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8 January 2021

Donald Trump’s enablers must share responsibility for Capitol chaos

Before Americans put this week's anger to rest, those who stoked it should be held to account.

By Emily Tamkin

The arsonists, having started the fire, want to be seen helping to put it out.

President Donald Trump spent the entirety of his presidency pushing a rhetoric of us-versus-them. He repeatedly refused to condemn white supremacy, and indeed engaged with it for political benefit. He campaigned promising that, if Democrats were to win, the way of life his supporters cherish would be over. In the weeks before the election, he called on his supporters to go to polling stations, which could be interpreted as voter intimidation, and refused to say that he would support the results of the election. In the weeks following Joe Biden’s win, he claimed that he lost because of voter fraud. Trump went on to bully state election officials, and he and his legal team ran tens of unsuccessful cases contesting the election through the courts.

[Hear more from Emily on the World Review podcast]

Republican senators, meanwhile, played along. Many did not actually acknowledge that the president-elect Joe Biden was the president-elect until the Electoral College met, a break with precedent. A dozen pledged to object to the Electoral College results when Congress gathered to certify on 6 January, even though Congress’s meeting is meant to be procedural. Trump and his supporters tried to convince the vice-president, Mike Pence, to denounce the Electoral College results. Pence did not acknowledge until January 6 what everyone knew, or should have known, all along; he did not have the power to do that. The vice-president doesn’t pick the president. The people, through the antiquated system that is the Electoral College, do.

Trump then called his supporters to Washington, DC, on 6 January, and there they convened. After a rally at which Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called for trial by combat and Trump’s adult son, Donald Trump, Jr, said that he would be in the backyard of any Republican member of Congress who did not support his father, Trump supporters attacked the Capitol building. Capitol police melted away. The officers would later say they had no idea supporters would storm the building, and at least one took a selfie with a mob member. Members of Congress, their staff, and press sheltered in place, hiding in those offices that did not have to be evacuated, hiding from the violent mob. They trashed the Capitol Building. One woman was shot and killed; three others died due to medical complications. A Capitol police officer later died of his injuries sustained in the attack on Congress. Trump posted a video to social media in which he said that, although he won the election, his supporters, whom he loved, had to go home. He sent out a tweet saying that this was the logical extension of a stolen election. He was briefly kicked off Twitter.

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[See also: Ban Donald Trump’s Twitter account – for good]

Congress returned to the work of election certification. Senators made speeches. Some, like staunch Trump supporter Lindsey Graham, said, with two weeks left of Trump’s time in office, that enough is enough and Biden would be president. Six — such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri — went ahead and voted to object to the election results. The results were nevertheless certified.

The next day, Cruz put out a statement calling for Americans to put anger and divisiveness — the kind he himself had stoked by refusing to accept the results of the election — behind them. Hawley had his book contract pulled and railed against an attack on the First Amendment. Trump, back on Twitter, put out a video decrying the violence he himself had created the conditions for. He said that he deployed the national guard right away, despite reports that he initially resisted requests to do so. He said there would be an orderly transition of power. He promised his supporters that this is just the beginning.

There were some who hailed Trump’s video. Finally, they said, he admitted that he lost (actually, he did not say so in the video). There were some who hailed Graham. There are surely some who will agree with Cruz and say that, yes, it is time to put anger behind us.

But before Americans put the anger behind us, however, perhaps we could try to hold accountable those who stoked it — so fervently and successfully that a literal mob stormed the Capitol building — in the first place.

[See also: The storming of the US Capitol by a mob is the logical end to Donald Trump’s presidency]

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