Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)The disgusting events Wednesday at the Capitol will, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said, live in infamy. For the first time since the British sacked Washington in 1814, the Capitol was overrun. This time it was not by an invading foreign power. Instead, it was an unhinged right-wing mob of our fellow Americans, jacked up on lies force-fed to them by Donald Trump and his enablers in the conservative media-political establishment.
Paul BegalaThey breached security, cursed and punched Capitol police officers, smashed windows and strode around on the floor of the Senate and the House like Vandals sacking Rome. A woman was shot and killed. Multiple police officers were injured. A scaffold with a noose appeared. Pipe bombs were found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. A cache of Molotov cocktails was discovered.Nothing concentrates the Republican mind, it seems, like an insurrectionist mob of traitors laying siege to the Capitol. After the riot, the number of GOP senators who ultimately voted to challenge Biden electors shrunk to just six, down from a reported 14. Even Lindsey Graham, perhaps Donald Trump’s most desperate, cloying golf-cleat-licker, broke with him at the end. Disgracefully, 120 House Republicans still voted to overturn the vote of the people.I once worked in the Capitol. My office looked directly on the National Mall. Every night as the sun went down, the glow would illuminate my workplace, and I would ponder the miracle that a guy from Missouri City, Texas, could work in the same building where Lincoln served, walk the halls once strode by a confident young war hero named Jack Kennedy, go to meetings in the room where Harry Truman learned that FDR had died and that he now bore the awful burden of presidency. None of that history stopped these thugs. None of the majesty mattered to this mob. They cared not a whit about Lincoln or Kennedy, nor about the Constitution or the country. Their flag was not the Stars and Stripes that have draped the caskets of so many actual American patriots. Rather, it was the banner of a cult of personality, the name that had been emblazoned on a fraudulent “university” and failed casinos. Read MoreVice President Pence, remove Trump now“The veneer of civilization is very thin,” said Margaret Thatcher after the 1981 riots in Britain. Right she was. And so, Mr. Trump’s place in infamy is especially dark, since he has pulled and scraped and peeled away that veneer for years. Consider all he did to make this violence come to pass:• In his 2016 campaign, Trump routinely encouraged violence. When he was heckled at a Las Vegas rally he bellowed, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” He went on to wistfully claim that “in the old days,” protesters would be “carried out on stretchers. “When a Black Lives Matter protester was mauled months earlier by his supporters, Trump said, “maybe he should have been roughed up.”• He told another rally that perhaps “the Second Amendment people” (pro-gun activists) could “take care” of Hillary Clinton.• In 2017, White supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying torches and chanting racist slogans. A neo-Nazi murdered Heather Heyer, and Trump drew moral equivalence between the White supremacists and the peaceful protestors like Ms. Heyer. “I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said. “And I have no doubt about it.” Trump went on to utter six of the most disgusting words in presidential history: “very fine people on both sides.”• When peaceful protesters gathered in June in Washington’s Lafayette Park, across from the White House, Trump lashed out, sending riot police to tear gas them so he could stage a photo op.• When, in their first debate, Joe Biden challenged Trump to disavow the far-right Proud Boys, he refused, telling them to “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys were reportedly thrilled.• Days after his Proud Boys shout-out, Trump refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” he said. Then he laid the groundwork for his post-election attack on the sanctity of the election. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots” — keep in mind this is before a single ballot had been cast — “and the ballots are a disaster.”• On the day the House and Senate were to receive the votes of the Electoral College, Mr. Trump spoke to a right-wing rally and incited them: “We’re gonna walk down to the Capitol, and we’re gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back your country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”• Even as the seditious mob was rioting and rampaging, Trump praised them. “We love you,” he said in a video message in which he simultaneously stoked their rage by repeating his lie that the election had been stolen but also called on them to go home. “You’re very special.”But Trump is not alone in stoking violence. From the moment he slithered down that escalator in Trump Tower, he has been abetted by right-wing media, fringe political operators and, worst of all, most of his fellow Republicans. They filled the mob with lies, conspiratorial claptrap and encouragement. Get our free weekly newsletter
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As we lurch through these last perilous days of the Trump presidency, there will be resignations, recriminations, and revisionist histories from Trumpland. They will be as hollow as the character of the men and women who will make them. Their reputations will lie in tatters forevermore; their great-great-grandchildren yet unborn will hang their heads with shame. They enabled, empowered and aided the only President to subvert the peaceful transfer of power; they stood against the Constitution, siding instead with the worst President in American history.Their names, like this day, will live in infamy.
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