I have always thought that U.S. president Donald Trump’s ability to lie with a straight face was just part of his brand, a modern-day P.T. Barnum with weird hair who always thirsts for the spotlight of notoriety. I was very wrong, writes Scott Abel, columnist and a Ph.D. student in media management at the Estonian Business School.
I have assumed that Trump’s post-election chatter about how he actually won “in a landslide” in November and his prolific tales about rampant fraud (lacking any credible evidence outside Biden’s relatively large margin of victory two months after the fact) was partly to soothe his wounded pride and keep him relevant after Joseph Biden assumed the U.S. presidency on the 20th of January.
I was very wrong. Watching events unfold in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday night was a stark lesson in the adage that words have consequences.
What Trump did Wednesday was one of the most disgraceful days in the history of the American presidency. He publicly attacked the Vice President, Mike Pence, for not agreeing to perform an extra-legal maneuver to prevent Biden’s electoral college votes from being affirmed by the U.S. Congress.
He gathered his diehard followers for a rally in D.C., alluded to “following them to Capitol Hill” to make sure that “their voices were heard,” essentially unleashing an attack on America’s legislative branch.
Now, several people are dead. There are many injuries, including many D.C. police who were overwhelmed by the mob. Members of Congress had to barricade themselves in safe spaces and even donned masks to protect themselves from tear gas. The mob, many waving Trump flags, vandalized and looted with impunity.
Even in his taped video address to the nation HOURS after Capitol Hill had been breached, he doubled down on his “stolen election” claims while appealing to his mob for calm.
The rule of law is fundamental to constitutional order in any democratic society. It constrains individual and institutional behavior, ensuring that power is not channeled by whim or diktat. The President takes an oath to uphold that order. Instead, Trump shattered the rule of law. The blood of the dead and the injured are on his hands.
It is also on the hands of Trump’s enablers, like U.S senators like Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Ted Cruz of Texas, that cynically protested the “stolen election” fiction in the electoral college vote with an eye on gaining Trump’s supporters in their own prospective future presidential bids.
The best-case scenario would be for Trump to be impeached and removed from office immediately by Congress. Under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Pence and the president’s cabinet can also remove Trump. Still, the removal mechanism is not as straightforward, and it would allow Trump to run for office again, something an impeached and removed president cannot do.
It seems that both options are being explored at the time of this writing. Two weeks is a long time to wait when the rule of law is under siege, and Trump’s removal would be a powerful red line drawn for the future.
As an American, I am ashamed of my complicity in this. Although I never voted for him in either election, I was “Trump-curious” – occasionally enjoying the spectacle he created, sometimes defending him, and at times enjoying the ways that he could drive his opponents a little bit insane. It turns out instead that those on the American ideological right who were branded “Never Trumpers” because they saw his rise to power as beyond the pale were vindicated in their principled stand.
Watching events unfold, I felt a sense of rising fear that I haven’t had since the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in 2001. Losing the primacy of law and order is like peering into the top of an active volcano.
I hope that everyone will take the events in Washington D.C. as a cautionary tale. We have gotten too comfortable with the intersection of celebrity and politics in our democratic societies, too easy to dismiss our politicians’ more outrageous statements with an eye roll, comfortable with a spinning of the truth, and shrugging at ineptitude. We elect people to “send a message” or to aggravate the right group.
The problem with the “bull in a china shop” (elevant portselanipoes) approach to governance is you still have to put up with the bull, and you will probably miss your china.
Scott Abel is an Ph.D. student in management and instructor at the Estonian Business School.
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