Politics, war by another means, isn’t meant to be tiddlywinks.
Where power is concentrated, the stakes should be high — and so should the cost of failure. I’ve paid a price throughout my own time in the arena, mostly for backing the wrong side in a leadership battle. This throttled what might have been a political career.
So be it. You won’t hear me complain. It shouldn’t be easy to advance to positions of power in a democracy, and there was no shortage of talent in the wings when I was shuffled off the stage. Actions have consequences.
In the aftermath of the insurrection at the United States Capitol, it’s been shocking to see how few of its instigators and participants understand that.
Take Jenna Ryan, the Texas real estate agent who flew in a private jet to Washington DC to take part in the uprising, declaring it the best day of her life. Now she’s posting desperate pleas for a pardon from President Donald Trump before she’s even been charged with anything.
Or Jake Angeli, the guy who stormed the Capitol sporting furs and a horned headdress. After comparing himself to Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and getting locked up for his role co-ordinating the attacks, Angeli promptly went on hunger strike because the jail didn’t serve him organic meals.
What about those who excitedly took selfies and video from inside the building, failing to grasp that the FBI could identify them and nail their precise whereabouts in a nanosecond, via cellphone pings?
These are violent, dangerous thugs who came far closer than most realise to causing mass carnage during the siege — but, let’s be honest, they are not master criminals.
I’ve heard the FBI is going door to door in DC, searching for clues; that they have received tens of thousands of tips and clips via their dedicated hotline.
Consequences are looming — and, in a final ironic twist, many insurrectionists will face tougher sentences thanks to a Trump law drafted to protect federal monuments from … you guessed it … Black Lives Matter protesters. Sometimes all you can do is laugh.
Friends are telling me that Washington DC, post-insurrection, feels more like Baghdad circa 2004, complete with the Green Zone/Red Zone lingo. But they are not complaining; they were angered by the lackadaisical efforts to repel the hordes, and terrified at the vulnerabilities it exposed.
The city’s on a secure lockdown at least until Joe Biden’s inauguration on Thursday — and, as with Covid, there’s no return to normal on the horizon.
There are consequences for the outgoing President, too, and they could get much worse (I’m not sure how much he cares about getting impeached for a second time, but losing a PGA golf tournament, and his Twitter account, must sting).
Biden faces some tough choices about what to do about his predecessor, although the insurrection has fundamentally changed the dynamics. He can dispense with any notion the incoming administration can quickly move on from Trump’s crimes; the question will be how he does both, balancing righteous demands for accountability with his forward-looking policy agenda, not allowing the former to overwhelm the latter.
His team is deeply experienced and their political judgment has been vindicated by events time and again, but getting this right will be the defining challenge of the first two years of his presidency.
When we address the Trump era, let’s remember the atrocities didn’t start (or end) at the Capitol. His presidency wasn’t merely an aesthetic failure — “he’s terrible but they actually did some good things” is a soft defensive refrain I’m hearing around the traps — but a disaster on the policy front, too.
The wall Mexico was going to pay for? Unbuilt.
Massive tax cuts for the rich? He failed to lift the economy above Obama levels, while driving up income inequality and adding trillions to the debt.
North Korea? Embarrassing photo-ops aside, no progress there.
Iran? Worse than ever.
China? Dumb trade war.
Russia? Still in charge.
Mentioning climate change, gun violence or racial justice seems like labouring the point — and that’s before we even get to the firehose of corruption and norm-smashing that has marked every day of his miserable tenure.
There’s enough to occupy Congress and the Department of Justice for the next four years at least. I’m guessing there will be a Russian nesting doll of scandal revealing itself over the coming months as new agency heads uncover pockets of grift and self-dealing.
On Thursday, our time, Biden will step into shoes tailormade for a politician of his experience and temperament. He will need every ounce of both.
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