WASHINGTON D.C. — As protesters marched from the president’s speech to the Capitol on Wednesday, making the scenic journey down Constitution Avenue, I met a mild-mannered woman from the same small corner of Wisconsin in which I grew up. She’d never voted before Donald Trump ran for president. She traveled to the capital because she loves the president.
Not long after our conversation, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. They climbed the walls, pushed past police, and roamed the halls, destroying property and taking selfies. A 14-year Air Force veteran did not leave the building alive. It was a disgraceful sight.
There are those who believe Antifa showed up to incite chaos. It’s possible such an attempt was made, but even if it was, there is simply no way around the fact that hundreds of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol.
Thousands more chose not to participate, leaving early or watching from a distance. From my vantage point on the east side of the Capitol, I saw genuine Trump supporters rushing up a staircase by the dozens, until the crowd was too dense to move. I saw a few urinate on trees just outside the building, barely shielded from women in the crowd.
I saw them climbing up the wall. Some chanted “Whose house? Our house.” Some chanted, “Do your job!” Antifa may have mixed into the fray, but to accurately diagnose this deep wound, it’s important to be crystal clear that Trump supporters rioted. Indeed, many were proud to do it. If you’d rather not take my word for it, there is incontrovertible video evidence.
“I’ve been out talking to the protesters who busted into the Capitol,” Washington Examiner reporter Susan Ferrechio tweeted. “One thing I’m hearing: They believed they had a right to be in a public building and did not expect cops to block their access (some were allowed in!) A subset of this group, they said, got out of control.”
And so the blame game rages on. Rioting is the fault of rioters. But they had just been told by the president that a “landslide” election was being stolen from him.
Many people trust Donald Trump. They have been lied to by the media for years. They have been smeared as racists by elites and peers alike. With no other sources to turn to, they turn to the man who seems to hear them. He took advantage of that to lessen the blow of a narrow reelection loss.
Love him or hate him, it turns out Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., was right last week when he argued “[t]he president and his allies are playing with fire.” No senator believes Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden in a “landslide.” Many do, however, believe (and with good reason) that election irregularities occurred on a wider-than-acceptable scale.
The people I spoke to today, most of whom were at a total loss for who to trust in the media, believe the president. He told them a “landslide” win was being stolen. That would be a crisis. They acted as such. What did he expect?
For years now, Republicans have been pressed daily to strike a delicate balance, ignoring bad tweets to maintain a working relationship with a president beloved by many of their constituents. They had a reasonable argument for doing that. It pushed them to be more responsive to disenfranchised working-class voters. It gave them a seat at the table. But in the waning days of Trump’s tenure, one of the worst-case scenarios of a loose-lipped president came to pass.
Some lawmakers and pundits will use it as an excuse to be more openly critical. Reasonable Conservatives will trip over themselves to prove their reasonableness. Some will continue with their fealty and others will pretend they never did.
This is not vindication for the pundits who warned repeatedly Trump’s rhetoric was dangerous. Far from it. First, many conservatives who support his policy agenda abhor his rhetoric and say as much. Some downplay it to avoid making negotiations impossible.
But more than anything, it’s not vindication because such pundits harbor contempt for many of their decent, patriotic neighbors. They also excuse similar behavior on the left time and again. That, of course, does not vindicate anyone who stormed or cheered the storming of the Capitol either.
Our elites are corrupt. The political establishment is not serving us well. These wounds will not be healed by sanctimonious Instagram posts, cable news monologues, egghead Twitter threads, or lofty speeches on the Senate floor, applauded by Beltway journalists who just pocketed $2,000 bonuses and rarely worry about feeding their families.
In a sense, Wednesday will end in the same way it started, under a president known to be a flawed messenger for a deeply upset constituency.
The woman from Wisconsin who was kind enough to share her thoughts with me as she marched through the city volunteered that even she, a Trump diehard who traveled across the country for a midweek rally, wasn’t always happy with everything he said. But like everyone else with whom I spoke, she eagerly insisted she would follow Trump straight into a third party.
It is the fault of the political class that Trump—or Bernie Sanders—feel like the only viable solutions to so many Americans. The Capitol riot will hurt the people who were already hurting most, the decent rally goers at a loss for answers, continually ignored and smeared, saddled with the baggage of violence they did not commit.
As the Capitol devolved into chaos, I overheard a protester walking away from the scene, down the hill on the east side Union Station, mutter about the political establishment to his friend. “It’s like they’re playing a game,” he sighed, “and everyone has a role to play but us.”