Nicholas Kristof: Are we stuck with Trump in the White House?
Trump will leave a gaping wound in the body politic, and it will be difficult to heal.
(Jacquelyn Martin | AP photo)
In this Jan. 6 photo, President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington. Although pro-democracy and human rights activists around the globe were stunned to see a raging mob storm the U.S. Capitol, they say they were heartened and inspired because the system ultimately prevailed.
Do you remember Martin Gugino? He was the 75-year-old man who in June was peacefully supporting a Black Lives Matter protest in Buffalo, New York, when police officers shoved him to the ground, cracking his skull and damaging his brain.
As Gugino lay in the hospital, President Donald Trump lied about him, accusing Gugino of being an antifa militant who had faked his fall.
So I called Gugino a couple of days ago. After the brutal treatment he received for peacefully trying to protect constitutional rights, was he troubled by the mostly gentle reception for rioters invading the Capitol to overthrow a constitutional election?
“I’ve got other fish to fry,” Gugino told me mildly.
He is still recovering from the police assault: He lost hearing in one ear and still is unstable while walking.
He was not vindictive. He noted that questions were raised about a police officer helping a woman down the Capitol steps and said he was glad she had not been treated as he had been.
“There are a lot of misguided people in America,” he said of the rioters. “You can’t club every misguided person in America.”
That’s gracious from someone who may never fully recover from the “law and order” celebrated by Trump, and his decency and moral consistency are a fine contrast with the hypocrisy of Trump and his enablers in Congress and the right-wing media.
Before this, the two biggest breaches of security at the Capitol were the burning of the building by British troops during the War of 1812 and a 1954 attack by Puerto Rican nationalists who shot five House members. The Puerto Rican nationalists killed no one, but each served more than two decades in prison.
It’s likely that Trump will pay no price for inciting this more lethal attack, in which five people died.
Trump is unhinged and a menace to the country. Domestically, there are guardrails, but if he wants, in his final 11 days in office he could attack Iran or launch nuclear missiles at China and incinerate the globe.
So the Cabinet should act under the 25th Amendment to remove him from power, but this is easy to assert and almost impossible to achieve. Trump’s sycophants won’t oust him.
Likewise, the House can impeach Trump, but senators probably won’t vote to convict him, before or after Jan. 20. The effort might well backfire. He rose in the polls the last time he was impeached.
Why do so many Republicans still stand by him? After South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham distanced himself from Trump, an angry crowd surrounded him Friday at an airport, cursing him, calling him a traitor and saying that “it’s going to be like this forever, wherever you go.”
So you won’t want to hear this, but I’m afraid the world is stuck for the next 11 days with a madman as the most powerful person in the world. All we can accomplish, and it’s grossly inadequate, is try to reestablish norms and make clear how much Trump betrayed his own followers.
On Wednesday morning, Trump warmed up the soon-to-be rioters, directed them to the Capitol and reassured them, “I’ll be there with you.”
It was another lie. Trump was safely ensconced in the White House as his mob set up gallows, killed a Capitol Police officer and attacked photojournalists. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that Trump was “delighted” as he watched the attack unfold on television.
I think of Ashli Babbitt, shot dead as she attacked the House of Representatives. She had voted for President Barack Obama but then fell under Trump’s spell, adored Tucker Carlson of Fox News and thought she was defending her country as she joined the terrorist attack on Congress.
Responsibility lies not only with Trump but also with his enablers in Congress and the right-wing media. Why should cable systems distribute “news organizations” that spread poison? Why should Facebook ever again give Trump a chance to stir up hatred? So far, the most serious sanction Trump has faced for igniting sedition has come not from Congress, the Cabinet or the courts but from a social media platform, Twitter, which said it had permanently suspended his account.
And as The Kansas City Star said in a scathing editorial about the demagogy of Sen. Josh Hawley, “Having led the parade to the edge of a cliff, Hawley pretends to be astonished by what happened next.” The Star said Hawley should either resign or be removed from the Senate.
Trump will leave a gaping wound in the body politic, and it will be difficult to heal. That’s true for Martin Gugino as he tries to walk, for Trump fanatics adjusting to Joe Biden as president, for our nation. It’s wrenching that Trump is likely to escape with impunity even as some of his true believers go to prison for listening to him. It’s the final act of a dangerous charlatan.
Contact Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.