• Mark Mardell

Storming of the Capitol

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

When dawn breaks over Washington, democracy will be weighed in the balance. The storming of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters is dramatic, highly symbolic of the ills of the Trump era and deeply worrying. But it's also a turning point.

The President elect Joe Biden, the only living former Republican President George W Bush, and Trump’s most prominent republican critic, former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have all used the word “insurrection”. It is a very precise, slightly archaic, formulation which suggests a degree of coordination. Doubtless Trump supporters will see it as a deep state conspiracy rather than a coalition of the willing.

Possibly much more important is the decisive break with the President from the formerly craven VP Mike Pence and senate leader Mitchell McConnell who’s been equally sycophantic for five long years. It suggests that they are really, seriously worried that Trump intends to push ahead with something like a coup. It is a hugely significant breach, suggesting they want, finally, to rescue their party from Trump and his most fervent supporters.

But hang on. For all the potential of this to spiral out of control, for all the shock and awe of the pictures this is not a first strike by military officers but the actions of a ragtag mob. Look closely at the pictures and the would be cannon fodder for a coup are a rather aging, motley crew, not a hardened strike force.

There have been deaths – three of them after ‘medical emergencies’ – but soldiers tend not to have heart attacks when storming the commanding hights. Watch the rioters, domestic terrorists if you will, entering the Capitol, not surging but straggling up the central carpet, keeping themselves constrained within the red rope barriers. One daringly moves a pole holding the rope sightly to one side. Not proper but perhaps not exactly the act of a revolutionary. Protesters lounge in the seats of the powerful, disrespecting democracy. But not overturning it. Not yet.

Trump, the big baby bully, is apparently hurt and bewildered, unable to accept defeat, and would no doubt love a genuine coup to keep him in power. There are enough hard right militas, enough guns, enough anger in the United States for this to get very much worse. If such scenes are repeated elsewhere, if armed Trump supporters descend in greater numbers on DC then it could turn ugly scenes into something like a genuine revolution. The next few hours and days are critical. There are a lots of questions that need to be answered – by Republicans, by Trump supporters, by the man himself, before we know whether permanent insurrection will be the backdrop to a Biden Presidency.

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