It is certainly an age for unprecedented events. On Wednesday, January 6th of 2021, a mob of pro-Trump rioters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in a bloody clash between law enforcement and far-right zealots. Condemned as an “insurrection” by president-elect Joe Biden, this conflict left windows broken, a nation horrified, over a dozen injured, and, devastatingly, 5 dead.
Trump incites the violence
President Donald Trump held a sizable rally in front of the Capitol building while the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives met to certify his definite loss to president-elect Joe Biden. Previously, on Twitter, he had promised his base an event that would somehow, by means unknown to the rational mind, reverse his election defeat. He continued to insist that a second term was “viciously” stolen from him. And at the rally, he proclaimed, “Our country has had enough, and we will not take it anymore.” He encouraged them to be strong, asserting that they would “never take back our country with weakness.”
Interesting— one wonders when exactly fairly voting for a leader using reliable systems of democracy that have been in place since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution became “taking” the country from the losing candidate. Trump likely needs a reminder that a president does not own the nation.
As the outgoing president walked back to the Capitol, his supporters followed, and what took place shortly after was a flagrant, barbaric onslaught on the heart of American government. Hordes of people advanced on the cherished historic building, ultimately breaching defenses in what law enforcement officers called “one of the gravest security lapses in recent U.S. history.”
The rioters smashed windows, swung from balconies, stole items (including documents and electronic devices), ransacked congressional offices, and posed for pictures in the legislative chambers like it was a middle school field trip instead of a frenzied domestic terrorist attack. A Reuters photographer even captured one Trump supporter casually strolling through the halls with a massive Confederate flag propped up on his shoulder.
It was a disturbing scene of anarchy and violence, ripe with a blatant disrespect for the increasingly vulnerable customs of democracy. And the president, who fueled the raid with his characteristic lies, did little to control his base. He belatedly called on protestors to “go home,” saying “we have to have peace,” but the obligatory video message was only released following pleas from his aides and allies. The offhand attempt simultaneously featured him praising his followers for the crimes they carried out in his name. “We love you,” he said, referencing an intangible “we” that seems to include only him. “You’re very special.”
Trump, while vocalizing the need for “law and order,” proceeded to turn around and sympathize with his unbridled rally-goers. “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt,” he said in the video. He justified their behavior, tweeting, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.” Twitter later permanently suspended his account, causing Trump to lose his second-favorite blather orifice.
The event sparked talks of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would unseat him from office and allow Vice President Mike Pence to assume control. Following through on this, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi at a news conference on Thursday called for Trump’s immediate removal, asking the president’s cabinet members if they stood by his actions. “Although it’s only 13 days left, any day could be a horror show,” she said.
Senior political analyst Marwan Bishara of Al Jazeera believes that Trump has just ruined his chances for a political comeback. “He messed up bigly,” Bishara says, poking fun at Trump’s amusing propensity to invent new words to better suit his purposes—a droll parallel to the way he tried to coerce Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into inventing 11,780 new votes for him.
Numerous White House staffers have resigned, with many others contemplating leaving in protest. After Wednesday’s historically abnormal event, several Republicans announced at the reconvening of the joint Congress election certification meeting that they could no longer in good conscience object to Biden’s win, including staunch Republican and Trump ally Lindsey Graham. “Enough is enough,” Graham said.
Only after threats of his removal and decries from his allies did Trump, now under intense pressure and cajoling from his top aides, officially speak out. On Thursday evening, he edged the closest he ever has to the cliff of formal concession. In a video released, he recognized that a new administration would be sworn in on January 20th and promised to ensure a “smooth transition.” He also finally did the inescapable: referring to the capital catastrophe as a “heinous attack” that left him “outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem.”
But he also told his supporters that their “incredible journey is only just beginning.” And he tweeted on Friday that he would “not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” which would make him the first president to skip the traditional demonstration of a peaceful hand-off of power in over 150 years. It reveals that though Trump begrudgingly recorded and released an official concession that had been written for him, his unprofessional, bitter attitude towards his election loss remains rigidly in place.
Trump’s forte: hypocrisy
Ironic that Trump spent his re-election campaign touting his devotion to law and order while painting his opponent, Biden, as a patron of anarchy, yet the minute Trump doesn’t get what he wants—a second term—he incites this kind of mayhem. His followers go berserk and he, in turn, validates their chaotic conduct and does little to subdue them.
A little reminder of how Trump spent his spring and summer of 2020, as predominantly peaceful protests against the unjust killings of Black men and women by corrupt police officers kicked off:
“The words ‘law and order’ are words that Democrats don’t like to use,” Trump said to a Minnesota crowd in mid-August.
“If you want a vision of your life under Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town and every single town in America,” he claimed in early August.
Trump was partially correct in that last quote. Biden has been elected president, and the nation is certainly seeing “smoldering ruins,” “violent anarchy,” and “bloodstained sidewalks.” But Trump neglected to mention that those horrors would actually be instigated by him and perpetrated by his followers, in objection to Biden’s lawful win.
The contrast in the law enforcement response to protest is incredibly stark, illuminating the racism entrenched in America and the undeniable reality of white privilege. A study by the ACLED found that 93% of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer were peaceful, yet in many cities, including D.C., protestors were immediately met with tear gas, rubber bullets, arrests, pummelings, and callousness. When BLM protesters assembled in the capital in June, Trump eagerly deployed the National Guard. Members of the Guard, armed and wearing camouflage, stood over the protestors as if to prevent an outbreak of force, despite the demonstration being non-violent.
But when a mob that includes far-right extremists and white supremacists besieges the capital, overruns security, and breaks into a treasured national building, all in the name of anti-democracy, the law enforcement responds with pepper spray. And the National Guard wasn’t even activated until the rioters were already inside the building. Tear gas was only eventually used, slapped on like an added thought.
It’s a painful, yet unsurprising, double standard.
“Nobody could tell me that if it was a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the thugs that stormed the Capitol yesterday,” president-elect Biden said.
At protests in Washington, D.C. back in June, the non-violent demonstrators faced fogs of tear gas, and many were detained. One protest resulted in 88 arrests. This is in comparison to the only approximately 64 arrests made on Wednesday evening.
It’s infuriating that supporters of BLM had to deal with grossly inaccurate portrayals by a media that largely ignored the more frequent peaceful demonstrations and instead highlighted the looting and violence instigated by opportunists, while also dealing with severe backlash denouncing their cause as “anarchy” and “un-American.” The BLM protestors embodied the ideals of the 1st Amendment and were well within their bounds; yet Trump sat on his imaginary throne, turning a blind eye to the brutal murders happening under his watch and inflaming anti-BLM sentiment by calling the protestors “thugs” and labeling “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate.” But hey, what can you expect from the man who did more for Black people than any other president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln?
Hypocrisy has always been a norm in politics, but the events of the past year and the past couple days have taken the practice to new and dangerous heights.
Not a “protest”
The scene on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday was a storm that has been brewing for a long time, from the announcement of supposed billionaire Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to his infamous “there were good people on both sides” comment on the Charlottesville massacre, to the day he told the Proud Boys, a violent, far-right white nationalist group, to “stand back and stand by” on live television.
Trump has subsisted off of the fervent fidelity of his base. Made up of primarily non-college educated white males but including many other demographics, their passion for the president is often so intense that it blinds them. Trump has spent his term rattling the cage, working his supporters up to such a loyal devotion that they would resort to extreme, aggressive measures in his name. He has stoked their long-suppressed fires of hatred and anger, specifically towards minority groups, and has served as validation to white supremacists and neo-fascists alike.
The events of Wednesday were the culmination of four years of an uncouth presidency founded on bigotry, intransigence, megalomania, tactics without tact, snuggling up to dictators, an endangerment of democracy, and an unparalleled desecration of the truth.
And the mendacious president only continued to feed his followers lies. He declared that he would “never concede” and for months spouted groundless allegations of voter fraud that, when examined closely, proved to be a lot of hot air.
Even the Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell recognized that the election was in no way rigged. “Mr. Trump claims the election was stolen,” he said on Wednesday. “Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms all across our country. But over and over, the court rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated.”
The key takeaway here is that the rampage that occurred on Wednesday was not simply a “protest” or an exercise of 1st Amendment rights. They were not “patriots.” To claim such is to be ignorant to either the reason for the riot or ignorant to America’s fundamental values.
America is internationally exalted as a symbol of freedom, equality, and, arguably the most important, democracy. (At least in ideology, since the U.S. is a republic.) The anarchy that unfolded was in opposition to the results of a fair, nationwide vote, in the name of a president who lost an election and refused to concede, despite floods of evidence showing that he’d been defeated. It was, in and of itself, anti-democracy. Anti-American. And it therefore cannot rightfully be classified as an expression of patriotism, nor can the participants use America’s sacred inalienable rights, such as the 1st Amendment, to defend their attack on the country both literally and fundamentally.
Unfortunately, however, Trump’s base will not disappear once Trump is unseated. The polarization in Congress is stronger than ever. Democrats have gained the majority in the Senate, but only by a minuscule margin. The Trump presidency unlocked and brought to the surface some of the deepest, darkest hatred festering in the hearts of America’s citizens, and what party the president is won’t fix that.
Who knows what kind of sacrifices an endeavor to heal America’s divide will entail.