President-elect Joe Biden's goal of nation unification is expected to prove more complex
Never in recent memory have the events of a single 24-hour period shaken two presidencies, that of the United States Capitol and that of the nation itself, as much as last Wednesday.
The remarkable scenes of political violence that erupted amid what was supposed to be a peaceful confirmation of the transfer of power on January 6, 2021 are testing America's democratic institutions, and their reaction is far from clear. President Trump's term, which began with the Republicans at the helm of Washington and the promise of a new type of populist leadership, effectively ended wednesday with his party's conflagration and ouster from the mysteries of power, some of its top leaders banned by a president they had loyally supported, and a fringe of extremist supporters of the President forced entry and vandalized the symbol of American democracy. the Capitol.
The effects of this day will be felt for years to come and it will be up to historians to draw all the consequences. It seems likely, however, that the chances that other Republicans will see Mr. Trump as the leader of their party after he leaves office have been significantly reduced. As Mr. Trump himself tried to remind his supporters after the outbreak of violence, Republicans like to be seen as the party of law and order, and that's hardly the image he currently projects.
Biden calls attack on Capitol Hill "unprecedented assault" on democracy
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden's efforts to calm and unify the nation will now prove more complex. On the one hand, the willingness of Trump supporters to resort to violent behavior on Capitol Hill shows how much they question its legitimacy and how unwilling they are to accept him as president.
On the other hand, it is possible that the outright horror that most Americans felt, and that most Republicans expressed, during the scenes of disorder will cause everyone to step back from divisive political behavior and seek common ground. It is certainly an exaggeration to say that Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol did Mr. Biden a favor, but they gave new urgency to his calls to move away from the bitter politics of recent years.
This is what Mr. Biden did when he reacted to the violence on television, calling for"renewing a policy that aims to solve problems, to watch over each other, not to fuel the flames of hatred and chaos."
A key question now is how, far beyond the streets of Washington, the country as a whole reacts. Will voters on both sides of the partisan divide now see compromise and consensus as preferable to the pursuit of deep divisions, or will they see the events of the day as further evidence of their distance from compatriots with whom they disagree?
The day began with the conduct of the electoral process in accordance with the Constitution. The results of two rounds of voting for Georgia State Senate seats were being confirmed, with both seats ultimately going to the Democrats. These results, if final, give the Democrats control of the Senate as well as the House.
In the meantime, Congress has met to conduct the constitutionally mandated process of counting electoral College votes that will officially make Biden the next president. The debate lasted for hours, with Republican lawmakers protesting alleged election irregularities and potential fraud, but that didn't change the outcome: Biden's victory was confirmed.
But Mr. Trump has heard none of this. At noon, he showed up at an open-air rally his team had organized just outside the White House compound and launched a large-scale verbal attack not only on the electoral process, but also on his own party and leaders.
He repeated a long list of complaints about voting irregularities and alleged fraud, and proclaimed: "We will never give up. We will never give in." He excoriated"weak Republicans, pathetic Republicans"who did not support him, criticizing some of them by name. And he urged the crowd to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The fire was started.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump's own vice president, Mike Pence, presided over the task of counting the nation's electoral votes. Mr. Pence had just proclaimed that he would defy the wishes of the president who was somehow seeking to unilaterally overturn the results of the presidential election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his own break with the president he had strongly defended, said none of the alleged election irregularities, even if they had taken place, were almost significant enough to change the outcome. He refused to support any effort to reverse the results.
And then a hostile crowd arrived. Mr. Pence had to be remanded in custody to protect him from supporters of his own boss. The counting of electoral votes – a process that the nation's leaders carried out in good times and bad, in times of war as well as in peacetime – was suspended when the nation's elected leaders found themselves blocked.
By nightfall, the country's capital was under curfew and lawmakers were under surveillance. But in a show where Congress, though shaken and damaged, was not flinched, lawmakers then came together to complete the work the Constitution had assigned to them, hoping that the shock they had just endured might perhaps make them stronger.
Gerald F. Seib