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Trump's insurrection

Pro-Trump protesters have entered the U.S. Capitol building

Pro-Trump protesters have entered the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday after mass demonstrations in the nation's capital. Credit: Getty Images/Win McNamee

Sedition surged through the streets of Washington Wednesday, and the chaos at the Capitol was shocking. Images of protesters, some armed, storming the symbol of our democracy, shattering windows, making their way to the doors of the House and rappelling themselves onto the floor of the Senate, invading lawmakers’ offices, were appalling and frightening.

The violence, as disturbing as it was to witness, also was worrisome for the glimpse it gave of the dystopian future that might await our nation now that President Donald Trump, in sowing the wind, finally has reaped the whirlwind.

A woman was fatally shot inside the Capitol after the crowd breached the building, another casualty of disinformation and incitement.

The riot should have come as no surprise. It erupted as Congress was trying to certify the Electoral College vote and formalize the transfer of power away from the most chaotic, unfit administration in memory. But the debate in those noble halls was overtaken by a mob, a dystopian scene sowed by Trump and his allies who won’t accept his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden. Later in the evening, an outraged Congress was determined to resume the certification process.

This is what happens when a preening, narcissistic leader lies to supporters and incites them with those lies, tells them to be strong and to take back the country, and promises them that this day of protest will be "wild."

It’s what happens when a President fails to condemn violence by his followers, threatens opponents real and imagined, and repeatedly shows a profound lack of respect for the democratic process, the Constitution, and the undergirding of America as a nation of laws and rules. It’s what happens when a President disrespects the will of the people, who exercised their right to vote, and exhorts his followers to upend the result.

And this is what happens when senators and House members who profess love of their country fail to condemn the words and behavior providing kindling for this conflagration. Republican leaders and Trump enablers must realize the damage they have done to our democracy if we are to remedy it.

There never was a chance that Republican lawmakers objecting to the certification of each state’s Electoral College votes would succeed in their attempt to get those legitimate votes thrown out and delivered to Trump. Most of them knew that and still they proceeded, some seeking the favor of Trump supporters for future campaigns. Their cynicism is sickening, their actions insidious because they knew well that their actions might further anger and incite those who believe wrongly that the election was stolen.

These lawmakers’ protest was all political theater. But now they must understand that their theater matters. It matters for the effect it has on the audience. This theater cemented mistaken beliefs that there was massive fraud in the election. This theater inflamed passions riled by baseless accusations. This theater confirmed the demented thinking of rioters overrunning the Capitol that they somehow are patriots.

Some Trump-enabling Republicans tried too late to do the right thing. Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the joint session of Congress that was to certify the Electoral College votes, said beforehand that he had no power to overturn the results as Trump wanted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his colleagues that overruling voters, the courts and state governments would forever damage the republic, saying, "If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral." It was a chilling premonition of the tornado about to hit.

And it all took place against an extraordinary backdrop: two Senate victories in Georgia runoff races for Democrats, giving them control of Congress.

Biden said the violence was disorder, not dissent. He’s right. And even in trying ostensibly to quell the insurrection, Trump kept spurring it, telling rioters via video to go home while continuing to lie about the election being stolen and telling them he understood their rage. It was a dangerous display of irresponsibility.

As the violence raged, and some media members were attacked, television cameras captured protesters, many of whom carried Confederate and Trump flags, on the Capitol steps singing the national anthem, exulting in the words "that our flag was still there." And so it was, long after the mob was dispelled and order was restored.

Despite all of Trump’s depredations, so far the nation’s guardrails are holding. The processes of our democracy are working. The Electoral College votes, papers in sealed wooden boxes, were protected and they will be certified. Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

And what then? The threat is not over. But our democracy will endure if we learn the lessons of the attack on our nation’s capital, and if the real patriots who truly love our country and all of its ideals and principles continue to stand strong against those who would destroy them.

— The editorial board