Like many people who read this blog, I receive the daily Substack newsletters issued by Heather Cox Richardson. They are always informative, but Richardson is especially good at two things: concisely summarizing important news, and providing historical context for it.
The Post’s report was a “deep dive” into January 6th–the events leading up to the insurrection, an in-depth description of that event, and the machinations that followed it. It involved a team of 75, including more than 25 reporters; they “reviewed video and court transcripts, followed social media posts, and interviewed more than 230 people.” The report, which can be found in its entirety here, concluded that Trump was to blame.
It also uncovered what I can only call an “intentionality” that surprised me.
Like most of my friends, I have blamed Trump for the uprising, but not in the intentional, purposeful, planned way disclosed by the Post’s investigation. His presidency was so inept, his lack of intellect and discipline so pronounced, his complete ignorance of the way government worked so debilitating, that it simply never occurred to me that he might be capable of actually planning a coup. Riling up his supporters, sure–egging them on, sure. Taking satisfaction from the mob’s “acting out,” absolutely. But deliberately engaging in planning to overturn an election seemed beyond his limited abilities.
Evidently, I was wrong. (That has been happening a lot…) As Richardson summarized,
The report concludes: “Trump was the driving force at every turn as he orchestrated what would become an attempted political coup in the months leading up to Jan. 6, calling his supporters to Washington, encouraging the mob to march on the Capitol and freezing in place key federal agencies whose job it was to investigate and stop threats to national security.” It notes that the former president did not make any effort to stop the attacks until it was clear they wouldn’t succeed, and that lawmakers assumed he was backing the rioters….
The Washington Post report places the insurrection into context: “The consequences of that day are still coming into focus, but what is already clear is that the insurrection was not a spontaneous act nor an isolated event. It was a battle in a broader war over the truth and over the future of American democracy,” it says. “Since then, the forces behind the attack remain potent and growing.”
There is much more detail in the linked Letter, and it is chilling; I encourage you to click through and read it.
Although the Letter didn’t address it, I think these new revelations explain something I’ve been unable to understand: the persistence of Trump’s repetition of, and his base’s professed belief in, The Big Lie. Given the utter lack of any probative evidence of voter fraud or other “rigging,” why the constant insistence that Trump “really” won an election he clearly lost by over 8 million votes?
Here’s my theory: If someone is mounting a coup–especially in a country with a historical commitment to democracy and majority rule–the question of legitimacy looms large. Had Trump been successful (or if he ultimately succeeds in reclaiming the White House) think how much better–how much more self-serving and legitimizing–it would be to claim that he is being “restored” to a position to which he was really entitled.
The effort on January 6th to subvert a democratic election failed, but we aren’t out of the woods by a long shot. A frightening number of our fellow-Americans have imbibed the Kool Ade and joined this cult, aided and abetted by a pretty sophisticated disinformation industry. Worse, most of the rest of us continue to discount the clear and present danger they pose. We continue to believe that coups happen elsewhere.
The Washington Post concluded that America is in a fight for the survival of democracy. We need to listen, because it can happen here.
On January 6th, it almost did.