Inflamed by Trump, mob storms US Capitol

Insurrection: Trump could theoretically face the death penalty if convicted of treason.

Should Donald Trump be jailed? Last night he rallied rioters to attack lawmakers, toss out the election results, ignore the will of the people, and install him as president for another term.

“This is rebellion. This is treason. We are on a glide path to looking at possible civil war.” “I am in tears today to see this scene.”

Just two of the live quotes from distraught US politicians last night as they cowered in hiding while violent rioters swarmed through the famous chambers of Congress and the Senate, smashing windows, posing for photos, chanting slogans and mocking the most powerful democracy in the world – inflamed and encouraged by the sitting President of the USA.

All day, supporters of Donald Trump had been gathering – among them the extreme right-wing group called the Proud Boys. The news that the presidential election had been irrevocably decided only added to the tension. Trump was still tweeting that he had been cheated – and his followers believed him.

Up until the last moment, Trump thought that he might snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The nation’s voters had spoken, giving Biden a majority of five million. The electoral college had confirmed their verdict, with Biden receiving 306 of the state representatives’ votes to Trump’s 232. But there was one more constitutional process to go through – confirmation of the college’s votes by Congress.

Normally this is a formality. Certificates from each state are opened, and the vice president – in this case, Mike Pence – declares the result.

Objections can be made, but are only upheld if a majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives votes for them. Since the Democrats have a majority in the House, there was no chance of this happening yesterday.

Trump’s last hope was that Pence would nonetheless refuse to confirm the result. “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency,” he said early yesterday morning, in a tweet that received over 250,000 likes.

As it turned out, Pence was not prepared to ignore the will of the American people. But the fact that Trump encouraged him to do so has been seen by some as a crime against democracy worthy of a prison sentence.

“President Trump broke any number of laws and norms during his ruinous four-year reign. He just added one more on the way out: treason” writes the Washington Post this morning, one of America’s most serious and respected newspapers.

According to a New York Times editorial, “There is no contesting what Mr Trump was seeking: the disenfranchisement of millions of American voters.” Trump, it added, “should be not only impeached for a second time but also convicted and disqualified from ever again holding public office”.

The political atmosphere yesterday was made even more heated by the results of two senatorial elections in Georgia. Originally held in November, these were re-run because no candidate achieved 50% of the vote as required by state law.

If the Democrats won both, it would give them the same number of senators as the Republicans. And since the vice president has the casting vote when there is a tie in the Senate, Biden’s government would have control of both chambers, allowing it to pass legislation without obstruction. Trump’s legacy could effectively be dismantled.

The two elections could hardly have been tighter, but in the end the Democrats triumphed. Raphael Warnock became the first African American Democrat to win a seat in a former Confederate state. Jon Ossoff, aged 33, became the youngest person in the Senate.

Should Donald Trump be sent to jail now?

Bars and stripes

Some say, yes: Trump’s attempts to undermine democracy constitute treason and are a real threat to America’s stability. They have also emboldened totalitarian regimes overseas – the mass arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong is a case in point. Unless swift action is taken, he will continue to stir up trouble and distract people from the crucial business of dealing with the pandemic.

Others argue that putting Trump on trial for treason would simply give his supporters a new focus for their disgruntlement and push them into more extreme action. Once he leaves office he will be open to possible prosecution on a variety of other charges, ranging from sexual assault to fraud. If the nation’s divisions are to be healed, it would be better that he went to prison for one of those.

You Decide

  1. Should Donald Trump go on trial for inciting rebellion?
  2. Is democracy overrated?

Activities

  1. Write your own letter to Donald Trump this morning.
  2. Write a one-act play in which Trump finds himself sharing a cell with a Mafia boss.

Some People Say...

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Lord Acton (1834 - 1902), British politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Trump’s interference in Georgia’s elections did the Republicans more harm than good. Georgia was one of the most marginal states in the presidential election, and Trump’s repeated claims of corruption were seen as an insult to its people. A recording of a phone call he made to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, asking him to find enough extra votes to change the result, brought accusations that the president himself was attempting electoral fraud.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around the future of the Republican party, which has been split by Trump’s tactics. On one side are those who have supported his claims of fraud in order to win popularity with his diehard supporters, whose votes they are desperate to have in the next election. On the other are those who believe that his undermining of the democratic process is undignified and dangerous. There is speculation that some might break away to form a new party.

Word Watch

Irrevocably
Unalterably. It comes from a Latin verb meaning to call back.
Congress
The law-making body of the US, made up of a lower chamber (the House of Representatives) and a higher one (the Senate).
Senate
Each of the 50 US states is represented by two senators, who serve six-year terms. However, elections are staggered so that every two years there is an election for one third of the seats. A senator must be at least 30 years old.
House of Representatives
The House has 435 seats, allocated to states according to their populations. The minimum age is 25, and elections are held every two years.
Disenfranchisement
Deprivation of the right to vote. It derives from a French word for free.
Coup
An illegal and usually violent change of government. The word is an abbreviation of the French term “coup d’état”, meaning literally “blow of state”.
Confederate
The Confederate States were the 11 states which broke away from the rest of the US and caused the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

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