Even as the mob ran screaming and smashing through the capitol on 6 January, it was clear this was a coup attempt. It was equally clear that it had been instigated by the then president and his circle, much of whose audience in the “stop the steal” rally would become that mob.
Everything since has been fill-in, important in building the legal case against the leaders of this attempted coup and establishing the facts for history and public knowledge – and, one hopes, for efforts to prevent another such attempt.
That the goal was a coup is a solemnly horrifying fact. That those who orchestrated it and those who have excused and dismissed it afterward continue to conspire against the rule of law and the right of the people to choose their leaders is another such fact. Documents such as the Powerpoint presentation turned over to the 6 January commission by Trump’s then chief of staff Mark Meadows confirm the details and build our understanding of the threat.
On the basis of sometimes ridiculous pretexts, the circle around Trump intended to steal the election and seize power. Many, including Utah senator Mike Lee and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, reportedly knew the agenda.
Had they succeeded in grabbing power with such an openly lawless act, they could have kept it only by suspending the rule of law. This is what a dictatorship is, and this is what they wanted: a government in which laws are nothing and the ruling junta or thug is everything. What the American people and foreign nations would have done in response might have overturned it further down the road, had it not failed that day, but the whole business is still terrifying, and the threat is not over.
It was clear the military leadership was already alarmed: on 3 January , all 10 living secretaries of defense coauthored an editorial declaring, “Efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
That few Republicans would defend the US constitution, the voice of the voters and the orderly transition of power was also obvious. At 1:09 p.m. that day, the Capitol police chief said he wanted to declare an emergency and call in the National Guard. At 1.11pm, Trump ended his speech with the words “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore…”
At 1.12pm, two of America’s slimiest elected officials, Congressman Paul Gosar and Senator Ted Cruz, were objecting to certifying Arizona’s electoral votes. Gosar, according to two participants in the riot, seemed to know what was coming and had promised “blanket pardons”. The evacuation of the House and Senate would begin an hour later. At 2.24, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution…”
Two conservative Republicans, Vice-President Mike Pence and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, have been among the few to refuse to participate in the coup, the big lie and the surrounding corruption, and have paid for it. That terrible day, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly called Trump to rage and curse at him and demand he call the mob off, but he would then fall in line and fudge the reality and significance of what happened.
That day, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell noted that to overturn the election results would send democracy into a “death spiral”. Afterward he was furious and shaken, but he too squirmed his way back into alignment with the big lie. By May he was trying to block the formation of the 6 January committee to investigate what had happened.
The crisis is not just that we had a coup attempt almost a year ago, but that the Republican party has itself become so venal, so corrupt, so ruthless in its quest for power, that it seems assured that we will see further attempts to overrule any election outcomes they do not like. Already the kind of election laws they have pushed across the country seem aimed at such goals, and voter suppression has long been one of their anti-democratic tactics.
It played a substantial role in Trump’s 2016 win, and the genuine illegitimacies of that election – foreign interference, anomalies the recount might have uncovered had the Republicans not stopped it – were appropriated as false claims for 2020.
The Republicans made a devil’s bargain decades ago, when they decided that they would not change course to win the votes of an increasingly nonwhite, increasingly progressive people, but would try to suppress those who would vote against them. That is, they pitted themselves against democracy as participatory government and free and fair elections. The rhetoric of the far right makes it clear they are fearful and know their power will ebb if they cannot command and subvert the laws and elections of this nation, and they are aiming at some form of minority rule.
That is perfectly clear from their attack on the constitutional process unfolding that afternoon of 6 January, which was itself a refusal to accept a loss. The refusal to recognize the authority of Congress by Trump associates, including Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows, is a further sign of their belief, emboldened by Trump’s four years of criminal activity in public, that they make their own rules. Both have been found in contempt of Congress.
The crisis is not just that we had a coup attempt and have a political party that has gone rogue, but that much of the rest of the nation seems to be normalizing or forgetting or sleepwalking through the crisis. The warnings are getting more urgent.
“They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside,” said NBC anchor Brian Williams, in his parting words before leaving the network. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii stated: “The road to autocracy is paved with overly chill responses from people who would see this all with great clarity if only it were happening in a faraway place.” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy declared, “This is nation-ending stuff we’re dealing with here and folks better wake up soon. I’ll do my part. Think about what yours is.”
Jеrеmy Hogа, J. Scott Аpplеwhіtе, аnd Іаn Hutchіnson
Originally published on The Guardian as America witnessed a coup attempt. Now it’s sleep-walking into another disaster