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A Trumped-up tragedy

A loop of lies ends in disaster for American democracy.

A pro-Trump mob swarms the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
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They waved their Americans flags, but they were not Americans.

They waved their banners — “Don’t tread on me” — and their Confederate flags, and broke through police lines and ran through the halls of the Capitol, desecrating every symbol and notion of what it is to be a true and patriotic American.

They were not Americans. They were not patriots. They were thugs and fools. And the biggest thug and fool was Donald J. Trump, who had been egging them on for four years with his lies — and who egged them on now with his silence.

For hours on Wednesday as the mob swarmed the Capitol, Trump sat in the White House and watched on TV but did almost nothing. A pathetic tweet in the early afternoon: “Support our Capitol Hill police.” A second pathetic tweet: “Stay peaceful.”

Even as the mob smashed through windows. Even as senators and representatives were swept away by the police to safe places. Even as reporters were forced to hunker down in basement rooms.

Even as hundreds of millions of Americans watched dumbfounded and asked what was going on in their country.

Even as a woman in the Capitol was shot and killed.

“Step up,” President-elect Joe Biden told Trump at about 3:30 p.m. in a televised address. “Go on television . . . Defend the Constitution.”

And only then did President Chaos do anything worth doing to ease the tensions and disperse the mob. Though what he said was wrapped in a lie and not enough.

“This is a fraudulent election,” Trump said in a brief video address, repeating once again the falsehood at the core of the rage in the mob’s heart. But “go home in peace.”

Trump a danger every day

How many days remain before Trump is gone? How many hours and minutes? We can’t count it down fast enough. Every day of President Trump is a day of danger.

Nothing that went down on Wednesday should have surprised anybody. None of it came out of nowhere. It was exactly what Trump had asked his followers to do.

Come to Washington, he had said. Wear your red caps, your Proud Boy Hawaiian shirts, your camouflage. March on the Capitol. Bring your rage. Stop the steal! It will be “wild.”

More broadly, Wednesday’s craziness was the predictable culmination of the entire Trump presidency, from the moment he floated down that golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York to announced his candidacy. This president has always been about meanness and lies.

Punch somebody, he said. “Liberate” your state from COVID-19 restrictions, he said. “Don’t be too nice,” he told the police.

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” he said. “Lock ‘em all up,” he said. The press is the “enemy of the people,” he said.

His adoring fans listened. They took him literally, which was fine by him. And on Wednesday they scaled the walls of the Capitol like they were attacking a fort.

Feedback loop of lies

For four years, Trump trashed every American institution — the judiciary, Congress, the military, the media — and any person or group who crossed him. He lied and lied, and the conservative media that transfixed him lied and lied, and together they created a powerfully effective feedback loop, sharing and amplifying those lies.

Every bit as reprehensible as Trump were those who allowed him to get away with it. Alone, Trump was a joke. Enabled by an army of others, he was dangerous. Plenty of sanctimonious Republicans on Wednesday bemoaned the violence, but where were they all along?

They were looking away or reloading his weapons.

An unsettling percentage of Americans, including seven out of every 10 Republicans, believe the presidential election was rigged, according to polls, despite multiple investigations at the highest levels and more than 60 court rulings. That was the whole point of Wednesday’s mob action — to stop Congress’ certification of the Electoral College count in a supposedly fraudulent election.

And why do so many Americans believe the election was rigged? Because Trump has said it was rigged, over and over, and so many Republican politicians have been too fearful or self-serving, as always, to call him on his lie.

So, instead, what we witnessed Wednesday was the absurdity of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas standing on the Senate floor — before the mob took over — and calling for a delay in certifying the results of the election until the allegations of fraud are investigated.

Got that? Trump tells a lie and Cruz knows it’s a lie, but a lot of people, most of whom watch too much Fox News, have come to believe the lie. Cruz doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of them. So instead of calling out the liar, he calls for an investigation into the lie.

On Wednesday, though, the lie was about to get the bum’s rush it deserves, much to the fury of the true-believers. Both the Senate and House were set to certify the election results, brushing aside the conspiracy theories. So the true-believers, heeding Trump’s call, descended on Washington like Crusaders. They would “stop the steal.”

Lying post-Trump

The only way out of this mess is to quit with the lying. Trump never will, deceit for him being a way of life. But if others who have aided and abetted Trump’s moral turpitude could finally develop an ounce of integrity, there might be hope.

OK, we know. Unlikely.

Consider the case of Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida. As the mob swarmed the Capitol on Wednesday, Waltz said in a sad tone that “this is not America” and called on everybody to “denounce” the violence.

So far, so good.

But then Waltz felt the need to add, of course, that “there are serious questions about the election” that must, nonetheless, be investigated.

No. There are not. And to lie and say there is, even as some jerk on TV is kicking in a window of the Capitol, is to incite violence in real time.

Democracy was momentarily swept aside by a mob on Wednesday. Donald Trump was the ring leader, but by no means the only Republican betraying our country.

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