Mere days after the deadly terrorist uprising at the U.S. Capitol, details are still flooding out like a firehose: A Capitol police officer was murdered by terrorists. Other police officers appeared to assist the terrorists. The Pentagon limited the National Guard response, and Capitol police refused assistance. Former national security advisers acknowledge President Trump’s attempt for a full-blown coup. Social media platforms issued bans. The FBI announced $50,000 in reward for information on pipe bomb suspects.
Many are wondering, how did America get here?
It’s easy to point fingers. Yes, Trump is a problem. A frickin’ big one. So are members of his Cabinet and the Republican senators and representatives who stood idly — or cheerfully — by. But America didn’t get here overnight, and few of us will come out unscathed.
For decades, Trump has perceived himself as a king above all others. He is a man who has expressed sentiments of hatred, violence and vitriol toward anyone who wouldn’t kiss his shoe. Yet during his candidacy people often shrugged, “At least he says what he’s thinking.”
Sure, he said what he was thinking, and that was exactly the problem.
In 2000, real estate fat cat Donald Trump decided to run for president the first time. Having openly disembarked from the Republican Party, he opted for the Reform Ticket. Fortune Magazine noted his political advisor as Roger Stone, a former handler of President Nixon. Melania — his then-girlfriend of age 26 — appeared sprawled out across a two-page spread in red underwear for Talk Magazine. She claimed she’d be a “traditional First Lady, like Jackie Kennedy.”
Who supported him?
In 2010, The Guardian interviewed Trump as he considered running for president again. He disclosed his “great respect for what the Tea Party has done” and claimed the country was being lost.
Who encouraged him?
In 2012, Trump tweeted, “We should have a revolution in this country!” after former President Barack Obama’s win, showing his growing inclination toward violence and disenfranchisement from American democracy altogether.
Who stayed quiet?
By the end of 2016, several news outlets such as Rolling Stone went on to summarize Trump’s top tyranny-filled moments. Among them were statements of Mexicans as “rapists and criminals,” attacks on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly for “blood coming out of her wherever” and threats to boycott the Republican debate if they didn’t cave to his demands. This was the same year he had boldly claimed, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Amazingly, compared to everything else he’d done and said, that line didn’t even make it into the article.
Still, tens of millions elected him as president, and too many more remained silent.
Over the past two decades, the following are all words and phrases that can be found splashed across newspapers to describe Trump: Narcissist. Conspiracy theorist. Birther. Con man. Rapist. White supremacist. Bully. Racist. Tyrant. Liar. Bigot. Fraudulent. Dirtbag. Loser of the Year. “Freaks out.” Paranoid. Humiliated. Vindictive. Petulant. Spiteful. Authoritarian. Facist. Nazi. Hitler. Colluded.
Warning after warning, yet over 74 million Americans — roughly 22% of the nation’s population — voted for him a second time in 2020. Millions more refused to participate in the election at all. Of those who voted for his opponent, how many million didn’t volunteer, donate, protest, call representatives and challenge the hate openly?
As we consider what led to the developments of a terrorist uprising, and who is responsible, hundreds of millions of Americans will be forced to reckon with the question, “Why am I surprised?”
Expressing shock at these outcomes reflects willful ignorance — much like sitting down to a horror film and being surprised when someone gets killed. The signs were all there, most of them right on the cover. Yes, the actual act of experiencing a coup (or attempted coup, assuming Biden will be inaugurated) is surreal, but it’s not surprising given circumstances. There has been little doubt about who Trump is and what he was capable of. National security experts have voiced concern for years.
We were warned. Millions ignored it.
At the end of the day, the bulk of the fault will lie at the feet of Trump and his ilk. But a coup doesn’t happen without deeper complicity and unrest. As the saying goes, “When you point one finger, three more are pointing back at you.”