Of course we all saw it coming. But seeing it happen, live on TV and social media, was something else again — something that will make 1/6/21 a date burned into the American psyche like 11/22/63 and 9/11/01.
Donald Trump gave what amounted to his concession speech on Jan. 6 — but he conceded nothing. Having spent the previous five years trashing every norm of American political life, rolling back years of social, environmental, racial and public-health progress, and undercutting government institutions, Trump still managed to win the votes of some 75 million Americans last November. And he did it in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, though he himself is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands of Americans’ deaths from COVID-19.
Rather than concede defeat, Trump chose to retreat across scorched earth. Like the Russians torching Moscow before abandoning it to Napoleon, he urged his followers to attack the Capitol itself. And they did.
The whole world watched in fascinated shock, and some in fascinated delight, as the nation that had led the “free world” for 75 years swayed and creaked like a rotting cedar in a high wind. Hundreds of louts broke into the Capitol, forcing senators and representatives to lock down even as they were attempting to confirm the election of Joe Biden. A woman was shot and killed in the building. After tear gas was released in the Capitol rotunda, the people’s representatives were asked to put on the gas masks concealed under their chairs.
And how long had gas masks been part of Capitol furniture? If lawmakers were prepared for gas, why were the Capitol Police — a mostly ceremonial force — the only barrier to Trump’s mob? And why did they take selfies with mob members, while arresting only 13 of them? Why was the mob allowed to disperse, when countless peaceful demonstrators have been “kettled,” arrested and jailed at least overnight for far less serious offences?
American left-wingers of a certain age must have felt the irony: once upon a time, Republicans had blacklisted or imprisoned Americans who supposedly advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Now the Republicans themselves have gone far past advocacy to violent overthrow itself.
The Republicans have become a kind of Sinn Féin, the political arm of an American terrorist movement. At the time of the assault, many of them were in the process of filibustering the vote count of the Electoral College, and they had just reached Arizona when the lockdown began. Whether they would resume the filibuster was unclear on Wednesday afternoon, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said legislators were prepared to work through the night to validate the election.
America’s adversaries must have spent Jan. 6 in a state of dazed exhilaration, and with a renewed faith in cyberwarfare and the usefulness of American quislings. America’s allies, including Canada, must have spent the day thinking of who else might help them in a very different, very frightening world after Jan. 6.
As for the Americans themselves, they should remember an old adage: “When you strike at a king, you must strike to kill.” The same principle applies to a republic. Joe Biden might talk about uniting and healing, but it’s impossible to unite with people who hate the very idea of majority rule and think their skin colour entitles them to power.
Biden should make it clear that those who invaded the Capitol, and those who encouraged them, are insurrectionists, not mere “protesters,” and deserve punishment as a real and present danger to the American people. His Republican adversaries have given him a provocation on the scale of Pearl Harbor or Nov. 22 or Sept. 11, and his response should be on that scale as well. Anything less will seem like Scotch tape on a torn paper tiger.
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