirties, and rain fell on the unmelted snow.  The freezing mix formed big slushy puddles, glazed the steps seditiously, left icicles on the downspouts.  Gradually the trees and bushes sank under the weight of the ice forming on their boughs.  The patio grew too dangerous to cross.

Then, after night fell at around 4:40, the ugly grey day morphed into a snowy night.  The tree boughs, now brilliant with snow, arched lower.  By 10pm, the branches of a birch tree taller than the house had drooped to within just a few feet of the ground!  It was weird and beautiful.  Stressful for the trees.  I photographed them before going to bed, knowing I might never see the like again.  At night, I heard a few too-heavy branches fall from somewhere, landing on the roof of the house with a thud.


I want to say “happy new year,” but it would be insincere.  It’s impossible to greet this January with optimism, to pay lip service to the notion of “being better.”  Mortal and political dangers lie immediately ahead, threatening to push the US, already battered from the numerous crises of 2020, into a state of irremediable catastrophe.  What 2021 immediately demands is stamina, renewed vigilance against the coronavirus, and the guts to face down Trump-related threats to our government and national security.


Just as I went to bed the other night wondering whether the birch tree would snap in the night, so I wonder whether the government of the US will survive the week.  Extraordinarily, in the next few days the pressures that have been building on the nation will culminate.

  • This week, we will see whether Congress will allow Trump to destroy the United States or whether it will at last defy him, uphold the Electoral College, and be true to the will of the people and the Constitution.
  • We will see whether Trump will win his struggle to control the Republican party or whether his efforts will produce an all-out schism.
  • Will Mitch McConnell find a way to prevent the challenge to the Electoral College from going forward?  Only if anti-Trump forces in the Senate find a way to avert the EC challenge will the Republican Party, as we know it, survive this week.
  • Donald Trump’s conniving to hold on to an office he knows he lost is a self-interested quest that has nothing to do with his Constitutional duties.  He is a criminal and a grave threat to national security.  With the prospect of an ugly showdown in the House and Senate looming, calls for Trump’s impeachment or resignation are likely to grow.

Will the forces of good be strong enough to keep the nation from buckling under this week? The answer will come in the next 36 hours.

Day 4: Extrapolating from 2016: Why I Expect A Biden Win

The only presidential poll that counts is the one Americans vote in.  That being the case, are there ways (other than opinion polling) to evaluate whether Biden will win?  In the run-up to Election Day, I’m thinking of the odds of his victory in terms of all that has happened since 2016, when Donald Trump scored an electoral-college victory despite Hillary Clinton’s greater popularity. About 137 million people participated in that election.  How will roughly the same electorate behave in the matchup between Trump and Biden?

Of the 65 million people who voted for Clinton, few are going to switch over to Trump this time.  Clinton voters remain firmly opposed to Trump–to people who identify as liberals or Democrats, he is completely anathema.  Knowing that they constitute a numerical majority, they are highly motivated to defeat him this time.  Clinton voters want to see someone of their kind in the White House.

In the past four years, I have never met or heard of a Clinton voter believes Trump is a good guy.  So I can’t imagine there will be many defections from that solid Democratic column.  At a minimum, Biden can count on capturing at least as many popular votes as Clinton.

In addition, he will enjoy the support of many Americans who did not turn out for Clinton in 2016.  Many male voters will turn out for Biden who either went for Trump or refrained from voting in 2016.  Some voters perceived Clinton to have character issues; others harbored intense animus toward her, dating from her husband Bill’s presidency.  For some, Clinton’s sex was itself disqualifying.  Biden is not a better candidate or person than Hillary, but he is male.  He lacks the tangential but still consequential negatives that turned off some of the Democratic voting base.

Biden will also likely do better with supporters of Bernie Sanders than Clinton could.  Sanders voters shunned Clinton in 2016.  This time around, they are somewhat more likely to vote for Biden because of the urgency of defeating Trump, because of Sanders’s urging, and because it’s evident that the progressive agenda is gaining ground within the Democratic Party.   Young voters are mobilizing themselves to save the world.  They are more likely to cast a vote this time around than to sit it out.  And for those who mind Biden’s age and moderation, Kamala Harris represents a conditional promise that the White House will be occupied by a fairly progressive woman of color should Biden die.

Finally, Biden will get the vote of every Trump “resistor.”  Notably, black Americans hate Trump for turning a blind eye to racism and police brutality, threatening military action against protestors (whom he branded as terrorists), and encouraging white supremacy.  Tens of thousands of blacks who didn’t care about the last election and/or don’t particularly care for Biden will nonetheless turn out for him.  It appears they are already vote at higher rates and with more enthusiasm than they did in 2016.

So that is it for Biden’s positive voting base.  Now, when we look at Trump’s support what do we see?

Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was narrow–very narrow.  The percentage of Americans who approve of him has remained below 50 percent for throughout his presidency.  This verdict on Trump has remained remarkably stable:  Trump was marginally more popular when he was inaugurated than he’s ever since.  Today, he has the good opinion of only 43 percent, and those fans are not necessarily distributed advantageously across the country.  As president, Trump has done nothing to “make friends” or broaden his appeal.  On the contrary, he has gone out of his way to alienate many Americans, specifically by treating everyone who opposes him as an enemy.  Now, the majority who dislike Trump have a chance to act.  This majority comprises not just Democrats but infrequent and independent voters who are likely to go for Biden this time around.

Meanwhile, cadres of Republican voters and officials have repudiated Trump in favor of Biden.  The open defection of elder statesmen, leading scientists and intellectuals, distinguished civil servants, military brass, and former Republican officials (including a number of former governors) is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the 2020 race.  It is a sign of the Republican party’s general decrepitude.

For, while Trump has dishonored the Republican party, the Republican-controlled Senate has shocked and disappointed Americans of all stripes in failing to check Trump or to stand up for the Constitution or the rule of law.  Senate Republicans have instead executed the president’s evil will, siding with him and enabling him to prevail in ways that are contrary to our values and the national interest.  So Trump will suffer because the entire Republican brand is poisoned.  Voting Republican has become synonymous with being provincial, hateful, and anti-modern.

In addition, Trump’s full-bore attacks on the press and journalists (many of them women); reports of his nasty remarks about fallen soldiers and those who have served in the military; his lack of concern for the poor, the ill, and elderly; and his obvious inability to deal with smart women have cost him many votes and sent many once-loyal Republicans to the other side.  His explicit attacks on Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and discriminatory approach to COVID relief, which has prompted him to withhold vitally needed aid from Democratic-leaning parts of the polity, are insults and injuries fresh in voters’s minds as they go to the polls.

In the end, how many Americans will decide that their best interest lies in allowing Trump to continue to lead the US?  What will they get out of his being in charge for another four years?  The social and cultural landscape of the US is withering away, along with its vibrant economy, because Trump has no definite economic or social vision.  His lack of executive ability and essentially corrupt mentality have been especially evident since the coronavirus epidemic hit.  Biden is more open, more compassionate and fair.  He can lead a suffering nation; Trump can’t.

Early voting augurs a historically high turnout for this election.  The high volume makes it more likely that Biden will sufficiently improve on Clinton’s margins to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where Trump won largely as a result of apathy.  The spread of COVID-19 in rural and red portions of the US will likely dampen enthusiasm and turnout for Trump among Republicans, who are said to prefer voting in person on Election Day.

The 2020 election is a critical one.  I believe that most Americans are good, that most accept and want to live by a time-tested political creed of fairness and toleration.  I believe that most want the US to be governed by the rule of law.  Sadly, millions of Americans support Trump because they do not care about these values enough to embrace social changes they bring.  I believe that Americans want to step into the future, that they want to become a fully multiracial and forward-looking country.

It’s hard to know what will happen if voters elect Biden, but if the US doesn’t move forward it’s going to go down.

RELATED:
“Trump Confronts His Fifty-Percent Problem.” (Politico)