“. . . . Trump’s great virtue, as a public figure, is his literalism. His statements may be littered with lies, but he is honest about who he is and what he intends. When he lost the Iowa caucus to Cruz in 2016, he declared that “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.” When it seemed likely he would lose the presidential election to Hillary Clinton, he began calling the election rigged. When he wanted the president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation into Joe Biden, he made the demand directly, on a taped call. When he was asked, during the presidential debates in 2020, if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of a loss, he refused. There was no subterfuge from Trump leading up to the terrible events of Jan. 6. He called this shot, over and over again, and then he took it.
The Republican Party that has aided and abetted Trump is all the more contemptible because it fills the press with quotes making certain that we know that it knows better. In a line that will come to define this sordid era (and sordid party), a senior Republican told The Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change.” What happened on Wednesday in Washington is the downside. Millions of Americans will take you literally. They will not know you are “humoring” the most powerful man in the world. They will feel betrayed and desperate. Some of them will be armed.
The Trump era has often come wrapped in a cloak of self-protective irony. We have been asked to separate the man from his tweets, to believe that Trump doesn’t mean what he says, that he doesn’t intend to act on his beliefs, that he isn’t what he obviously is. Any divergence between word and reality has been enlisted into this cause. That Trump has failed to achieve much of what he promised because of his incompetence and distractibility has been recast as a sign of a more cautious core. The constraints placed upon him by other institutions or bureaucratic actors have been reframed as evidence that he never intended to follow through on his wilder pronouncements. This was a convenient fiction for the Republican Party, but it was a disastrous fantasy for the country. And now it has collapsed.
When the literalists rushed the chamber, Pence, Cruz and Hawley were among those who had to be evacuated, for their own safety. Some of their compatriots, like Senator Kelly Loeffler, rescinded their objections to the election, seemingly shaken by the beast they had unleashed. But there is no real refuge from the movement they fed. Trump’s legions are still out there, and now they are mourning a death and feeling yet more deceived by many of their supposed allies in Washington, who turned on them as soon as they did what they thought they had been asked to do.
The problem isn’t those who took Trump at his word from the start. It’s the many, many elected Republicans who took him neither seriously nor literally, but cynically. They have brought this upon themselves — and us.”