The unthinkable and improbable became possible and very quickly changed to reality as crowds of Trump supporters, outnumbering the Capitol police and instigated by the president himself in a speech a short while earlier, stormed the Capitol and took over parts of the building.
Photos of these MAGA (Make America Great Again) thugs in their distinctive red hats plus others in outrageous costumes — including a Viking helmet with horns and supposedly Viking furs — were seen on the internet. One gained entry into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and was shown seated, leaning back, with boots planted on her desk.
Another in the senate chamber sprawled in the seat normally occupied by the vice-president who is chair of the senate. Many are gathered in the rotunda and elsewhere. Some are later seen lying flat, face down, as the police gradually regain control after having to use force, and with it inevitably tragedy.
A woman was shot in the chest. Carried away bleeding profusely Ashli Babbitt, 35, was an Air Force veteran. She and her group were trying to force their way into the House Chamber, where members who were meeting to certify Biden’s election were sheltering. Another woman and two men suffered separate medical emergencies from which they too died.
Smoke grenades were used to clear the building. The Capitol police also suffered injuries, some requiring hospital treatment and one, Brian Sicknick, died from his injuries after being hit by a fire extinguisher. At least 50 people were arrested.
The last time anyone violated the Capitol was over 200 years ago. During the War of 1812, the British occupied Washington, and on August 24, 1814 burned the Capitol … also the White House and every public building in the city. It was all partly in retaliation for the American destruction of Port Dover in Upper Canada. That was then; this is now.
Trump’s behavior has been corrosive, destructive of the political middle ground as well as the basis for democracy, namely, elections. By casting doubt on their legitimacy without any evidence and incessantly reporting the elections were stolen, he is adding to the difficulties Biden will face. Suffice to say, numerous courts have thrown out his claims as without merit. The words ‘loyal opposition’ have little meaning in this context and are absent from a vocabulary in which one side insists it is saving America from the other.
Trump has so poisoned the well that Biden’s task is not just repairing relations with rivals like China and Russia but also mollifying annoyed, sometimes angry, sometimes disgusted friends. Pulling out of the Paris climate accord, accusing Germany and Japan (and others) of free-loading on security through the American military presence are some of the aspects.
Prone to military misadventure, let us hope Biden’s bare majority in the senate, the problems of COVID-19, and what Trump has left on his plate keeps him fully occupied.