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  • Christopher Strain

Untied



When I type quickly, as I’ve been doing today, I sometimes write “Untied States of America,” rather than United States of America, and yesterday it certainly felt as if things were coming untied. Woke up feeling pretty good. Had a lot of work to do but didn’t get much accomplished, watching TV all afternoon. Went to bed feeling pretty alarmed--deeply disturbed and shaken, in fact, worried about the state of the union.


Some thoughts—


If you voted for Donald Trump, it’d be awfully nice to hear you unequivocally condemn what happened yesterday in the nation’s capital. But I suppose if you voted for Trump you appreciate a certain level of chaos.


Not me. I want off the Trumpcoaster. To quote a friend of mine, this shit’s not funny anymore.


Lines were crossed. Trump incited a riot, at the very least, perhaps even committed treason in encouraging sedition and insurrection. He also unintentionally reaffirmed that impeachment was and continues to be the proper answer to his toxic presidency.


He cannot admit defeat. It’s as if he and his devotees compare the number of Trump flags on display with the fewer number of Biden flags and assume that the margin indicates more votes for Trump. From his first post-election rally with VP-elect Mike Pence in Cincinnati on Dec. 1, 2016, to yesterday’s exit riot, the President has overestimated his support via sampling bias. If you surround yourself only with devoted followers, then you’ll think the world is devotedly following you.


Maybe if he’d played sports as a kid he might’ve learned about sportsmanship, about winning and losing. Trump could’ve left the Oval Office gracefully, with some modicum of decorum. But now he’s made it hard to interpret his deeds in sum as anything other than criminal. He is sealing his legacy in thuggery and violence. He can’t seem to accept the fact he lost--can’t help but trip over his own ego--and now he’s burning down D.C. on the way out of town, much as he did in Atlantic City when his investments there soured.


Question: How was one of the mighty symbols and sacred spaces of American democracy, presumably one of the most secure buildings on the planet, breached by a mob? A minimum display of force would have deterred the rioters. No D.C. Police, no SWAT, no special units, no private security, no Blackwater/Academi, no VA or MD state troopers, no National Guard, no U.S. military, no backup whatsoever until much too late. U.S. Capitol Police were insufficient, perhaps even complicit in the breach. I’m reminded of the Freedom Rides in 1961, when civil rights activists rolled into Birmingham to find a skeleton crew of police, who joined in with the Klan to beat the bus riders. To be clear, I’m not saying there’s a parallel between the Capitol rioters and the Freedom Riders; rather, I’m saying that violence is sometimes fomented by those whose job it is to prevent it (in this case the president and possibly the Capitol Police).


Regardless, arrests of those who stormed the Capitol should be made. As Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., noted, what happened was shameful, unpatriotic, and unlawful. There are many ways to express discontent that your candidate lost. Storming the U.S. Capitol is not one of them. Mob rule does not square with law and order in a democratic republic. It’s un-American. That said, anyone surprised by yesterday’s events in Washington, D.C. hasn’t been paying attention to Trump rallies over the past four-plus years. What unfolded yesterday in the nation’s capital was a predictable and in many ways inevitable outcome of these rallies, filled with vitriol and violent rhetoric. Trump transformed these events from necessary campaign activities into nonstop pep rallies that rarely if ever appealed, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, to the better angels of our nature.


Facts: Biden won; Trump lost. Biden won the popular vote by a rather large margin, scoring 81,283,098 votes, or 51.3 percent of the votes cast. He is the first U.S. presidential candidate to have won more than 80 million votes. Trump won 74,222,958 votes, or 46.8 percent of the votes cast. In the past six presidential elections, only Barack Obama in 2008 won by a larger total vote margin than the 7,060,140 votes that Biden accrued. However, as James M. Lindsay--senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)--has pointed out, winning the popular vote does not mean winning the presidency, as Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton can all attest. The 2020 election was close, considering the small shifts needed to give Trump a victory. If Trump picked up the right mix of 42,921 votes in Arizona (10,457), Georgia (11,779), and Wisconsin (20,682), the Electoral College would have been tied at 269 all and the House of Representatives would have then decided the election; if he had also picked up one electoral vote in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, which he lost to Biden by 22,091 votes, he would have won the Electoral College outright. The 2020 election was closer even than 2016, as Lindsay has explained; for more info, see his blog at https://www.cfr.org/blog/2020-election-numbers.


More facts: The election was neither rigged nor stolen. There was no widespread voter fraud. Bags of ballots were not lost or intentionally destroyed. All of these claims have been thoroughly disproven. And yet the script is already being rewritten by those for whom the sky is not blue and the sea is not wet. Conspiracy theories swirl; misinformation abounds. The newest contrivance is that yesterday’s rioters were antifa, not Trump supporters.


There was good that happened yesterday. The Vice President stood up to an out-of-control boss for whom he’s been subservient during his entire tenure in office. The good people of Georgia, including a solid bloc of Black voters, elected Raphael Warnock--the state’s first Black senator, a Morehouse College graduate, and the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a position once held by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--and Jon Ossoff, the youngest Democrat elected to the Senate since Joe Biden in 1973, over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who not only maligned the Black Lives Matter movement as a WNBA team owner (?) but also ran a campaign ad in which she claimed to be “more conservative than Attila the Hun” (!), and incumbent Sen. David Perdue, one of the wealthier members of the Senate, respectively.


But even Georgia’s historic Senate runoff was marred by Trump’s anti-Midas touch. At a runoff-eve rally in Dalton, Georgia on Monday night, Trump uttered a rare truth from his often-lying mouth. “I don’t do rallies for other people,” he said. “I do rallies for me.” Trump was in Georgia to campaign for Perdue and Loeffler, who were fighting for their political lives, yet he still managed to make the rally about him. “There’s no way we lost Georgia,” he said, repeating a debunked claim. “That was a rigged election, but we’ll see what’s going to happen.” He was correct. Yesterday we saw exactly what happens when a president not only poisons popular opinion against the very media that safeguards democracy but also pits one half of the nation against the other half.


People around the world have eagerly awaited the end of 2020 and a fresh start in 2021, but 2020 keeps on 2020-ing. Here’s hoping to brighter days ahead. Yesterday was a long year in America.

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