Did anyone really think that the end would come with a whimper and not a bang? It is no surprise that the denouement came on January 6, 2021, the date the Constitution had designated for Congressional certification of the election of Trump’s fairly elected successor, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. For the 245 years of our nation’s existence (except for a little hiccup in 1876), this exercise was a largely ceremonial affair representing a powerful symbol of our cherished and historically unprecedented tradition of transferring power peacefully. But the events of that tragic Wednesday proved once and for all Trump’s true nature: an aspiring autocrat with a craving for power that overwhelmed any sense that he represented anything other than himself, the Constitution be damned.
Instead, January 6 will forever remain a black stain on our country and its democratic principles because a petulant and egotistical man refused to accept his legitimate loss and, after a ridiculous and ultimately futile effort to claim unfounded election fraud in the courts, he browbeat his heretofore obsequious vice president to exercise a non-existent power to reject the verified results of the election. But, failing that, he dispensed a marauding mob of true believers to breach the sacred halls of the U.S. Capitol, in a scene not witnessed since the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD, to “convince” the Senate and the House to “do the right thing” by rejecting the electoral votes of several key states and handing him an election that he continues to claim was stolen from him.
Trump was elected after a demagogic campaign based on a racist appeal against both legal and illegal immigration, promises to “drain the swamp,” and “Make America Great Again,” pandering to a (mostly white) underclass who had been left behind by an increasingly global economy. This blatantly irreligious man captured the vast majority of the religious right by pledging to appoint conservative judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He was assisted in his quest by Russian interference intended to improve his chances against an unpopular opponent, Hillary Clinton, and to the surprise of everyone, not least himself, managed to win.
Before Wednesday, to his critics, the Trump presidency would have been remembered for: his impeachment for attempting to blackmail Ukraine into digging up dirt on his expected opponent, lording over the most corrupt administration since Warren G. Harding, separating children from their parents at the Mexican border and ravaging the environment by defanging the EPA and anachronistically supporting the fossil fuel industry while denying climate change. He waged an erratic trade war against China while admiring murderous autocrats and alienating our most loyal allies. Not to mention bungling the Covid-19 response and contributing to the 360,000 and counting Americans dead, many who needlessly perished because of a lack of common sense from the top.
To his followers, he gave corporations and the wealthy huge tax cuts that blew up the budget deficit but turbocharged the economy, came through with the appointment of conservative judges (including three on the Supreme Court, who will have an immeasurable impact for decades), cracked down on immigration and set businesses free from perceived regulatory overkill. For these ends, many, including all Republicans, were willing to ignore his character flaws and propensity to lie about (basically) everything.
But the debate about his legacy came to a crashing halt on Wednesday when Trump placed all of his chips on a desperate ploy to violently overturn a Constitution that he took an oath to uphold, but has undoubtedly never read, and clearly does not understand. It was on that day that he became, let’s not mince words, a traitor. He rejected the most basic American principle: one man, one vote. He turned to violence when all legal remedies were exhausted and interfered with the legal processes that the Founding Fathers wisely, albeit imperfectly, put in place. The headline on his obituary will be: “Death of One Term Iconoclast President Who Incited Violence To Try To Overturn Election Results.”
And, while we look forward to a new beginning with a change of leadership and the astoundingly rapid development of Covid vaccines, Trump has indelibly poisoned the country by leading many to question the integrity of elections and casting doubt on Biden’s legitimacy. He has made his pals Putin, Erdogan, Orban and Bolsonaro proud. As to his many enablers, not least the Republican objectors in Congress, they have reserved their place in the lower circles of Hell. But for the many rats who stood with him for their own political purposes, including McConnell and Graham, who are now finally deserting the ship, maybe it is not too late to try to heal a divided nation. For the country’s sake, let’s hope they are willing to try.