“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th! Be there, will be wild!” — Trump tweet
Well, Trump got his wish. There was a big protest and it was wild. It wasn’t exactly a coup attempt, as some talking heads breathlessly repeated. It was more like a political toga party. It was surreal to watch the mob dancing in front of the stage waiting for Trump (who was backstage with his posse) while listening to the 80s disco hit “Gloria” by Laura Brannigan (I think you’re headin’ for a breakdown/So be careful not to show it/You really don’t remember/Was it somethin’ that he said?/All the voices in your head”). When they got inside the Capitol they found that the punch bowl was empty and devolved into a bunch of third-grade vandals — swiping souvenirs, taking selfies for their social media accounts, and sitting in the Principal’s chair. Some coup.
As a country, it will take a while to sort this out, but we will. We always do. In the meantime, the Republican National Committee, which gathered at Amelia Island for its annual meeting yesterday, actually applauded Trump when he called in. As Desi used to tell Lucy, they have a lot of ‘splaining to do. It was amusing, in a dark sort of way, watching Josh Hawley twist himself into a pretzel as Congress reconvened late Wednesday night and he tried to scamper to the right side of history. He failed. And yet, after all that, more than 130 members of the House and Senate voted against certifying the election results. I guess a lot of them refused to take off those silly tin-foil hats (maybe they should go outside and test them during the next thunderstorm).
I know we’re still sorting through the wreckage here and will be for some time. But there are already clear winners and losers. History may round off some of the edges, but reputations, for better or for worse, were made and lost on Wednesday. Here’s my take:
Trump. Let’s quote “The Emperor Has No Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson:
So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.
“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
It only took four years to get us to that point.
The Republican Party. See my introductory comments; what, exactly, was the RNC applauding? It’s now a party that has abandoned its principles of free markets, limited government and personal responsibility to one of idolatry, crony capitalism, political cynicism and reckless nostalgia. I know Carl Bernstein said a thousand times over the past few months that this is worse than Watergate, but this is worse than Watergate. That was a tumor; this is metastatic.
Local Law Enforcement. With all due love and respect to Stevie Wonder, even he could see this coming. At best, the lack of planning and response was dysfunction; at worst, it was something more. Sadly, I’m hoping it was the former.
Melania Trump. Poor Melania. She didn’t sign up for this. She signed up for penthouses, Vanity Fair photo shoots, haute couture, Cristal. She put up with it all with a certain stoic grace, though, I’ll give her that. Back to Mar-A-Lago, finally!
Ted Cruz. There were a lot of opportunistic, cynical, self-interested political players in this whole process (hello, Lindsey!), but let’s make Ted our avatar. He had the gravitas — U.S. Senator, constitutional scholar, former presidential candidate — and he squandered it. The election process wasn’t perfect — it never is — but he shamelessly cloaked Trump’s hallucinatory grievances in constitutional robes and peddled them like a carnival barker, all for the advancement of his own career.
Buffalo Head Guy. His name is Jake Angeli (“That’s angel with an ‘i’,” he likes to say about his last name). He’s an aspiring actor and a self-proclaimed “shaman of Q-Anon.” I can’t even think of a punchline for this one. I wonder what his day job is? Wal-Mart greeter?
AND THE WINNERS ARE . . .
The Constitution. The certification process, as outlined in our country’s operating system, prevailed. Congress stood up, swept away the detritus, and got down to business. The speeches were short and poignant. The whole process had a solemn nobility that stood in stark contrast to the circus that preceded it.
Mitt Romney. When Mitt took the floor late Wednesday (or early Thursday) he looked like a Mormon prophet who had just come out of the desert, hair slightly askew, his face gaunt, a wild light blazing in his eyes. He had been in exactly the same spot as Trump eight years ago. He delivered a masterpiece of political and philosophical oratory. This is the line that drew sustained applause in the chamber: “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden and the duty of leadership.”
The Election Process. As noted, all elections are imperfect and yes, Virginia, fraud does occur. But this election was unprecedented — undertaken during a 100-year pandemic with a record turnout. What made it work were tens of thousands of poll workers, volunteers, and state and local officials quietly doing their job. In all, they counted 156,633,396 votes. Some of them were recounted (for purposes of verification not fraud, in case you’re reading this Mr. President). And recounted again. There was no systemic fraud. It worked. Cue applause.
Brad Raffensperger. Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State solidified his place in history with this response to Trump’s hour-long, conspiracy-filled, 11th-hour rant trying to convince him to overturn the election results: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have, the data you have is wrong.”
Joe Biden. Biden was a winner both literally (the final vote was certified at 3:40 a.m. Thursday) and figuratively. He conducted himself with grace and restraint during the long, sordid day.
Mike Pence. The Vice President was a cipher for much of the term. He never broke a sweat, never expressed an emotion and always stayed dutifully in Trump’s shadow. But in the moment, he stepped up, stiffened his back and told Trump that he had lost and insisted he wouldn’t be part of a charade otherwise. You can say it was too little, too late, but it was better than the alternative.
America. Get ready. We’re going to be bombarded with obituaries about the soul of America. I get it. It’s been a rough, exhausting four years, culminating in the horrific optics of Wednesday and the tragic loss of life. But as David Brooks said here, we are at an inflection point, with every expectation that we will make the right choices going forward. A friend of mine and my own daughter have both predicted a “great coming together” of America. I think this week has served to water the tree of liberty, as Jefferson noted in a different context. E pluribus unum. See you on the other side.