How are we to think about what took place on Wednesday? One word comes to mind: inevitable.
A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on the very day Congress was to officially record vote totals from the November election, the final formal step in the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. Since November, the outgoing President has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny the outcome. It began with falsely claiming victory on election night and continued in a series of frivolous lawsuits, pressure tactics against election officials and a public campaign where he repeated his baseless claims of a fraudulent result. His increasingly ludicrous arguments culminated in summoning his supporters to Washington on January 6, proclaiming that it would be “wild.”
As lawmakers were about to formally count the certified ballots, as received from the states, Donald Trump egged on the crowd of up to 40,000 by challenging them to march on the Capitol with the words, “you’ll never take back the country with weakness.” In response, rioters replete with MAGA paraphernalia and Trump flags did just that: they breached the security perimeter, overran the Capitol police, flooded the halls of Congress, broke into the House and Senate chambers, threatened lawmaker, vandalized and looted offices.
Numerous commentators and private citizens alike have predicted a violent end to Donald Trump’s continued arrogant narcissistic behavior. Events have this week have shown these predictions to be prophetic and that they need to be heard. Challenges that such warnings are alarmist have now been proven wrong. Instead, what we’ve learned yet again is how fragile our democracy actually is and how vulnerable we are to the machinations of a demagogue.
Trump’s drumbeat of hateful vitriol, shattering democratic norms, challenging truth, castigating his opponents as “enemies of the people” and stoking the fires of distrust and division have inexorably led to this shameful display. It was an insurrection. It was seditious. It was beyond dangerous—witness to the fact that four people lost their lives in the melee (one woman was shot and three others—according to police reports—died from medical emergencies). A mob overran the US Capitol for the first time since the War of 1812—only then it was a foreign power, not supporters of the sitting President of the United States.
There is growing alarm that the President is psychologically unhinged. Even with only a dozen days left in his term, some are concerned that his erratic behavior poses a national security threat. Responsible voices are calling for invoking the 25th Amendment, declaring him incompetent and seeking his immediate removal from office. Around the world, foreign governments are looking on in disbelief and sadness at what has happened in the United States.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this contemptable incident. Throughout his term, Trump’s supporters in Congress have not only refused to challenge his authoritarian decisions, but have encouraged his behavior. Republican lawmakers, led by Missouri Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz sought to challenge the election results based on baseless claims. His minions—Donald Trump, Jr. and Rudy Giuliani—supported the insurrection by openly calling for “trial by combat” and threatened “we’re coming for you.” Trump persisted with his lies about a stolen election, continued to stoke the flames of division and dehumanization with his racist, xenophobic rhetoric and only, in a taped video message after the fact, tepidly asked his followers to “go home” after telling them that he loved them.
Countless questions have surfaced as to how this all-white, Trump-supporting mob could have so easily broken through law enforcement defenses put up to protect lawmakers and the Capitol complex. One can only begin to imagine how differently this scene would have played out if the rioters were Black.
So, what do we do? The response to this inevitability must be heightened vigilance. We need to have our ears and our hearts to the ground in order to discern the pulse of our society, heed those who condemn the forces of selfishness and greed, power and privilege, racism and anti-democratic sentiments that lie festering just below the surface. We must hold those in authority accountable and realize that the forces unleashed by Donald Trump are not limited to just one man—but are poised to resurface at any time. We must pay attention.