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It Could Have Been Worse.
And unless we act now, it will be.
1. It Could Have Been Worse
Let’s close this awful week with one optimistic thought: What happened on Wednesday could have been a lot worse.
Many of the insurrectionists storming the house were wearing body armor and helmets. A few were carrying zip ties. We have no idea how many of them were armed. These people built a forking gallows outside the Capitol.
You think this was spontaneous? Someone just happened to carrying around some 4x4’s and hardware and another guy had plywood and some third patriot had rope and it was all serendipity?
And I want to say a word about the Capitol police—not the police leadership, who failed miserably—but the men and women on the ground: Heroes.
The leadership left the officers on the ground in an incredibly vulnerable position. They were tragically under-manned and under-prepared. The Capitol complex is almost impossible to defend to begin with, because there are so many entrances, the buildings all connect, and the interiors are basically a warren. Once the structure was breached, defending it was going to be awfully hard.
But the Capitol cops protected the people who were working for our democracy and the fact that only one of the insurrectionists was killed through the use of deadly force is a damn miracle.
I saw a lot of people complaining about the restraint shown by the Capitol police with something like “Hey, if these were BLM protestors they would all have been shot.” That’s exactly the wrong way to view this. The answer isn’t that we want cops to use excessive force on everyone, all the time. It’s that we want law enforcement to show restraint whenever possible. We want them exercising good judgment and not being aggressive bullies who escalate violence and make confrontations worse.
If the Capitol police on scene had reacted the way we saw many big city police departments react to protests this summer, then Wednesday would have been a bloodbath and the consequences for our nation would have been unimaginably worse.
Watch the cop in this video manage an incredibly dangerous situation without getting anyone killed.
The rest of the country’s law enforcement community should look at the professionalism and bravery the Capitol police officers demonstrated on Wednesday and learn from it.
And the rest of us should be grateful that they managed to get through the day with such a minimal loss of life.
2. Impeachment: Part Deux
We’ve reached the point where it will be malpractice if House Democrats don’t pass articles of impeachment.
Three reasons, all forward-looking in service of our big question from yesterday: How do we work to make this a last gasp and not a harbinger?
(1) Removing Trump from office makes our democracy safer for the next 12 days.
Maybe Trump is chastened enough to be on his best behavior for the next two weeks. Or maybe not.
We have another rally scheduled from Trump’s followers on January 17. Then there’s Inauguration Day. How many lives are we willing to bet that he won’t incite another insurrection?
There’s the problem of him being unable to execute his duties as president—over the last two days, while Trump was trying to overthrow the government, more than 8,000 Americans died from COVID. Might be helpful to have a chief executive who is not asleep at the wheel.
And there are the pardons. God knows what this madman will do with his pardon power in the waning hours of his term.
There is no questions about Trump having committed high crimes and misdemeanors. That case is open-and-shut. The only question is prudence.
And that case is pretty strong, too.
(2) Removing Trump from office opens the door to barring him from running again.
Deposed strongmen always constitute an ongoing danger to society. That’s why they’re normally exiled. It would be helpful for America to impose a political exile on Trump, which can be done if the Senate convicts him of impeachment. Then it will only take a majority vote in the Senate to prevent him from seeking to retake the presidency.
This seems like a baseline precondition to any hope of repairing the damage this man has done to our country.
(3) Forcing Republican senators to vote on impeachment has the potential to fracture the party.
Again—this isn’t about morality or vengeance. It’s about protecting our country in the near term.
The plain fact is that one of our major parties is substantially supportive of authoritarianism. Not every Republican is pro-authoritarian. But you cannot get past this bedrock truth: After the sacking of the Capitol, more than half of the Republican Congressional delegation voted to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
The Republican party, as currently constituted, is a danger to democracy. Full stop. Which means that anyone working to further the prospects of this party is supporting the institution that favors authoritarianism.
If the Republican party is to be reformed, such reform is not going to happen organically, from the inside. It will take place only in the aftermath of a schism which drives either the forces of authoritarianism, or the “reasonable” center-right, out of the party. Only then will it be even theoretically possible for a responsible party to emerge.
Forcing Republican senators to vote on removing Trump will hasten this schism. This is critical for the long-term health of our polity.
Normally the Triad is only for members of Bulwark+ but this week we’ve kept it open for everyone. If you’re not already a member, come join us. We’ve got a country to save.
3. Alternate Universes
I began this week talking about institutional power versus popular power. To the extent that Trump’s presidency appears to be disintegrating right now, it’s because parts of the Republican party and conservative movement are trying to use institutional power to hurt him in an effort to save themselves and preserve their viability.
But where do you think the popular power is going to be?
We have two bits of polling so far. Here are the results from YouGov:
An overwhelming majority of R’s saw the Capitol insurrection as NBD.
A plurality of R’s outright approved of it.
A majority of R’s blame Joe Biden for anything that wasn’t kosher.
And keep in mind: This was a snap poll taken before the right-wing echo chamber started arguing that anything bad that happened was the result of secret antifa infiltrators.
Harris ran a poll yesterday and found basically the same thing:
64 percent of R’s approve of how Trump handled January 6.
57 percent of R’s said Trump had done enough to stop any violence.
Trump is at a low ebb right now institutionally, but the rank and file of the party is clearly with him. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to matter most.
Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos aren’t going to determine the future of the Republican party. Republican voters are.
And they think everything is fine, with the exception of the fact that 77 percent of Trump’s voters—77 percent—say he was the rightful winner and that the election was stolen from him.
I don’t think that most of the people in the mainstream of American culture, who have viewed this week with horror, have any idea what they’re up against.