Over the past few days the nation has seen Donald J. Trump at his feral worst — and his most dangerous. The man has never been fit for the office — his personality flaws alone should have disqualified him — and as his term nears its end, his petulant egoism and lack of self-control has now led directly to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
There will be a lot to parse over the next hours and days. Why were the people responsible for securing the Capitol building overwhelmed and overrun? What efforts are being made to identify and charge the Trump "patriots" who attacked police, broke into and vandalized the Capitol and attempted to stop Congress from carrying out the people's business? Should Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office before Jan. 20?
And more. Lots more. Debate already was swirling over whether Trump should face investigations over possible crimes committed as president. That would be dangerous ground to tread — is it politicizing the criminal or criminalizing the political? — and a further degrading of American political norms and traditions.
But Trump may have tipped the scale on that by summoning political supporters to Washington for his "Save America" protest Wednesday against congressional certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election. At a fiery rally outside the White House, the president urged the crowd to march to the Capitol to "to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women," then added ominously: "We're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."
A sitting president encouraging a mob to, at a minimum, harass political opponents is among the most authoritarian acts Trump has committed. And then his supporters went one better by invading the Capitol building and temporarily halting congressional proceedings not through civil disobedience — chants and sign waving — but by storming the chambers and the offices of elected members of Congress, forcing everyone inside to retreat to more secure confines.
All it needed was arson to become a Reichstag moment.
It was stunning.
Early Thursday morning, an exhausted Congress finally finished its business and certified Biden as the next president. It was not a display of unity in the face of historic attack, however. Even with the chaos fresh in their minds, Trump's enablers continued to push the lie that he had been cheated out of victory, and they contested the certification of electors from several states. Yes, a few Republican senators and House members abandoned this folly in the wake of the violence it helped trigger, but the vast majority did not, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. And those who did have a change of heart still bear responsibility for their role in feeding the atmosphere of lies in the first place.
It was as though they view the election process as nothing more than a game, or a process to be manipulated with no concern for the consequences.
We saw the consequences rumble through the Capitol, enabled by an inexcusable lack of preparation by the Capitol Police, intending to undo an election. Trump mobs also descended on state capitols, in some cases forcing their way inside buildings and elsewhere breaking windows and committing other acts of vandalism.
All egged on by the president's lies. That's not political protest. That's insurrection. And no, it wasn't a right-wing version of last summer's Black Lives Matter protests against the all-too-real systemic racism that retains embedded in the social fabric of America. This was an anti-democratic display by political mob reacting to a lost election by overrunning the seat of American power. There is nothing else in our political life to compare it to.
Members of the mob in Washington were sufficiently proud of their actions to post selfies, stream live video of the criminal trespass of the Capitol and even describe what they did in interviews with reporters — you know, those "enemies of the people." There are charges that can and should be filed if individual crimes can be proven. But there are other responses for an angered and victimized nation.
Twitter was right to muzzle Trump on Wednesday, suspending his account — the way he also bellows into the ears of his mob — for 12 hours, and, given how he has used the platform to incite violence, he ought to be banned outright from all social media platforms (Facebook also temporarily suspended his account, as did Instagram and other social networks, with Facebook further announcing Thursday its ban would be indefinite).
And no, that's not contrary to the First Amendment right to free speech. It's more in line with precluding someone from yelling a warning about a nonexistent fire in a crowded theater. Nongovernment businesses are free to say "enough is enough," even if they come late to that realization.
And there's the ballot box. The next congressional election is in two years, with all seats in the House and a third in the Senate up for grabs. Every member of both chambers up for reelection who pushed the lie that Biden lost should be voted out of office in a bipartisan rejection of the anti-democratic Trumpism movement, an effort that should begin immediately.
In the interim, the Republicans who helped create the environment that encouraged the mob — beginning with Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri — should be marginalized by party leadership, including stripping them of committee assignments.
What we have seen over the past day has not been some benignly excessive display of the passion of politics. It was an attack orchestrated by the president on us as a people, as an electorate and as a nation. It was an attack on our history. It was an attack on our democracy.
Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board.