Watching television news, captivated by the images of pro-Trump rioters, looters, and frankly losers storm the Capitol building in service of a lost cause, I could not but help think about the old analogy that best summarises the Donald Trump era: it’s like a train-wreck; it’s hard to watch, but you can’t look away.
Unfortunately, the train-wreck we are talking about today is the American Republic, which was thrown into complete and utter disarray when thousands of disgruntled, angry, maskless Trump devotees broke the barriers outside the Capitol Building, breached the doors, chased police officers up the marble staircases, and made the House and Senate chambers their own personal lounging areas.
Inside, lawmakers were trying to do their constitutional duties by certifying the Electoral College votes, the final phase in what is historically a peaceful transition of power to a new US administration. Outside those doors, you had crazy people break windows, desecrate the cherished great hall of the Capitol Rotunda, and muck around in congressional offices pretending to be blue-blooded revolutionaries. Dishevelled anarchists walked the House and Senate floors, chanting indecipherable slogans, sitting in the seats and the galleries and at one point standing where Vice President Mike Pence had been hours earlier. One man, wearing a baseball cap and donning an American flag, put his feet on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk as if to send a message to Washington’s top Democrat: we don’t respect you or any of your colleagues.
Reporters in the Capitol and anchors in the studios were absolutely dumfounded by what they were witnessing, as were tens of millions of Americans across the country. So were the Capitol Hill police, a department so unprepared and outmanned that they largely ceded an entire branch of the federal government to bearded, camo-clad revellers. Lawmakers, some of whom stood with Trump every step of the way, were forced into locked rooms. Some of them called into CNN urging the President to order his supporters to leave the premises. Even Vice President Pence, the ultimate Trump loyalist, felt the need to tweet out a message: ‘Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.’
What we had, of course, was not a peaceful protest, but rather sheer chaos masquerading as a political cause. It was chaos driven in a large part by Trump, who addressed supporters earlier in the day and vowed to remain defiant in the face of reality: that he lost the presidential election to Joe Biden and will soon have to vacate the White House grounds. ‘These people are not going to take it any longer,’ Trump said, gesturing to the crowd. ‘They’re not going to take it any longer… We will never give up. We will never concede.’ Trump’s lunacy-bitten personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, stuck to more war-like rhetoric: ‘Let’s have trail by combat.’ The words were a call to arms of sort, an incitement that would soon engulf Capitol Hill and envelope an entire nation in suspense and dread.
It took hours before Trump finally realised the situation a few miles away from the White House had gotten out of control. He told his minions to pack up and go home peacefully around 4:30 pm Washington time, only to moan in the same video about how the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from him by the deep state and hostile state legislators.
This was a sad and embarrassing day for America stoked by a sad, unhinged defeated incumbent who would donate every one of his organs if it meant staving off defeat. The day was such a clown show that America’s traditional allies couldn’t help but comment on it. ‘Disgraceful scenes in US Congress,’ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted out. ‘The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.’
This is exactly what Americans are taught in school at a very young age: America is a special ‘shining city on a hill,’ where the political leadership is chosen by the people and the government operates on the consent of the governed. But after today, one can’t help question whether we are an exceptional nation, indeed.
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