What we saw Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol was shocking. Horrifying. It made me embarrassed to be an American. Even if I can qualify that with South African-American.
But one thing it wasn’t was surprising. Or at least it shouldn’t have been.
As I wrote about here, violence and chaos are the inevitable conclusions to our collective journey into the dumpster fire that began with Donald Trump’s election. But the truth is our journey to this low point began long before 2016. Trump is a symptom of the festering division in America, not the cause. His election was the culmination of decades of lies and a deliberate erosion of trust. It was the boiling over of racist anger at the Obama presidency. It was festering resentment against globalization and competition in the workplace that never existed when white men got all the best jobs.
It was a successful con — and millions of Americans bought it.
So here we are. Confederate battle flags waving in the U.S. Capitol. Men in military fatigues scaling the surrounding walls. #ThanksTrump.
To blame the insurrection on Trump is entirely accurate. But it also thoroughly misses the point. Trump’s true nature has been on full public display since he launched his campaign, and he has never wavered from it. Those who thought the presidency would “mature” him or change him in any way were either naïve, not paying attention at all, or willfully ignorant. Trump is the scorpion. We cannot be surprised when he drowns us. We can be angry, and he deserves our anger. But I don’t waste my anger on Trump. I direct my anger at his enablers. The people who — knowing full well what he is and the threat he poses to American democracy and basic decency — empowered him anyway. The men and women who gave away their country for political opportunity.
For four years, we’ve listened to politicians doing mental gymnastics to forget their own descriptions of Trump during his campaign and justify their newfound alliance. The list is long, but here’s a brief sampling.
In 2015, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump’s nomination “would be an utter, complete and total disaster. If you’re a xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot, you’re going to have a hard time being president of the United States, and you’re going to do irreparable damage to the party.”
Sen. Ted Cruz called Trump a “rat” and a “pathological liar.” Sen. Marco Rubio called him an “embarrassment” and a “dangerous con man.”
They all knew exactly who Trump was and is. And they all twisted themselves inside out to support him anyway. Graham became one of his most ardent fanboys (after aggressively supporting the president’s lies that the election was stolen, Graham “courageously” admitted Biden had won the presidency after the riot). Rubio campaigned gleefully for him. Cruz still, STILL, went ahead with his objection to the objectively fair election, although his band of die-hards was whittled down to five others.
They know. They know even more than we do. Trump’s madness is plain as day to those of us watching objectively from the outside. Imagine how obvious it is from five feet away — when you’re watching him read dumbed-down intelligence reports filled with pictures to keep his attention, or when you can’t get a meeting with him because he’s watching TV?
I don’t want to waste one more thought or feeling on Donald J. Trump. Watching the scenes unfold at the Capitol, I direct all my anger at the enablers.
Read Robyn’s previous column “What Can You Do For Democracy? Move To A Red State”
About the Author
Robyn Murray is a South African-American writer. She moved to the U.S. from South Africa in 2000 and has worked as a journalist and writer in Omaha since 2006. Her reporting has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, CBC and PRI as well as locally on NET Radio and KVNO. Her print work has been published in Business Day in Johannesburg and USA TODAY.
DIS|PLACE is her first foray into opinion writing.