It was one of the biggest and most dangerous attacks on U.S. democracy in modern history.
“Why in God’s name would someone think attacking law enforcement and occupying the United States Capitol is the best way to show that you’re right?” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said after the violent riots by supporters of President Trump in the home of the two chambers of Congress in Washington. In other words, who had the brilliant idea that the best way to reverse the legitimate results of the U.S. presidential election was a violent invasion of the Capitol?
Words have consequences. Specially when they are spoken by a president who is angry, vengeful and ill informed. It all started Wednesday at noon, when President Trump spoke to tens of thousands of supporters in front of the White House. In a speech full of lies – he falsely insisted that he won the election and that there was massive fraud – Trump told his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol … because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
And they marched.
In an inexplicable failure of security and preparation, the Capitol Police was quickly overrun by a mob – hundreds of people, most of them young white males – that swarmed up the staircases and, facing little resistance, smashed doors and windows to enter the corridors and halls of the Capitol. The protesters, some of them waving Trump flags and red Make America Great Again caps, broke into the Senate Chamber. One of them went into the office of Nancy Pelosi, sat on a chair and put a foot up on the desk of the Speaker of the House. Five armed men, members of a Congressional security team, meanwhile blocked an entrance to the House Chamber with wooden furniture and pointed their pistols at extremists on the other side.
All of that happened in a democracy that is more than 200 years old.
Outside, the protesters insulted and attacked the news media. During our live reporting for Univision with Ilia Calderon, I saw Trump sympathizers harass and badger our reporters Claudia Uceda and Edwin Pitti and their camera crews. They also stole part of Edwin and his camera crew’s equipment. Just for reporting what was happening. Those attacks were the result of the false presidential message that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who also serves as president of the Senate, was rushed out of the Capitol by his security detail while Congress members were taken to a secure undisclosed location within the building. For nearly three hours, the Capitol was controlled by violent extremists.
But Trump did not apologize for inciting the violence. On the contrary. He said the violent extremists were “patriots.” “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots,” Trump wrote before asking them to “go home with love & peace. Remember this day forever!”
Yes, we will all remember it as the day of insurrection.
The New York Times headline read, TRUMP INCITES MOB. Five people died during the clashes in the Capitol.
The United States, with Trump as president, has lost the moral authority to criticize dictatorships and other countries that violate the democratic system. How can dozens of Republican members of Congress dare criticize a tyranny when at home they supported, unsuccessfully, the antidemocratic idea of erasing millions of votes cast in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia?
Words once linked to authoritarian regimes – coup attempt, insurrection, invasion of congress, curfew, incitement to violence, refusing to recognize the results of an election – now fit perfectly into the last days of the Trump presidency.
The president has lost all credibility, and even his social media accounts. Because of his lies and the dangers his messages represent for democracy. Twitter temporarily blocked Trump’s account, with more than 88 million followers. Facebook and Instagram suspended him indefinitely – at least two weeks, until Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” wrote Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.
Trump has not more tricks left. For now. But he could reappear in 2024. His movement lives, backed by more than 74 million voters. There’s Trumpism without Trump. His legacy is racist and anti-democratic.
The lesson, meanwhile, is very clear: No democracy – none! – is guaranteed. All the warning signals with Trump were there, starting when he branded Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and refused to condemn white supremacists, and now as he refuses to accept the results of the presidential elections. But many did not pay attention, for different reasons. And that was a grave mistake.
Next time, if there is one, we cannot remain silent. Democracies must be protected, word by word. And quickly.