My dear, when people show you who they are, why don’t you believe them? Why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are? Why can’t you get it the first time?
—the late poet Maya Angelou, as related by her friend Oprah Winfrey.
When Donald Trump showed America who he really was the very first time, why didn’t we believe him?
When a failed-real-estate-huckster-turned-reality-TV-star came down his escalator of fake gold at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, and hung a campaign for the nation’s highest office around branding Mexican refugees as murderers and rapists that America needed to keep out with a massive wall, why didn’t people believe he wasn’t fit for office?
When Trump showed us who he really was 29 times every single day, threatening to ban Muslims from entering this country, or lying about matters as big as his subservience to Vladimir Putin and as small as the size of his inauguration crowd, why did so many otherwise smart people still think he’d eventually “grow into the job”?
When the future 45th president of the United States egged on the most violent thugs at his Nuremberg-style campaign rallies, when he yelled “get him the hell out of here” as white supporters roughed up a Black man in Birmingham, when he promised to pay the legal fees of brownshirts who beat up anti-Trump demonstrators, and when he said “I’d like to punch him in the face” to one rally insurrectionist, why are people still shocked when a riled-up mob takes Trump up on his own toxic words?
And why is it that TV pundits and talking heads — after watching four years of crying toddlers yanked from their mothers at the southern border, after Trump and consigliere Bill Barr raced to execute federal prisoners to show how “tough” they are, and after Trump and Barr had ordered troops to fire tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square for a presidential photo-op with an upside-down Bible — seemed so shocked this afternoon as we watched where this has all been headed from Day One: a coup to shut down American democracy?
Donald Trump did not become president today. Donald Trump was never going to become president on any of the 1,447 days since he lied on a Bible, mouthed the oath of his now-broken office, and spoke of an “American carnage” that has finally come home to roost on January 6, 2021, a date that will live in inflamed infamy.
I am writing this after 6 p.m. on this cursed day, arguably the worst for this nation since 9/11, unless you want to count that endless night of November 8, 2016, when 62 million American arsonists lit the fuse that has finally ignited. For the last five hours, I’ve watched thousands of Trump-fried insurrectionists storm past overmatched Capitol Police and ransack the seat of American government, halting the long-awaited congressional ratification of Joe Biden’s election as 46th president. One woman has been shot and killed. There are reports that cops have found homemade unexploded bombs near the Republican and Democratic National Committees.
Darkness is descending on Washington, and the worst may be yet to come.
Meanwhile, the indelible images of democracy’s infidels overrunning the Capitol will never be forgotten — but no one should be surprised. For days, the president of the United States had openly encouraged his supporters to flock into D.C. and to — despite the lack of any evidence of election fraud in Biden’s victory — “Stop the Steal.” He was aided by weak minions like his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that small man who was still searching for a balcony this morning when he urged the mob toward “a trial by combat.”
This morning, Trump himself addressed his insurrectionists, filled them with the lie that “you never concede when there’s theft,” and urged them to march on the Capitol. “You’ll never take our country back with weakness,” the flaccid strongman told them. What happened today was nothing less than a coup aimed at shutting down American democracy at a fraught moment — the peaceful transfer of power that has happened every four years since 1789, until interrupted on this awful day — and it was led by the Current Occupant of the Oval Office.
It didn’t succeed, but it left us with unforgettable images of how far America has descended since Trump stepped on that elevator. The Capitol mob seized and trashed cameras and other equipment from the Associated Press — part of a media that the president has branded for his supporters as “the enemies of the people” — and threatened to set it, and the 1st Amendment, on fire. Several of the insurrectionists marched through the corridors of the Capitol waving Confederate flags, avatar of a movement that will never stop fighting for its Lost Causes, including the one named Donald John Trump.
This cold winter’s night is bringing so many questions. Why were the police, the National Guard, and the other phalanx of law-enforcement officers in Washington so unprepared for a day that was five years in the making? And how on earth will Joe Biden, a good man forged in a much simpler time, clean up this slimy mess that has graffitied the nation’s capital? But there is no bigger question than this: When Donald Trump told us he would trash everything that America has stood for, why didn’t we believe him the first time?