Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
On November 7th, when the US Presidential election was called for Joe Biden, denying Donald Trump a second term, people celebrated in the streets. But the results came short of the repudiation of the President and his rhetoric that many had hoped for. Due to the electoral college, the result was tighter than most polls predicted. Despite losing the election, Trump received the second-highest number of votes in US history. After the election, the question still lingered: what was the future of Trumpism?
The Democratic Party fared worse than they had hoped. They lost seats in the house (but still maintained their majority) and the senate was a toss-up, to be decided in two runoff elections in Georgia. Republicans faced a choice: to break with the President and start afresh or to try to harness his enduring popularity, continue to stoke divisions, sow unrest, and peddle lies for electoral gains.
They opted for the latter. Republican Senators and Members of Congress remained silent as the President contested the results, alleging bogus election fraud and filing countless risible lawsuits. Others went further, themselves peddling baseless allegations in a bizarre attempt to support a man who had no chance of winning the election. In Georgia, where two runoff elections would decide the fate of the senate, the Republican candidates fully embraced Trump.
Rather than publicly state something so painfully obvious – that the President had lost the election – they opted to humour him, to allow him to live in a fantasy to avoid his ire. To serve their own interests, they were willing to let an incumbent President undermine trust in the electoral process. They could not (or did not want to) recognise that the years spent building up a cult of personality in which the President can do no wrong gave him enormous power, not only over themselves, but over his followers.
On one level this will have affected the thinking of the President. After four years of getting away with anything (not to mention the preceding lifetime of scandals), why should this be where he stops? Without any strong opposition, why not try everything to stay in power? On another, more sinister level, they underestimated (or simply ignored) the power of words and their ability to incite disaster.
On Wednesday, January 6th, as a joint session of congress was confirming the results of the election, a purely formal process, the consequences of their actions erupted. Twelve Republican senators and many House Republicans had announced their intention of contesting the process. As the results from Arizona were being debated, staffers rushed in and the session was abruptly adjourned. Vice President Mike Pence was rushed out and lawmakers were evacuated.
A mob that had come from a Trump rally outside the White House stormed the Capitol, waving flags, brandishing fists, and shouting chants. Shots were fired. Photographs emerged of Trump supporters sitting in the office of the Speaker of the House, dangling from the gallery and standing at the dais. It took a full hour until the National Guard was activated and eventually the Capitol was cleared. Five people died.
Optimists might view this as a turning point. The images of armed rioters on the floor of the senate, smashing windows and waving flags were broadcast across the world and met with widespread condemnation. That same evening, the second of the two senate runoff elections in Georgia was called for the Democrats in a final electoral rebuke of Trump’s Republican party. Late at night, the joint session of congress confirmed Joe Biden’s win. Donald Trump’s Facebook account was suspended indefinitely, and he was permanently banned from Twitter. Resignations from his administration trickled in and Democrats have since launched a second impeachment, charging him with “incitement of insurrection.” With erstwhile allies denouncing him and the extent of the damage he has inflicted on full display, could this be the death of Trumpism?
Others will justifiably say: too little, too late. What took place on Wednesday was not an isolated incident. It was the culmination of the past four years – the final act of a disastrous Presidency that was supported and enabled by countless Republican cronies. After reconvening, a handful of lawmakers still voted against confirming Biden’s victory. But it did not only highlight the fragility of American democracy. Striking comparisons have been made between the treatment of racial justice protesters during the summer and the reactions to a deadly storming of the Capitol, what amounts to an act of domestic terrorism. In its death throes, the Trump-era has put the ugly underbelly of the United States on full display. In his remarks on Wednesday, Joe Biden stated the rioters “do not represent who we are.” Perhaps this should rather be taken as a sign that something is rotten in Washington, D.C.