By Emma Campbell
In its more than 200-year-old lifespan, the United States Capitol has been the site of attempted presidential assassinations, bombings, and protests. On Jan. 6, 2021, it was breached for the first time since 1814. Then, it was British troops; this time, it was American citizens incited by former President Trump.
Trump fueled the flames of rebellion for weeks following the conclusion of the fair and legal election of President Joe Biden. He urged his supporters to protest the electoral vote-counting process, tweeting on Dec. 19, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
The first Capitol barricades were breached during Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, between 12:53 p.m. and 1:03 p.m., according to a timeline published by New York Times. During this, Trump stood at a (literal) pedestal and encouraged rally attendees to “show strength.”
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said.
It is difficult for me to comment on the events of Jan. 6, not only because they are still painful to dwell on, but because I wonder what I can say on this attack that hasn’t already been expounded on ad nauseam. The attack was terrifying, for those in immediate harm’s way and for those watching the wreckage unfold at home. For some, it was surreal, for others, expected. I count myself among the latter. With Trump at the helm, it was never a question of if the U.S. would dissolve into violent chaos — it was a question of when.
The U.S. Code of Laws is clear: “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
Trump’s asinine speech on Jan. 6, in which he reminded his sycophants that “you don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” was the final blow that killed American democracy as we’ve known it. The breed of democracy created by our founding fathers was dying before the Capitol breach — indeed, it’s been dying since Trump’s swearing in ceremony in 2016. But it wasn’t election-theft conspiracies that pounded the last nail into the coffin, though they certainly played a starring role. It was the sight of rioters breaking windows at the temple of American democracy, all while knowing that it was our president who sent them there.
On Jan. 6, Trump blunderingly set into motion what will perhaps become his first ever real-life consequence. I don’t mean the impeachment, which will do little to faze a man who has so little regard for congressional proceedings. Trump’s punishment will be the irreparable damage done to his name and brand, as well as the knowledge that it was he who caused it.
Trump was the primary instigator of the events which transpired on Jan. 6, but there were others. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas are among the most vocal American traitors in office; Hawley was even photographed greeting the insurrectionists with a fist pump of solidarity as he entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Hours after the Capitol had been cleared by authorities, Hawley and Cruz voted in objection of certifying electoral votes that had been fairly accumulated — showing support for the voter fraud lies that led insurrectionists to D.C. in the first place.
“What I was doing was the exact opposite of inciting violence,” Cruz told Politico. “What I was doing is debating principle and law and the Constitution on the floor of the United States Senate. That is how we resolve issues in this country without resorting to violence.”
What Cruz was doing, in fact, was lying — to his colleagues, to his constituents, and to himself, all in the name of political opportunism. If Cruz and Hawley are all that remain to inherit Trump’s base in the 2024 presidential election, then we ought to be worried. These men are too cowardly to foment another insurrection on purpose, but like Trump, they are certainly stupid enough to cause one by accident.
Like that of Cruz and Hawley, Trump’s punishment will take years to be seen, for it deals in legacy. His followers who stormed the Capitol will see more immediate retribution — according to a database maintained by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, more than 175 people have been charged as of Feb. 4 — but for the coming years, Trump will be fine. He’ll retire to one of his extravagant Florida resorts, where he’ll play golf and peruse Parler. There will be more scandals, certainly, but none that will spark the public scorn that many of us may wish for him to endure. That widespread degradation may not come until long after his death.
Matthew Continetti, historian and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told BBC News’s Ritu Prasad what Trump’s legacy is destined to become.
“Donald Trump will be remembered as the first president to be impeached twice. He fed the myth that the election was stolen, summoned his supporters to Washington to protest the certification of the Electoral College vote, told them that only through strength could they take back their country, and stood by as they stormed the U.S. Capitol and interfered in the operation of constitutional government,” Continetti said. “When historians write about his presidency, they will do so through the lens of the riot.”
For those who wish to see Trump burned at the stake, you may not be witnessing such a cathartic downfall in this lifetime. But legacies are powerful things — and those belonging to Trump and his followers will be defined by everlasting shame.
Featured Photo caption: On Jan. 6, 2021, President Donald Trump encouraged his followers to march on the United States Capitol, inciting an unprecedented riot that will become his legacy. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.