Let’s make Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 the day Trumpism died
Trumpism has been exposed for what it is: a cancer on the Republican Party and a real threat to democracy in the United States. It is in our power — starting with Republican politicians in Washington, D.C. and red states, the mass media news outlets, as well as voters throughout the country — to make Jan. 6, 2021 the day Trumpism died.
Tuesday’s election in Georgia sent two Democrats to the U.S. Senate for the first time in decades, and the result of this political earthquake is that the United States Senate will now be controlled by the Democratic Party.
The election also revealed that sycophancy to President Trump is no longer a ticket to victory. Merchandise featured in Kelly Loeffler’s campaign store included T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing Trump’s name and stating: “Still my president.” David Perdue refused to acknowledge that Trump had been defeated. Both senators opposed a $2,000 per person COVID relief payment, did an about-face when Trump endorsed it, and then remained silent when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) killed the proposal. A lot of good it did them: The Republican candidate for Public Service Commissioner got more votes than either Loeffler or Perdue in Tuesday’s Georgia election.
An even greater earthquake occurred Wednesday when a mob of Trump extremists broke into the chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate, seeking to overturn the presidential election.
Trump had been egging them on for weeks.
On Dec. 19, claiming it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost, Trump called for “wild” protests in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.
He got them.
On Wednesday morning — in a personal appearance — the president encouraged the protesters to “stop the steal.” Exhorting his supporters “to fight,” Trump encouraged them to go to the Capitol building, where lawmakers were scheduled to begin counting the Electoral College votes. Rudy Giuliani endorsed “trial by combat.” Eric Trump told the crowd “We need to march on the Capitol today.”
After the mob surged past barricades, broke windows, occupied the Senate and House chambers, after police evacuated lawmakers (who had been given gas masks), after a woman was shot in the chest, and President-elect Biden called on the president “to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Trump posted a short video to his Twitter account. Repeating yet again his false claim that the election had been stolen, the self-proclaimed “law and order president” urged the rioters to “remain” peaceful and “go home.” He added, “We love you. You’re very special,” and “I know how you feel.” The video did not contain one word of criticism — nor did it indicate, as Vice President Pence had, that lawbreakers would be prosecuted.
“This is what you have gotten, guys,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) one of the few visible and vociferous critics of Trump, yelled to his colleagues as they fled the floor of the Senate. “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection.”
There is some evidence that heretofore silent Republicans are — at long last — rousing themselves. Nancy Mace, just sworn in as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, tweeted video of Trump extremists clashing with Capitol Police and wrote: “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.” Earlier in the day, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally announced his intention to vote to certify the election of Joe Biden and asserted that “the voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them all, it would damage our republic forever… and our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
Two weeks ago, it’s worth noting, a Gallup poll found that approval of President Trump’s conduct in office had already plummeted to 39 percent.
It seems likely, he now has nowhere to go but down.
Toxic partisan polarization, alas, is unlikely to release its hold on American politics anytime soon.
Significant damage to our most fundamental democratic institutions — including confidence in the fairness of elections, heretofore the envy of the world — has been done.
But it may not be unreasonable to hope, believe, and act on that belief, that on Jan. 6, 2021, America turned a page.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”