WASHINGTON – So this is how it ends. The presidency of Donald Trump, rooted from the beginning in anger, division and conspiracy-mongering, comes to a close with a violent mob storming the Capitol at the instigation of a defeated leader trying to hang onto power as if America were just another authoritarian nation.
The scenes in Washington would have once been unimaginable: A rampage through the citadel of American democracy. Police officers brandishing guns in an armed standoff to defend the House chamber. Tear gas deployed in the rotunda. Lawmakers in hiding. Extremists standing in the vice president's spot on the Senate dais and sitting at the desk of the speaker of the House.
The words used to describe it were equally alarming: Coup. Insurrection. Sedition. Suddenly the U.S. was being compared to a "banana republic" and receiving messages of concern from other capitals. "American carnage," it turned out, was not what Trump would stop, as he promised upon taking office, but what he wound up delivering four years later to the very building where he took the oath.
The convulsion in Washington capped 1,448 days of Twitter storms, provocations, race-baiting, busted norms, shock-jock governance and truth-bending from the Oval Office that have left the country more polarized than in generations. Those who warned of worst-case scenarios only to be dismissed as alarmists found some of their darkest fears realized. By day's end, even some Republicans suggested removing Trump under the 25th Amendment rather than wait two weeks for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The extraordinary invasion of the Capitol was a last-ditch act of desperation from a camp facing political eviction. Even before the mob set foot in the building on Wednesday afternoon, Trump's presidency was slipping away. Democrats were taking control of the Senate with a pair of Georgia runoff election victories that Republicans angrily blamed on the president's erratic behavior.
Two of his most loyal allies, Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, broke with Trump in a way they had never done before, refusing to go along with his bid to overturn a democratic election after standing behind him or standing quietly through four years of toxic conflict, scandal and capriciousness. And even more Republicans lost patience after the Capitol takeover.
"What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House Republican leadership who reversed plans to join Trump's effort to block the election results. "I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness."
Rep. Liz Cheney, another Republican leader, said Trump was responsible for the violence. "There's no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob," she told Fox News in comments she then posted online. "He lit the flames. This is what America is not."
Sen. Roy Blunt, a senior Republican, said he had no more interest in what Trump had to say. "It was a tragic day and I think he was part of it," he said.
The cascade of criticism came even from within Trump's circle, as current and former advisers expressed concern about how far he has been willing to go to undo an election that he lost and one longtime aide, Stephanie Grisham, resigned. After he initially offered only mild statements calling on the mob in the Capitol to be peaceful, several members of Trump's team publicly implored him to do more.
Moments after Biden went on live television to deplore the "insurrection" at the Capitol and call on Trump to go before cameras, the president released a recorded video online that offered mixed messages. Even as he told supporters it was time to withdraw, he praised them while repeating his grievances against people who were "so bad and so evil."
"I know you're hurt," he told the rioters. "We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now." He added: "We love you. You're very special." Rather than calming the waters, the video was seen as further roiling them — so much so that Facebook and Twitter took it down and Twitter suspended Trump's account for 12 hours.
Tom Bossert, the president's former homeland security adviser, called out his former boss. "This is beyond wrong and illegal," he said on Twitter. "It's un-American. The President undermined American democracy baselessly for months. As a result, he's culpable for this siege, and an utter disgrace."
While Washington has seen many protests over the years, including some that turned violent, the uprising on Wednesday was unlike anything that the capital has seen during a transition of power in modern times. Trump all but egged them on during a "Save America March" on the Ellipse south of the White House just as Congress was convening to validate Biden's election.
"We will never give up," Trump had declared. "We will never concede."
Other speakers, including his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, castigated Republican lawmakers for not standing up for the president.
"The people who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering should send a message to them," Donald Trump Jr. said. "This isn't their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump's Republican Party!"
But the question is for how long. Trump faced the end of his reign much as he began it, without the support of most Americans even as he has presented himself as a self-proclaimed billionaire champion of everyday people. He won through the Electoral College in 2016 with nearly 3 million fewer votes in the popular tally than his opponent and lost by 7 million in November. He did not earn the approval of a majority of Americans in major surveys for a single day of his tenure, unlike any of his predecessors in the history of polling.