We are “stunned” and “shocked” by “a mob” “storming” the US Capitol. People allege “insurrection” and “sedition”, and accuse Donald Trump or orchestrating a “coup” against an an administration not yet in place. The rioters looked “gleeful” as they sweep up the white marble steps and balconies that look out across to the National Mall and the Washington Monument, and to Lincoln beyond.
Yet, there are three numbers, not words, that perhaps give the greatest clue as to threat and danger Donald Trump will represent to the United States in the coming weeks and months, to those appalled by what played out for a few, brief alarming hours on Wednesday.
The first is the figure of 75m Americans who voted for Trump, just two months ago.
People supported and voted for the president for different reasons.
Some were wealthy business people who enjoy his tax-cuts, others were social conservatives who had calculated – accurately so, as it happens – that the thrice-married, failed casino magnate who boasts about sexually assaulting women was their best chance of opposing abortion, and of defending “religious freedom”.
Biden condemns ‘domestic terrorists’ who stormed Capitol building
Others like his blunt talk of defending the borders and demonising foreigners. Most of his voters were white, but there were increasing number of hispanics who turned out in 2020.
And he has his supporters among the Black community as well, judging, again probably with some truth, that some Democrats had taken their support for granted for too long. (For all the media focus on Trump’s appeal to the disenfranchised or culturally-threatened white working classes, it is people of colour and especially African Americans, who suffer by some measure, the most egregious economic discrimination.)
Speaking to his supporters over the past five years since Trump launched his run, has been to encounter all types of people. Some smart, some less so. Just as with any political candidate.
And all were adamant and insistent as they spoke to The Independent, that Trump was doing all of this, not for himself, but for America.
The most repeated line one heard was a version of this: Why would this man, with his own plane, a model for his wife, and his own fortune, put himself through all the anguish and hurt of impeachment and media scrutiny, if it was not for the pure love of his country?
Some of the 75m who voted for Trump will likely voice horror at the scenes they saw on Wednesday, broadcast across the nation and the world. Yet a question for those people, a question for all us in truth, is are any of us really surprised by any of this?
We saw a preview in the spring when armed white militia swept into the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, urged on by Trump to “liberate” the building, and challenge the rule of elected Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer.
And was the man they voted for in November, alleging the only way he could lose to the lowly Joe Biden, was if the election was rigged, so different to the person who spoke before the “Save the Steal” rally on Wednesday morning?
It it worth getting hold of a transcript of his words and reading them through, lasting as they did for one hour and thirteen minutes, and concluding with this: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue…we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give – the Democrats are hopeless, they’re never voting for anything – but we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
The second number to take note of is the 45 per cent of Republicans who apparently approved of what happened yesterday, the storming of what Biden called “the citadel of liberty”.
A survey by YouGov found that among all Americans, 62 per cent considered what happened a threat to democracy. Yet, among Republicans, 45 per cent “actively supported” what happened, while 43 per cent objected. Only 25 per cent considered it a threat to democracy, an indication perhaps of just how many have been won over by Trump’s baseless assertion of electoral fraud.
The third number to consider is the 25th Amendment to the US constitution. The measure spells out several things in the case of a president being incapacitated, and was last used in 2007 when George W Bush underwent a second colonoscopy, and signed papers being being given an anaesthetic that for abut two hours made Dick Cheney acting president.
Right now, there is much talk in Washington DC of about invoking a separate part of the 25th Amendment, specifically section four, which permits for the president to be removed, when the vice president and a majority of his cabinet feel he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.
On Thursday, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urged the vice president to act.
“What happened at the US Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not hold office one day longer.”
He added: “The quickest and most effective way — it can be done today — to remove this president from office would be for the vice president to immediately invoke the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and the cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”
Yet, attendant to this talk is another consideration – what would Trump’s supporters do if he were removed from office, instantly becoming a martyr in their eyes, and perhaps sparking more violence and protest? There are just 13 days until Biden takes over; might it be safer just to to sit them out?
What do these numbers mean? What happens if they are fed into some calculus or algorithm. They mean that Donald Trump has very sizable political power and will continue to do so long after he leaves office, should he wish to do so.
That may be displayed in different ways. If Trump is thrown out by his cabinet, or impeached a second time, it may well be he wants nothing to do with the Republican Party.
Up until now, Trump has been the Republican Parry and its most senior figures – Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Lindsey Graham – have acted as enablers to his noise and toxicity, assessing – as the down-ticket races in the November election showed – they need his supporters to come out and vote for Republican candidates. (Among the rare exceptions was Mitt Romney.)
If there is a fight for control of the Republican Party, what is to stop Trump establishing his own party? Third parties in the US, such as the Greens or Libertarians, usually make little headway. But in the 1992 presidential election, as candidate for the Reform Party, businessman Ross Perot grabbed 19 per cent of the vote. He would likely have done better had he not briefly dropped out.
What if Trump, much like George Wallace did in 1968, believed he was bigger than the party? He’d had no shortage of candidates, either himself, or his eldest son or daughter. It may be one of the more conservative members of Congress, such as Tom Cotton, decided to join him.
So, Trump is not going away, not from public life, not from the public conversation. He may have his own TV network very soon. It may be that his rhetoric becomes even wilder, without even the modest constraints he felt being president placed on him.
It is important to remember this: Trump is not the cause of the anger and rage that has been the lifeblood of his candidacy. Yet he has tapped into it, and poured fuel on it, better than most.
And what we saw this week, when he appeared before a camera to tell the rioters “we love you – you’re very special” – is that he will continue to do so.
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