Last week the President of the United States attempted to overturn the 2020 election through the use of force. There can be no other interpretation of his actions. His effort was planned for months and executed after all his other measures to overturn the election failed.
The actions of President Trump are a dark stain on America.
For sure, the nation has seen worse events: Slavery, the Civil War, the genocide of native peoples, the post reconstruction apartheid in the South. But never has the nation witnessed an attempt by an incumbent President to use mob rule to overturn the vote of the people.
Let us start with the facts. The President was elected in 2016 despite having lost the popular vote by 3 million ballots. In the run up to the 2016 election he was laying the groundwork to challenge the results. In his mind a victory by his opponent could only be an example of an election that was “rigged.” A classic “heads I win, tails you lose.”
In 2020 the same scenario unfolded. The President knew he would lose the popular vote – which he did by 7 million – and he launched attacks on the election on multiple fronts. Tellingly the challenges he issued were only in states where his electoral loss was close.
In every state, his challenges were thrown out of court. Yet, he and his collaborators continued with the public messaging that the election was stolen. The President personally intervened in Georgia in a failed effort to pressure Republican election officials to find just enough votes to overturn the win for President-elect Biden.
Having lost legal and illegal efforts to overturn the election, the increasingly desperate President took the lead in urging his followers to march on Washington – an effort that he believed would add mob pressure on members of Congress for them to throw out the result of the election. He knew that he had collaborators in the Congress who would work hand-in-glove with his effort; the mob would add pressure to those on the fence.
At last week’s rally, the President urged his followers to march on the Capitol and to “be wild.” After repeating a long list of lies about the election and his dangerous conspiracy theories, he went on to say, “We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” These calls echoed language calling for violent action circulating among extremist groups.
And march they did. Many were wearing military equipment – helmets, body armor, camouflaged military garb, and carrying batons as well as other hand-held weapons – clothing that is not worn when people are expecting a peaceful protest. No, they were ready for a fight.
The attack on the U.S. Capitol followed. Had the President’s insurrection succeeded, leaders of Congress could have been kidnapped – or worse. And it would have advanced the president’s agenda, creating an unprecedented political convulsion that would have halted the Congress’s acceptance of the Electoral College’s vote affirming the victory by former Vice President Biden.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. But America is still roiling from the attempted coup.
Questions need to be answered. Why were the Capitol police so unprepared? Without doubt law enforcement was aware of what could happen. Michigan had recently experienced a military-style attack on its state Capitol and the governor there was the target of an attempted kidnapping by fascists.
Instead, the national Capitol police were overwhelmed and injured – one killed – by the coup attempt. The President’s response to the violence did nothing to quell the mob. In fact, he emboldened them, telling the rioters that “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Another question is what happens next? Clearly, the President violated his oath of office and schemed to overthrow the election. The danger has not passed – the President is still in office for another week and anything can happen. He has not shown remorse or stopped with his propaganda. He must be removed from office, even if there are only a few days until the new President is sworn in. His actions simply cannot be ignored.
For the individuals involved in the storming of the Capitol, they should be arrested and face legal consequences for their actions. If convicted, they should face long prison sentences. In addition, there must be a 9/11-style commission to look at the security threats posed by domestic terrorists across the nation.
That leaves the Congressional collaborators who abetted the President’s efforts to overturn the election. They too must face the consequences for their part in the coup attempt. By echoing the President’s lies and working to overturn the will of the people, they must face sanction. Here in New York, four Congressional Representatives Jacobs, Malliotakis, Stefanik and Zeldin – were among this group.
The Trump Presidency has been a stress test for our system of government, and it has exposed weaknesses in the American form of democracy. Why keep the Electoral College? Why is the President immune from investigation for corrupt actions? Why are governmental watchdogs and whistleblowers not protected from Presidential retribution?
America has always thought of itself as a beacon for democracy and freedom. After the actions of last week, that beacon has been dimmed. Will it be extinguished? What happens next will answer that question.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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