In my last piece from December, this blog discussed the accomplishments achieved under President Donald J. Trump from the perspective of a Trump-skeptical conservative like myself. It is nearly undisputable that Trump brought the right some meaningful policy victories, particularly on the courts and taxes, and broadened the potential appeal of the GOP to groups previously skeptical of many politicians from the right. For those accomplishments, he deserved recognition.
However, since the failure of his lawsuits and the certification by the states of President-Elect Joe Biden as the 306-232 Electoral College victor, Donald Trump has completely retreated from reality, denied his unquestionable defeat, and undermined democracy. To cap this off, on the dark day of January 6, 2021, he fomented a violent mob that attacked the United States Capitol Building as a joint session of Congress processed the electoral votes cast in November’s elections. Numerous police officers were injured defending against this incursion, and four rioters were killed, including one who was shot by police on site. Images of a citadel of American democracy under siege were broadcast to a worldwide audience.
Put simply, the actions of January 6, 2021 were a national disgrace capping off a Presidency that was a worldwide disgrace. That an American President would delude large segments of the public about his loss at the ballot box is problematic enough, but that the same President would use their manipulated anger to turn them into shock troops to send into some sort of fantasy battle against Congress (and the law enforcement officers that protect the Capitol) is beyond the pale.
While this blog is focused on issues, particularly policy and elections, in which Trump is merely an actor and not the center of discussion, yesterday’s actions were a product of Donald Trump, his sociopathic character, his pettiness, and his complete detachment from reality. And they congealed into the worst act in American politics since arguably the shooting of Ronald Reagan.
Looking back, how we got here should come as little surprise. After riding down the escalator into the 2016 Presidential race, Donald J. Trump wasted little time announcing to the GOP electorate that he had little use for traditional American values. He vilified Hispanic immigrants, cast aspersions at Muslims, mocked the disabled, denigrated war heroes, and even legitimized low-level political violence at his energy-filled rallies. Somehow, this found enough of an audience to vault Trump to the top of a fractured field, and he rode his core supporters plus $2,000,000,000 in free media to victory in the GOP primaries. Since his surprising primary victory, Trump has utilized his role as the de facto leader of the Republican Party to reward GOP politicians loyal to him and to undermine his detractors.
To some degree, the problems of Trump’s character had little impact on the actual functioning of America between Trump’s Inauguration and the November 2020 elections. The economy was largely robust, the foreign policy successes actually outweighed the failures, and even the issue to which most of his opponents would point as to the great disaster of the Trump era – the Covid response – has seen the United States perform fairly comparably to most large Western democracies on health outcomes all the while achieving significantly more stability on the economic front (perhaps it should be argued that federalism and not Trump drove both such results).
Following his electoral defeat, however, the focus retreated from Trump the President to Trump the person, where his character rather than his policies predominated in impacting outcomes. And in effect, the Trump of the 2015/16 GOP primaries re-emerged, propagating baseless conspiracy theories about his loss to whomever might listen. As things were in 2016, the party of those on the receiving end of his verbal assault mattered little – Trump alleged that crooked, mostly minority local officials created fake votes for Biden and he claimed that purportedly incompetent, weak, and largely Republican officials (in states such as GA and AZ) turned a blind eye to this nefarious conduct, thus stealing Trump’s “glorious victory.”
Like the contested primaries, Trump set fire to anyone or anything he perceived to be in his path of widespread public acceptance of a Biden win. And this time, those blazes did not provide Trump a surprising shot at beating Hillary Clinton for the Presidency, but instead merely provided him nothing more than cover to avoid acknowledging his reasonably close electoral loss. Having cultivated a hardened group of supporters since the inception of his political career, Trump now possessed the ability to call an outraged mob to act violently in support of stopping the normal functioning of the democratic process, which is exactly what he did when rallying his “troops” just minutes before they laid siege to Congress and completely embarrassed this great nation.
Bottom line, Donald J. Trump’s legacy is a conflagration of political violence stemming from the election of a leader who is a morally bankrupt demagogue with no respect for common decency, American values, and democracy. His refusal to respect the principle of peacefully transferring power will forever make him the American Arsonist.