Column: It goes beyond the Capitol attack — a large number of Americans see violence as necessary
Over the course of three absolutely devastating days in former President Trump’s impeachment trial before the Senate this week, Democratic House impeachment managers drew a direct line from the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., to the violent siege of the Michigan Statehouse to the unprecedented Jan. 6 mayhem at the Capitol.
In speech after speech, and tweet after tweet, Trump was shown tacitly or overtly encouraging and defending violence among his supporters. Whether he was encouraging cops to rough up suspects, egging on supporters to beat up hecklers or praising white supremacists after a deadly march, he made it crystal clear: His use of the word “fight” was not meant metaphorically.
At this point, there can be no doubt that Trump spent his term in office not just seeding, but attempting to normalize the kind of bloody violence that bloomed on the day Congress gathered to certify President Biden’s victory.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump tweeted to his rabid supporters after they’d already stormed the U.S. Capitol, fatally injured a Capitol Police officer, wounded scores more and caused the death of at least four of their own supporters.
“Remember this day forever!” Trump tweeted, seemingly thrilled with the violence unleashed during an hours-long siege that some police officers described as “medieval” in its intensity and brutality.
Oh, we will remember that day forever.
Don’t you worry about that, Mr. Twice Impeached Ex-President.
How could we not?
This was the first time in American history that a domestic mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. It was the first time that violent protesters tried to thwart Congress as it engaged in our proudest tradition: the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.
Given that Republican senators opted to assuage Trump and his base rather than hold him accountable, it may not be the last.
As House impeachment manager Ted Lieu warned, “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”
Whether the Capitol riot signals a new era in American politics — one where violence is not an outgrowth of systemic oppression and injustice but is used to try to overthrow the results of a legitimate election — remains to be seen.
A new survey from the American Enterprise Institute examined attitudes toward the 2020 election and looked specifically at whether Americans support the concept of using violence for political ends. A significant number support it, the survey found.
Roughly 4 in 10 Republicans, or 39%, agreed with the statement “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” About a third of independents agreed, and about 17% of Democrats.
“Although a significant number of Americans — and Republicans in particular — express support for the idea that violent actions may be necessary, there is a notable lack of enthusiastic support for it,” wrote Daniel Cox, director of the AEI’s Survey Center on American Life.
Well, that’s encouraging. I guess.
The thing is, Cox told me, we don’t really have a body of research to compare this against.
“We’ve always felt that our institutions and democratic processes were so robust that there is really no fear of this even happening,” Cox said. “Despite the fact that people dump on the government, criticize our elections as only representing the wealthy and well-connected, even through major disruptions like social and economic upheavals, people have had a lot of faith that, yeah, our institutions will not be affected by that.
“But if you keep criticizing something, saying the media and people elected to government cannot be trusted,” he added, “you are degrading these institutions. So when someone like Trump comes along and attacks the democratic process directly, the people who are supposed to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK,’ faltered and failed.”
Those who failed to stand up for our institutions include each of the 139 House members and eight senators, all Republican, who voted to overturn the results of an election repeatedly determined to have been free and fair. All of them are complicit not just in Trump’s absurd lie that Biden stole the election, but in the violence that followed.
As House lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said, quoting Voltaire, “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
On Jan. 27, the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin warning of “a heightened threat environment” in the country following the events of Jan. 6.
Violent extremists, said the bulletin, may be “emboldened” by the Capitol attack.
“Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives,” said the bulletin, “could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”
Senate Republicans, other than the seven who voted to convict Trump, have now committed yet another assault on the country. Once again, they have tarnished the Constitution they claim so vehemently to cherish.
The blood that Trump caused to be spilled is on their hands too.
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