An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021.
On February 26, 1993, shortly after noon, a Ryder rental truck pulled into the parking garage of the North Tower at New Yorkâ€™s World Trade Center. Packed inside was a 1500-lb. urea nitrate bomb, made from conventional fertilizer and other easily obtainable chemicals. The truckâ€™s passengers, Islamic terrorists Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil, lit the fuse, and escaped unnoticed. Twelve minutes later, the bomb detonated, instantly killing six people, injuring more than 1,000 others, and blowing a crater four concrete sub-levels deep and several more stories high. The plan, investigators subsequently learned, had been to collapse the North Tower and send it crashing into the South Tower, destroying them both and killing, the terrorists hoped, as many as a quarter of a million people.
But the buildings did not collapse, and four of the plotters were eventually caught, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. The two drivers were convicted and imprisoned in 1995; a seventh conspirator escaped and was never apprehended by American authorities. The incident was largely forgotten by the publicâ€”for a time.
Even before Donald Trump incited an armed insurrection against his own government, and the Constitution that he was sworn to protect, he had already waged a years-long assault on the foundations of American democracy.
His 2016 presidential campaign accepted illegal assistance from a foreign adversary. He personally obstructed justice repeatedly by thwarting independent counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s two-year investigation into those activities. The very next day after Mueller testified on his report before Congress, Trump directly solicited illegal foreign assistance again by extorting the president of Ukraine for political dirt on his next opponent, Joe Biden. Throughout 2020, Trump and his political allies supported a multi-pronged effort to suppress votes and undermine public confidence in the 2020 election.
Despite it all, a huge turnout that defied the pandemic, and a magnificent bipartisan effort by state election officials, delivered a clear-cut victory to Joe Biden in a fair and secure election. Yet rather than concede, Trump wasted two months on more than 60 legal challenges, raising more than $300 million off his gullible supporters to â€śstop the stealâ€ť that never occurred, and refusing to concede or to assist his successorâ€™s orderly transition. While he burned up court time with fruitless appeals, we subsequently learned that he was burning up the phone lines with improper and quite possibly illegal contacts with state legislators and election officials in an attempt to simply nullify the votes of millions of Americans so that he could illegally retain power.
As Congress prepared to conclude the process of formally counting and certifying the statesâ€™ Electoral College votes, Trumpâ€™s Hail Mary was to muster as many of his far-right, white supremacist, armed followers as he could to Washington, fire them up, and turn them loose on the Capitol to disrupt, terrorize, and quite possibly even attack the members of Congress to prevent them from fulfilling their constitutional duties.
Despite all the talk about not allowing Trump to â€śnormalizeâ€ť his totally out-of-bounds rhetoric, policies, and personal conduct, that is exactly what has happened ever since he declared his candidacy in June 2015. He has continued smashing through one political guardrail after another until there are literally almost no functioning guardrails left.
By the time you read this, President Joe Biden will have taken office and the imminent danger of any further presidential misconduct from Trump will have passed. Investigations are continuing and dozens of protesters and rioters have already been arrested; there will be many more. But there no longer seems to be any way to hold the president himself accountable.
The vice president has refused to invoke the 25th Amendment, which finds the president incapacitated and reassigns his power and authority to the vice president with assent from a majority of the presidential cabinet and 2/3 of both the House and the Senateâ€”an even higher bar than simple impeachment, which requires only a simple majority of the House and 2/3 of the Senate to convict and remove.
The House has voted to impeach the president a second time, but neither the Senate nor President-Elect Biden have shown any appetite for rushing ahead with a Senate trial, certainly not before Trumpâ€™s term expires. If the goal is to disable the incumbent president from committing any more dangerous acts over his final eight days in office, there is no functioning mechanism to do this.
The urgency of impeaching and convicting him to remove an unfit officeholder has, of course, evaporated with the natural expiration of Trumpâ€™s term. Iâ€™m going to go out on a limb and predict that will never happen.
Of course, the same end could be achieved by the Republican Party simply coming together and reconstituting and rededicating itself to such traditional conservative values as respect for the Constitution, respect for governing institutions, respect for the law and for individual rights, and for a constrained, less powerful federal governmentâ€”with a new and robust process for thoroughly vetting candidates so that no authoritarian demagogue like Donald Trump could ever again gain power and influence.
Iâ€™m going to go out on another limb and predict that will never happen, either.
We all remember how quickly the Republican â€śNever Trumpâ€ť movement collapsed in the face of his growing power and popularity. Thereâ€™s truth in the adage that, â€śDemocrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.â€ť
Donald Trumpâ€™s attempted auto-coup has failed, and there will be an understandable but misguided effort to quickly put the whole matter behind us. Our institutions held firm. Democracy survived intact. The Republic still stands, even if some of us may want to gag on Republican calls for unity and civility, and on Democratic platitudes about the need for healing and saving the nationâ€™s soulâ€”as if weâ€™re all rubes in a giant tent-show revival.
Wall Street and the corporate community know that insurgencies and rebellions are bad for businessâ€”which is why they so often love foreign dictatorships that crack down hard on such nonsense (cf. Franco, Bautista, Pinochet, Somoza, and countless others). There will be some soul-searching in isolated corners of the media about their complicity in the rise of Trump and Trumpism. That, too, will quickly pass when the next shiny object catches their eye.
Let us return to the events of 1993. That unsuccessful attempt to blow up the World Trade Center was mocked as a â€śfumbledâ€ť attempt by a â€ślaughably naive and disorganizedâ€¦rag-tag group of dedicated revolutionaries, former Afghani soldiers, fellow believers, braggarts, hoodlums and hangers-on.â€ť An FBI agent transporting mastermind Ramzi Yousef by helicopter to lower Manhattan for trial pointed to the Twin Towers gleaming in the moonlight, and taunted him by saying â€śSee, you didnâ€™t get them after all.â€ť Yousef softly replied, â€śNot yet.â€ť
During his subsequent trial, the World Trade Centerâ€™s chief architect testified that had the truck been parked closer to the North Towerâ€™s poured concrete foundations, the plan would have succeeded.
2020 is our truck bomb election. Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, and congressional fellow travelers like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, and Matt Gaetz, may look today as little more than a similar rag-tag band of braggarts, crazies, and hoodlums. But the next time aroundâ€”and there will be a next timeâ€”we may be confronting enemies of democracy with the intelligence, the discipline, the strategy, and the resources to successfully steal an election or mount a real fascist coup.
If Donald Trump had built his bomb a little bigger and set it off a little closer to American democracyâ€™s foundation, he might well have succeeded in taking the whole thing down. And, like the World Trade Center, we may not be as lucky the second time.