The most pressing issue facing the nation right now is how to grind out the closing days of the Trump era without further irreparable harm to the Republic. No more Americans should have to lose their lives to a transition of presidential power.
Starting Wednesday evening and on into Thursday, teams of workers were cleaning the broken glass and the leftover film of tear gas from the floor of the U.S. Capitol. Graffiti was being scoured from walls. Discarded Trump flags and plastic water bottles and broken furniture were being collected. With impressive efficiency, the visible wreckage from Wednesday’s assault on the heart of American democracy is being cleared away.
But the wounds to the nation remain, as does the specter of further unrest. America is in uncharted, unsettling territory. What happens when a sitting president incites thousands of his followers to attack the government that he ostensibly leads? There is deep division even about what to call the events that unfolded: A failed coup? An insurrection? Domestic terrorism?
The country is in for much soul-searching and fact-finding about precisely how the attack was allowed to happen. The failures of the Capitol Police, for starters, demand scrutiny. There also will be many long-term, big-picture challenges to tackle, including how to begin reabsorbing back into a reality-based civil society the millions of Trump supporters who have been radicalized by the president’s campaign of lies and truly believe that an overwhelming win for Joe Biden was a victory stolen from Donald Trump.
The storming of the people’s house by extremists — some of them armed, all of them spurred on by the wild ravings of a defeated man who cannot face reality — stunned the world. For a few hours, it seemed as though the whole country might go mad. Reports were rolling in of pro-Trump protesters descending on government buildings in Washington, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado and beyond. That many of the seditionists wore ridiculous costumes and seemed more like hooligans than committed revolutionaries does not make what happened any less horrifying.
For all its horror — including the fatal shooting of one woman who broke into the Capitol and a police officer who was at the scene who is reported to be on life support — the chaos was short-lived. But the underlying rage continues to percolate.
In the wake of the attack, major social media platforms suspended Mr. Trump’s accounts — some more temporarily than others. This was the responsible thing to do. Lowering the temperature is an admirable goal, even after years of these companies profiting from raising it. But it obviously does not solve the problem.
Mr. Trump is still the president, even if not for long. The potential for him to wreak additional havoc is enormous. Just ask the 10 former secretaries of defense who felt moved to issue a statement this week warning the president not to drag the military into his election dispute.
There’s no doubt that Mr. Trump is responsible for the riot at the Capitol. But the blame rests as well with the Republican officials who humored him — specifically, the 139 House members and eight senators who gave his voter-fraud fantasies substance by voting to overturn the results of an election that was as free as it was fair. Their assault on democracy should be not be forgotten.
The bigger issue, however, is whether they, and other Americans in positions of power, are willing to finally take a stand against the president’s perfidy. His lies won’t stop. Yet the violence must end.
There are growing calls for Mr. Trump to be removed from office, if not by impeachment then perhaps by invocation of the 25th Amendment. Vice President Mike Pence is said to oppose this effort. But he and the president’s cabinet members have the responsibility to give it serious consideration. If those closest to Mr. Trump believe that he is in crisis and unable to fulfill the duties of his office — that he perhaps has become an acute threat to the nation — they have a duty to take action. The events of this week have shown all too vividly what can happen when public leaders do not put the public good ahead of politics.
Alternatively, it may be determined that criminal indictment is the more appropriate recourse. Mr. Trump’s actions in recent days may well run afoul of laws against insurrection or incitement. One top federal prosecutor hasn’t ruled out the idea. Such a remedy would extend beyond his time in office.
In less than two weeks, America will officially scrape the mud of the Trump presidency from its shoe. But the president and his supporters have shown themselves willing to burn down the house on his way out. Preventing this should be the chief focus of the nation’s leaders — most especially those who have coddled and enabled him to push the nation to the brink.
A safe and peaceful transition of power should be the top priority of every American.