Updated: Dec 21, 2021
President-elect Joe Biden and a host of voices from the commentariat and punditocracy have joined me in dubbing Wednesday's assault on the Capitol an act of insurrection. Biden's reference to the perpetrators as a "riotous mob" is on the mark. The gravity of their crimes is not diminished by the ludicrous spectacle of self-styled patriots waving Confederate flags and dressed as if for a masquerade party. We have no idea how many were armed and no doubt that too many were. Some had zip ties, indicating their intention to take hostages. A gallows was erected outside the Capitol, not something that someone carried away by the excitement of it all happened to throw up on the spur of the moment. Pipe bombs were found outside the DC headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees. Five people are dead, including a Capitol police office struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. It is not alarmist to ponder what might have happened had a member of Congress or congressional staff fallen into their hands.
At the end of the day more than half of Congressional Republicans voted to object to Electoral College certification. Those who stood with Democrats to vote them down are to be applauded, even the ones, sadly most of them, who are awfully late showing up. A YouGov Direct Poll of 1,397 registered voters found that 45 percent of Republicans actively supported the assault on the Capitol, with 43 percent opposed. "By 58% to 22%, Republicans see the goings on as more peaceful than more violent." This was a snap poll conducted on Wednesday. It is good practice to be always wary of taking polls at face value. The findings are nonetheless profoundly disturbing.
The divide in the Republican Party is real. Enough Republicans stood firm on Wednesday to send objections to certification down to resounding defeat. The business/elite faction of the party may at long last be ready to break with the Know-Nothing populist mob. The National Association of Manufacturers called on the vice president and cabinet to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office on the grounds that he is a dangerously unhinged, stark raving madman—paraphrasing here. Betsy DeVos, a member of the business/elite faction, apparently supported this route, saying that she resigned as Education Secretary only after concluding that the 25th Amendment was off the table. An adviser to DeVos said "this week was a clear line in the sand" for her. In her resignation letter, DeVos told the president:
we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people's business. That behavior was unconscionable for the country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.
Former Senator John Danforth, Josh Hawley's political mentor, called his support of Hawley the worst mistake of his life. One of Hawley's biggest campaign donors has called for his censure by the Senate.
None of this is apt to prompt second thoughts from those who see violent rebellion as the path forward, or those who find it politically expedient to court them, much less deter anyone. It would come as no surprise if they find in the Capitol takeover inspiration to go for broke on Inauguration Day.
Credit where credit is due department. Newly elected Congresswoman Nancy Mace, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and former Trump supporter, distinguished herself by speaking firmly, clearly, without equivocation, in the aftermath of January 6: "It was un-American what happened yesterday. These were not protesters. These are rioters, violent rioters. This was anarchy…"
She was accosted on a DC street Tuesday night while going to get something to eat. Earlier, on Monday, she put her children on a plane because the rhetoric she heard made her pause and "have concern about what the outcome of the rally might be on Wednesday, because it sounded like what I was hearing and inferring was the potential for violence." She urged the president
to get off Twitter and get on TV and urge peace to the folks who came to D.C., to ask them to peacefully return home…These people, the American people, were lied to…
The American people, millions of them, believed that the vice president could single-handedly overturn the results of the election yesterday. And thank God for Vice President Mike Pence, who didn't give in to that rumor and told folks no simply yesterday morning, that that wasn't true. And the expectations were high. And what happened—it just didn't happen because it's not in the Constitution. We have no ability or power or authority to do that. And that also...added to the violence yesterday. (Inskeep, Rep. Mace)
Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat from a swing district in Pennsylvania, also deserves mention. On Wednesday night Lamb said to his colleagues in the House that the attack on the Capitol was "inspired by lies, the same lies you’re hearing in this room tonight. And the members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves, their constituents should be ashamed of them." This straight talk carried more weight coming from Lamb than it would have if spoken by a member of the progressive caucus. It was not welcomed by House members bent on playing to the mob.
The gong is being rung for impeachment. I understand the rationale. I get the arguments. Trump is unhinged and unpredictable. There is no telling what damage and havoc he might wreak while he remains in office. But is impeachment feasible? Surely we should have learned from last year's proceedings that impeachment by the House accomplishes little or nothing in the absence of conviction by the Senate. Is there time for that between now and January 20 even if a sufficient number of Senate Republicans are on board. The House should pursue impeachment only if there have been conversations with Senate Republicans up to and including McConnell and reason to believe the Senate would convict. There is no indication that such conversations are ongoing. In the absence of that, impeachment is a futile gesture and an unneeded distraction. Even in the best of circumstances some Republicans will do everything in their power to obstruct the process and run out the clock until Trump leaves office.
Some commentators I respect, for instance, David Brooks and Jonathan Capeheart at the PBS NewsHour, believe that a second impeachment would serve as an act of branding, a humiliation, and of discipline, perhaps as a sword hanging over Trump's head to restrain him in his last days in office. I do not disagree with them lightly. It would be better to focus on institutional measures to constrain Trump, to encourage officials within the administration reportedly talking among themselves about their responsibility to refuse unlawful, unconstitutional, or plain crazy orders, and to join Republicans like Lisa Murkowski in the call for him to resign. Not that I think he would resign, but the bipartisan call for it would establish at least as good a precedent as another unsuccessful effort to remove him by impeachment.
Wednesday was not exactly a Remember the Alamo! moment for Capitol police. This is not to put down valiant officers who did what they could in impossible circumstances. One of them gave his life. That they were put in a position where this could be an option speaks to the abject, almost incomprehensible failure of officials in charge of security.
Appalled experts, watching the crisis unfold, asked themselves: Where was the protective intelligence? Where was the quick reaction force? Where were the long guns? Where were the helmets and batons? Where were the tall, secure fences that normally ring the Capitol during high-profile protests? And perhaps most important: Where was the strategy? Word on Thursday evening that the Capitol Police evidently twice turned down offers of reinforcements only deepened the sense of disbelief. (Graff, Behind the Strategic Failure)
How could they not have seen this coming after the armed invasion of Michigan's state capitol and armed mobs that threatened state legislatures in Oregon and elsewhere? Were there explicit instructions from powerful figures in the administration if not the president himself? Did police leadership feel implied pressure not to do anything that might upset the president? Or did they just get everything wrong on their own?
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who in another lifetime graduated from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet studies, underwent Air Force intelligence training, and considered a career in the CIA, may have it right: "I believe with all my heart that Trump enjoyed it. They talked about the police and how easy it was and the barriers were pulled and they just walked right in. That doesn't happen without a wink and a nod. That just doesn't happen." But we really do not know. We do know that the failure of Capitol security was unacceptable. There needs to be a thorough investigation and a thorough housecleaning that goes beyond the few heads that have already rolled.
Inevitably comparisons were drawn between the police response Wednesday and police response to BLM protests over the summer and left-wing protests generally. It is a fair point and one that must addressed, but it should not divert the focus from Wednesday's lawlessness and police leadership's failure to anticipate and prepare for it.
This take on it from Jonathan V. Last:
I saw a lot of people complaining about the restraint shown by the Capitol police with something like “Hey, if these were BLM protestors they would all have been shot.” That’s exactly the wrong way to view this. The answer isn’t that we want cops to use excessive force on everyone, all the time. It’s that we want law enforcement to show restraint whenever possible. We want them exercising good judgment and not being aggressive bullies who escalate violence and make confrontations worse. (Last, It Could Have Been Worse)
For readers unfamiliar with Last, lest they misinterpret the statement "That's exactly the wrong way to view this," he has spoken out often and in no uncertain terms denouncing police violence against BLM protesters. His point is that any restraint shown by police Wednesday is precisely how police should respond to BLM and other protests.
Questions have also been raised about the small number of arrests made on the spot Wednesday. It may be that the calculation was that clearing the Capitol and ensuring the safety of members of Congress and congressional staff took priority over arrests. This is at least an arguable proposition. There are indications that the authorities are moving aggressively to identify and arrest individuals who invaded the Capitol, with reports that the Arkansan photographed with his feet on Nancy Pelosi's desk and that West Virginia state representative are already in custody and should expect to soon have company.
From the alternative facts crowd comes the predictable claim that Wednesday's gathering was a peaceful protest and any violence or invasion of the Capitol was the work of antifa. This absurdity is an article of faith for some, for others just another cynical attempt to roil the waters. It hardly merits refutation, which at any rate would have no impact on true believers or the cynics who manipulate them. I refer readers who may be interested to Matt Shuham's article at Talking Points Memo that identifies some of Trump's "special" people.
Q Shaman, the clown in what appears to be a Viking-themed Halloween costume, is Jake Angeli, a QAnon cadre who makes regular appearances at gatherings and protests. A comment he made a few months ago on a QAnon podcast gives a sense of what he brings to the table in terms of intellectual rigor: "Hollywood is full of interdimensional vampires." Yesterday he recorded a rant for the people of Venezuela urging them to look to Wednesday as an example and take back their country from communists and globalists.
Baked Alaska, aka Tim Ginot, is a neo-Nazi enthusiast who wants to "stand up for our race."
And Derrick Evans, that West Virginia state representative, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party, who said he was "following the crowd." I suppose this is what passes for leadership in some circles.
A number of themes touched on here merit examination at greater length. It is likely that some of what I have written will soon be dated as we learn more and as events play out in the coming days and weeks. As Emerson put it, "Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind."
So also likely, more anon.
Keep the faith.
Memo from the Editorial Desk
A minor revision was made in the paragraph beginning "Wednesday was not exactly" after this essay was published to clarify that I am not criticizing Capitol police left in the lurch by the failures of their leadership.
Garrett M. Graff, Behind the Strategic Failure of the Capitol Police, January 8, 2021
Steve Inskeep, Rep. Mace Says She Did Her Job In Line With The Constitution, NPR, January 7, 2021
'We live in two Americas': LeBron blasts 'shameful' Trump in scathing appraisal, The Guardian, January 8, 2021
Maggie Koerth, The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration, FiveThirtyEight, January 7, 2021
Jonathan V. Last, It Could Have Been Worse. And It Still Might Be, The Bulwark, January 8, 2021
Matt Shuham, So Who Actually Participated In The Siege Of The Capitol?, Talking Points Memo, January 7, 2021
Matthew Smith, Jamie Ballard, Linley Sanders, Most voters say the events at the US Capitol are a threat to democracy, YouGov, January 6, 2021
Michael Stratfor, DeVos resigned after believing 25th Amendment was off the table, Politico, January 8, 2021