The scenes in Capitol Hill tonight are the sort that many Americans thought they would never live to see. A violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, overwhelming law enforcement and firing their weapons into the Senate chamber. A woman is reported to have died after being shot, and there are reports of police injuries.
The Senate was debating (and set to certify) the results of the presidential election. Senators were evacuated just after 2pm – as was Vice President Mike Pence, who is thought to be a major target of the protestors after he announced he would not be swayed by Donald Trump
's call to try to overturn the election result.
Condemnation has been swift, unequivocal and from across the political spectrum. Reince Priebus, a former Trump Chief of Staff, referred to the mob as 'domestic terrorists'. Mitt Romney has called it an 'insurrection'. Washington DC is now under a stay-at-home curfew.
Despite confirmation through recounts, investigations and a Supreme Court ruling, Trump has refused to concede to Biden, spending months stoking his followers with anger and doubt over the result. Even this afternoon, a handful of Republican Senators – including former and future presidential hopefuls Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley – objected to state results, prompting hours of debate on the Senate floor.
The efforts to convince Trump supporters that the election was rigged boiled over today, resulting in violence and destruction at the heart of government. Vanity Fair reports that once in a secure location, Romney – who has vocally opposed Trump’s attempts to overturn the election – yelled in the direction of Cruz and others ‘this is what you’ve gotten.’ Blame for tonight's chaos decisively lies at the Republican party's feet.
There are questions as to how the protestors got as far as they did – given that this protest has been planned for weeks. Yet the Capitol’s law enforcement is reported to have been overwhelmed, with no back-up assistance arriving in meaningful time. The Pentagon is reported to have refused the deployment of the National Guard at first.
While Trump dithered, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam confirmed he was sending over the Virginia National Guard and state troopers. Though we don’t yet know the extent of the violence, it is nothing short of a miracle that there are no reports of elected representatives being shot, as the protestors managed to barricade themselves into the Senate floor and are reported to have shot their weapons into the room.
The New York Post reports that at least two explosive devices have been found at the Republican and Democratic National Committee Headquarters. For some violent few, this was to be a full-blown assault on America’s political system.
Until a few months ago, American elections were the model for the world: fair, transparent and the results implemented. That reputation was undermined tonight, when armed protestors targeted elected representatives and tried to stop the ‘sacred ritual’, as it was described by President-elect Joe Biden
, of confirming the election result.
That we are witnessing such scenes speaks to the extent that President Trump has degraded his office – and our politics. And I write this as a lifelong Republican. His behaviour since the election has not been for the benefit of the American people, but for the ego of a man who cannot bear to lose.
His narcissism and obsession with winning cost the GOP two Senate seats in Georgia last night, handing full control of Congress to the Democrats. Today, it cost all of us our deepest privilege of living in a country where ballots cast do not result in bullets shot.
November’s exit polls suggested that if the 2020 election had been about what most US elections come down to – the economy – Donald Trump
would be looking at a second term. But it wasn’t. It was about a country that was dangerously close to losing its moral compass; a country that needed real leadership. I was fearful last year that, given four more years, the President wouldn’t hesitate to sink lower and reveal his basest level. He didn’t need four years – tonight shows the chaos he can unleash in a matter of weeks.
But is only two more weeks before American leadership changes. While Trump has not respected America’s institutions, they remain strong and robust. The irony of Pence being targeted for not stopping the confirmation of the electoral college votes today is that he could not have done had he tried.
The Constitution protects America’s electoral process, and on 20 January the man who called for unity tonight will be inaugurated. Even in the darkest of hours, Biden managed to strike the right tone, blaming tonight on a small violent mob, not ‘true America’. In other words, he didn’t transplant the actions of the mob onto those with whom he may not politically agree.
Compare his words with the President’s, who started a pre-recorded video tonight by appeasing the violent protestors. He told them they were right to be angry, that the election was stolen. He said he loved them, that they were special, and it was time to go home.
Tonight shows how dangerously close we are not just to losing respect for our election processes, but the core principles that define America. They are not gone, but seriously tarnished, and it will take both political parties’ efforts to come back from these radically anti-democratic scenes.
That could begin very soon, possibly today, when Senators head back to the floor to finish what they started. Any GOP representative who was clinging to Trump mere hours ago must let go, drop this foolish ploy to undermine the result, and see through what Americans voted for in November. It will not be enough – not remotely – to undo this damage. But it will be a start.