There are many fingers of blame to point for the frightening and deplorable assault on the Capitol Wednesday by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.
The first one, of course, has to be directed at the rioters themselves, who must be held accountable for their decision to storm a seat of government in a hopelessly vain effort to keep Trump in power. They should be identified and charged with whatever federal crimes apply.
No matter the intoxication of a mob gathering or the enticement of others, every lawbreaker must be held personable responsible for his or her decisions. You break the law, you pay the price. Isn’t that what conservatives — including the ultraconservatives who worship at Trump’s feet — say?
But not far behind in responsibility for what transpired is Trump himself. The president has spent the last two months — not just at Wednesday’s rally in Washington or the days just prior — fomenting his supporters’ anger and passions with totally unsubstantiated claims that he was cheated out of re-election.
Dozens and dozens of courts, including the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, and numerous authorities, including from his own party and his own administration, have rejected Trump’s claims that voter fraud occurred on a scale large enough to deprive him of victory. Yet Trump continued to peddle this claim on Wednesday, while most of the rest of the country was stunned and disgusted by the insurrection he incited.
In two weeks, Trump will leave office. But what will linger is the stain assigned to the rest of the blameworthy: those Republican officeholders who backed his unproven claims of election fraud, backed his shameless efforts to try to overturn the results in states he narrowly lost, and backed his attempt to derail the normally perfunctory process of certifying the Electoral College totals. The damage to our democratic institutions is also on their hands.
At least two of these co-conspirators, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, have presidential ambitions. Cruz, who was humiliated by Trump during the 2016 GOP nomination contest, capitulated to his former adversary in hopes of securing the support of the GOP’s far right four years from now. Hawley is a similarly craven opportunist.
If either of them is the future of the Republican Party, the GOP is in trouble. It may keep the Trump base in its corner, but most of the rest of the country will be repulsed by what this type of appeal produces: a divided, angry and explosive nation, one that is susceptible to betraying what makes us exemplary to the rest of the world.
Since 1797 — 224 years — the United States has had the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. Even those who narrowly lost bitter elections would rise above their hurt to gracefully concede to the winner and ask their supporters to accept the majority’s choice.
The era of Trump has broken that enviable record. No matter their political persuasion, all Americans should demand its return.