Our Best Stuff From an Unbelievable Week
The surreality of watching protesters storm the Capitol.
|Rachael Larimore||Jan 9||69||49|
There was a time on Wednesday when it seemed like maybe everything was going to be OK. Moments before Vice President Mike Pence entered the House chamber for the joint session of Congress, he issued a statement explaining that the Constitution did not allow him to reject the electoral votes. Not long after, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood and gave a powerful speech. He pointed out that the election was not particularly close, that the president’s legal challenges had been exhausted, and that trying to overturn the results would have devastating consequences.
“Our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he said. “We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”
The message was clear. The House members and senators, led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who were about to object to votes from six states could carry out their little stunt. It would drag out the process and make for a long day, but it ultimately would prove futile.
When McConnell fretted that “we’d never see the whole nation accept an election again,” he probably had no idea that we were about to witness exactly what that looks like. For two months, the president, his lawyers, prominent supporters, and right-wing media outlets had perpetrated the myth that the election was “stolen.” It didn’t matter that some of the conspiracy theories were farcical or that state and federal government officials repeatedly defended the legitimacy of the election.
We all know what happened next. Except that it was much worse than we thought in the moment. The early images we saw were disturbing. Protesters pushed their way into the Capitol building and some made their way into the House chamber. It was surreal to watch protesters in garish costumes stand on the speaker’s podium and raise their arms in triumph. It was unsettling to watch a man with a goofy smile carry a lectern over his shoulder like he was looting a TV from a Target.
But Friday night on MSNBC, Chris Hayes did a segment that showed how dangerous and violent it was in the Capitol that day. It’s hard to watch and, fair warning, it includes footage of the woman shot by Capitol Police. It also shows protesters assaulting police officers, and mobs trying to push their way into secure areas of the building. Some in the crowd chant, “Hang Mike Pence.” It’s ugly, but you should watch it.
As I sat and watched the events unfold from afar, I tried to remember a day that left me similarly fearful for our nation. I’m sure for many on the left who were horrified by Donald Trump’s victory, his election or his inauguration come to mind. And, in a way, his inauguration day previewed what was to come during his term. His address was full of hyperbole about poverty and crime, and he vowed that, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Some of the protests in D.C. that day did turn violent, with fires being set and more than 200 people being arrested.
But as much as I tried to fight the comparison, I have to admit that a different day came to mind: 9/11. Nothing—nothing—can truly compare to that horrifying day: the deaths, the destruction, the war it portended. But one parallel is the way both events upended our sense of security. Before 9/11, Americans thought we were largely invulnerable. We could not be attacked on our own soil. Before Wednesday, our democratic process seemed fragile but secure. The post-election period had been exhausting and frustrating, and it might end with some performative shenanigans, but order would prevail. But now we know that some people were prepared to do whatever it took to keep that from happening.
I also mention that terrible day because there is one other parallel that gives me some optimism. Late in the evening of 9/11, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” It was a symbolic gesture, but an important one, sending a message to those who had attacked us that we were unified. On Wednesday night, after hours of mayhem and uncertainty, after they had been whisked away to secure locations to wait out the threat, members of Congress returned to the floor. They picked up where they left off. And in the wee hours of Thursday morning, they finished their work. It was far more than a symbolic gesture, but the symbolism should not be ignored.
We still have a ways to go. It’s possible that Donald Trump will be impeached again during his final days in office. The investigations into the breakdown of security at the Capitol will, or at least should, extend well into the Biden administration. But the center held.
As challenging as this week was, we’re proud of the work we did. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jonah’s G-File from Friday in which he called events at the Capitol to an American Benghazi or Yuval Levin’s fantastic essay in which he argued that the real threat to the republic came before the protesters stormed the Capitol. You may have heard that Twitter suspended Trump’s account on Friday. Did you know it came just a couple hours after David made the case for it in French Press? (Coincidence? Perhaps.) We thank all of you who sent kind notes, left us nice comments, or talked us up on social media.
We’ve never done a staff editorial before, but if ever there were a moment, it was this one. The events of the Capitol, and the president’s role in inciting them, made clear that it’s time for the president to go. “Today’s terrible events have made crystal clear what should long have been plainly understood—Trump is dangerous to the peace and security of the American nation. Indeed, he is exactly the kind of man the founders of the nation worried about when they gave Congress the power to impeach and remove the nation’s chief executive.”
The jokes would write themselves if the situation weren’t so grave. On Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., as Congress was trying to get back to work, Rudy Giuliani left a voicemail message for newly sworn-in Sen. Tommy Tuberville. Only he had the wrong number and reached a different senator. That senator forwarded the call to The Dispatch, and we thought you needed to hear it. Giuliani called on Tuberville to do what he could to show things down as Congress met. It was part of a broader plan to delay the count and continue the delusional effort to overturn the election.
It’s safe to say that when Audrey and Andrew expressed interest in covering Wednesday’s “Save America March” on the National Mall, they had no idea what the assignment would entail. What’s so amazing about this piece—besides the great reporting and the careful attention to detail—is how many attendees gave us their names. This is one illuminating detail: “With the grounds of the Capitol still empty except for the police ostensibly securing them, two men sat in camp chairs in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, white paper signs reading ‘militia recruiter’ taped to their seats. They were handing out flyers announcing the organization of a ‘national militia’ that would ‘occur throughout the morning,’ members of which would wear silver armbands ‘signifying that they are lawful combatants.’ Other paramilitary groups, like the Proud Boys, didn’t need signups: They’d arrived fully formed, marching down the Mall to the Capitol shortly before Trump spoke.”
Most weeks, Haley Byrd Wilt’s new newsletter, Uphill, will focus on the normal business of Congress and the people who are conducting it. Look for deep dives on procedure, a look at the sausage-making that goes into crafting legislation. Most weeks. But on Friday she inveighed against the danger presented by lawmakers who, whether they were true believers or were cynically perpetuating the notion for their own political gain, espoused the idea that the election was stolen and that the electoral votes needed to be objected to. We’ll be sending out Uphill every Tuesday and Friday. To make sure you receive it, be sure to opt-in on our account page. For the next few weeks, they’ll be sent to everyone who opts in. After that, Friday editions will be sent to paid members only. If you want to understand what’s going on in Congress, don’t miss out.
Believe it or not, we covered other topics this week. Here are a few things you might have missed:
Tom Joscelyn in Vital Interests calls attention to the fact that China is blocking a delegation from the World Health Organization from visiting a lab in Wuhan. Is it time to revisit the “lab leak” theory that claims the virus might have been released accidentally?
After Sen. Josh Hawley responded to an intemperate tweet that a Walmart social media staffer accidentally sent from the corporation’s account by accusing it of using slave labor, Scott Lincicome used his Capitolism newsletter to defend Walmart, Amazon, and e-commerce retailers that Hawley and other populists have blamed for destroying small businesses.
Oh, hey, the GOP lost control of the Senate on Tuesday night when both Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost their special elections in Georgia. In The Sweep, Sarah analyzes just how that happened, and she also takes a look at 2022.
The world doesn’t slow down while we’re working through our own problems. Charlotte explains how Iran’s announcement that it’s enriching uranium to 20 percent purity is a sign that it’s already challenging the incoming Biden administration.
On the pods: When talk swirls of the 25th Amendment being invoked or a second go at impeachment, you know you want David and Sarah to break it down for you on Advisory Opinions. There were two great episodes of Dispatch Podcast. On Thursday, the gang rehashed the events of Wednesday and talked to Audrey and Andrew about their reporting from the Capitol. And Steve and Sarah have a fantastic conversation with Politico’s Tim Alberta about why we shouldn’t have been as surprised as we were by Wednesday’s events. As for The Remnant, well, Jonah might be smarter than any of us because he was on vacation last week. But he was back in time to record a solo episode Friday night.