American democracy could withstand a coup-like assault, but it will be on crutches for a whileJanuary 9, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened to impeach Trump for the second time if he does not “leave office imminently and willingly”. Proceedings could start Monday with one single article of impeachment — sedition. Pelosi also took the extraordinary step to speak to General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about preventing “an unstable president” from accessing nuclear weapons launch codes.
President-elect Joe Biden stayed above the fray, saying it was up to the US Congress to take a call on impeachment.
He did say he was fine with Trump not attending his inauguration and that it was the only thing they agreed on. It would only be the second time in US history that an outgoing president would be marked absent at the inauguration. Trump plans to fly to Florida a day before the January 20 inauguration.
It’s unclear how many Republicans support impeachment because without their nod, the enterprise would be largely symbolic, like the last time. Unless a significant number of House and Senate Republicans go on the record and vote yes, die-hard Trumpers won’t get the message and will continue to believe the great leader is being wronged.
Events have been moving at breakneck speed since Wednesday when thousands of Trump extremists attacked the Capitol, the seat of American democracy, resulting in five deaths. A string of shocking videos showed Trump’s pumped-up supporters vowing to “hang” Vice-President Mike Pence for not overturning the results, breaking solid glass windows with rods, carrying battle gear, chasing a Black policeman inside the Capitol, trashing furniture and posing in Pelosi’s chair.
A supporter of US President Donald Trump wears a gas mask and holds a bust of him after hundreds stormed the Capitol building
One of the most appalling clips was of Trump watching the sacking of the Capitol with cheerful family members on multiple TV screens that began with Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Trump Jr’s girlfriend, dancing to a pop song and ended with Don Jr doing a countdown to the storming. No one seemed shocked at the unfolding events.
As days pass, the huge and terrible costs of the “darkest day” are slowly becoming real to US leaders. Pelosi and many others seem truly shaken, including Trump’s golfing buddy, Senator Lindsey Graham, who declared, “enough is enough” after the storming of the Capitol. Other Republicans are doing mea culpas in the dying days of Trump administration after kowtowing to him for four years and allowing the party to become the Trump Party.
On Friday, Trump was permanently banned from Twitter but critics pointed out that denying him oxygen in the last 10 days hardly matters. Within minutes, he was apparently giving “hot takes” on LinkedIn. And then there is Parler, the “free speech social network” where the rightwing hangs out. Incidentally, the “insurrection” was planned and promoted on sites like Parler that are loved by conservatives.
In relatively “good” news, Trump finally kind-of, sort-of acknowledged his defeat a day after the assault on the Capitol and promised a “smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power”.
The walk back was partially an attempt to disown what will forever be his legacy but it took an insurrection, five lives and many resignations in the White House for him to get here.
The 2.41-minute video of Trump condemning the violence came after the country had been at the mouth of an abyss of a coup-like event. Whether he acted because he saw certain political death in the aftermath or because he finally saw the light will remain a mystery.
What’s more important is that the legs of American democracy could withstand the assault. But it will be on crutches for a while. The US Congress continued its work after the building was secured and Trump’s “Proud Boys” escorted out. The Congress ratified Biden’s victory as lawmakers worked late into the night to officially count the electoral votes. The tally: Biden 306 and Trump 232.
The news that Democrats won both Senate seats from Georgia in the tense runoff elections, bringing the US Senate to a fine balance of 50-50 was lost in the mayhem. Because Kamala Harris as vice-president can cast a vote in case of a tie, the Senate is effectively under Dem control. But the margins are razor-thin in both the House and the Senate, making Biden’s job of executing his agenda much more difficult than the happy talk currently doing the rounds.
If Biden, who projected himself as the healer-in-chief, can build bridges and find bipartisan solutions, America can begin the long, hard process of reconciliation. But given the mood of the country, the extreme political polarisation and the sharpened tendency to denounce the other side, rapid strides are unlikely. But then America has shown a capacity to rejuvenate when you least expect it and pass far-sighted legislation like the New Deal or Social Security, or even the Affordable Healthcare Act after being down in the dumps.
But that’s in the future. In the present, the damage is enormous. The first order of business should be to recognise the events of Jan 6 for what they are instead of floundering in the jungle of “This-is-not-who-we-are. Weare-better-than-this.” This happened in broad daylight and it happened in America.
The mythology of American exceptionalism should be consigned to the bin.