Editorial: Was Wednesday’s Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Really Surprising?

What may be the ultimate failure for a democratic country— an attack on its government by its people, instigated by its leader— Donald Trump saw only as a huge tribute to himself. President Trump, the leader of the free world, incited a MAGA insurgence at the United States Capitol on Wednesday, in efforts to stop the lawful certification of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. 

Going far beyond peacefully and legally protesting, the large mob broke windows, breached security boundaries, and got inside the building, invading the Senate and House chambers, and other private spaces, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Lawmakers, along with Vice President Mike Pence, hid under furniture, or were evacuated from the chambers, fearing for their safety. A pair of rioters tore down the American flag hanging on the Capitol building and replaced it with a blue Trump flag.

One would expect the president of the United States to put down anything resembling a coup, let alone the trespassing and vandalism of the U.S. Capitol, the threatening and endangering of lawmakers and staff members, and the violence that resulted in five deaths and numerous injuries. But Donald Trump was nowhere to be found. 

Americans, as well as people around the world, found Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol building by Trump loyalists shocking and horrifying, as they should. 

But why should any of us be particularly surprised? Why were the U.S. Capitol Police so unprepared for this? We all knew it was coming. 

Donald Trump has been pushing lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election since long before the election. He has insisted, over and over, that Joe Biden won the election only because of voter fraud. Congressional Trump loyalists have gone along with Trump, either out of self-preservation or delusion, even though Trump’s claims have been shown to be entirely baseless.

Trump has programmed his MAGAs to view non-support of Trump, especially among Republicans, as treason. He has convinced them that it’s not only ok, but in fact a mark of patriotism, to employ violence and harassment against those who choose to follow the rule of law instead of the cult of Trump. In Trumpworld, there is no acceptable reality other than fealty to Donald Trump, the rightful president for (at least) four more years, no matter what the democratic process says. 

On the day when Congress was to meet in a joint session to formally certify the electoral votes from presidential election that had already been certified by all 50 states, Trump knew what his supporters had in mind as they gathered on the White House Ellipse. He told the crowd of MAGAs that he would go with them to the Capitol. 

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out. This is a time for strength.” 

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s later, told them, “Let’s have trial by combat.”

Trump did not go with his supporters to the Capitol. He left them on their own to do what they would— what he must have known they would. 

It wasn’t until President-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation, denouncing the spectacle as “insurrection,” and calling on President Trump to deliver a message to calm the chaos, that Trump created a short video message. Though the video told the MAGAs to “go home,” the real message was clear: “Ya’ done good here today.” 

“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” said Trump in the video. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened…”

“This was a fraudulent election,” Trump continued, baselessly. “But we can’t play into the hands of these people. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

People who subscribe to conspiracy theories like being told that they’re “very special.” In fact, scientists and psychologists have found a correlation between “a need for uniqueness” and belief in conspiracy theories (“I know things they don’t know”). The crowd of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol had varying backgrounds; many were supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory. A common thread among all of those present, however, was that they all believed the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. 

Instead of putting down the insurrection, Trump was thanking those who participated. Telling them that they were “very special” was a pat on the head he surely must have known they’d latch onto. 

As the FBI and other law enforcement agencies work to identify and prosecute those involved in Wednesday’s uprising at the Capitol, and as lawmakers denounce it and say it must never happen again, we shouldn’t be so confident that it won’t happen again.

Many who were involved in Wednesday’s rioting have already declared their willingness to go to jail or even to die for what Donald Trump has deluded them into thinking is a “cause” for freedom and democracy. They won’t be deterred by the threat of legal consequences, but will instead continue to be spurred on by the promise of being “special” to Donald Trump; of being “true patriots.”

The day after the riot at the Capitol, perhaps fearing that his last days in office might be marked by an act of censure, Donald Trump turned on his “patriots,” delivering a message that was clearly scripted.

“I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem,” he said. “Those who broke the law, you will pay.” 

The MAGAs have shown that they will do anything, forsake everything, for their leader, Donald Trump. One could almost feel pity that Donald Trump is then willing to throw them under the bus when he needs to, for self-preservation. The MAGAs will continue to explain away Trump’s betrayal, and will be standing at the ready for Trump’s next dog whistle. How tragic that this delusion of patriotism is really only in the service of nourishing Donald Trump’s cavernous ego.

Pro-Trump mob launches insurrection at US Capitol amid Biden certification | Nightline [2021-01-07]

President Donald Trump absent as supporters storm Capitol Hill
CNBC [2021-01-06]

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