The real shame of Washington


Resignation? Impeachment? Donald Trump reaps the concentrated anger after the storm on the US Capitol. But others have just as much guilt.

Time is stretching in Washington. The twelve days that remain under Donald Trump suddenly feel excruciatingly long. What on earth is going to happen there? That is the mood in the capital.

Let’s start – where else? – at the Capitol. When I arrive there on Wednesday afternoon, two impressions mix: I see the expected and the unimaginable.

It came as no surprise that the Trump mob would be extremely aggressive. Trump has trained his disciples and let them rage for years, he has been fueling them for weeks for January 6th (“Be there, it’s going to be wild!”), Most recently in a marching order ninety minutes before the storm. But it was inconceivable for me that the Capitol would simply be overrun.

The mood is upbeat, it looks like a folk festival for the radicals, the Red Caps, the confused. Trump and his helpers served them a fairy tale that the alleged electoral fraud could still be filmed there that day, that they could become heroes and nothing less than “save America”. The truth is that it is about sabotaging the democratic election result.

It is the fitting finale of this presidency, which was always about: Trump or Democracy.

I see journalists being harassed. I am used to this from numerous Trump events, but I never felt acutely threatened there. It’s different in front of the Capitol in the heart of Washington. I feel an uncontrolled aggressiveness, also against the reporters. At noon, Trump told his people again that “the election victory was stolen by the fake news”. It will be a day when, for once, I will wear my press accreditation under my coat.

As depressing and shocking as Wednesday is, it delivers a moment of truth. He made visible what people like to close their eyes to here. “This is not who we are” is the reflexive response from the Republicans in the Senate, as is so often the case. That is not the real America. But the sad news is that America may well be and that the Republicans themselves have made a big contribution.

Contempt for democracy when it serves one’s own interests. Shamelessness, flight into delusional fantasies and a sense of sophistication, the country and its institutions belong to you more than to other people: all of this has long been part of America. Even this anti-parliamentary opposition, which condemns not only the media and Democrats, but also the Republican Party, was not invented by Trump. He just unleashed her.

January 6th at the Capitol – it too belongs to America.

There are men in Tarnfleck, cult followers and other confused people. They are served fairy tales of monstrous scandals: The landslide victory in the election – simply snatched from poor Trump by dark forces! Who would not protest indignantly against such blatant injustice?

The responsibility rests with those who whisper. I have often described to you how Trump does this. He would not have come very far without the strong support of the Republicans. They covered him, his lies and his abuses of power from the start – out of calculation to enforce their conservative judges and tax plans, and out of fear of the wrath of Trump. But they also sabotaged the presidential election with him to the end, although the result has been clear for two months.

Mitch McConnell will only face madness on Wednesday. The majority leader in the Senate warns the party friends that propagating Trump’s election fairy tale is sending US democracy into a death spiral. He protected Trump for four years, for example preventing a single witness from being heard in the impeachment proceedings against the president. An hour after the speech he is crouching in the catacombs of the Capitol, hidden from the mob, which has long since made him an enemy.

In the evening after the shock, Lindsey Graham, the little man from South Carolina, has always been one of the most agile Senators. Graham changed from being an insulting Trump to his golf friend, now he breaks theatrically with the president. “I’m out. Enough is enough,” he says, flailing his arms, and then, awaiting applause, says, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are legitimately elected.” It’s getting a little late.

Perhaps the greatest shame for American democracy is not in Trump’s behavior, but in the fact that seasoned politicians have so willingly submitted to him and his fantasies. Out of calculation and fear. Til today.

I thought of a quote from November. When it was clear that Trump would never ever admit his election defeat, one of those government officials who only speak anonymously told his colleagues at the Washington Post that he would play Trump’s theater of lies for a while: “What is the disadvantage if we talk to him a little longer?”

It was one of the most treacherous statements because it showed where the eye is going: Trump, not democracy. Did he finally recognize the disadvantage, at least on Wednesday?

Are you interested in US politics? Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about his impressions from the USA and the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” free of chargewhich then lands directly in your mailbox once a week.

Some Republicans swung like Graham after the Capitol storm. Many others continued. That night, two-thirds of Republicans in the House of Representatives still vote for Trump’s baseless objections to the election result. Because of their only two-year term in office, they will soon need the voices of the angry Trump disciples again. Others want to become president in 2024, like Senator Ted Cruz.

The deal with Trump – submission in return for power – has already been broken. While I’m still standing at the Capitol, the breaking news buzzes on my cell phone: The second Democrat in Georgia wins the Senate race too.

The Democrats still get a wafer-thin majority in the Senate. Joe Biden’s chances of breaking with Donald Trump’s legacy have suddenly improved.

Georgia was also about democracy. In years of work, the Democrats had succeeded in registering many blacks who had turned away from politics as voters and in getting them to vote. They strengthened democracy.

Trump did the opposite. Instead of making a courageous election campaign for the party friends on site, he primarily launched his attacks against the electoral officials in Georgia – simply because he did not want to admit his defeat in the presidential election.

The local candidate Kelly Loeffler presented herself as Trump’s most loyal fellow campaigner. Her election campaign was marked by the sentence that she had voted for one hundred percent of his initiatives in the Senate. For a long time, sentences like this were a path to success. But now Trump’s work was too destructive. Loeffler lost. On Wednesday evening in the Senate, she deserted Trump’s campaign against the election result.

Vice President Mike Pence found out the hard way that loyalty no longer pays off. For four years he gave the president’s most loyal helper and supreme flatterer. But because Pence would not do in Congress on Wednesday what Trump had fantasized about – namely to overturn the election for him – the President threw him to the mob to eat.

The president, who had promised his party so many triumphs that one would tire of winning, has now lost the majority in the Senate (2021) after the House of Representatives (2018) and the presidency (2020). He leaves a battlefield in the party. Actually, they should ban Trump to Mar-a-Lago with disgrace and shame. But Trump’s voter base has continued to decline.

There is no one in Washington who knows how the party is going to get out of this contortion.

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