Trump Did This, But He Did Not Do It Alone
The people and institutions who not only enabled, but profited, from Trumpism
On January 6, 2021, Trump-supporting insurrectionists from across the United States stormed the Capitol building, creating Confederate flag gleaming chaos throughout the People’s House. Throughout the day, the insurrectionists inched closer and closer to the Capitol. Watching, I thought they surely would be pushed back once they set foot on the steps. I myself was asked to stand back by Capitol police when taking graduation pictures near the Capitol building. But met with little resistance by the police, hundreds of thousands of them found themselves not only on the steps, but roaming the halls of Capitol where every sitting senator and congressperson was located, along with the current vice president of the United States. All on the same day the votes were being counted to ensure a peaceful, democratic transition of presidential power and two new Democratic senators were elected in Georgia. Outside, others scaled the building, hanging Trump flags in triumph. It was apocalyptic to watch.
In many ways, this was the next step in the steady fear and hate fueled escalation that has been the past five years.
First, these people saw for the first time in a long time, a permission slip in President Donald J. Trump, where they could confidently voice their white supremacist, bigoted views publicly. If Donald Trump can talk about Mexicans being rapists and still be elected president of the United States, why couldn’t they?
Little by little, they became more emboldened. Gaining followers on social media and right wing sharing platforms, the president referring to them as “very fine people” after Charlottesville and calling for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” on a national debate stage, growing crowds at protests, and a flourishing space on the internet to breed misinformation and most importantly, organize.
Many have called the insurrection of the Capitol the “logical conclusion” of a Trump presidency. I take issue with the word “conclusion” and instead believe this was the next logical step in the Trumpism movement. I unfortunately have doubts that this is the end. Without widespread condemnation from all levels of government and justice being brought through formal charges against the insurrectionists, I fear the group will be fortified, rather than silenced.
But this step has caused at least some lawmakers and institutions to seek distance from the Trump administration and movement, seeing Trump as the ringleader in inciting the protesters to storm Capitol Hill. Despite the distance, their role, along with the role of others, has already been played.
Trump, the mascot
Trump is absolutely to blame here. He found support among this crowd which he could easily manipulate and appeal to, and then ran a campaign rallying his supporters behind messages of division, otherness, skepticism, and hate. (i.e. Build the Wall, but her emails…, the Muslim Ban, anti-internationalism, to name a few) His most vicious attack on democracy came from false claims about election fraud. He laid the ground work to question the 2020 presidential election by falsely declaring vote my mail to be an insecure voting method.
Once he lost, he continued to question the election results, calling the election a fraud even while he was being continually fact checked by social media and independent fact checkers, as well as his own government. When the courts did not give him what he wanted, he called on his supporters to “Stop the Steal” and spoke at a “Save America” rally just before the breach of the Capitol building preaching to his supporters:
All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by a bold and radical left Democrats which is what they are doing and stolen by the fake news media. That is what they have done and what they are doing. We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.
Trump created in himself a heroic, god-like image where his followers relentlessly fed into every word he said. Instead of using his platform and failing to shut down false claims and conspiracy theories like anti-mask wearing, which could have potentially led to hundreds of thousands of live saved, he emboldened them because he was profiting, financially, politically, and powerfully, off their bigotry.
Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and the Republican Party
Leading up the ceremonially counting of the electoral college votes, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley took the lead in garnering support to challenge the count and spew further suspicion into the 2020 election results. Their actions fanned the already roaring flames of people across the country looking for more reasons to revolt.
I do not think Senators Cruz, Hawley or any of the other lawmakers who planned to object to the election results wished for the Capitol to be attacked. I do not think they wanted to put their colleagues in real, deadly danger. But, in continuing on with their calls to question the election results and delay a peaceful transition of power, they acted recklessly. This was the predicable next step and instead of mitigating the outrage surrounding the election, they fed into it. They, and the entire Republican party with the exception of a too small few, should have been quick to rebuke, but in fear of losing the power from what has become their base, they enabled this by letting it cultivate and fester.
Right Wing News Media Outlets
This includes both major news networks, like Fox News, and smaller companies like Brietbart, OANN, and TheBlaze.com who at their worst, created and spread misinformation painted as fact or at their least offensive, failed to correct misinformation and continued to air Trump’s message even when the message disrupted a peaceful transition of power. All of which led to incredibly important reinforcement that these extremist ideas deserved merit, attention, and were worthy of sharing and promoting.
Social Media Platforms
Just recently Facebook implemented a ban on Trump’s Facebook account indefinitely and Twitter placed a temporary 12-hour ban on his Twitter account which has already been lifted. These companies surely have an interest in the free exchange of ideas and discourse and are careful not to over-regulate viewpoints, particularly political viewpoints.
But the misinformation surrounding the election and QAnon conspiracy theories which had easily and repeatedly been identified as both false and a national security threat does not serve any legitimate purpose in political discourse.
The line of where to censor political posts is grey and fuzzy, but these claims have repeatedly and unquestioningly shown they have crossed it time and time again. They should not have been given the platform to spread.
Finally, the people who decided that this man deserves a second term cannot be absolved. While not every Trump voter decided to, or even agreed, to breach the Capitol and threaten both the lives of the vice president and members of Congress, every Trump voter decided that they could tolerate another four years of lies, racism, and unprecedented partisanship. While they may not have voted with the intention to undermine democracy, they did vote to walk on the edge of the cliff of just that, all in the name of their seemingly economic and political benefit.
All of these people and institutions risked stability for power. Perhaps the ones who did so intentionally are more at fault, but all played a role in the progression of Trumpism. Not a one should be absolved from their role in undermining democracy.