The Morning Jolt

U.S.

A Dark Day in America

Police confront supporters of President Trump at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Today’s Morning Jolt is a big one. I ask that you read it all, because we’ve awoken in a different world from yesterday’s, and events are moving quickly now.

The Siege of Congress
Wednesday afternoon, members of the Congress met as scheduled to certify the Electoral College results. But they couldn’t finish the task, because an angry mob took over the U.S. Capitol building, rampaging through the hallways and offices in a violent frenzy of gleeful anarchy, and demonstrated that despite their self-identification as patriots and proud Americans, they pledged allegiance to nothing beyond chaos.

You can call it a “small group,” but the number of protesters who charged through the doors of the Capitol complex numbered in the hundreds or thousands, enough to overwhelm the U.S. Capitol police forces that were on duty yesterday. Perhaps some among that mob would indeed identify as Antifa, or could be classified as agitators or instigators, but that doesn’t get the hundreds who joined in the bedlam off the hook. Every single person who climbed those steps and went through those doors made their choice to beat on the chamber doors, to break those windows, to criminally trespass and disrupt the legitimate work of the duly elected legislative branch of the U.S. government.

I worked up on Capitol Hill, on the House side, almost every day in 1999 and 2000, and intermittently during my wire-service days from 2001 to 2004. The U.S. Capitol Police is professional, effective, and polite, but relatively small, assigned the duties of protecting high-ranking government officials and the general public across a two-square-mile labyrinthine complex.

It appears the Capitol Police prepared for a “busy day,” not “Defcon One, prepare for waves of protesters storming the building.” The police forces on hand were simply undermanned for the situation. Donald Trump was not quiet about wanting to see a large demonstration on Capitol Hill. He had been touting the rally on the Mall for days.

At the rally Wednesday, Trump declared:

We will not let them silence your voices. We’re not going to let it happen . . . it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down any one you want, but I think right here. We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.

Wednesday afternoon, demonstrators-turned-rioters, many carrying pro-Trump signs and wearing MAGA hats and other indicators of support for Trump, broke through the doors. Some of them came to blows with U.S. Capitol Police, and others clashed with law enforcement while carrying a “Thin Blue Line” flag. U.S. Capitol Police drew their guns as the mob broke the windows of the House chamber and pounded on the door.

Eventually the mob — some literally dressed like barbarians, in the sort of detail that would be too strange to depict in fiction — stormed the floor of both chambers, hung from the balcony, climbing on the dais, sat in the chamber chairs, smashed windows, tried to kick down locked doors, sprayed fire extinguishers at people, used chemical irritants against police, stole podiums, and trashed the offices of the peoples’ elected representatives. Outside the Capitol building, they smashed camera equipment of television-news crews.

I mention all of these details and include links to all of those videos because even now, less than 24 hours later, some people want you to forget or downplay the severity of yesterday’s pandemonium. Some people are already attempting to rewrite history, that this was a group of protesters who thought they had legally entered or inadvertently wandered into restricted portions of the Capitol complex.

Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani said the election should be settled by “trial by combat.” In the aftermath, Giuliani and OAN are already making excuses. Giuliani said, “in New York, this would be considered preliminary to what’s going to happen.”

Online, you can find video of the police shooting that killed Ashli Babbitt; I will not link to that.

The angry mob stormed the Capitol building and smashed the window in a locked door. Armed U.S. Capitol Police were behind the door, protecting elected lawmakers. (Remember that the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate are in the presidential line of succession.) The mob chanted, “break it down,” Babbitt attempted to crawl through the broken window . . . and a police officer fired one shot that ultimately ended her life. Her death was an avoidable tragedy, but just what did she, and the rest of that mob, think was going to happen? What do you expect will occur when you try to smash down doors that are protected by armed police officers?

Judging from her Twitter feed, Babbitt truly believed the crazy conspiracy theories of Lin Wood. Her last tweet was, “nothing will stop us.”

As bad as the day was, it could have been even worse. Police found at least two improvised explosive devices on the Capitol grounds. Separately, a pipe bomb was found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and a police bomb squad destroyed it.

At any point, the president could have made a forceful, full-throated demand that the protesters, who believed they were acting in his interests, leave the Capitol building and allow the work of Congress to continue. His aides urged him to make a more forceful statement, and according to some reports, Trump refused to do that. After more than an hour, Trump offered a brief video statement that began with more complaining that he won by a landslide and the election was stolen from him, but “we want peace.”

Trump Must Go

There is no good reason to keep Donald Trump in the presidency for the next 14 days. He repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot resist the temptation to make angry people even angrier, to goad and provoke and agitate when the situation calls for calm, and to turn the tension up higher at the worst moments. The man always shows up to a blazing inferno with a firehose full of gasoline. And the man who claims he stands for “law and order” became unacceptably slow-footed and obstructionist once the perpetrators of violence and chaos claimed to be on his side.

His actions must have consequences. He swore an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” and then stood by and watched as the riotous horde drove the legislative branch of the U.S. government from the Capitol. I don’t know if Trump’s actions meet the standard in the Constitution of a president with an “inability to discharge the powers and duties” of the office; it’s not as clear-cut as a stroke. Congressional impeachment and removal from office seems like the proportionate response. Trump sat back as his supporters prevented Congress from doing its duties; he must be removed from his duties and barred from becoming president again.

If this declaration of moral consequence angers you, and prompts you to send me angry Twitter responses or emails, or to furiously declare you’ll never read me again — you would be surprised how many people make that declaration repeatedly — so be it. Some things matter more than pleasing everyone.

In some ways, it seems Donald Trump has already given up the powers of the presidency. Acting secretary of defense Christopher Miller issued a statement Wednesday night:

Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation. We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly.

Notice which name is missing from the list of leaders who spoke with Miller.

Separately, the president’s national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, tweeted Wednesday evening that Vice President Mike Pence “is a genuinely fine and decent man. He exhibited courage today as he did at the Capitol on 9/11 as a Congressman. I am proud to serve with him.” And O’Brien didn’t say anything about the guy who works in the Oval Office. There is a curious report that Trump “initially rebuffed and resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard.”

By 6 p.m., Trump more or less justified the storming of Capitol Hill as a natural consequence of the certification of a Biden election win: “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!”

After about an hour, Twitter deleted Trump’s tweet and deleted his video statement as well. Later in the evening, they suspended his account for twelve hours.

Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican, declared:

Make no mistake, the President of the United States is responsible for this event. President Trump has orchestrated a campaign to cause an insurrection that overturns the results of a free, fair and legal election. The fact is the results of this election have been validated by Republican governors, conservative judges and non-partisan election officials across the country. There is no doubt that the President’s delusion, fabrication, self-interest, and ego have led us — step by step — to this very low, and very dangerous, moment in American history. The fabric of our democracy and the principles of our republic are under attack by the President. Enough is enough. President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress.

We know Donald Trump will never resign. Congress, it’s your move.

ADDENDUM: Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve been thinking about this exchange from The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent, who has lost the love of his life and been terribly disfigured, confronts a corrupt cop who leaked information that led to his love being kidnapped and killed.

Ramirez: I didn’t know . . .

Harvey Dent: Didn’t know what they’d do? You’re the second cop to say that to me. What exactly did you think they were gonna do?

When the president tells a crowd of thousands of his supporters to go over to Congress, as they certify an election result that he insists is fraudulent and an assault on democracy . . . just what did he think was going to happen?

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