“We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen.” Donald Trump, 6 January 2021
Remarkably, Donald Trump has always positioned himself as both the President and the leader of an insurgency against the “Deep State.” Those two poles were on display on January 6 as he addressed his supporters on the Ellipse adjacent to the White House, playing the election fraud card once more and attacking fellow Republicans including the Vice President for not supporting him.
His last-ditch effort to abort the certification of Biden and Harris as the next President and Vice President depended on mobilizing his only remaining political asset, his devoted followers, to cause chaos on Capitol Hill. Now, he kept his fingerprints off the actual seizure of the Capitol: he didn’t actually tell people to do that, but he certainly knew that a subset of those present would attempt it. Trump, the incumbent President, thus stands guilty of fomenting chaos, even as he is constitutionally pledged to protect public order.
Trump, the incumbent President, thus stands guilty of fomenting chaos, even as he is constitutionally pledged to protect public order.
That his followers succeeded beyond their wildest dreams calls for serious attention by Congress itself and by the various law enforcement agencies that were involved. In the previous weeks, right-wing media were awash with plans to pull off just such a coup. That the Capitol Police and the District Police were overwhelmed suggests at least a colossal intelligence failure, possibly compounded by some police officers who were sympathizers or even confederates of the mob.
That the mob were largely allowed to leave peacefully, with few arrests, poses a vivid contrast with the treatment of Black Lives Matter protests around the country in recent months. Had these people been Black, several would have been killed, and many others would have been beaten and arrested. Again, the possibility emerges that police officers may have sympathized with the rioters. White privilege in action?
On the other hand, it could be argued that the outmanned police might have made matters worse by taking a harder line, that they might have engendered more resistance by the mob, which might have actually stopped the certification of Biden.
If this attempted coup had succeeded, certification of Biden’s election would have been aborted and the way cleared for a politically slanted reexamination of the election results, leading to the certification of Trump. America democracy would have died at the hands of a mob.
But it didn’t succeed. A rattled and angry Congress returned to session after a few hours, slapped down the diminished forces of Republicans protesting the election results, and certified Biden’s victory. Republicans, including many loyal Trump supporters, rushed to condemn the violence and to assert that they could never have imagined such a thing could happen in the World’s Greatest Democracy.
Trump found himself isolated (even Twitter and Facebook cut him off), and subject to speculation the the Vice President and Cabinet might invoke the 25th Amendment to suspend him from exercising the powers of the presidency for the remainder of his term (less than two weeks).
While it’s unlikely that Vice President Pence and the mostly acting members of the Cabinet would find the backbone to invoke the 25th Amendment, it is nonetheless clear that Trump has been decisively weakened. He even announced that, Congress having duly certified Biden’s victory, there would be an orderly transition.
He still insisted that he was robbed, and that his administration had been the greatest in history. He still refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden’s win, but he did acknowledge that his presidency would end on January 20.
The Trumpist mob’s seizure of the Capitol thus turned out to be a tactical victory leading to a strategic defeat for Trump.
While we know that the Beer Hall Putsch and the burning of the Reichstag presaged Hitler’s rise to power, this failed coup will likely ensure that Trump will be banished to the political wilderness, with a hard-core base that will be a fraction of those who voted for him in November.