We got lucky on Wednesday, Jan. 6, the afternoon that a mob forced its way into the Capitol building. By “we,” I mean the nation and all its citizenry, Republican and Democratic alike.
We got lucky because the near-absence of police and security responses to the first hours of the mob’s incursion had a number of benefits.
First, and most important, it allowed the nation to see with stark and unspinnable clarity exactly what was occurring. President Trump in broad daylight had – for all to see and hear – unequivocally inspired an impressionable mob to march over to the Capitol and take “strong” action. Given the obvious and ugly passions of the crowd that was listening to him – many of whom wore helmets and camouflaged vests and carried baseball bats and other trouble-making objects – Trump’s exhortations were reckless and they had exactly the provoking effect that he desired.
Second, when the mob reached the Capitol and started moving up its steps, onto its balconies, and eventually through its doors, the absence of any meaningful police resistance allowed the nation to see clearly that a motley assortment of ordinary Americans – Trump supporters who consider themselves “patriots” and defenders of “freedom” – was unlawfully and destructively breaking into the Capitol. It allowed our nation – both Republican and Democratic that it correctly is – to see clearly the fanaticism, ignorance, and misguidedness that fuels the actions and beliefs of the cult of personality that Donald Trump and his enablers have so sickeningly created.
Because there were no police to engage the citizen-mob, there were no pitched battles with helmeted riot police with batons bashing the heads of protesters. Had adequate security forces been in place to safeguard the Capitol building, the nation would have watched terrible scenes of violence, chaos, and injury. This was a mob spoiling for a fight – thinking it held righteous grounds backed by a president – and it would have engaged with police.
Had that occurred, today we’d be in a much different and worse place. Donald Trump would still be empowered, still on social media, and still talking election fraud, take back our country, and continuing his campaign to undermine our democracy.
For had riots occurred outside the building, the aftermath would have included confusion, ambiguity, unclear blame, physical injuries to protesters and police alike, some sympathy for beaten demonstrators, and a lack of clarity regarding the nature and character of what it means to support Donald Trump.
Had a melee occurred outside of the building, events inside of the building would have been much different. The tabulating of and objecting to the Electoral College results would not have been interrupted; thirteen Republican senators would have endorsed the objections, and the myth of election fraud would have continued today with the ongoing blessings (tacit and spoken) of innumerable legitimate Republican leaders.
Had a melee occurred outside of the building, the nation would not have been riveted by the just-rewritten and eloquent speeches – delayed by the chaos, to be seen by all at 9 p.m. prime time – of senator after senator finally rising to the moment. Forced to flee to the basement, forced to don gas masks, forced to see the undiscerning frenzy of an ignorant mob up close, the senators – Republican and Democratic alike – suddenly realized what they were responsible for, and suddenly realized that preserving a democracy is not a game. The veteran Republican senators especially – who have known all along that the election was genuine – finally found within themselves the responsibility to call off the Trump freak show.
And the biggest beneficiaries of the events of Jan. 6 will be ordinary Republican citizens. Able to see with their own eyes a deranged president, and able to hear with their own ears truths that long have been ignored or silenced by the craven complicity of their own senators, they have been given a gift.
For too long, good Republican citizens have been fed a pack of lies. The right-leaning cable and TV shows, the insane talk-radio hosts, the web-centric conspiracy mongers, and President Trump himself have abused and manipulated and betrayed Republican citizens, feeding them a steady diet of nonsense, misinformation, emotion, and provocation.
But no more. I know that the Republican senators who spoke so eloquently that evening of Jan. 6, and the Trump administration figures who are now resigning their posts, can rightfully be condemned for standing up only late in the game, but what they are saying and doing now is valuable and true. Citizens should note that senators were forced to speak truth because they knew that the citizenry was watching, and they knew that we would recognize Trump’s insanity.
The magic spell has been broken. Because of the way that the events of Jan. 6 unfolded, Trump has been exposed. There is no normal person left to either believe, defend, or enable him. The Republican citizenry can see this with their own eyes.
Brian T. Watson of Swampscott is author of “Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We’ll Face.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.