Today has been a very sad day for American democracy. Just as Congress was beginning the formality of the process of counting state electoral college votes—as a disingenuous objection for counting Arizona’s electoral college votes from Rep. Gosar and Sen. Cruz was being debated separately in the House and Senate–an armed angry mob of Trump protesters, encouraged by President Trump, stormed the Capitol. The images were profoundly disturbing of Trumpist and QAnon protesters marching freely within the Capitol, with one in Speaker Pelosi’s office and another in the front of the Senate chamber. There has been violence, with reports of at least one person shot. Law enforcement has been slow to respond, and eventually we will find out why But order is slowly being restored.
Within hours, I expect that law enforcement officers will regain control of the Capitol complex. Tonight or perhaps early tomorrow the Senate and House will resume their deliberations. If Senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were more responsible given today’s horrific events, they will withdraw their objections and no other Senators will raise objections. This would end the debates (because it takes a Senator and a Representative to join in an objection) and the formality of counting can be done expeditiously, formally declaring Joe Biden the winner of the election. If the objections continue, it will take more hours to get through the counting, but the counting will happen.
(Even if protesters managed by delay things further, which they will not be able to do, Trump is out of office automatically by virtue of the 20th amendment on January 20 at noon, leaving Nancy Pelosi as Acting President. It won’t come to that.)
Restoring order and finishing the constitutionally mandated counting of the ballots is step number one. Step number 2 is dealing with President Trump’s remaining two weeks in office. For years I have been writing about how dangerous he has been for American democracy, and indeed a big thrust of my most recent book (Election Meltdown) and my book in progress (Cheap Speech) is the dangers of Trump and Trumpism to American democracy. A democracy depends upon conducting fair elections and the losers (perhaps grudgingly) accepting those results as legitimate and agreeing to fight another day.
Trump has never accepted this democratic value and never agreed to a peaceful transition of power. He has put forward completely debunked conspiracy theories saying that the election was stolen, that the results rigged. Whether he believes it or not, he has convinced millions of his followers to believe it. He told his followers for days to come to DC for today’s counting for a “wild” protest. He encouraged today’s march on the capitol. He’s only belatedly told protesters to “go home,” while still spewing conspiracy theories.
This attempt to overturn the results by force followed his attempts to strong arm Republican election officials and legislators to overturn the results of the election in numerous states. They have admirably resisted despite relentless pressure. His most recent call, last Saturday, with Georgia’ secretary of state, is a likely crime under both federal and Georgia law. He continues to foment violent resistance based upon lies with his most ardent supporters.
Trump’s term ends on January 20 unless he is removed from office earlier. It can happen either through invocation of the 25th amendment, done by VP Pence and a majority of the cabinet, on grounds that Trump has shown his unable or unwilling to fulfill his duties as President, or through impeachment and removal from office.
It is not just liberals making this call. Business leaders and some Republicans and leading conservatives have said that today has crossed the line. Trump needs to be removed from office and it needs to happen immediately. If impeached, he should be disqualified from ever holding office again. (He can even be impeached and disqualified after leaving office.)
Removal is very unlikely to happen given the hold that Trump continues to hold over the Republican Party base, but there’s no question that it should.
It will take years to undo the damage to American democracy coming from what we have seen during this presidency culminating in today’s dangerous actions. That is Step 3 and we will have to think hard about how to make it happen.
American democracy remains in peril. We need all hands on deck to restore it.