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Plenty of blame to go around for Capitol chaos, Emanuel says

“People in the establishment ... made a Faustian bargain with an authoritarian figure. Nothing he is doing today he didn’t tell you about four-and-a-half years ago. Nothing,” the former Chicago mayor told the Sun-Times.

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Police “screwed up” when they allowed a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump to storm the U.S. Capitol, but so did the rest of us — by enabling Trump, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday.

In a post-mortem certain to be a bitter pill for a divided country to swallow, Emanuel accused Republican leaders, corporate America, the news media and citizens at large of turning a blind eye while an “authoritarian leader with no respect for democratic norms” telegraphed what he was about to do.

Emanuel, now a political commentator for ABC, has served as an unofficial adviser to President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign. The two worked together in Congress and again in the Obama administration, when Emanuel was Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

Like most people, Emanuel said he never imagined a U.S. president would “instigate” the violent takeover of the Capitol. But, he added, we all should have anticipated it.

Warnings of what Emanuel called the “insurrection” were all over the internet. Trump was not only inviting supporters to Washington to protest an election he called “stolen” and stop the certification of Biden’s win at all costs, Emanuel added — the president also was telling people, “I’m gonna have a riot. It’s gonna be wild.”

“People in the establishment — people you know and I know — made a Faustian bargain with an authoritarian figure. Nothing he is doing today he didn’t tell you about four-and-a-half years ago. Nothing,” Emanuel told the Sun-Times on Thursday.

“Everybody wants to say the police were unprepared. They failed. And there’s no doubt they did,” he said.

But also, “we failed. We have to look at ourselves. We have to look in the mirror and say, `How did he come about?’ How did a guy who told you he wanted to replicate parades with tanks and missiles and soldiers [get elected]? That was gonna be normalized and we dismissed it as Trump’s fantasies. He was telling you something.”

Emanuel said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were “quite eloquent and forceful” in denouncing Trump and the angry mob he instigated when order was restored and Congress reconvened to certify Biden’s election. But it was too little, too late. Four and a half years late, to be precise, Emanuel said.

“They made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump over the last four years. For our tax cuts, cuts in regulations, and judges, we’ll look the other way when you show authoritarian impulses and say things that are clearly racist, anti-Semitic and ugly,” Emanuel said.

“There is nothing Donald Trump did or that crowd did that he didn’t tell you four-and-a-half years ago. … You just didn’t want to believe it. … What made you look the other way? ... What made you not realize that permitting this, normalizing this would [not] lead to this?”

What happened at the Capitol Wednesday, Emanuel added, “did not happen in isolation from a long lineage of events and statements and permission slips. Silence is a permission slip. … Each time you break a line, you are … permitting unacceptable behavior to become normalized.”

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Wednesday at the Capitol in Washington.
AP Photos

Republican leaders aren’t the only ones who looked the other way in exchange for tax cuts, reduced regulation and judges. So did corporate America, Emanuel said.

“A lot of corporate leaders got their 21% corporate rate ... and looked the other way when he was homophobic, when he was racist. When he made anti-Semitic, un-Democratic comments. But they got their tax rate. Great. How’s that working for ya’, now that you’re an international company and America’s brand is destroyed around the world?” Emanuel said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wants Trump removed from office for fomenting the Capitol riot — either under the 25th Amendment, or via impeachment. A second impeachment would prohibit Trump from running for President again.

Emanuel agreed. But his “realist gene” tells him the 13 days left in Trump’s term aren’t enough time for a second impeachment. Instead, he favors the “quick and clear moral judgment” of a censure.

To rebuild the moral fabric of the American citizenry, Emanuel favors mandatory public service — say, three or four months — for all high school graduates. The longer the service beyond that, the more college tuition would be forgiven.

“Donald Trump will go down in history as the worst president of the United States. The only good that will come from him is a renewed sense of citizenship and commitment to the ideals of America,” the former mayor said.

“When Bull Connor set the dogs in Alabama on the protesters, America recoiled and said, ‘That’s not us,’” Emanuel added.

Now, “I believe America is recoiling and saying, ‘That’s not us. That’s why this moment is a turning moment.”