D.C. Riots -- Trump, the GOP, and the Capitol

Pro-Trump protesters wave banners during clashes with Capitol police at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

In 2006, I was interviewing Michael Chertoff, who was then the secretary of homeland security. I’m pretty sure we were talking about Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber.” In 2001, he tried to detonate a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami. The bomb did not go off. People considered Reid a pathetic, almost goofy figure. They laughed at him.

But only because the bomb didn’t go off. If it had, he would have been remembered in history as a monster. A spectacular mass-murderer.

Chertoff told me that he had worked as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey. He had dealt with a lot of bad guys — a lot of murderers and would-be murderers. Let me paraphrase what he said:

“You know, none of them is very smart. They’re all kind of goombahs. But when they succeed, they are considered evil geniuses. No they’re not, they’re just lucky. When the same type of person does not succeed — he’s thought of as a pathetic schlub. Even worthy of pity.”

I have had many occasions to think of this over the years.

• This morning, Luke Russert (son of Tim) had a tweet that brought me up short. He wrote about the presidential succession: after the president, the vice president; the speaker of the House; and the president pro tempore of the Senate. All of them came close to being physically harmed on Wednesday, Russert wrote. The rioters had “operable bombs, killed an officer,” etc.

This is very serious business.

• As I see it, Donald Trump sicced a mob on Mike Pence (and others). What will this do to the vice president’s view of Trump? It would take a Shakespeare to explore the question, I think.

• In Michigan, a bunch of thugs plotted to kidnap the governor, Gretchen Whitmer. They wanted to “try” her and then — what would the sentence have been? Sure, they failed, so now they’re just a bunch of frisky dudes, concerned about pandemic policies.

But if they had not failed . . .

• “The officer is the fifth person to die as a result of the riot.” I read that this morning. People are quick to say that others have “blood on their hands.” As a rule, I avoid this phrase. But when it applies — it applies.

• “Stop,” tweeted Bill Kristol. “Read this transcript of what Trump told his supporters before many of them stormed the Capitol.” The transcript is here.

Yes, you should read it — all of us should. To my ears, and eyes, it is damning as hell.

Trump and his cult think he gave a St. Crispin’s Day speech, out on the Ellipse. “Remember this day forever!” he tweeted afterward. Oh, I hope we will. That speech was a beer-hall rant, in the open air. Trump has been giving those since the beginning.

Early on, I used the phrase “beer-hall rant,” and a colleague rebuked me, fiercely. Well, go find a safe space. It is a fitting description, in my view.

• Yesterday, I had a post like the one I am now writing, with many points. Here was one:

On Tuesday night, Romney shared a plane ride with a bunch of Trump ralliers, going to Washington. They chanted “Traitor!” at him. “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” They call themselves patriots.

Sick stuff. (See it here.)

In his speech on Wednesday, Trump jibed at Romney: “I wonder if he enjoyed his flight in last night.”

Sick. Trump is, or has been, the hero of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Romney has been the goat (not to be confused with “GOAT”). This is important.

As for “patriots”: The chanters on the plane called themselves “patriots.” You can hear in the videos of the Capitol riot that the rioters call themselves “patriots.” One task of patriotic people is to reclaim the term “patriot” from its usurpers and abusers.

• There must be consequences, right? You can’t incite a riot and get away with it. You can’t carry out the riot and get away with it. You can’t interrupt our democratic process with violence and get away with it. Right?

Or can you?

• In recent days, I’ve been thinking of the most famous of Burnham’s Laws: “Who says A must say B.” (James Burnham was the political theorist who was an important writer and editor at National Review. He is one of the three people I heard Bill Buckley describe as his “best friend.”) Yesterday, Richard Brookhiser went and made that law into the heading of a post.

Trump and others have behaved very, very badly, you say. Okay, that’s A. And . . . And . . . Anything?

In the last year or two, I’ve heard George Will say, “If you reward bad behavior, you get more of it.” Yes. I would add, if you decline to penalize bad behavior, you get more of it. Every parent knows this. Every criminologist should.

“If you impeach him again, you will further enrage his supporters,” people say. True. But (1) What doesn’t enrage his supporters? They are perpetually “high on rage,” to borrow a phrase from Kevin Williamson. (2) Since when do you allow bullies — a mob — to have veto power over your democracy? If you gave Trump another term, ignoring the election, that would appease his mob. But we don’t operate that way here in America. We are a nation of laws.

“But people feel that the election was stolen from him!” Yes, they do. And why do they feel that way? Because Trump and his allies in politics and the media have poured lies into their ears 24/7.

Play with me here: You go on a months-long campaign, claiming, through every channel, that Smith beats his wife. Then you say, “Well, people have concerns that Smith beats his wife.” Well, why wouldn’t they?

Lately, I’ve been hearing the word “feel” a lot. People feel that they have been disenfranchised. People feel that Biden is being installed. People feel that their concerns are being ignored.

Remember “Facts don’t care about your feelings”? That used to be a big hit on the right. Remember “F*** your feelings”? That was an even bigger hit.

I think feelings are highly important. (I wrote about this issue here.) But they are not the only consideration.

• I’ve been walking down Memory Lane. In March 2019, Trump said, “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

I see.

• Did you see that video that Trump put out yesterday, acting nicey-nice? I always say that these teleprompter affairs look like hostage videos. Remember the apology video that Trump made after the Access Hollywood thing came out?

When he’s on ’prompter, he’s a hostage. He’s not himself. When he’s ’prompter-free — that’s the real D.

He expressed himself sincerely in a tweet, as the rioting took place: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”

(There was a ceremony, actually, but anyway . . .)

Today, Trump tweeted,

The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!

Maggie Haberman, one of the great Trumpologists, noted, “Says one thing on the video for his advisers and another to his fans.” And “so it has been since he got the nomination in 2016.”

This reminded me of Yasser Arafat. He would say one thing in English, to Western audiences, and a completely different thing in Arabic, to his base, so to speak. This was known as Arafat’s “double game.” DJT has a double game, too — but in one tongue, which we can all understand.

• Let me recommend a report by Sabrina Tavernise and Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: “These Are the Rioters Who Stormed the Nation’s Capitol.” There are many, many fascinating details. Let me cite just one, a minor one — but one that stood out to me, somehow:

A woman in a coat sat on the couch in a small room with a blue carpet and watched as a man ripped a scroll with Chinese lettering hanging on the wall.

“We don’t want Chinese bullshit,” the woman said.

• As I see it, Tim Alberta is the Bard — certainly the reportorial Bard — of the Age of Trump. He was once at NR and now writes for Politico. Not to be missed is this: “Jan. 6 Was 9 Weeks — And 4 Years — in the Making.” The subheading of Tim’s report reads as follows: “I spent the last election cycle immersed in the metastasizing paranoia behind Wednesday’s assault on Congress. Nobody should be surprised by what just happened.”

Tim makes a point that I have long made, too. Professional conservatives (let’s call them) know that Trump lies, all the time. They think it’s a kind of game. Some even think it’s kind of funny. But what they don’t seem to realize, or take account of, is this: Millions and millions of people believe Trump. They’re not as cynical or insouciant as the pros.

This matters a lot. And sometimes tragically.

When you hear Trump say, “The election has been stolen from you and me, and we have to take our country back!” you think, “Oh, that’s ol’ Trump, blowin’ off steam, lickin’ his wounds.” But other people think, “My God, the election’s been stolen from us, and we have to take our country back!”


• In this column, Peggy Noonan is not screwing around. At all.

He is a bad man and not a stable one and he is dangerous. America is not safe in his hands.

It is not too late. Removal of the president would be the prudent move, not the wild one. Get rid of him. Now.

A great column.

• Here is David Brooks, who says, “I despised the sight of the Confederate flags being paraded through Capitol halls” — so did I — “but I loved everything Mitt Romney said and did on Wednesday” — so did I. “Romney showed what moral leadership looks like, and how just a few voices can shift a herd.”


• Here is a report from the Associated Press. It begins,

Water bottles, clothing, Trump flags, even a U.S. flag littered the ground inside the U.S. Capitol after a mob backing President Donald Trump ransacked the building.

New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim walked amid the mess shortly after voting to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Trump — and felt the weight of the day wearing on him — when something motivated him to clean up the debris.

“I was just really affected emotionally. I felt this kind of heightened, kind of supercharged kind of patriotism that I just felt take over,” he said in an interview.

It was then he noticed police officers putting pizza boxes in trash bags, so he asked for one, too, and began cleaning up.

“When you see something you love that’s broken you want to fix it.”

I despised the left-wing activists who trashed the Wisconsin capitol in 2011. And remember the Tea Party? How proud they were to leave a place cleaner than they found it?

That was a long time ago . . .

• Trump is always saying, always boasting, “The world no longer laughs at us.” Well, have a look at a Kenyan newspaper: “Who’s the banana republic now?”

• A week after the election, our secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said — joked? — “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” If it was ever funny, it’s now so funny now, at least to me. I mean, there has been blood.

• In the ’84 campaign, Mondale went after Reagan, bitterly. Reagan had been citing FDR and JFK. Mondale said, “Stick to your own heroes: Harding, Hoover, and Nixon.” (Herbert Hoover, whatever his failings as president, had greatness in him.)

Will Trump be thrown in GOP faces for a long time to come? Probably, and deservedly. As he and others have said, no one has ever enjoyed more fervent support from his party. Ever.

• If there is one thing conservatives have hated to hear over the last four years, it’s “character is destiny.” We used the phrase a lot, back in the Clinton years. The phrase went out of style on the right, for some reason.

But character is important, yes. And people ought to think twice before sweeping it under the rug. You may find that character is more a necessity than a luxury.

• What else? Oh, so much else. But let me end with this: The next time you voice criticism of a populist demagogue and would-be authoritarian, and people tell you you’re a cocktail-sipping wimp who wants to be ruled by the U.N., tell them to go straight to hell.

Thank you.

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