The Capitol Siege — History Before Our Very Eyes
Not even a week into 2021 and we already have another history defining moment happening before our eyes — as if 2020 didn’t provide enough content already for history degrees for years to come. So, the question on all our lips, both in and outside of the US, is: what is going on in America?
On Wednesday 6th of January 2021,at 12 pm EST, President Trump, the tyrant in the toupee, made a speech in Washington, asserting his false claim (that had been proven false by the Supreme Court), of widespread election fraud. I mean, its hardly surprising is it? I don’t know about you, but I never thought Trump would go quietly. Trump said in his Washington speech, “We will never give up. We will never.” However, his Vice President, Mike Pence, seemed to have other ideas, refusing to overturn the results of the election, and refusing Trumps demands to send the electoral college votes back to the state. Seems Pence has at least a tiny semblance of respect for the democratic process. After the President’s speech, a crowd marches up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol.
At 1 pm, Pence publicly defies Trump, stating he’d follow Constitution rather than the order of the orange despot. Pence proceeds to preside over a joint session of Congress to certify election results, with roughly 100 Republican House of Representatives members and a dozen Senators saying they would try to stop the vote count.
At 2 pm, Mitch McConnell (to quote one commenter on one of my previous stories, “may he eat shit and die”), said the will of the voters should not be overridden by Congress, “If we overrule them, we will damage our republic forever.” Capitol buildings begin to get evacuated because Trump rioters — perhaps they should be called domestic terrorists, but I am making a point to not call them protesters, because this is not a protest — were let past barriers, and smashed, climbed and fought their way into the Capitol.
At 2:20 pm, Senate recessed its debate over objections to the electoral college voters, and then at 2:59 pm, rioters are reported to have entered the Senate Chamber, while lawmakers on the 3rd floor are evacuated, Pence being the first amongst them. Tear gas is used at this point and lawmakers tweeted that they had been told to put on gas masks.
3:48 pm saw the Capitol Police begin to clear the building and Rep Hakeem Jeffries announces that they would be returning to the chamber to continue certifying the electoral college.
At 4pm, one of Trump’s press secretaries tweeted that the D.C. National Guard was being mobilised. The National Guard was joined by federal law enforcement, the Secret Service, and the National Guard of Virginia. President-elect Biden called on the mob to stop, “At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” Biden calls for Trump to appear live on TV to “defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.” Biden quite rightly summarised, “It’s not protest, it’s insurrection […] The World’s watching.”
Trump puts a video on Twitter at 4:30pm, again falsely claiming election fraud, but also saying the protesters “have to go home now”, having told them to be there in the first place. Though he tweeted that they ought remain “peaceful”, they were violent…but Donald still said he “loved them”.
How did we get here?
Trump appealed to the white working-class of America, telling them everything they wanted to hear. Once they realised maybe putting all their chips on Trump wasn’t such a good idea, they couldn’t back down. Of course, one might argue that the people who sieged the Capitol are simply just fanatic, alt-right, extremists, but the left also need to consider how they alienated Trump supporters. The general liberal politics of Hollywood sees most satirical shows mocking conservatives, lampooning Trump, and bombarding Trump voters with condescending jokes about them and their President. This put those voters, regardless of their level of regret for voting Trump, on the defensive. If I date someone, and everyone else sees their abusive and bad for me, but they do so by mocking me, calling me dumb, I’m more likely to double down and try and prove them wrong. It’s the same thing, every time we say to a Trump voter, ‘we told you so’, they feel stupid, double down, and attempt to prove to us, but more so themselves, that it wasn’t a bad choice to vote for him.
Political commentator Van Jones sort of predicted this in his October 26th 2020 Ted Talk, and to summarise what he said (though I recommend you watch the lecture), under the US Constitution, a candidate could lose the popular vote, fail to get a majority in the electoral college, refuse to concede, manipulate mechanisms in the government, and still get sworn in as President. One of the many safeguards of American Democracy is not in the constitution — the tradition of a voluntary concession speech, which according to Jones, is “one of the main reasons that you almost never have riots and bloodshed and strife after a US Election.” But Trump never made a concession speech…in fact, he made the opposite — before the votes we’re even finished being counted, but it was fairly clear Biden was winning, Trump made a speech claiming he won. The whole point of the concession speech is that it unites the country behind the new leader, and in that very moment, to quote Jones, “the fate of the entire republic is in the hands of a single politician.”…its just unfortunate that single politician was Donald Trump. When the losing candidate makes the concession speech, they demobilise the nation wide army they could have used to, oh I don’t know, perform a violent coup?
The steps after voting (e.g. electoral college meeting, Congress ratification, inauguration) moves ahead on a rubber stamp basis after a concession speech, but constitutionally, a candidate does not have to concede. The Constitution lays out the 2 parts of presidential elections: the popular election and the elite selection process which occurs behind closed doors amongst government officials from the end of vote counting in November to January. In 2000, Al Gore conceded the second the Supreme Court ordered an end to the vote counting, Gore DID NOT fight in the state legislatures, electoral college, or Congress, nor did he discredit the results in the press, or send his supporters out into the streets. Trump did however. But had he been able to influence Pence to support him, instead of oafishly threatening him, he could have gotten the matter addressed in the Congress’ House of Representatives, where the popular vote and electoral vote would be ignored, Jones claims “it’s like the election never happened.” Had this happened, the final tally would be taken not by delegate but by delegation, meaning individual Congress people wouldn’t get a vote, instead being done by state. But, almost epitomising Donald Trump as a person and a politician, he couldn’t even take this more peaceful method to attempt to remain President, always going for the more brutish approach.
Jones says that to stop a coup, we need to do 3 things: get informed, get active, and get loud. That last one is really important, we are all our own media outlets, the more we share, articulate, and condemn what happened on the 6th of January 2021, the more likely we are to beat the demagoguery of Donald Trump.
Trump’s method was always to capitalise on partisan politics, to divide the country and its people, he doesn’t want a unified front. Here we have Trumps supporters violently raiding the Capitol, and not facing any serious repercussions from police, with only 13 people being arrested at the time of this article, but during the BLM protests in the summer, many were killed or seriously injured for peaceful activism against unlawful killings. Trumps tenure has been one where reality has become a foreign concept, in a world of fake news and alternative facts, a country cannot come together. The nation has become even more divided than during the American Civil War…we are quite literally living through history. As a history student, I am very excited and amazed, but equally afraid — what if this despot succeeds? What if he’s already won? It might be called the United States, but its fractured, possibly beyond repair.
What has always been clear, but now more so than ever, is that President Donald J. Trump doesn’t care about Democracy, and more generally, doesn’t care about America or its values: equality, progress, freedom, liberty, unity. He only cares about himself, and holding on to his quickly fading power. Section Four of the 25th Amendment allows the Vice-President and the cabinet to decide for any reason that the President is unfit to rule, and to be removed immediately. For all Pence’s faults, for all his enabling of Trump, for all his political misdemeanours, his actions on the 6th of January 2021 show that even in that corpse of a man (being devoured by flies), there is some care for American values, for the nation, and for Democracy, and so let’s hope he will pull through and invoke Section Four. Of course that means we’ll have Pence as President for less than two weeks, but at least we won’t have to deal with this fake-tanned tyrant much longer