For weeks, Donald Trump insisted he had won the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden. For weeks, Republican senators let his claims go unchecked. On Wednesday, when Congress met to certify the electoral college results, many Republican members of the House of Representatives, and at least a dozen Republican senators, said they would vote against certification of the electoral college. Trump had previously threatened his vice-president Mike Pence in an attempt to make him unilaterally declare him the winner; but Pence, on Wednesday, announced in the middle of a Trump rally in Washington, DC that he did not, in fact, have that power under the constitution.
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Pence would not defy the norms of the constitution, and Trump did not have the votes in Congress. What he had was an angry mob, and that mob, whipped into a frenzy, stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon (with some observing they came up against less force than Black Lives Matter protesters did over the summer). They overpowered Capitol police. They poured into the House chamber and on to the Senate floor. One stood at the dais, screaming that Trump had won the election.
Instead of counting the votes, members of Congress were told to put on gas masks (tear gas was deployed in the rotunda). Washington, DC has been placed under curfew and the DC National Guard has reportedly been activated. Certification has been delayed and Congress is, instead, dealing with an attempt at sedition. Congressional members and their staff are sheltering in any offices that have not been evacuated.
It is shocking; seeing Trump flags waving in the Capitol building on the day that Congress was meant to certify the electoral college votes. Knowing that shots were fired into the House chamber is also shocking. But it is not surprising. “This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, reportedly yelled out to his colleagues. And he was right.
For weeks, the president has whipped up his supporters, helping spread conspiracy theories and berating anyone, including members of his own party, who has challenged him with the reality that the election was lost, not stolen. He was largely unchecked by the Republicans. He called his supporters to Washington, DC. He held a rally telling them they were being robbed and that someone had to stop it. That is what the mob who stormed the Capitol were trying to do.
These events are the logical conclusion to the last several weeks. They are also, for that matter, the logical conclusion of the last few years. Trump fed his supporters lies and conspiracy theories and dog whistles, and warned that Democrats threatened their way of life – and others in his party let him because it was politically expedient. His rhetoric has long been dangerous.
It is heartbreaking to watch it culminate in this way. But Trump’s final weeks as president are a distillation of his political project: full of conspiracy, a cult of personality, lies, fear and violence – and grave threats to the American democratic process.