Wednesday 6 January 2021 The US Capitol building in Washington DC was the site of armed insurrection, incited by the outgoing President Donald Trump. The last time this building was breached was in 1814 when British soldiers set fire to it during the brief war between The United States and the United Kingdom which at that time saw the building partially destroyed. The violent incident which occurred on Wednesday saw four people killed and both legislative chambers, The House of Representatives and the Senate had to suspend business and elected representatives were forced to take shelter whilst pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol.
This was never going to be an easy transition of power. Trump’s ego would never allow him to accept that he lost the election. Sadly, it was always likely that he would incite violence by stirring up his base with false allegations of voter fraud and a stolen election. My earlier blog post on the subject correctly predicted that Trump’s legal challenges to the election would likely fail. So too were the hopes that the Election Certification of Joe Biden’s victory would be overturned by the Senate and its chair, Vice President Mike Pence. Then to add salt to the wound, voters in Georgia ensured that Biden’s Party would have a majority in the Senate by narrowly voting for the two Democrat candidates in the traditionally Republican Party voting states runoff election.
As I outlined just before the 2020 election and earlier on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration there are significant problems with the US electoral system. Twice in the last twenty years, the candidate who won the most votes nationally failed to win the presidency through the electoral college system. Trump, both in 2016 and in 2020 failed to win the popular vote. Yesterday when speaking to his mob of supporters in Washington he claimed to have won in 2020 with a bigger majority than in 2016 and claimed the Democrats victories were “explosions of bullshit.” The only bullshit that has exploded is the lie that Trump ever had majority support in the US. Certainly, in the 2020 election, Trump not only lost but did so by 7,059,741 votes nationally in the popular vote and by 74 electoral college votes.
On Monday a recording was released of a call between Donald Trump and a Republican Party election official from the state of Georgia, where Trump demands that the official find the 11,780 votes needed to win the state. This attempt at corruption and electoral fraud by Trump makes the Nixon Watergate Scandal of 1973 seem like a minor misdemeanour in comparison. He then followed this up by encouraging his supporters to go down to the Capitol and cause disruption to the Election confirmation vote to confirm Joe Biden as the next US President. Trumps inability to accept defeat and instead to manipulate his supporters through lies and inciting violence will be his final legacy.
Unfortunately, there remain many who support the Trump presidency and continue to argue that journalists who are critical of this president are reporting fake news. A former work colleague of mine sent me a clip showing thousands of Trump supporters singing the national anthem, claiming that the media not showing this clip meant Trump and his supporters were victims of media bias. That the media did not report protesters singing probably had more to do with the fact that it was irrelevant, especially when compared with armed protesters storming the legislature, planting pipe bombs and generally using violence to try and stop lawmakers confirming the 2020 election result.
Much has been said about the response from Trump to this protest in contrast to the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the George Floyd killing in 2020. Contrast the two statements from Trump in the image below:
Eventually, Vice President Mike Pence called in the National Guard and authorities took back control of the Capitol. Despite earlier praise from Pence for those Republican Senators wishing to challenge the result (most of whom backed away from this position after what happened), Pence chaired the confirmation and agreed to uphold the election result.
The ugly finale of the Trump presidency will have long-term consequences. While many Republican lawmakers now distance themselves from Trump, it took them far too long. For the last five years, they have allowed Trump to create a narrative of misinformation tapping into America’s worst prejudices and fears. Trump has successfully built a following based on these lies and in the process created a political climate of hostility and fear that will inevitably now lead to further conflict and civil unrest.
Prior to the events at the Capitol on Wednesday, my take of the Georgia senate runoff was that the Democrats will have a narrow majority in both legislatures for two years, then most likely would lose one or both to the Republicans in the mid-terms. Now things are not quite so clear. Whatever the shortcomings of Biden and the Democrats in the coming months, it will shadow in comparison with the president who incited an insurrection at the Capitol and tried to intimidate an election official in Georgia to “find votes.” The Republican Party will now split between those who continue support Trump and those who would now like the GOP to return to its pre-Trump state. Further, the many new voters who turned out in 2020 to get rid of Trump, and in Georgia to elect two Democrat senators will likely not want to see Republicans regain control of either house after Wednesday’s scenes. Whilst Biden will face opposition, the 81 million who voted for him will not wish to see the events of Wednesday repeated, meaning the usual trend of voter turnout declining in the midterms may not happen next year.
The Trump presidency has laid bare the many weaknesses and deficiencies in the US political system and shown the world that it is a country rife with prejudice and division. While the US remains economically dominant (though this too is declining), it no longer has the credibility it once had on the world stage. Wednesday’s insurrection further tarnishes America’s reputation as a credible democratic nation. Significant changes will be needed before this reputation can be restored and it is hard to be optimistic that the US political system is capable of reforming itself in the way it needs to.
The hope for the future is that those who believe in democracy, both in America and throughout the world demand change. Wednesday’s events were a low point in the history of the United States. But there is still hope for change. Through continued work on voter registration and turnout that the US has a chance of turning a corner. The work done in Georgia on voter registration has shown what is possible and if this is replicated throughout the United States things may actually get better.