When Donald Trump took the reins of power four years ago, he brought an unusual style of governing to the presidency. When most presidents take office, they try to bring the American people together to achieve their policy objectives. Trump was having none of that. He made it clear that anyone who did not agree with him was an enemy to be scorned. As his first Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, correctly put it: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people–does not even try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”
While many politicians have a tendency to spin the truth to their advantage, Trump has made lying a true art form. One fact checker has catalogued 29,508 false or misleading claims made by the President from his inauguration to November 5, 2020.
Since the 2020 election, Trump has blended his divisiveness and untruthfulness into a dangerous and toxic combination that strikes at the very heart of our democracy. Despite filing more than 60 lawsuits attacking election results in swing states, he and his followers were unable to provide any competent evidence of election fraud or irregularity. Judges with Republican and Democrat backgrounds toss his lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, including the Justices he appointed, rebuffed him twice.
Trump turned to Brad Raffensperger, the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia, for help. He threatened, begged, implored the Georgia official to “find” just enough extra votes to put him over the top in that state. Raffensperger refused to take part in Trump’s unlawful scheme.
Trump then turned to the streets, calling upon his hard core supporters, as well as every variety of extremist–Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracists, several brands of white nationalists–to help him overturn the election. He urged them to be at Congress for the electoral vote count on January 6, promising it would be “wild.” When thousands assembled before him that morning, he urged them to converge on the Capitol to “fight like hell” for him.
And fight like hell they did. Armed with zip ties to hogtie Mike Pence and other law-abiding quarry, they stormed the Capitol, the most sacred symbol of our democracy. Incited to action by Trump’s lies and exhortations, they overcame the Capitol Police, trashed the interior of that hallowed building, terrorized members of both parties and both Houses of Congress and made a mockery of our republican form of government. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) says Trump was “delighted” and “excited” by the riotous activity of his supporters.
What came to my mind as I watched the shameful episode unfold on network television was my visit to West Berlin in the summer of 1964. I’d heard of the Reichstag fire in 1933 that was used by the Nationalist Socialist Party to tighten its grip on power in Germany. That building was the meeting place for Germany’s legislative body and a powerful symbol of the Weimar Republic. When I saw the building in 1964, it was a forlorn, scorched hulk on a weed-infested lot.
The physical damage to our seat of government was not nearly as severe, but the injury inflicted upon the American psyche was a savage blow, both to Americans and to the world. Even during the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag had not been able to breach and disgrace that sacred building. But there it was on television for all to see–casting its shameful white supremacist shadow over the citadel of freedom.
After all of the lies, division and disgrace brought upon the United States by President Trump, I sense that this last seditious act has finally broken the fever that he has inflicted upon the country. I predict that when my fellow citizens have had a chance to reflect on this outrage and consider the other damage he has visited on our great land, he will become a vague and ugly memory. We have gone through similar feverish times before and survived. America will recover from the Trump years and be better for it.