Michael Settle: Trump’s legacy is the shaming of America
IT was the shaming of America and the most shameful part was that it was led by the President.
Given all that we know about Donald Trump the storming of the Capitol by a frenzied mob came as no great surprise, yet the scenes of violence were still shocking.
Former President George W Bush likened the scenes in Washington to events seen in a “banana republic”.
Outraged and disgusted, some officials quit, including Mick Mulvaney, the US special envoy to Northern Ireland, who noted: “Donald Trump did not build a bomb that went off yesterday, he did not build the fuse, but he did light it.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the President had sought to embolden his supporters, telling them they would “never take back our country with weakness”. The warm-up man, his lawyer Rudy Guilliani, had been even more explicit, telling the rally in Washington that what was needed was “trial by combat” against the Democrats.
Little wonder then that shortly afterwards the mob unleashed itself on the citadel of liberty.
Congressmen and women cowered under tables and barricaded themselves behind doors as rioters rampaged through the grandeur of the Capitol building. Pipe bombs were left in offices. Four people died, including one shot in the chest.
Some no doubt will accuse Trump of having blood on his hands.
Yet the insurrection was a predictable culmination of a string of deplorable events, decisions and behaviour that even preceded the President taking office in 2017.
In his campaign for the presidency, Trump made an astonishing boast, which indicated to him how “smart” his base of support was but which to others showed just how dangerous they were. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes,” he declared.
His four years in power has been a relentless campaign of alienation.
The turnover of White House staff, including ministers, has been phenomenal while traditional allies like Britain were pushed aside as the President appeared more comfortable in the company of fellow autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung-un.
Trump was often contemptuous of the rules-based international order, distancing his administration from organisations like Nato and the World Health Organisation while pulling America out of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
Weeks before the November vote when polls were suggesting a Biden victory, rumours began circulating around Washington that if the Democrat candidate did win, Trump would simply not accept the vote. Like his fellow autocrats, democracy only has value when you win.
Sure enough, on election night the President delivered his jaw-dropping moment and claimed victory in spite of the numbers pointing to his defeat; the poll, he insisted, had been rigged.
The unwarranted presidential claim fuelled his base’s hatred of the system. It did not matter that there had been 62 legal challenges and 62 of them had failed.
At the weekend, timed no doubt to focus minds on the Georgia run-offs, a leaked phonecall emerged in which the President was heard pressuring the state’s top election official to fix the ballot, “find” some extra Republican votes to reverse his defeat there.
Another worrying and unprecedented moment came when 10 former Defence Secretaries released an astonishing letter, warning: “Efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
They had clearly got wind that Trump, insisting he would “never concede,” was planning to use the military to stay in power.
Many in the Republican Party, which has traditionally run on a strong law and order ticket, must today be searching its collective soul, having for so long watched as the Commander-in-Chief trashed America’s reputation.
Indeed, the scenes of violence were met with a deal of glee in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the events in Washington showed “how brittle and weak western democracy is”.
Now as even the President’s hitherto loyal deputy, Mike Pence, chose the constitution over his boss there is talk of senior figures using the 25th Amendment to oust Trump from office, arguing that his incitement to violence made him unfit to be in the White House.
But there are just two weeks to Biden’s inauguration. It seems inconceivable, given what has happened, the President will do the honourable thing and attend to wish his successor well.
Indeed, fears are growing that inauguration day might see another day of violence in the capital. Although Trump has now spoken of an “orderly transition,” he did so grudgingly and told his supporters who still feel cheated that his first term was “only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
Yet the sad truth is that while Trump might be gone from the White House on January 20, his legacy of shame will linger and his supporters will continue with their bitterness and self-delusion.
For some time to come America will, regrettably, remain a deeply riven country. Mr Biden and his vice president Kamala Harris have their work cut out to rebuild what Ronald Reagan once hailed as a “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”