UPDATE (Jan. 7, 2021, 10:50 a.m. ET): This piece has been updated to reflect that both the Senate and House finally confirmed Biden's win in the early morning hours on Thursday, though some Republican objections were still made.
Wednesday was a dark day for our country and our democracy when we should have been ceremoniously celebrating two of the hallmarks of American democracy — the representation of the will of the people via free and fair elections, and the peaceful transfer of political power. The horrifying sight of Trump supporters aggressively and violently storming the Capitol, committing acts of vandalism and burglary, and engaging in armed standoffs with law enforcement was both unbelievable and difficult to watch.
What should be even more unfathomable is that they were egged on and encouraged by the sitting president of the United States. His ego and despotism are now actively allowing armed rioters to lay siege to our institutions as he stands watch.
In fact, you can draw a direct line from his call last September for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” — which was a direct encouragement of their already violent actions — to this un-American siege on the United States Capitol.
Watching rioters entering the House and Senate chambers, clad in costumes and body armor, waving both Trump and Confederate battle flags, was just shocking as hearing Trump's lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani call for, instead of a peaceful political transfer, a "trial by combat" at the rally that preceded the riot. No matter that Ivanka Trump called the people who smashed doors and windows and tried to take down the American flag at the U.S. Capitol "American Patriots"; they are not. They are rioters and some of them committed acts of domestic terrorism, given the reports of them using gas on police, firing guns and leaving suspicious packages believed to be bombs in their wake — let alone the noose they erected and celebrated beneath on the National Mall.
Wednesday's mob action was truly a culmination of four years of chaos and inciting rhetoric from Trump's bully pulpit.
Amid the shock, I came to a realization: This is exactly what Donald Trump wanted.
Trump wanted his supporters to rise up and fight for him to stay in power; his rhetoric encouraged exactly what we saw Wednesday. There have always been people who blindly follow the president with no regard for the tenets of American democracy; his use of them has now led us to this dangerous place.
Trump, after all, spoke at their rally Wednesday morning — though he thereafter broke his promise to march from the White House to the Capitol with them — stoking their anger and clearly spurring them to the unpatriotic and un-American actions we saw in the afternoon. While each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own behavior, Trump’s rhetoric, tweets and rallying cries were intended to spur action and can be blamed for the violence perpetuated by his supporters in his wake. Wednesday's mob action was truly a culmination of four years of this kind of chaos and inciting rhetoric from Trump's bully pulpit.
But, perhaps the most shocking thing of all is that, as our Capitol remained under siege, the president did nothing to rectify his own error — not even to try to salvage his own legacy or show up his own vice president, who was playing damage control at the time. Instead, he recorded a social media video to speak to the rioters, perpetuating the dangerously false narrative that brought them to Washington in the first place — that the election was stolen from him and from his supporters — but telling them to “go home peacefully,” calling them “special” and saying that he “loves them.”
Of course, perpetuating their grievances, as well as his own, will only perpetuate the outrage the rioters are feeling, rather than encourage them to return home (and live their future lives) peacefully.
The blame for what happened on Wednesday can and should be placed first and foremost at the feet of the president.
But back in July, in the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality and racism spurred by the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Trump said that any “agitators or protestors who vandalize federal buildings should be prosecuted with a minimum of ten years in prison.” The Capitol is a federal building, too — one of our most important, historic buildings, in fact. Where was his outrage when his supporters were rioting and committing acts of vandalism (and worse) there Wednesday? In fact, their riots were designed to subvert the very act of American democracy, and Trump all but gave them their marching orders.
Now more than ever, it's clear that Trump was never fit to lead our country and he never had respect for the office he holds.
But while the blame for what happened Wednesday can and should be placed first and foremost at the feet of the president, let us not forget about the feet of the handful of Republican senators who themselves planned to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power by attempting to decertify the election results of several swing states. Even after the violence, six Republican Senators and 121 Republican members of the House objected to the results of the presidential election in Arizona, and seven Republican Senators and 138 Republican members of the House objected to the results of the election in Pennsylvania. (Several House members attempted to object to other states' election results but failed to garner support from any Senate colleagues, so their objections were not given a hearing.)
Their public actions, telegraphed well in advance of Wednesday's riots were seemingly designed to curry favor with Trump's supporters and give them a leg up in the 2022 midterms and the eventual 2024 presidential race — but also gave credence to Trump's baseless claims of election fraud and contributed to the lawlessness and rioting that we saw in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
These Republicans' disingenuous attempts to thwart democracy were never going to change the results of the election. They were meant to disrupt our nation — and that’s exactly what happened, even if not the way they originally intended.
After Wednesday's unprecedented debacle, Trump should be impeached by the House for the second time if his Cabinet does not have a spine and see fit to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office before his term is up. He is clearly unfit to lead the country, even for another two weeks; he cannot be allowed to continue as president while posing a clear and present danger to the United States and its people.
Meanwhile, now that the Senate has completed the process of counting the Electoral College votes, they must vote to convict the president after he is impeached. Wednesday's riots show that the Republican defectors still need to get in line, defend the Constitution instead of the madman in the Oval Office and condemn the violent acts committed in their defense — or take to the streets and the prisons with the rioters instead of their cushy seats in Congress (once those seats are repaired or replaced).