Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinions at CNN.
As I wrote this, the US Capitol building was being stormed by violent right-wing protestors trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
This was an attempted coup, encouraged by the President of the United States, in an attempt to derail today’s congressional certification of the electoral vote that will lead to Joe Biden’s inauguration in two weeks.
Donald Trump’s legacy is American carnage. Our country is far more divided and violent and deluded than before he entered office. His misrule has led to this moment, but it is not his responsibility alone. Trump’s fear-fueled lies and extremism and conspiracy theories have been indulged for too long by partisans. His rhetoric has directly led to death threats against election officials who have done their job honestly and independently. Now we are all reaping what they’ve sown, as the President watches it all burn from within the White House. But then, there are some men who want to ruin if they cannot rule.
Make no mistake: this is sedition. And it’s coming at the hands of self-styled super-patriots who have been amped up by the President’s lies about non-existent mass voter fraud to excuse losing a free and fair election by a large margin.
They are not conservatives – they are radicals. Because patriots don’t break the windows of the US Capitol building and storm inside when they lose an election. No hostile foreign power has done more damage to what President-elect Joe Biden called “the citadel of our democracy” since an invading British army burned down the Capitol in the War of 1812. But certainly, the enemies of democracy have taken great comfort from their actions today.
We are still in the fog of war. But some things are clear. The politicians and hyper-partisans who have coddled this President’s autocratic impulses have enabled this assault to our democracy. The Republican members of Congress – like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley – who have tried to benefit politically from contesting the election results without any concrete evidence of fraud are culpable in this violence because they have stoked its fears. So is Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who demanded “trial by combat” to resolve the election dispute at a “Save America” rally this morning, after his legal team lost some 60 cases in court because of an absence of evidence.
As the honorable Republican Sen. Ben Sasse warned in December: “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” Now that gun has gone off.
There is no reasoning with conspiracy theorists. There is no negotiating with extremists. The President’s lies unleashed this mob. Responsible Republicans need to condemn it clearly – or own it forever.
It’s stunning but not surprising to see some self-styled constitutional conservatives – who warned about mob violence and demanded law and order when it came to Black Lives Matter protests - immediately default to rationalizing this violence through a flurry of whataboutism. Folks who proclaimed “facts don’t care about your feelings” suddenly seem to care about understanding the feelings of people who commit political violence. That’s usually a definition of terrorism – but these attackers were not contained or confronted or even arrested in large numbers. If they’d been Black or left wing or Muslim the reaction and calls for violent retribution by the President and his allies would have been deafening.
The mask has come off. The calls for law and order were really about race. The calls for respecting our democratic traditions apparently apply only to elections that Republicans win. The partisan divisions in our country are not about policy or even ideology anymore. It’s now about whether you believe in facts and science and even democracy itself. This is what happens when hyper-partisans indulge extremism, lies and conspiracy theories for political expediency.
While the Capitol building has been ransacked, left undiscussed is the fact that we just marked the deadliest day of the Covid-19 pandemic – adding to the more than 350,000 Americans who have died because of Trump’s denialism and misrule. This is also a mark of Trump’s American carnage. He is unable to discharge the duties of the presidency without always thinking about himself first. That’s why he couldn’t bring himself to clearly and immediately condemn this violence. No wonder there are renewed calls – even from some conservatives like John Podhoretz at Commentary – to impeach and remove President Trump from office. There is certainly cause even if there is not time.
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What’s clear even in this fog of war is that Donald Trump will be remembered as the worst president in American history. Character is indeed destiny: his years of divisive lies, corruption and incompetence have led to sedition and violence. It is an urgent reminder that hate can never be channeled into something constructive. Golem always ultimately turns on its creator.
We will overcome this insult to our democracy. As President-elect Biden said, “The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy and the recovery of respect for the rule of law.” But it will require more Republicans standing with independents and Democrats to condemn the cult of Trump and the violence it has now brought to the heart of our nation’s capital. True patriotism demands no less.