I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” Today’s edition is a personal essay reacting to yesterday’s events in Washington D.C.
This read: 10 minutes.
On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, President Donald J. Trump helped end America’s 220-year tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.
After two months of falsely claiming the presidential election was “stolen” from him, a never ending parade of failed lawsuits to overturn the election, and several phone calls to state election officials attempting to pressure them into ignoring the will of the people, the president did his favorite thing to do: he held a rally. Trump, flanked by an entourage of his family and most loyal sycophants, converged on the nation’s Capitol the same day that Congress was poised to formally accept the electoral college results to end his presidency.
The rally was filled with the usual nonsense that has permeated Trump’s base in recent weeks. The speakers blamed everyone but the one person who was actually responsible for the election loss: Trump himself. They blamed Democrats, the deep state, the media, bad Republicans, Georgia, Pennsylvania, election officials, random citizens, social media, and, of course, Hunter Biden.
Trump ally Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” Donald Trump Jr. told Congressmen who weren't going to vote to overturn the election: “We're coming for you.” Just a few days before, Texas representative and loyal Trump ally Louie Gohmert took a similar tone on Newsmax: "But bottom line is, the court is saying, 'We're not going to touch this. You have no remedy' -- basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you gotta go the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM."
Then Trump took the stage.
He repeatedly insisted that his vice president, Mike Pence, one of the most loyal soldiers of all, should exercise power that Pence does not have in order to thwart the results of the election. And if he didn’t, Trump told the audience, well — that would be the end of Mike’s political career. “We will never give up, we will never concede,” he told them. “You don’t concede when there is theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore… and to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.” He told his supporters that the counting of Americans’ votes were “explosions of bullshit.” He asked cheekily if Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who had been shouted down and accosted on a flight to D.C. the day before, had “enjoyed his flight last night.” He told the crowd, “You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.”
As his supporters moved into a full frenzy, and with his address winding down, the president once again described members of Congress as evildoers who had joined up with “the fake news media” to steal an election. Then he said these words: “We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave,” he said. “And we’re going to the Capitol. And we're going to [try] to give our Republicans — the weak ones because the strong ones don't need any of our help — we're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
And walk they did.
With national media watching, and as Republicans in Congress began their charade of formally rejecting certified state election results, Trump’s most ardent fans walked right down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol building — and then they stormed it.
They tore down fencing, overwhelmed Capitol police, scaled walls, shoved and battered police officers, smashed windows and doors, trespassed into the offices of Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, took photos of open email accounts, stole memorabilia, ransacked the office of the Senate parliamentarian and forced the entire Capitol building into a lockdown. Members of Congress and the press were sent to an undisclosed location; some were forced to retreat into the tunnels beneath the Capitol building. They were given plastic coverings to protect themselves from tear gas or smoke, and told to hide on the floor or huddle in small rooms.
And, for the first hours of the madness, the president did nothing to quell the mayhem. He had not, in fact, joined his supporters for their “walk” as he said he would. In what is perhaps a metaphor for the last months of his presidency, the president insisted the mob join him in going to the Capitol and, when his supporters obliged, he promptly got into his limousine and rode back to the White House. For more than an hour, he remained silent. The silence was broken just minutes after his supporters breached the Capitol police line on live television, when Trump tweeted this:
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
In a sign of how deeply these corrosive politics have permeated Congress, Republican congressman Mike Johnson called into Fox News while hiding in a security bunker and was asked if he thought Trump should say something to calm the tensions. He felt the need to assure viewers he was “a supporter of the president” before he began answering the question.
Seasoned Washington D.C. reporters from across the political spectrum tweeted terrifying updates from inside the House chamber. My friend Jonathan Tamari documented the moment the mob broke through the windows and doors and breached the Capitol Rotunda, something that hasn’t happened since “1814, when the British attacked it and set it on fire during the war of 1812,” according to the director of scholarship and operations with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. Photos of police with guns drawn barricading a door went viral. At one point, Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller reported a commotion, saying he heard police yell “shots fired.”
Chaos ensued as conflicting reports came out. But eventually, video emerged of a woman, wrapped in a Trump flag, being shot in the chest as she approached the door to the House chamber. It was a horrible, graphic, gut-wrenching video, and millions of Americans watched her bleed out in Twitter videos and on livestreams of the chaos. She was escorted out on a stretcher and died at the hospital.
Her name was Ashli Babbitt. She was an Air Force vet, an outspoken supporter of Trump, and had flown all the way from San Diego to “stop the steal,” as Trump put it. She was also a believer in QAnon, the deranged conspiracy theory that revolves around a mysterious, anonymous person named ”Q” who claims Trump was elected to end the satantic, pedophilia-laden control of the world by rich political donors and Democrats.
She had tweeted 21 times with the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all,” since February 20th, promising the morning of her death that America would see “The Storm” — a biblical-like event Q’s supporters have long prophesied would happen yesterday, the day Trump’s takeover of the country would be complete.
Despite it being the most widely reported story from yesterday, Babbitt was not, in fact, the only person to die during the day’s events. Three other people died of “medical emergencies,” according to D.C. police.
Not long after Babbitt was pronounced dead, the president took to Twitter again: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
His only other communication to supporters was a brief, minute-long video in which he reiterated the lie that started this violence (“the election was stolen from us”) and then told the mob “but you have to go home now,” before repeating that the election was “fraudulent,” then again saying we need “peace.” Then he assured the group of supporters who had just fought it out with police and tried to violently stop the electoral college votes from being received that they were “very special.” He would later tweet again that peace was needed, after D.C. police had largely gotten the mob under control.
60 police officers were injured, including 15 who were hospitalized. Trump supporters attacked several news crews, stealing and destroying thousands of dollars of camera equipment. Two improvised explosive devices were found and disarmed in the nation’s capital. Amidst the chaos, Arizona’s GOP chair Kelli Ward actually suggested Republicans seize the moment in order to send the electoral college certificates back to the legislatures, a legally absurd and morally corrupt embrace of what could now fairly be described as an unsuccessful violent insurrection.
To some, yesterday’s events were more theater than anything else. Photos of Trump supporters with their feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, or stealing a podium from the Capitol, or standing at the dais in the House chamber, all may have been comical or laughable under other circumstances.
Many have claimed the violent rioters were actually “undercover antifa” there to make them look bad, with exhibit A being the man who breached the House chamber dressed as a Viking. In fact, that man is a diehard Trump supporter who has been profiled repeatedly in national news outlets. Even Andy Ngo, the pro-Trump, right-wing reporter who spent the last two years following antifa all over the world, pushed back on these conspiracies.
“The people occupying the Capitol building do not look like antifa people dressed in Trump gear or Trump costumes,” he said in an interview. “I have seen no evidence that they are able to coordinate a mass infiltration on this scale before, so I’m really skeptical that they would have been able to do it here without any of that information leaking out.”
That didn’t stop Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) from baselessly making the claim on the House floor, nor did it stop Fox News’s primetime lineup, or Newsmax’s anchors, from repeating the absurd and comical notion they picked up from social media that these, in fact, were not supporters of the president. Rep. Brooks, who hours before had insisted to a crowd of Trump supporters that they kick some ass, took to Twitter to suggest that those supporters were now, miraculously, members of the left-wing antifa. Once again, it was an effort to tell the country not to believe the very things our eyes were seeing.
Others responded by insisting that “this is what you get” when you excuse violent rioting from the left all summer, when you promote Black Lives Matter protests as heroic, when you ignore and mock millions of people for their politics.
This, of course, is completely divorced from reality. Any violence that took place this summer was condemned by Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, the organizers themselves involved in the civil disobedience that took place, and by me, in this newsletter.
It ignores the fact that protests this summer were in response to real crimes, real issues, real injustices, not the made up, totally concocted faux victimhood that this election was stolen.
It dismisses the violence police used against protesters in Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis all summer long — the force that could easily be more justified for a threat like what we had on Wednesday.
It buries the actual events of the summer, when peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Washington D.C. were met by heavily armed National Guard forces and cleared out of a park with tear gas and batons so Trump could have a photo op in front of a church, when heavily armed, often anonymous law enforcement officers in tanks and trucks were deployed forcefully into major U.S. cities across the country.
It also belies the circumstances: that Black Lives Matter protesters were marching in their own neighborhoods, under direct orders to peacefully assemble, not flying across the country to Washington D.C. to “stop the steal” and prevent Joe Biden from being inaugurated. Even antifa, described by Trump’s own intelligence agencies as a small, unorganized and not very serious threat, has only assembled itself in one city — Portland — where it’s been met with force by police, National Guardsmen and the city’s Democratic leaders.
In contrast, the people storming the capitol yesterday were not being discouraged, or told to stand down, or abandoning a preconceived plan to peacefully occupy the streets. They were, inexplicably, not met with any of the force we saw this summer. No, they were taking orders from the top — to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, to intimidate those who would dare formalize Trump’s obvious defeat, to fight for their lives and never give up.
In sum, the day’s events will go down as some of the most shameful and ugly in American history. And a stolen election is not to blame, nor is antifa, or Black Lives Matter, or protests over the summer or forgotten America or Congressional greed or any other strawman. The thing, indeed the person, who deserves blame is President Donald J. Trump.
Historians will now define his legacy wholly and solely as the first and only president in American history to refuse to concede an election and then incite his supporters to the point of violence. And he will deserve this distinction. Nothing else he has done in office or before he was president holds a candle to the significance of what he instigated yesterday.
He is the first and only president ever to lie so brazenly, so incessantly, so relentlessly, with so little regard for the dangers of his lies that even watching his supporters storm a building full of his colleagues could not bring him to condemn their actions. In spirit, too, he is in a stratosphere of his own, with no historical precedent for driving such a maniacal rage amongst his followers, based on such absurd and flimsy lies.
I have, in the pages of this newsletter, written repeatedly about Trump’s strengths. I have defended him when I felt he was being unfairly criticized. I have called out the hypocrisy of the left when they feign disgust at Trump’s policies that are not unique to him. I have embraced his emphasis on reforming our trade policies, on bringing our troops home, on demanding more from our allies, on calling out the corruption in Washington D.C., on Congress’s habit of ignoring working class Americans and obsessing over fundraising or corporate-friendly policies. I’ve called him a master of the media and praised his ability to communicate in simple, unscripted terms that resonate with average Americans.
I have, over and over, done my best to give him the benefit of the doubt. I refused to formally endorse his opponent, despite my fears this moment would come. I’ve avoided labeling him a racist and insisted he be quoted accurately when charges of racism against him are made. I’ve continued to define support for his presidency as something more than just racial resentment, or xenophobia, or any of the other incomplete black and white descriptions so many political pundits have given it.
I’ve lost subscribers, I’ve lost readers, and I’ve lost the respect of some people I care a great deal about all in the cause of defending what I believed to be true: that Trump was not as bad as his critics were claiming, that there were bright spots to be found in his presidency, that he was seldom given a fair shake by reporters I once trusted.
This morning, I spent the early hours of my work day looking for opinions, columns and perspectives from the “right” that were defending the president, defending what happened yesterday, in an effort to provide to my readers what I promise day in and day out: a balanced and transparent look at the arguments, and then my opinion. But on a day like today, I just can’t. I can’t represent rational thought and simultaneously give any oxygen to any excuses for yesterday. It’s worth noting, too, that those arguments were basically non-existent. The condemnation is both full-throated and bipartisan.
Right now, at this moment, I have trouble naming a politician I think less of than Trump. That’s the honest to God truth, just as I believed all the positive things I’ve written about him to be true when I wrote them. A woman was shot and killed in the nation’s Capitol yesterday. A supporter of the president’s. And at the end of the day, he practically took a victory lap, without even addressing her death, and doubled down on the ridiculous claims that motivated her to fly across the country and needlessly put her own life in danger.
Of course, she was not your standard Trump voter. Few of the people at the Capitol yesterday were. And this is not a condemnation of those who voted for him, though it is a condemnation — and a call for rational thinking — of those who may still be twisting their own brains to try to somehow justify what happened yesterday. Our country is under a sick, impossible, infuriating spell of partisanship and I blame our leaders and media more than I blame the victims of it. But it’s time we all drew our lines in the sand.
In the middle of all this chaos yesterday, another thing happened: Jon Ossoff was declared the winner of his Georgia Senate race by several mainstream media outlets. Tangle had called his victory yesterday morning after Decision Desk HQ did, but now that the risk-averse national desks have called it too, that makes it “official.”
Ossoff’s victory did a few things that are worth considering in the context of the day’s events.
First, it reaffirms, definitively, that there was no fluke and no stolen election in Georgia. Jon Ossoff beating an incumbent like Sen. David Perdue is proof of a tidal shift in Georgia. It’s a reminder that, amid all of this, the cause that a woman literally died for in the nation’s Capitol was built on lies.
Second, it is a reminder of what Trump has done to the GOP. When he entered office, they controlled the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives. When he leaves office, Democrats will control all three.
Third, it reminds us that the market for what Trump has done is dwindling. This scene, this disgrace that took place yesterday, is likely — and hopefully — the end of Trump’s political career. I cannot imagine many Republicans supporting his potential return to the White House in four years, and I think the odds of his being able to actually win over more than 20 percent of the country have rightfully evaporated, too.
Perhaps nothing signaled this more than the events of the hours immediately after the Capitol was secured.
A half dozen Republican senators backed off their pledges to object to the election results in the wake of the day’s events. The ones who still did — Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Rick Scott of Florida — have tarnished their names forever. And, of course, their objections did not lead to any of the “evidence” or any “debate” that they have promised for so long. Indeed, the objections were accompanied by nothing — no compelling new evidence, no proof of fraud, no presentations, no pathway to change anything. Nothing.
Instead, the Senate voted down the objections overwhelmingly and swiftly by majority vote. More than 100 House Republicans tied themselves to this farce, but they were easily outnumbered in the Democrat-controlled lower chamber. And so, a few hours after President Trump incited the first ever violent attempt to overthrow the results of an American election, the results of that election were formally recognized by the U.S. Congress. With shattered glass and bloodstains still lying just outside the Capitol rotunda.
Some of Trump’s most ardent allies also abandoned ship — from Mitch McConnell to Lindsey Graham to Vice President Mike Pence. There were resignations: Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff for First Lady Melania Trump and the former White House press secretary, stepped down in protest. So did Sarah Matthews, the White House deputy press secretary. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff and current envoy to Northern Ireland, also resigned. Trump is “not the same as he was eight months ago,” Mulvaney said. “I can’t stay here.” Matthew Pottinger, the deputy to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, also resigned. O’Brien himself is also considering stepping down, according to reports.
Alyssa Farah, Trump’s recently departed communications director, sent a message of her own:
“Dear MAGA - I am one of you,” she tweeted. “Before I worked for Donald Trump, I worked for Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan and The Freedom Caucus. I marched in 2010 Tea Party rallies. I campaigned w/ Trump & voted for him. But I need you to hear me: the Election was NOT stolen. We lost. There were cases of fraud that should be investigated. But the legitimate margins of victory for Biden are far too wide to change the outcome. You need to know that. I’m proud of many policy accomplishments the Trump Admin had. But we must accept these results.”
So this is how it ends.
With Republicans divided, powerless, and hiding inside a bunker in the Capitol building. With Washington D.C. on lockdown. With improvised explosive devices hidden across the nation’s capital. With Trump’s most ardent supporters hanging a noose outside the Capitol building. With an Air Force veteran dead, a bullet through her chest, fired by a Capitol police officer inside the Capitol building. With Mitt Romney being accosted in airports for refusing to support the president’s lies, with Trump’s mob of supporters clashing with police, smashing news cameras, and hanging Trump flags in the House chamber.
It ends with an Arizona GOP chairwoman insisting the moment be seized to steal an election. With the president turning on his own vice president, telling millions he is betraying him and then refusing to allow Pence’s chief of staff into the White House. With violence in the streets, with a more divided nation than when he entered office, with tens of millions of people on unemployment, a pandemic that has cost almost 400,000 lives still raging, with nearly 4,000 people dead yesterday alone, with sitting Republicans calling for Trump to be removed from office, and with the president locked out of his Twitter account.
This is the end of Trump.
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