On Wednesday afternoon, after one more surreal Donald Trump rally in Washington, D.C., where the outgoing President claimed for the umpteenth time that his election defeat last month was a fraud, and delivered a kind of second inaugural address for a second inauguration that will not be happening, a mass of his MAGA-hatted supporters marched across town to the United States Capitol. First they protested in front of the home of American democracy, and then they stormed it.
Members of Congress, in session to finalize Mr. Trump’s electoral defeat and Joe Biden’s victory, were forced to flee. Rioters pushed past police, broke down doors and occupied the building. They ransacked congressional offices and roamed at will on an evacuated Senate floor. As night fell, the city was trying to restore order and awaiting reinforcements from nearby police forces and the National Guard.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, Jon Ossoff was declared the winner of a Senate runoff election in Georgia. Together with Rev. Raphael Warnock’s victory in Georgia’s other Senate seat, it means that the Democratic Party – which in November captured the White House while keeping its majority in the House of Representatives – will now control the Senate. It means that Mr. Trump’s party has lost control of all three elected branches of the federal government.
That was Wednesday in America.
The past two months have been the worst of times for U.S. democracy, and the best of times. The past 24 hours continued the pattern.
After all the warnings and threats of election chaos and violence, not to mention a pandemic that threatened to scare people away from the polls, November’s national vote surprised Americans by delivering a reinvigoration of the democratic system.
Turnout was massive, for Republicans and Democrats alike, hitting records not seen in a century. Mr. Biden received more votes than anyone in U.S. history. He recaptured Rust Belt states that had gone to Mr. Trump in 2016, swung the formerly safe Republican state of Georgia, and bested Mr. Trump by seven million votes.
And on Tuesday in Georgia, voters went to the polls in two Senate elections – both of them runoffs – to fill the state’s two Senate seats. The result was victory for two Democrats, an unprecedented outcome in that Deep South state.
In the long run, what voters did this week in Georgia will have a far greater impact on American politics, and the world, than what rioters did in Washington.
The former have redrawn the American political map, perhaps permanently. In doing so, they have given Mr. Biden the power to pass legislation, and implement his agenda, at least for the next two years.
But Mr. Trump’s never-ending rearguard actions, and his steady denial of democratic norms, which are now part of the daily diet of his party and its supporters, are also a bid to redraw the American political map.
Mr. Trump, in anticipation of his own defeat, last summer launched a campaign claiming the election was being rigged.
After he lost, he continued in that vein. Mr. Trump told his 74.2 million voters – more than have ever voted for any presidential candidate, save Mr. Biden – that the results were a fraud, and that Mr. Biden’s victory was, in effect, a coup.
And the man who spent the past four years poisoning the well refuses to stop. Instead, he keeps on pouring toxins into the body politic.
Some Republican lawmakers stood up to Mr. Trump’s absurd claims, but many – out of opportunism, or belief, or fear – continue to feed the big lie.
What’s been the result? Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. legislature, by people who, however mistaken they are, may sincerely believe Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories.
The outgoing President knows that the Democratic Party didn’t fix the election. He knows it didn’t cook up millions of fake ballots. He knows that multiple courts have rejected his evidence-free claims of fraud, and he knows why. He knows, despite what he said as late as Wednesday, that his Vice-President, Mike Pence, does not have the power to overturn the election result.
His most fervent and angry supporters, in contrast, do not get that all of it, from beginning to end, has been a lifetime grifter’s biggest con. They are the confidence man’s latest, and hopefully last, marks.
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