The End of the Line

The edifice of Trumpism has collapsed. It was rotten from the very beginning.

Cathy Young
Jan 8 · 8 min read
(Brendan Smialowski/Getty)

For more than four years — ever since Donald Trump captured the Republican presidential nomination — those of us who opposed the normalization of Trumpism have been accused of being in the throes of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

On January 6, 2021, the real Trump Derangement Syndrome was on full display in the nation’s capital as supporters of the defeated president violently stormed the Capitol, fought the police, vandalized the building, and briefly forced Congress into hiding to prevent the certification of election results Trump has groundlessly declared to be fraudulent.

At noon, Trump his supporters at a rally, vowing that he (and they) would “never concede” and encouraging them to march on Capitol Hill to stop the supposed theft of an election by “weak congresspeople.” (Before that, his loyal minion Rudy Giuliani was calling for “trial by combat.”) A little over an hour later, when Congress began its joint session to certify the election results, pro-Trump mobs the Capitol, smashing windows and doors, pushing past police lines, fighting with police and Capitol Hill security, vandalizing and looting offices and, for a time, taking over the Senate floor. Members of Congress had to be evacuated for their safety.

Trump was repeatedly urged to tell the violent protesters to back off. Initially, he responded with a couple of asking “everyone” to “remain peaceful” and respect the police. When he finally made a address asking his supporters to “go home,” he spent far more time stoking their grievances about a stolen “landslide” election.

One can argue endlessly about whether this was an attempted coup. It was, in the sense that a group of people — egged on and encouraged by a president who wanted to stay in office despite losing his bid for reelection — used force to try to prevent the certification of legitimate election results, presumably with the intent of reversing them.

On the other hand, neither they nor the president had any remotely plausible plan for undoing Joe Biden’s victory and allowing Trump to stay in power. This wasn’t Napoleon III failing to secure another presidential term in France in 1851 and staying in power through a “” supported by the military. (By contrast, on Wednesday, the acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller — whose abrupt appointment by Trump on November 9 was seen by some as a possible prelude to a coup — essentially of the chain of command, activating the D.C. National Guard after conferring with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.) If anything, the actions of the pro-Trump thugs undercut the (doomed and performative) challenges to the election certification in Congress by prompting some GOP Senators to their objections in the wake of the violence.

You could call it a clown coup. (Klown Koup?) But the fact that violent thugs invaded and trashed the Capitol with the purpose — however unrealistic— of preventing the legitimately elected next president from taking power is an absolute outrage and an embarrassment to the nation.

It also cost lives. Pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt while trying to get through a smashed glass door leading to the Speakers’ Lobby (where several Congress members apparently were at the time). She later died. Another woman was to death in the rotunda, while one male rioter died of a heart attack and another of a stroke. One police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, in the hospital on Thursday night from injuries sustained in clashes with the protesters, after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. In addition, more than 50 officers have been .

And the blame rests squarely on Trump and his “base.”

No, it doesn’t matter that many progressives made excuses for rioting and looting in the summer during the Black Lives Matter protests. That was wrong. But since Trump supporters vocally condemned such excuse-making, I seriously doubt that’s where they got the idea for the Capitol Hill rampage. I think they got it from the guy winding them up with “we wuz robbed” post-election talk and calls to “Take back our country” from the election thieves.

Now, even some Trump apologists and anti-anti-Trumpers (the “yeah, he’s bad, but Democrats/the media/the woke social justice warriors are the real problem” crowd) are running from Trump. The Washington Post’s resident pro-Trump conservative, Mark Thiessen, yesterday that Trump “betrayed his office” and “has blood on his hands.” Spectator USA columnist Stephen L. Miller, who less than three months ago that “Trump could walk out of the White House on January 20 a conquering hero” thanks to his Supreme Court appointments — and who whatabouting Trump’s COVID-19 debacle by blaming the media — published a Wednesday night demanding Trump’s immediate removal from office.

Calls for Trump’s impeachment and removal are also in Congress; the usually sympathetic Wall Street Journal has urged him to resign, and some Trump-friendly Fox News personalities are . Other Trump loyalists include and several top advisors. While the grass-roots “” still seems loyal, it remains to be seen whether that will hold.

Whether or not Trump stays in office for the next 12 days, this is the finale of The Trumpman Show. And what a finale it is.

Who could have predicted that Trump’s presidential term would end in utter disaster and disgrace? Well, pretty much anyone who has followed his career — political and pre-political — that’s who.

Let’s leave aside the bankruptcies, lawsuits, messy divorces, and egomaniacal books. (Read Michael Lewis’s 1990 of the second Trump memoir, Surviving at the Top, and you will see the same Trump we all know: the “ego gone haywire,” the “pathological need for control,” the compulsive bragging about being loved by multitudes, the vindictive jabs at critics and the sneering at “losers.”)

Trump is the man whose entry into politics was built on a slanderous, all-but-explicitly racist to delegitimize America’s first black president as an African-born usurper. He’s the man who launched his 2015 presidential run with a that portrayed the mass of immigrants from Mexico (no, not just illegals) as violent criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, with the caveat that “some” are probably okay. He’s the man who, during his campaign, the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed in action. He’s the man who attacked one of his toughest Republican critics, the late Sen. John McCain — a Vietnam-era veteran and POW — by his service and jeering, “He’s a hero because he got captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” He’s the man who heaped praise on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and, upon having it pointed out to him that Putin is believed to have ordered the assassination of several journalists and other critics, , “You think our country’s so innocent?”

And that’s just a few of the times Trump subverted basic norms of decency before he got elected. A full list of such outrages and norm subversions would require a 10,000-word article at the very least.

Let’s not forget that in 2016, Trump pointedly to say whether he would accept the results if he lost, promising to “keep you all in suspense” and saying, before the vote, that it was “rigged.” Afterward, he claimed that his popular-vote victory had been stolen by because “millions” voted illegally. (His own “” found no evidence to support that assertion.)

Let’s also not forget that Trump has consistently violence by his supporters (and by law enforcement when he perceives it as being on his side). “Knock the crap out of them,” he told his followers in Iowa on February 1, 2016, talking about disruptive protesters. “Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.” Later that month at a rally in Las Vegas, he criticized security for being too nice while escorting out a “smiling, laughing” protester and added, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” And then in Michigan: “Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court. Don’t worry about it.”

And that’s not to mention Trump’s , as long ago as , of the QAnon conspiracy cult which a leading role in Wednesday’s insurrection. Among its adherents: , the woman killed in the Capitol.

Every so-called conservative who has mocked character- and decency-based objections to Trump as “aesthetic,” or dismissed them as “pearl-clutching” about his “bad manners,” or caricatured them as “Orange Man Bad,” is an intellectual accomplice who helped set the stage for the January 6, 2021 fiasco. So is everyone who has ridiculed concerns about norms as a ploy to protect the power of the “elites” or extolled Trump as a smasher of norms.

Sometimes, norm-smashing can be necessary to break the cycle of business as usual. Sometimes, norms are based on prejudiced or outdated assumptions. Mostly, though, norms are there for a reason. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know… In the tragic version, you get heads on pikes in the streets of Paris. In the farcical version, you get some guy in a Viking hat on the U.S. Senate dais and a woman in a piano scarf that she got maced.

But the farce often has a tragic underside: the dead and the injured, not to mention the trashed reputation of American democracy.

This is not to say “We told you so.”

Actually … yes, yes it is.

But the more important thing is to learn the lesson of Trumpism. Character matters. “Good manners” — i.e., the ability and desire to fake character even if you don’t have it — matter. The politics of grievance against vaguely defined “elites” deliver us into the hands of charlatans and demagogues and end with an insane clown posse rampaging through the halls of Congress.

This doesn’t mean the Democrats do not deserve criticism. (I have been of attempts to score simplistic political points about racism by contrasting police handling of the pro-Trump insurgency on Capitol Hill and the Black Lives Matter protests/riots last summer.)

Nor does it mean that establishment Republicans can return us to a golden age of conservative politics.

But first things first. Trumpism is a toxin that cannot be entirely expelled from the body politic but must be stringently contained. On Wednesday, we saw what damage it can do. We’ve actually been seeing it for years.

Update: A minor correction was made to clarify the circumstances of the Ashli Babbitt shooting.

Arc Digital

The internet’s best opinion page

Cathy Young

Written by

Russian-Jewish-American writer. Associate editor, Arc Digital; contributor, Reason, Newsday, The Forward etc.

Arc Digital

The internet’s best opinion page

Cathy Young

Written by

Russian-Jewish-American writer. Associate editor, Arc Digital; contributor, Reason, Newsday, The Forward etc.

Arc Digital

The internet’s best opinion page

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