Wednesday was supposed to be a pro forma day. Congress had to go through a fairly boring, somewhat archaic procedure to accept and certify votes from the electoral college. What we got was not wholly unexpected, but a far too concrete realization of our worst fears.
By now, all avenues of information have been clogged by reactions to the treasonous attack on Congress by Trump partisans. It shook the country; it even unsettled some of the president’s enablers in the Senate. Only two of the six planned attempts to reject state presidential votes were pursued in the wake of the day’s chaos. What Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and others planned was a hint of sedition. The real thing erupted outside.
Congress had prepared for a long session, possibly running well into Thursday, perhaps even Friday. If a senator and representative signed an objection to a state’s electoral count, it meant two hours of debate in separate chambers, an up-or-down vote, then a resumption of the process. If all six objecting teams stuck to their guns, it meant a minimum of 12 to 15 total hours of pointless argument. Pointless, but useful political propaganda.
Then, to their surprise (How could they not have expected this?), the session was halted by a mob summoned by the president to march on the capitol and put a stop to the whole thing. By now, you have read in some detail just how the whole sordid, mindless attempt at revolution fizzled out. Like Trump’s promises, it was mostly noise and posturing. It did result in five deaths, some physical damage, and a final revelation of just how inept and feckless a leader the man is. He promised to join them at the barricades. Did you spot him?
It took forever to get the rabble out of the way, sweep the building, and reconvene. Mercifully, only two objections were made and Congress slogged on.
As a bonus, we got to see, in tedious detail, exactly how Congress handles the certification process. I am writing this as the protracted procedure is drawing to a close at 3:41 a.m. Thursday.
What was most surprising was how easily the mob, convened by the president, pushed through the police to break into the capitol building, sending senators and representatives running for cover. The build-up to riot had been telegraphed for days, yet no extraordinary precautions were taken. Social media videos seem to show some police almost humoring the intruders.
Perhaps we have become so accustomed to Trump’s bullying talk and extravagant lies ("Sound and fury, signifying nothing"), that his exhortations to assemble and take action were dismissed as so much hot air.
So, here we are, analyzing and explaining how things got so far out of hand, and worrying what crazy moves the president might make in his wounded state. We have 10 nervous days ahead with no ability to guess what he might do next.
Throughout his checkered career, Trump has dealt with his losses and failures by simply denying them. But this loss has been too public to be explained away. As the 2020 election played out, he has become what he cannot bear to be: a stone-cold loser. The country had betrayed him; he had to get even: those are the principles of a true mob boss.
The consequence of this outcome is rather like taking a spoiled five-year-old’s favorite toy away and having him trash his room in frustration. Without immediate means to bring the kid under control, one hopes for minor breakage rather than irreparable damage. The tension will rise steadily until we are safely past Jan. 20.
One hopes that Wednesday’s rampage will be the climax of his Quixotic attempt to remain in office. There is no way for him to stop the clock. He is out of office in just 10 days.
Many have suggested, not without reason, that he is obviously unfit for office and should be removed immediately, lest he do further damage. The cabinet might evoke the 25th Amendment, an unlikely solution: it’s filled with toadies. Or Congress could manage a fast-track impeachment (The advantage of the latter is that it would bar him from public office for life).
Now that he has consented to a peaceful transition, perhaps it is safe to leave him to golf outings and brooding in his room. He has been barred from most social media, which cuts off his means of stoking grievances. Trump has always lived in his own fantasy world, in which he is fabulously wealthy and the object of universal admiration. He has had a taste of both over the last four years; let him savor those thoughts and memories until the law closes in and his debts come due.
The nation has to move on. We have a lot of damage to repair. Climate, covid, inequality, badly-skewed capitalism, racial justice, well-functioning government — the list is a long one. It’s time to put fantasy behind us and get to work.
Don Wooten is a former Illinois state senator and a regular columnist. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.