The storming of the Capitol: America’s day of shame

The storming of the Capitol: America’s day of shame

At a rally that morning, the president had told them to “show strength”, and “stop the steal”. He said: “We will never give up. We will never concede.” Then Donald Trump urged his loyalists to “walk down to the Capitol” where the election result was being certified, declaring: “You will never take back our country with weakness.” A great throng – a mix of random Trump supporters, QAnon conspiracy theorists and far-right militias – duly headed to Congress, where they found not the massed ranks of National Guard that had been deployed during the Black Lives Matter protests, but a handful of police who were easily outnumbered, and put up little resistance. (In one viral clip, an officer appears to be posing for a selfie with a protester.) Before long, a group had swarmed up the steps, broken down barricades, and forced their way into the building. A man dressed in a buffalo-horned hat, the “QAnon shaman” Jake Angeli, was photographed screaming in the chamber of the Senate; another man had his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk.

As footage of this desecration of the seat of US democracy was rolling in, the world looked on aghast; but Trump himself reportedly showed no remorse, said The Daily Telegraph. While his supporters were smashing windows, he “was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was”, said Republican senator Ben Sasse, citing conversations with senior White House figures. As the severity of the situation became more apparent – with tear gas deployed, and one protester shot dead – senior loyalists implored him to appeal for calm. Finally, having been warned that he could be prosecuted, Trump issued his statement at 4:17pm. “You have to go home now,” he said. “We have to have peace.” But he repeated his lie that the election was stolen, and he did not condemn the rioters. “We love you,” he told them. “You’re very special.” The condemnation poured in from all sides: all four living ex-presidents spoke out; members of Trump’s own team started to resign in droves; Mike Pence, his vice-president, who had earlier refused to block Joe Biden’s certification, was reported to be “incandescent”. It wasn’t until the next day that he finally condemned the “heinous violence”, and promised to ensure a smooth transition of power.

People are expressing shock and outrage now, yet the events of last week did not come out of the blue, said The New York Times. They were the conclusion of a trajectory that has been clear since at least 2017, when – following clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville – the president refused to condemn the attendees as the neo-Nazis they were, and instead insisted that there had been “very fine people” on both sides.

Since then – in spite of a direct warning from the head of the FBI about the threat posed by far-right terror groups – Trump has used anger about lockdown measures to whip his support base into a “frenzy”, said Ed Pilkington in The Guardian. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”, he tweeted in April, in response to moves to impose a lockdown there. “His loyal followers dutifully responded”: in what now looks like a “test-run” for last week’s mayhem, protesters carrying semi-automatic rifles rushed the state capitol. Before the election, Trump had repeatedly claimed that if he lost, it would be the result of fraud. On election night, he told his supporters that the Democrats were trying to “steal” the vote. Again, they interpreted it as a call to action: there were armed protests at counts in Arizona and Michigan, while in Georgia, election officials (all Republican) received so many death threats, they publicly implored Trump to tone down his rhetoric. “It has to stop,” said one. “Someone is going to get shot...” He didn’t stop; and someone did get shot. In fact, five people, including a police officer, died or were fatally injured during the mayhem.

It’s not clear what Trump will do next. But I know this much, said David Cay Johnston in the Daily Mail: he feels no shame at what unfolded last week. He is so vain and so deluded, he cannot conceive of himself as a loser. And many Americans agree with him. An early poll found that 45% of Republican voters supported the storming of the Capitol; only 43% opposed it. On social media, they claimed the violence in Washington had been the work of left-wing Antifa activists. I believe Trump should be prosecuted for insurrection; and he might leave the country to avoid such charges. But even if he is jailed, his influence will not wane. Having followed Trump this far, his devotees won’t finally see the light, acknowledge the grave threat he poses to US democracy, and admit that they’ve been conned by a QAnon conspiracy theory that the Democratic Party is run by Satan-worshipping paedophiles. They’ll just elevate him as a martyr. Whatever happens to Donald Trump, Trumpism is here to stay.