Some silver lining in the dark cloud of ‘invasion’ of Capitol

Trump supporters

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Photo credit: Alex Edelman | AFP

What you need to know:

  • However much has already and will be said about this event and Trump’s critical role in inciting it, it is also likely to produce some profoundly positive consequences.
  • One is that it should energise and empower those Republicans who have been deeply disturbed by the party’s general acquiescence to Trump's abuses of power.

Writing in the Sunday Nation just after last November’s US election (‘Why Trump is a threat to rule of law and democracy in the US’), I said that “…it is often said that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance”, and that, “if this ever applied to the United States, it is now.”

And I concluded by asking: “What will be the state of the American democracy that Joseph R. Biden Jr. inherits at noon on January 20, 2021?”

This view was based largely on President Donald Trump’s behaviour over the last four years, but also on the concerns expressed by those who know him well. They include especially his former ‘personal lawyer’/’fix-it man’, Michael Cohen who, testifying before Congress in February 2019 (after he was convicted and sent to prison for a campaign finance violation committed on Trump’s behalf) asserted that the president would not leave office peacefully if he lost the 2020 election, largely as a consequence of Trump’s concern that “he knows he'll serve prison time when he is no longer president”, based on this as well as numerous other crimes.

For her part, Mary Trump has argued that in addition to such legal concerns, that her uncle’s “complete inability to acknowledge any personal failure” – including, especially, losing an election – was likely to trigger behaviour that was both highly irrational and dangerous to the country’s security.

Indeed, the president’s refusal to admit defeat in the November election, and his encouragement to his cult-like supporters to similarly reject it, either, led directly to the major security breach at the US Capitol last Saturday, resulting in considerable property damage and five deaths.

Moreover, it was only because members of Congress, then engaged in the certification of the presidential election results, were given protection as they were escorted to ‘secret’ locations that saved them from the Trump-inspired mob that was roaming-rampaging through the hallowed building.

Trump’s escalating attacks on American democracy have both further damaged it domestically and given additional succour to currently ensconced and would-be tyrants around the globe, with leaders in such countries as China, Iran and Russia openly celebrating the ‘chaos and farce of Western democracy’.

Yes, however much has already and will be said about this event and Trump’s critical role in inciting it, it is also likely to produce some profoundly positive consequences.

One is that it should energise and empower those Republicans who have been deeply disturbed by the party’s general acquiescence to the abuses of power that have become Trump’s hallmark, as they seek to recast it as a strictly policy-based alternative to that of the Democrats. 

Change of mind

Indeed, the fact that half of the dozen or so Republican senators who had declared their intention to reject the official Electoral College presidential election results in several states won by Biden, when Congress met on January 6 to (formally) confirm them, reversed their position after the Capitol’s security had been restored that evening, points to this possibility.

So, too, do the several resignations of members of Trump’s administration, as well as calls from an increasing number of Democrats and commentators – and even a few Republicans – to initiate the process for his immediate removal of office (through either the 25th Amendment or impeachment), however few days remain until his exit. 

In sum, while as a registered Democrat (in the state of Michigan) I’m happy to see a weak Republican party, I much prefer it to be stronger if such strength is defined by policies, rather than it be weaker but subject to ‘Trumpian’ proto-Fascist, anti-democratic, inclinations.

Second, Trump’s complicity with Saturday’s assault should make it more difficult for President Biden to “put the past behind us” and thus “help heal the nation” by doing whatever he can – within the law – to protect his predecessor from likely criminal prosecution for acts committed both before and during his presidency. 

Likewise, together with Trump’s vilification of Mike Pence for his dutiful (and required) presiding over Congress’ formal counting of Biden’s winning Electoral College votes (interrupted by the ‘invasion-insurrection’), should make the vice-president far less inclined to issue Trump with a blanket pardon if he became president following the latter’s (possible) resignation before January 20. 

That is, such accountability – including potential imprisonment – could be the best antidote to his almost hypnotic hold on a substantial swathe of the public. The associated consequence of such accountability would disqualify Trump from ever again holding public office, while significantly reducing his (and his family members’ and closest associates’) influence over the Republican party.

More broadly, the widespread condemnation of the President, following the exposure of his attempt to steal Biden’s electoral victory in the state of Georgia by intimidating/threatening the (Republican) officials responsible for certifying it, should give the Biden-led Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress (based on the razor-thin twin-wins in the run-off senatorial contests held on January 5) far more latitude to implement their legislative agenda – one which, based on its advertised content, should greatly increase public support for both the Biden presidency and the Democratic party as the most pressing needs of the vast majority of Americans – including many who voted for Trump/the Republicans in the previous two elections – are addressed. 

The fact that a major economic recovery is expected to occur once the Covid-19 pandemic is contained (if not eliminated through the mass-administration of vaccines) greatly increases such prospects.

Altogether, as an ironic consequence of the unprecedented ‘invasion’ of the Capitol that was based largely on the continuing acceptance by many Trump supporters of his repeated fantasy-claim that it was only “massive election fraud” that denied him a second term, most Americans are more likely to benefit substantially as Biden’s policies are implemented even as its wounded democratic institutions begin to heal, a development with extremely positive ramifications, both domestically and internationally.

Tom Wolf is a Nairobi-based research consultant.