By Bob Lewis
Never in the history of this nation have we seen violent mobs attempt to overtake and overthrow our duly elected representatives in the Capitol itself.
Worse still, they were exhorted to do so by a proto-dictatorial sociopath desperate to cling to presidential power by any means.
Make no mistake: What Donald Trump did by stoking his gullible followers for weeks with fantastical lies about a stolen election and then unleashing them Wednesday on the sanctum sanctorum of our democratic republic is beyond shameful. It was a deadly crime and history should neither forget nor forgive it.
The attempted putsch Americans witnessed yesterday afternoon as the House and Senate began their constitutionally prescribed duties of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory wasn’t something we would have previously contemplated as a nation, at least not until the past few months.
It will accrue to the United States’ everlasting shame that we have had a president so dishonorable that he would actively and continually attempt to subvert the Constitution he swore a holy oath to preserve, protect and defend four years ago.
An hour before the rabble began to breach Capitol security, at a rally of his seething followers near the White House, the president doubled down on the same baseless election fraud claims that election officials, his own departed attorney general and court after court — including federal judges he appointed — have repeatedly rejected.
Before Trump ever took the mic, however, his butt-of-jokes lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, incited the masses to a “trial by combat.”
By mid-afternoon, the Capitol was under siege from all directions by an overwhelmingly White mob carrying Trump flags, Confederate flags and U.S. flags that stormed the grand stairways to the Capitol — overrunning a woefully insufficient police presence — broke the glass and poured inside, parading noisily through Statuary Hall and the Rotunda.
They took over the Senate chamber with one ne’er-do-well perching impudently in the Senate president’s chair that Vice President Mike Pence had vacated a short time earlier. On the other side of the building, a desk had been pressed against the doorway to the House chamber and law-enforcement officers pointed drawn pistols at glass panes the vandals smashed. One woman died of a gunshot wound inside the Capitol, though details were not immediately available.
TV commentators asked what millions of Americans looking on in horror had already asked themselves: Where the hell was the National Guard? This could not have been a surprise to anyone. This assemblage in Washington, called for by Trump himself, had been known about for weeks. And it was clear from the days leading up to Wednesday that this horde was intent on a stupid and futile gesture at the least and violence at the worst. They accomplished both, unmolested for hours by anything close to an appropriate law-enforcement response.
Washington Metro police, Virginia and Maryland state police officers and National Guard troops rushed to Capitol Hill after the building had been violently occupied, faced with the task of expelling the intruders from the nation’s most treasured real estate, the very symbol and heart of our one nation under law.
There will be time later to affix blame and exact accountability on whomever dropped the ball. The bigger issue is how this happened in the United States in January 2021.
This is a nation gravely riven. Political differences are real as the energy within both parties presses steadily toward the opposite fringes of the political spectrum. But that is no excuse. Our country — our Constitution — was built to give free voice to those conflicting ideologies and the infrastructure for resolving them civilly in our legislatures, our courts and our elections.
A country can’t debate among itself if it can’t stipulate the facts at issue. We’ve become a people increasingly dismissive if not contemptuous of facts, of science, of the law and history. Provably false conspiracies conceived, born and propagated on the Internet are accepted as truth while demonstrable, cold truth is dismissed as “fake news,” sometimes with disturbing results.
Case in point: In December 2016, just weeks before Trump took his meaningless oath of office, a 28-year-old North Carolina man armed with an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and a knife walked into a D.C. pizza parlor and began shooting the place up. He believed a bogus claim in alt-right media during the 2016 campaign that Hillary Clinton was part of a global Satanic cabal of pedophiles that operated from the basement of the restaurant. He surrendered after discovering that the eatery had no basement and realizing he had been lied to.
Bizarre? That’s nothing. Other nutjob conspiracies, among other things, allege that numerous leaders the world over are actually lizard people and the Denver International Airport is their intergalactic portal; the moon is a hoax as is the coronavirus pandemic; Barack Obama, besides being born in Kenya, can manipulate the weather; thousands of undead Georgia residents voted for Joe Biden in November. Even the PizzaGate conspiracy theory, thought to be debunked forever after the 2016 incident, has been resurrected.
If some of them, like Georgia’s zombie Biden voters and the Obama birther libel, sound familiar, it’s because they’ve come from this disgraced president’s own sneering mouth. They’ve been dutifully regurgitated by fawning Republican acolytes who are willing to abase themselves to receive his blessing or are too craven to stand up to his empty bullying.
You own this now, Republican Party, or at least those of you who’ve enabled Trump or sat silent for years as he corruptly sought to hollow out every meaningful institution of democracy for his own insatiable aggrandizement and advancement.
This is your moment to either cleanse your party of this cowardly vulgarian and those who would not just applaud his delusions but act on his seditious whims — up to the heretofore unthinkable, which happened yesterday.
Many Republicans who have been my friends for decades have detested the man since the day he descended the gilded escalator in his Manhattan tower to launch America on its protracted nightmare. They hate the violence he has done to genuine conservative ideals like fiscal responsibility, the rule of law, allegiance to our historic strategic allies and standing up to tyrants abroad. I suspect that after Wednesday, you’ll see many more of them renounce Trump.
But, as those lifelong Republicans have lamented over the years, this is now the Trump Republican Party — a brand and a presidency that, thanks to yesterday’s terrorist stunt, will be regarded with infamy decades from now.
So it comes down to this, Republican Party: You can end your cynical relationship with this most subversive of presidents, or he will end you.
The world is watching.
Bob Lewis is a columnist for the Virginia Mercury, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this column first appeared.