Opinion

Two weeks is too long. Remove Trump from office now.

His coup plot ends in tragedy, insurrection, and national humiliation

This afternoon, President Trump's cynical and ham-fisted efforts to steal the 2020 election and destroy American democracy ended predictably in tragedy and terror as an armed mob of seditionists stormed the U.S. Capitol and occupied it for several hours as of this writing. The ceremonial counting of electoral votes (and the debate about those votes forced by insurrectionist Republicans) was halted and both chambers went into recess when terrified members of Congress and their staffs were forced to hide like schoolchildren in an active shooter scenario.

All of this was the inevitable result of President Trump's unhinged, incendiary rhetoric and his months-long plot to stage a coup, and he must be removed from office via the 25th Amendment or impeachment at the earliest possible opportunity. Even two more weeks in office is too much runway to give this maniac, his ragtag army of Confederate cosplayers, and his proto-authoritarian allies in Congress. Unless we want to see this country descend further into sclerotic violence and civic madness, a bipartisan effort must be mounted, now, to end the Trump presidency and begin the process of rooting out what can only be described as a domestic insurrection.

Prior to the occupation of the U.S. national legislature by a mob of heavily armed civilian yahoos, America was treated to the spectacle of our disgraced president holding a sullen counter-rally in D.C. He unfurled a veritable Dead Sea Scroll of discredited fantasies about the integrity of elections in Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. He called on Vice President Pence to somehow prevent the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, warning him that if he doesn't magically wield powers that he does not possess in service of a lunatic scheme that would blow the country apart, "I'm going to be very disappointed in you." He turned mercilessly on former allies. Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp? "Vote him the hell out of office."

The president, of course, rambled incoherently well into the time that Pence was supposed to begin counting the Electoral Votes. But perhaps most consequentially, Trump literally encouraged his supporters to march over to the Capitol, which is exactly what they soon did.

For an hour or so, the proceedings on the House floor began to unfold even as the mob made its way to the Capitol building. While Trump was still, unbelievably, shouting pitifully into the January cold, the Joint Session of Congress got underway. Pence played it straight, despite the president's pleas and threats. Electoral votes are counted alphabetically, so it didn't take long to get to the first interruption when Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) objected to the counting of electors from Arizona. He was joined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), triggering debate and a vote in both chambers of Congress on the objection.

Debate then began in the House and Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yelled at the Republicans defiantly flouting COVID regulations. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) read the now-familiar litany of hallucinatory conspiracies about the election into the record. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in perhaps his first act of public courage, dressed down his colleagues for the stunt they were pulling. "We cannot simply declare ourselves the national board of elections on steroids," he declared, saying that "This will be the most important vote I'll ever cast."

And then a short while later, all hell broke loose. The white nationalists who had stood back and stood by, as Trump requested in the first debate with Joe Biden, descended on the legislature and unleashed total chaos. They quickly overran the Capitol police, who lacked either the manpower or the will to hold so many people at bay. There was total bedlam inside the building, as representatives retreated to offices and secure locations, some of them hiding from armed gunman on the floor.

While all of this was happening, the president of the United States was doing nothing except sending one limp tweet calling for the protestors to be peaceful. There was an inexplicable delay in deploying the National Guard, even as the entire U.S. Congress was being held hostage by a group of hyped-up maniacs. For some reason, his armed, Confederate-flag-carrying supporters, rather than being arrested on sight, were allowed to occupy the House and Senate floors, roaming freely, heading into Nancy Pelosi's office.

One armed standoff reportedly ended with a woman being shot and carted away on a stretcher (as of this writing she is in critical condition, her identity is unknown as are the circumstances of her shooting). Shortly after 4 p.m., President-elect Biden delivered a televised address in which he decried an "assault on the citadel of liberty" that is "unprecedented in modern times." He called it an "insurrection" and demanded that President Trump address the nation and call for an end to the "siege." The National Guard from D.C., Virginia, and Maryland finally began the process of dispersing the occupation late in the afternoon.

The whole, shameful, chilling episode will live in infamy, as the world watched on in horror. Why did it take hours to even begin clearing the complex? Why was the president, instead of calling loudly for calm, essentially missing in action? Why did it fall to Biden to play the role of sober statesman while the sitting president hid from us? Why were better preparations not made to protect the national legislature of the United States when everyone knew full well that a mob was descending on Washington, D.C., for this very reason?

There is no other way to describe President Trump's conduct today than criminal, a complete abdication of his responsibilities as the country's leader and the commander-in-chief. While the worst breach of the nation's capital since the War of 1812 was unfolding, the president was AWOL, presumably watching Newsmax and eating burgers somewhere in the White House. Late in the afternoon he posted a one-minute video in which he asked the mob to go home but complained again about the stolen election and told the insurrectionists, "We love you. You are very special."

Today should be the wake-up call for Republicans who thought they could just ride this all out until Trump was out the door, that they could simultaneously indulge the president's lurid fever dreams about election fraud and his broad-daylight scheming to remain in power extra-judicially while somehow avoiding the terrible consequences. Something menacing and incredibly dangerous is afoot in this country, and President Trump is responsible for it. He cultivated it and stewarded it through four long years of political hell and now it is loose and searching for its next victim.

The procedures for the 25th Amendment are not terribly complicated. If Vice President Pence and other members of the Cabinet cannot be bothered to do their jobs and remove this dangerous menace from office, House Democrats should convene in the morning, draft articles of impeachment, and pass them immediately. After the events of this afternoon, it is no longer clear that Senate Republicans will unite in lockstep to acquit the president. Perhaps hours of cowering in their offices in fear of what the violence and chaos they themselves helped unleash might finally focus their minds on what is happening.

None of this is funny anymore. Those of us who have been warning about the authoritarian menace that Trump poses to this country have been proven catastrophically right. And it is long since time to put an end to that threat, and to his desultory reign.

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