OPINION: In riots, Trump’s election narrative, America loses

From Issue 6

The Capitol, a symbol of American democracy and strength was assaulted by Trump supporters on January 6. Graphic by Alex Roberson

On January 6th, we watched the unthinkable happen as a mob breached the doors of the U.S. Capitol. A line of ragtag figures ventured down the walkway of Statuary Hall, before a steady stream began spreading across the room. Sparse lines of law enforcement officers fought to hold the line against a mob decked out in American flags and pro-Trump regalia. Some rioters brandished nooses and zip-tie handcuffs. Others came prepared for a fight with bear spray that they employed against the line of riot police and the crowd was dotted with people dressed in helmets, body armor, and other paramilitary gear. Ironically, some in the mob were flying pro-law enforcement flags as they clashed with police to force their way into the seat of democratic law-making. Rioters forced their way into the Senate chamber and took selfies from the central dais as officers gave last ditch efforts to barricade and hold the house of representatives. Vice President Mike Pence showed patriotism and character when he refused to reject the election results. As rioters flooded into the building and President Trump lambasted him and other Republican lawmakers for the refusal, Pence was whisked into a safe-room for protection.

While lawmakers and staffers evacuated and hid inside the capitol building, President Trump’s response to the riots was sickeningly inadequate. In tweets addressing the rioters near the end of the day, the president said: 

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Some people choose to cherry-pick the quote and read only “Go home… in peace.” The words are there, but in no way does this measure up to the behavior needed from the President of the United States. “Go home with love,” may call for the rioters to go home in love, but it just as easily means “go home with love from me,” a feel-good sign of approval from the president even as he calls them to leave. Trump devotes a whopping four words to pass muster on pacifying the violence. The other 38 do the exact opposite by stoking up and reasserting the exact claims and language that started the riots in the first place: that the election was rigged by a mass conspiracy across the nation and the true patriots are the ones willing to break the law in order to accomplish some goal of keeping President Trump in office or delaying the election results. The only goal accomplished here was that of hate groups, extremists, and terrorists: violence, intimidation, and fear.

The President also addressed rioters in a video released the same day. He begins with the same claims of election fraud. “I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us – it was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side,” The president then changed tone to an appeal for peace and for the rioters to respect the law enforcement officials whom they were directly assaulting: “but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.” 

In the face of this threat of historical proportions, the president stubbornly chose to emphasize his own election narrative. “There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country,” The president then continued with his mixed messages of conspiracy-mongering and appeals for peace: 

“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you, you’re very special, you’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home.” 

While the president appealed ambiguously for peace from his room at the White House, five people died that day. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was struck in the head with a fire-extinguisher while fighting back the line of rioters, dying from his wounds later that night. Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was shot by a Capitol Policeman while climbing into the building, and three more died of medical emergencies on the Capitol grounds. 

The divisions in our nation are the result of many problems. Violence in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon have scarred our country and drawn outcry from the right, but when fanatics storm the symbol of our republic and the floor of working democracy, America itself loses. The world sees it and has ammunition to mock us and our values of democracy and freedom when disorder, violence, and hatred seep in to undermine the rule of law and go against the Constitution of our nation.