By Olatunji Dare
Americans and viewers across the world who watched the storming of the U. S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s rag-tag army of insurrectionists in horror and disbelief on January 6 are finding with each passing day that what they witnessed was only the foam of the event.
Yes, they saw elements the seething, frenzied, bilious, surging crowd, men and women, young and old, scale the walls and race up the steps of the Capitol screaming imprecations, smashing windows, battering doors, pummeling police officers with their fists, baseball bats, flagpoles, lead pipes and just about any object that could be weaponized.
They saw the rioters swamp the floor and offices of the Capitol, vandalize them, and take selfies while doing so, as if they were momentoes of a carnival.
What they did not see was the grim resolve, the murderous frenzy with which the insurrectionists went about their task. “Hang Mike Pence,” they bellowed over and over. Pence the Vice President of the United States was presiding over the congressional proceedings to certify the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, probably the last official act of his tenure.
And this primal scream heard around the world was not just a rhetorical demand couched in the imperative. For good measure, they had erected a scaffold on the floor of Capitol, with a noose dangling from it. It was professional job through and through. They were leaving nothing to chance.
Like the sponsors of the misnamed “Save America March,” Pence is a Republican. Security officials managed to hustle him and his wife and their daughter away just in time.
The insurrectionists reserved an especially blood-curdling treatment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if they caught up with her; ditto her progressive female colleagues who felt scared almost as terrified of some fellow lawmakers they were sheltering with as they were of the mob that was closing in on them. At a moment of imminent peril, they did not feel they could take the goodwill of their colleagues for granted.
And all this because of a transparent lie, one of the 2, 400 documented falsehoods Trump had told with a straight face since coming into office, this embodiment of vileness whose reckless disregard for facts is matched only by his reckless disregard for the consequence of his mendacity. If lying was not in his DNA, he had become so habituated to it that he can no longer tell the difference between lying and truth-telling. And that has been his way of getting in in the world.
Lying has been the directive principle of the Trump Administration, the cornerstone of its strategy and tactics. He served notice that his tenure would be predicated on non-stop lying, lies small and big and contemptible when, hours after his inauguration, he claimed against pictorial evidence and against the record of the Parks Service, that the crowd in attendance at the event was much larger than the one at his predecessor Barack Obama’s, and was far and away the largest in History, period.
Did it really matter, you ask?
Everything matters to Trump and matters hugely. So deep is his insecurity, despite all the braggadocio, that his ego will be sorely bruised if anything he has a hand in is not certified to be the biggest, the largest, the best, and the mostest, if not the only one of its kind that has ever existed and will ever exist has served the same purpose for his entire life.
If you rated him lower than any person on any scale on any subject or crossed him in any way, he made you pay for it again and again, with the interest compounded. Like Caligula, he never forgets and he never forgives a slight. If you could somehow take out the grievances bottled up within, you have to wonder what would be left in that hulking, saturnine mass.
Everyone knew or should have known that Trump was lying as usual when he claimed that he won the presidential election while it was still in progress. That lie had the ballot. He had telegraphed that if he did not win, it could only be because the ballot had been rigged. And when he did not win, it followed that the ballot was completely, totally and absolutely rigged.
So much for a self-fulfilling.
Trump knew for certain that an election conducted under his watch, and in which he has a vested interest would be rigged by his opponents and but chose to do nothing to frustrate their design. We are to believe this of a man to whom failure is the ultimate disgrace, a man who claims omnipotence and omnicompetence on every subject or process under the sun and even beyond it?
Claiming that he won the presidential election was the most self-serving and the most consequential of his litany of falsehoods. That is saying a lot about a man who has made a career and lifestyle of lying. This record alone should have alerted the public that this was just another lie.
Because the stakes were so high, Trump held on tenaciously to it, even when it was not backed by a shred of evidence. Election officials rejected it. The courts rejected it, and so did the larger public. Only Trump’s base embraced it – the poor, disconnected and the racially entitled, whom he had inveigled into believing against overwhelming evidence that is their sole, true, steadfast defender and protector in a world stacked against them.
At the very least, Trump bears moral responsibility for a substantial fraction of the 400, 000 Covid deaths that have occurred in the U.S. at this writing, and more than a million hospitalisations. He dismissed the virus as a hoax, mocked the experts and deployed his hate machine against them.
He disdained the mitigating protocols and staged raucous, Covid super-spreader rallies. A pandemic that should have united the nation in grief and firm resolve became in his hands a wedge that sundered it on scale not seen since the Vietnam War.
And instead of charging him with dereliction of the most egregious kind, if not culpable genocide, they took up arms in aid of his deluded cause and set upon the Capitol with murder on their minds and other hands, and threaten more of the same.
Trump kept America perpetually on the boil with his lies and infernal conspiracy theories, and the misnamed social media gave them wings.
The lies, the “alternative facts,” took on lives of their own. The longer they thrived, the more brazen they became. As the election results unfolded, Trump appeared content to claim that he had won. He disputed the outcome in just six states.
By the time he was working up the mob to storm the Capitol, his “victory” had become a “landslide.” A mere victory that was stolen warranted protests and demonstrations; a stolen “landside” victory called for nothing less than the fire and brimstone he and his followers unleashed on January 6.
With the inauguration of a new or re-elected president every four years, the United States re-enacts a rite of renewal – renewal of the promise of America, a reaffirmation of the myths that undergird them.
I have been privileged to observe from within at least six such moments, with all the pomp and circumstance and solemnity. The sobering reminders of the gap between the promise and the actuality were never far from the surface, of course; but they were moments of hope and possibility, and of infectious optimism nevertheless.
For tomorrow’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Washington DC is looking more like a city under siege than a theatre of renewal. The atmosphere is more funereal than carnivalesque. This grim backdrop will be replicated across the country.
All because of a threadbare falsehood promoted with manic energy by a demented demagogue slinking into oblivion and swallowed wholesale by his army of deluded believers.
For the sake of our collective humanity, the world must wish Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Godspeed. America’s ideals have never stood in greater or more urgent need of renewal and reaffirmation.