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Fri Jan 8, 2021, 08:23 PM

Friday Talking Points -- A Day Of Infamy

[Program Note: -- Due to the seriousness of events this week, we are pre-empting our usual Friday Talking Points format to instead bring you a free-form rant. Because if ever there were a week where a rant was needed, it was indeed this one.]

The sixth of January, 2021, has already gone down in American history as a day of infamy. This is, of course, the same phrase Franklin Roosevelt used to describe the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and it certainly seems appropriate right now.

For the first time since August of 1814, the United States Capitol was attacked. Back then, it was British troops who were at war with America doing the attacking (and burning the building down on their way out). This week, it was a violent anarchist mob encouraged, aided, abetted, and incited by the sitting president of the United States. Five people have died as a direct result of this attack on democracy, one of them a police officer.

This is more than just another protest, folks. In all of the District of Columbia's history -- including during the Civil War -- the Capitol has never been beseiged and invaded in such a fashion by Americans. There have been large groups of protesters on the Mall before -- up to a million of them at a time, for some causes -- but they've never violently occupied the legislative seat of out government before, no matter what they were protesting and no matter how angry they were. But this time -- even though the agitators were openly publishing their calls to arms and their intent to disrupt Congress in the Capitol -- neither the F.B.I. nor the Department of Homeland Security even bothered to do a threat assessment beforehand.

Up until this week, the Capitol Hill police were generally regarded as the nation's experts in crowd control and protest security. They should be; they probably provide security for 300 protests or more each and every year. Some would say they were even too heavy-handed in their policing methods, but none of that was on display this Wednesday. There simply was no overwhelming force deployed, the officers who were there were overwhelmed within about a half an hour, and there was no counteroffensive for three whole hours, during which time the cops pretty much just melted away. PBS reporter Lisa Desjardins (who pretty much deserves a Pulitzer for her reporting from inside the Capitol all day) witnessed a mob breaking into the front doors of the Capitol, and she gave an eyewitness account that there was not a single cop to be seen anywhere while this happened.

Where the cops were seen, sometimes they appeared to be genuinely helpful to the rioters. Barricades were opened up for them, and at least one cop posed for a selfie with a rioter. Another was seen gingerly leading a woman down some stairs and supportively holding her hand.

As many very quickly pointed out, the difference in response from federal officers and agents was markedly different than how Black Lives Matter protests were handled, all throughout last summer. One particularly poignant photo of an overwhelming line of riot-gear-clad officers guarding the Lincoln Memorial during a B.L.M. protest starkly showed how differently demonstrations are handled when the participants are Black and White. Donald Trump's photo opportunity with a borrowed Bible in front of a church that didn't invite him (and whose minister later denounced him) was brought up as well, since peaceful protesters were cleared with maximum federal force in order to allow Trump's propaganda photo to be taken.

To put it all another way, if these had been Black people attempting to storm the Capitol, there would be dozens of bodies on the ground and rivers of blood running down the steps before a single one of them got inside the building. Live ammunition would have been deployed at will. The clouds of tear gas would have been so thick it would have been impossible for the news organizations to even see the building. There would have been thousands of arrests, not fewer than 20. And they would simply not have been allowed to leave the building and just stroll back to their hotel -- they'd be on dozens of buses heading to jail, instead. This is White privilege, folks, right in front of everyone's eyes.

Within approximately 24 hours, the sergeants-at-arms of both the House and Senate had resigned, as well as the chief of the Capitol Hill police. That's a good start, but nowhere near sufficient.

Five people died in the United States Capitol, one of them a police officer who was savagely beaten with a fire extinguisher. He is now a martyr to democracy. Four people died in Benghazi, Libya, and Congress spent approximately the next two years launching investigation after investigation into the circumstances. Investigations into the police planning and response to Wednesday should begin immediately after Joe Biden is sworn into office and Chuck Schumer takes control of the Senate. Hard questions need to be asked, including why the Pentagon was refusing both the mayor and the governor of Maryland's request to send in some National Guard troops to retake the Capitol. Both requests were reportedly turned down. The D.C. National Guard is not under control of the mayor, it is under control of the president.

There is no better argument for why D.C. deserves statehood than that. In fact, it should be one of the first orders of business for the new Congress to tackle.

But let's not lose focus on why the phrase "a day of infamy" is so justified. Donald Trump committed an act of sedition against the United States government and our Constitution. The same Constitution he swore an oath to uphold and defend "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." He fomented an insurrection against Congress doing its constitutional duty by ending the process of a presidential election. His goal was to halt the process so Joe Biden wouldn't be officially declared the winner of an election he plainly and clearly won. Trump did all of this by flat-out lying to the public, ever since Election Day. And then he raised a mob and told them exactly what to do -- which they then did. They attacked the Capitol and Congress. Some might quibble over what exactly to call this (was it a coup attempt or treason?), but no matter what term you favor, everyone can agree that this was monstrously un-American.

Vice President Mike Pence is reportedly refusing to do his clear constitutional duty in supporting the movement to use the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from office for being unfit for service. This leaves impeachment as the only route to get rid of him before Joe Biden is sworn in on the 20th. "But doesn't impeachment take weeks and weeks, and is therefore pointless since he'll be gone anyway?" The answer to that is: "Who cares?"

It is the sworn duty of the House of Representatives to impeach Donald Trump as soon as is possible (Monday morning, one would hope). There is no reason to hold any committee hearings at all. A first-year law student could present the case, because it is so damning and so self-explanatory. I have no legal training, and yet I bet I could do a decent job of presenting the case:

Exhibit A -- the audio of Trump's call to the Georgia secretary of state, where Trump tells him "I need 11,780 votes."

Exhibit B -- Trump's tweets and utterances encouraging everyone to come to D.C. on the sixth, including his promise that "It's going to be wild."

Exhibit C -- The entire video history of the rally held on the Ellipse on the morning of the sixth. This would include video of Rudy Giuliani calling for "trial by combat," Donald Trump Junior's promise: "we will never, ever, ever stop fighting," Lara Trump's statement that: "The fight has only just begun. Our family didn't get in this fight for just four years. We're in this fight to the bitter end."

This would also include Trump's speech, where he said things like:

"They rigged an election, they rigged it like they've never rigged an election before.... We won it by a landslide. This was not a close election."

"We will never concede."

"We got to get rid of the weak congresspeople."

"Walk down Pennsylvania Avenue" and "take back our country."

"Walk down to the Capitol."

"Fight much harder."

"You'll never take back our country with weakness."

Exhibit D -- A sampling of news media video and social media video (posted by participants in the riot) which show the U.S. Capitol being beseiged and overtaken by a violent riot.

Exhibit E -- the medical records of the police officer who died.

Exhibit F -- Trump's first video message (which was eventually taken down from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram) to the rioters and anarchists, which includes the lines: "remember this day forever," and: "We love you. You're very special."

Exhibit G -- Pentagon memos and affidavits showing both the D.C. mayor and the governor of Maryland asked to send in the National Guard -- a decision only Donald Trump could approve -- and were repeatedly refused any help, while the Capitol had already been invaded and occupied.

I rest my case.

Donald Trump incited and abetted this riot, before, during, and after the fact. Ivanka Trump tweeted her approval of the "American patriots" -- while the rioters were inside the Capitol. This is both disgusting and very, very dangerous. Which is why Donald Trump needs to be impeached for a second time.

So what if he'd already be out of office by the time it finished? Impeachment has one other important function as well as removal from office, because Congress has the power to bar someone from ever holding federal office again. This would kill any hopes Trump has of running again in 2024 -- which would actually be a giant relief to most Republicans in Congress, truth be told. So it is not impossible that such an impeachment would succeed. The Senate is not scheduled to return to its session until the 19th of the month, one day before Biden will be sworn in. Which means that any Senate trial would take place under the control of Chuck Schumer, not Mitch McConnell.

The best insider account of how Donald Trump spent his day this Wednesday comes from the Washington Post. The whole article is just breathtaking. Here are a few key excerpts:

One administration official described Trump's behavior as that of "a total monster." Another said the situation was "insane" and "beyond the pale."

"He is alone. He is mad King George," said a Republican in frequent touch with the White House. "Trump believes that he has these people so intimidated they wouldn't dare mess with him. I think Trump doesn't understand how precarious his situation is right now."

. . .

As for Trump, one of the people said, "he was completely, totally out of it." This person added, "He made no attempt to reach out to them."

Instead of exercising his commander-in-chief duties to help protect the Capitol from an attempted insurrection, Trump watched the attack play out on television. Though not necessarily enjoying himself, he was "bemused" by the spectacle because he thought his supporters were literally fighting for him, according to a close adviser. But, this person said, he was turned off by what he considered the "low-class" spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.

. . .

"He kept saying: 'The vast majority of them are peaceful. What about the riots this summer? What about the other side? No one cared when they were rioting. My people are peaceful. My people aren't thugs,' " an administration official said. "He didn't want to condemn his people."

"He was a total monster today," this official added, describing the president's handling of Wednesday's coup attempt as less defensible than his equivocal response to the deadly white-supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville.

. . .

White House aides tried to get Trump to call in to Fox News Channel, but he refused. He at first did not want to say anything but was persuaded to send tweets. Then they scripted a video message for him to record, which he agreed to distribute on Twitter. But the president ad-libbed by including references to false voter fraud claims that they had asked him not to include, the administration official said.

. . .

A former senior administration official briefed on the president's private conversations said: "The thing he was most upset about and couldn't get over all day was the Pence betrayal.... All day, it was a theme of, 'I made this guy, I saved him from a political death, and here he stabbed me in the back?' "

So the president of the United States was "bemused" by what he saw on television. But he was annoyed that they were "low-class," and not dressed properly. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

Every living ex-president denounced Trump's actions. Three out of four of these (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama) are Democrats. But even Republican George W. Bush was pretty forceful in condemning what had just happened:

Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seat of our Nation's government in disbelief and dismay. It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight. This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic -- not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol -- and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress -- was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes. Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law. To those who are disappointed in the results of the election: Our country is more important than the politics of the moment. Let the officials elected by the people fulfill their duties and represent our voices in peace and safety. May God continue to bless the United States of America.

He wasn't the only Republican denouncing Trump. In fact, several people who worked directly for Trump did so as well. Mitt Romney did so during the debates (which finally were allowed to take place, after the building had been cleared of insurrectionists), and he minced no words:

We gather today due to a selfish man's injured pride and the outrage of his supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States.

. . .

No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters, particularly when the president will continue to say the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!

He got a big round of applause for that line. Romney also put out a statement:

Today, the United States Capitol -- the world's greatest symbol of self-government -- was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard -- tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution.

Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President's addiction to constantly stoking division.

Even Lindsey Graham denounced the efforts to overturn the election from the Senate floor (although many pointed out that Lindsey looked and sounded like he had had quite a few drinks before his speech), concluding with: "Count me out. Enough is enough."

Here is Jim Mattis, Trump's first secretary of Defense:

Today's tyranny, an effort to subjugate America's democracy by mob rule, was fomented and directed by Mr. Trump. His effort to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.

William Barr, who was Trump's lickspittle attorney general before he left (right before Christmas), also had some strong language to denounce what happened. He called Trump's actions "a betrayal of his office and supporters," and stated further: "orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable."

Mick Mulvaney, who used to be Trump's chief of staff, resigned his special envoy post, saying: "We didn't sign up for what you saw last night. We signed up for making America great again. We signed up for lower taxes and less regulation. The president has a long list of successes that we can be proud of. But all of that went away yesterday."

John Kelly, also a former Trump chief of staff, was even more blunt, saying the violence "was a direct result of [Donald Trump] poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the fraud."

Retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey was even clearer: "This is an overt coup attempt against the Constitution and to take over the government of the United States. This wasn't a momentary, impulsive crowd. This was deliberately structured by Trump, almost all out in the open."

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial calling on Trump to resign.

In other words, the dam has finally broken. Trump went too far, even for those who have been riding on his coattails for four years now. Even Republicans are now denouncing him.

Of course, those of us on the other side of the political aisle have been warning that something like this could happen for four long years now. What happened Wednesday was shocking, but it should have come as a surprise to precisely no one.

Donald Trump has been a blight on American democracy from his initial entry into the presidential race. He has destroyed so many norms of behavior it is impossible to count them all. He will exit office having told in the neighborhood of 30,000 lies to the American public while he was president. He got more and more dangerous as the election approached, right out in the open for all to see. Once the election did happen, he retreated into a fantasyland where he had clearly won (because everyone around him had assured him that it simply was not possible for him to lose). And he started amplifying his delusions and spiraling down further into madness.

Wednesday was just the final result, but it didn't happen in a vacuum. Ever since the election, Trump has been aided and abetted by every single Republican who had not congratulated Joe Biden on his victory (and there were precious few of those). They enabled Trump's delusion. They fed it. They defended in on television, in the hopes that Trump would see and maybe praise them on Twitter.

In the end, Trump proved himself to be exactly what we've been saying he is all along: a bully, a thug, and a man-baby who operates by tantrum alone. That is who has been leading our country for the past four years. So please, spare me the surprise, Republicans. If you had eyes to see, you could have figured it out long ago, so don't even try to say how shocked you are now when you've been enabling his worst impulses all along.

All along, Republicans have excused Trump's infantile and vicious behavior. They've pooh-poohed it as just "Trump being Trump," as if the words of the president just somehow did not matter to them. "Oh, he's only kidding," or "he's just being sarcastic," and a few dozen other similar bromides were the stock in trade of Trump's minions and apologists. They could always rationalize and justify what Trump had said, somehow. And, sadly, for the most part the news media just took everything at face value and refused to say things like: "The president lied to the public today about a very dangerous issue." It wasn't until the Capitol was under assault that these reporters finally snapped out of their own delusion and started reporting what was before their very eyes in plain language.

We now have a delusional president who cannot face reality and has retreated into a fantasyland inside his own head. And he still has the nuclear codes. Mike Pence is the ultimate coward in all of this, because a clearer case for invoking the 25th Amendment is indeed hard to imagine.

In the most literal way possible, Trump lied and people died. That alone is sufficient reason to expel him from office.

[BREAKING NEWS: Twitter has just "permanently suspended" Donald Trump's Twitter account. If they can do it, so can Congress....]

In fact, that seems like a great place to end this. A truly fitting end, in fact.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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