Washington • When pigs fly.
That’s the kind of surreal day Thursday was at the Capitol. Donald Trump has so malignantly scrambled his party and this country that we keep seeing tableaus that defy belief and flout history.
The last time we took note of Dick Cheney and Patrick Leahy at the Capitol was in 2004 when the then-vice president hurled a vulgarity — one not usually heard on the august Senate floor — at the Democratic senator from Vermont. Democrats had accused Cheney of using his government position to help win contracts for his former firm, Halliburton.
Now, 17 years later, the two men were back. Leahy was snapping photos at the memorial on the anniversary of the desecration of the Capitol. And Cheney was there with his daughter Liz, a congresswoman from Wyoming who is persona non grata in her own party and persona grata with the Democrats for speaking truth about Trump.
This time, Dick Cheney was not Darth Vader, employing his Death Star to blow up Democrats. This time he was Darling Dick, one of the only Republicans willing to defy Trump and say the obvious: The GOP is embarrassing.
His erstwhile critic Nancy Pelosi warmly shook hands with “Vice,” and a cluster of Democrats waited to kiss his ring.
Trump is such an egomaniacal thug that Dick Cheney, christened “a self-aggrandizing criminal” by The Atlantic in 2011, seems saintly by comparison.
No matter, as The Atlantic pointed out, that as vice president, Cheney “advanced a theory of the executive that is at odds with the intentions of the founders, successfully encouraged the federal government to illegally spy on innocent Americans, passed on to the public false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and became directly complicit in a regime of torture for which he should be in jail.”
Cheney, who had subverted the Constitution at every turn, was greeted as a defender of the Constitution. From Vice to Nice. This is the world we’re in now.
There were other topsy-turvy moments. Republicans, once the outspoken defenders of law enforcement, deserted the Capitol en masse on a day of appreciation for the bravery of the police, dead and alive, who risked their lives holding back the horde, hellbent on shredding democracy, as well as lawmakers, if they could get their hands on them.
It’s disgusting that Republicans could not honor the institution they took an oath to protect, or even show up for the cops and other staffers they see every day who were traumatized by Jan. 6.
We also saw Tucker Carlson, once a bow-tied preppy struggling to cha-cha-cha on “Dancing With the Stars,” cracking the whip as the Fox High Sparrow, making Ted Cruz grovel and apologize for slipping and accurately using the phrase “terrorist” to describe the Jan. 6 attack.
At least President Joe Biden finally seemed to recognize that the old days are gone and that the Republicans are not going to be working with him. He came in wanting to knit the country together, but part of the country is not going to be knitted.
It’s as if Trump has projected his id into a national psychosis. His father divided the world into killers and losers. So rather than admit that he lost reelection, Trump was willing to egg on a seditious cult to overturn the election. You can just picture him sitting there in the White House, surrounded by McDonald’s wrappers, thrilled at the TV scenes of MAGA hooligans attacking the police.
In his speech in Statuary Hall, Biden pierced the haze of his first year and called out Trump: “He lost.” Without using his name, Biden charged Trump with a profound sin: turning Americans against their own democracy.
“Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy,” he said.
Besides his dagger at the throat of democracy, Trump has his party in a chokehold. Republicans may have held back Trump from giving a news conference Thursday, because they know that Nov. 3 and Jan. 6 are dates that make them look awful, but they are still in his vile grip, as evidenced by their shameful flight from the Capitol. (And they didn’t even know “Dear Theodosia” was coming.)
Trump’s coup attempt is in its second stage. As NPR reported, the MAGA crowd is working hard in states such as Georgia and Arizona, which defied Trump in 2020, to institutionalize Trump’s big lie, with election-deniers running for offices that control the voting process. The Washington Post revealed that “at least 163 Republicans who have embraced Trump’s false claims are running for statewide positions that would give them authority over the administration of elections” and “at least five candidates for the U.S. House were at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots.”
Biden must make good on his speech and make sure the Vandals who sacked the Capitol are not able to do it again. He must find a way to enact new voting rights laws to head off the Republican efforts to control election certification. If the Dems keep flailing, they could be looking at a wipeout in the House and maybe the Senate and years of kangaroo trials. Hopefully, Merrick Garland is not another Robert Mueller.
This is not a moment for punch-pulling.
Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times.