Donald Trump’s actions since narrowly losing to Joe Biden on November 3 have been inexcusable. Despite gaining zero legal traction over his charges that the Democrats stole the election—his lawyers have yet to provide hard evidence of widespread election fraud—Trump has continued to insist that he won in a landslide; unsuccessfully pushed Vice President Mike Pence to refuse his constitutional duty to preside over the democratic transfer of power, as Congress counts the Electoral College votes that certify Biden’s win; and encouraged his supporters to reject the election results. Some took him at his word today in Washington, D.C., and descended on the Capitol, breached the House and Senate chambers, and clashed violently with police. One woman was shot and has died. Trump eventually appealed for calm and asked the protesters to go home, while reiterating his claim that the election was stolen. The appalling behavior of the mobs in D.C. has no justification, even if conservative-minded observers can’t help but note the elite media’s sudden rediscovery of the importance of the rule of law—this, after a year of urban rioting and rampaging with few parallels in American history.
Trump’s one-term presidency was characterized by his self-absorbed personality, ceaseless “resistance” from Democrats and their allies (in government and out), and some significant accomplishments in office—from scores of superb court appointments to a super-charged pre-pandemic economy to encouraging accelerated vaccine development via Operation Warp Speed. Had the Covid-19 crisis not brought the American economy to its knees, and unleashed some of his worst tendencies to grab attention, Trump likely would have won reelection decisively. Yet today’s disturbing scenes serve as a reminder of why that reelection didn’t happen, and they may undermine further the many legitimate causes that Trump’s presidency pursued, especially if Trump and some of his supporters stay on their present course. The risks to the country are not just immediate—the peaceful transfer of power is one of the great historic achievements of democracies—but long-term. Any ongoing battle over the election will weaken conservatism, and with it, the hopes of millions of Americans looking for help against a rising radicalism that seeks to transform the country irrevocably.
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