Of course it came to this.
Wednesday was one of the most shameful days in this nation’s history — one that was as inevitable as it was frightening.
What we saw on Capitol Hill was an attempted coup by a dangerous president and an unscrupulous, deluded, and entirely too-large fragment of his following — incited to violence by his words and example. This ramshackle but real attempt at insurrection was enabled by the president’s soulless and despicable allies in Congress, some of whom believe they can ride the wild monster they’ve unleashed to the Republican nomination in 2024.
Almost as incredible as the act itself was the slow-walk law enforcement response, with overwhelmed Capitol police seemingly left to fend for themselves for hours, while hoodlums breached windows and doors, had the run of the House chamber, and the mob outside mingled unmolested, looking more like angry fans after a Big Game loss than rebels.
Imagine the response if these invaders had been Black. Actually, one doesn’t have to imagine. Think Lafayette Square and the vast show of force that sent peaceful protesters reeling and bloodied so that President Trump could strike his preposterous pose with the Bible.
Wednesday, the inciter-in-chief was at it again, and his words found their mark.
The man who lost the election by 7 million votes told his ride-or-die fans, “We will never give up. We will never concede.” Then he urged them to “fight like hell” to save their country, to go to the Capitol to register their displeasure as, inside, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other seditionists pretended to believe that the election that tossed Trump from office was rigged and that the electoral votes that gave Joe Biden a clear victory should not be counted.
The white supremacists and conspiracy theorists and thugs obeyed, even as their Dear Leader retreated to his White House to watch from a safe distance the fullest expression of their devotion to him. And they weren’t pretending. They stormed the halls of Congress carrying the racist flag of the Confederacy, the banner that gives away their whole game. At one point, they took down an American flag and replaced it with a Trump flag. Never doubt where their loyalties lie — not now, not ever.
They were armed with their own pepper spray, among other weaponry, and they weren’t afraid to turn it on their former heroes — the police officers whom some of them now denounced as traitors for trying to hold them back.
Blue Lives Matter? Only when it means Black lives don’t.
The very lawmakers who, minutes before, had been sacrificing what is left of our democracy to court these and other Trump supporters now fled from them, as did many others now endangered simply because they had chosen lives in public service. Some hunkered down in offices with so little protection from the mobs that you had to wonder what the years since 9/11 — with all of that grandstanding about the importance of national security and the billions of dollars and freedoms sacrificed for it — have really been about.
The photograph of Capitol police in the House chamber with guns drawn against those on the other side of a barricaded door said it all. The president repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and here was that refusal made flesh. World leaders decried the sorry spectacle, citing this nation’s storied status as an example for the world. That one image made it finally impossible to deny that that light has gone out, the beacon broken.
Then came the inevitable pleas by the very people who’d helped encourage this madness in the first place: The elected officials and staffers who refused to shut down Trump’s baseless and dangerous claims of electoral fraud before now, who refused to stand up for democracy and the rule of law even as the president took to our supposedly sacred institutions with a sledgehammer.
They sent out appeals full of sadness and surprise and this-is-not-who-we-ares. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who jumped with both feet into the effort to stop counting electoral votes, professed to be “disappointed.” Trump lickspittle Lindsey Graham called the violence “repugnant to democracy.” The president’s daughter issued then retracted a tepid tweet encouraging the terrorists to stand down, while calling them “American Patriots.” Cruz joined the appeal, as if he hadn’t been feeding the rioters’ grievances with an unctuous and offensive speech that very afternoon. Representative Paul Gosar, the Arizona Republican who first raised the objection to counting the electoral votes from Arizona — the result of an election that, by the way, also returned him to office — tried to put the toxic toothpaste he’s spent years spreading around back into the tube. “Let’s not get carried away here,” he tweeted, “I don’t want anyone hurt.”
Too late for that, Congressman. Voters should have listened to Gosar’s own siblings, who begged that he not be sent back to Washington.
How could anyone watch these last five years and be surprised at any of this? Trump and his kind have been encouraging just this kind of violent rioting for years. He could not condemn the murderous white supremacists in Charlottesville. His supporters made Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of murdering two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wis., a hero. The couple who pulled guns on peaceful protesters in St Louis spoke at the party’s national convention. Proud Boys . . . stand by. Remember?
Any member of Congress who professes to be shocked now is either beyond clueless, and therefore unfit to serve, or lying through their teeth, and therefore unfit to serve. We were always headed here. The names of everyone who enabled this president’s lies and betrayals should live in infamy.
In the face of this expansive cowardice, those Republicans who stood up early and often against Trumpism are all the more heroic — though the group includes a vanishingly small number of leaders beyond Senator Mitt Romney. Romney, who took abuse from Trumpist mobs on his journey to Washington on Tuesday, called it exactly right as the mayhem erupted.
“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” he yelled in the chamber. Later he told a New York Times reporter, “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection.”
The GOP is no place for good men like Mitt Romney now. It belongs to men like the president — men who see the destruction and violence they have unleashed all around them and still cannot bring themselves to give up the absurd but politically electric litany of grievances that made it happen.
Late in the day, Trump issued what was supposed to be an appeal to his mob to stand down. Instead, he fed their anger by continuing to claim the election was “stolen” and that those on the other side were “so bad and so evil.” He made it clear that he was one of them: “We love you, you’re very special,” he said to the rioters. “I know how you feel but go home.” You half expected him to wink at the end of it.
It was utterly disqualifying, the kind of performance that should prompt his immediate removal from office.
America should not have to wait 14 days to be rid of him.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.