Marathon political theater not being my thing, I had no plans to watch Wednesday’s certification of the presidential election in Congress. Toward what end? The Trumps-in-training, hoping to catch the fancy of his followers, and the votes and dollars that go with it, lining up to lie to them from the floor of Congress for up to 24 hours. Then Joe Biden still gets sworn in Jan. 20.
But there was lunch to think about. So I headed downstairs, where my boys, in their mid-20s and still interested in absorbing the details of any picturesque train wreck, were watching CNN. There was Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the U.S. Senate. While I had seen his startled mouth-popping, wattle-waggling grouper mug a thousand times, I couldn’t remember actually hearing him speak. I found a spot on the sofa.
“We’re debating a step that has never been taken in American history,” he began gravely. “Whether Congress should overrule the voters and overturn a presidential election. I served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I ever cast.”
To my amazement, he said the right thing. Time to put on our big boy pants, using a tone approaching contempt when he mentioned “sweeping conspiracy theories.” McConnell outlined the emptiness of the election fraud claims.
“Nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election, nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence.”
I applauded. That’s the Democratic superpower — we can find value, even in those we generally oppose.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Mitch McConnell, Republican, Trump supporter, American hero.
OK, Chuck Schumer, who spoke next, immediately reeled that back, pointing out that we shouldn’t lionize someone for respecting the results of an election. But that is where we are, how low we have sunk. That is where Trump has taken us or, more accurately, where he has led and millions of Americans followed, diving with a squeal into the mire of the base filth of fear, grievance, and delusion and rolling around, happy at last.
Why? Because they’re duped, and don’t realize what a precious thing freedom is. Like Trump, they can’t grasp that they aren’t the only people on earth, and the idea of working and playing with others was never instilled in them in school, and now it’s too late.
We saw a terrifying display of that ignorance in the clown coup that followed, the flag-waving hordes who stormed into the Capitol and shut down Congress Wednesday afternoon. Even as a baker’s dozen of senators were flattering and indulging their misperception of, well, just about everything, the beast of chaos came knocking on the Senate door. “Hi! Can we come in?”
I phoned the paper. Not my day to write a column. But, well, are you watching Les Miz performed by a cast of thousands of MAGA hatted morons?
“What’s your perspective?” my boss asked. I almost laughed.
“That it’s bad,” I replied.
You don’t need me to tell you that. Nor should anyone be surprised. This is the natural result of the lawless, sneering, what-about-Hunter-Biden mass pathology that began with the Tea Party, was cheered by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Sean Hannity, growing in the dark, wandering until it found its messiah in the form of a reality show real estate fraud, logorrheic liar and living embodiment of the corrosion of self-regard, Donald Trump.
We were always heading here. The only question is whether this is the end of it, or there’s more. The riot at the Capitol might yet be a glimpse of our future, if we don’t change immediately. And that is possible. The senators who planned on a symbolic protest to certifying the election results had their tails between their legs late Wednesday. As if, for a moment, the fog lifted.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) urged his colleagues to stop feeding the beast of ignorance created by Donald Trump.
“We saw that beast today roaming the halls,” Durbin said. “Let’s not invite it back.”
Maybe they won’t. Earlier, Joe Biden spoke to the nation. Not the flash-eyed hero we’d prefer, ideally, but he said the right things, urging calm, condemning “this god-awful display today,” and calling on Donald Trump to “step up” to stop it.
Which of course is far more than our toddler-in-chief is capable of doing. He cut a minute-long video. Mostly whining; some pacification.
“We had an election that was stolen from us,” lied Trump. “We had a landslide election ... but you have to go home now.” Twitter suspended the president’s account for 12 hours, and Facebook took down the video, saying in a statement, “we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
About time. Maybe the display of banana republic disorder will break the spell and shock enough people into their right minds. Don’t count on it. A flash poll showed that 45 percent of Republicans approve of the mob action. Of course they do. Expected and terrifying, as terrifying as the infamous insurrection itself. Donald Trump is president for another 13 days. This feels like a turning point. But that can be deceptive. With Trump, there is a danger in declaring any given moment either an end or a low point, because he keeps digging, and there are always hells below this one.