America needs a nickname for the cretins who busted into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and insulted our country in a way that the burning of a thousand flags would not.
Fortunately, for another 10 days or so we have, in our commander in chief, a man whose skill in this form of low art is formidable indeed.
President Trump, who has established his credentials with such witticisms as “Sleepy Joe” for the man who will replace him later this month, and “Rocket Man” for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, surely can conceive of an appropriately biting, but still sophomoric, term for the Capitol creeps.
(“Rocket Man,” to be fair, is actually pretty funny. Or at least as funny as something can be that involves two men who control nuclear weapons attached to ballistic missiles. I also appreciate the connection, whether intended or not, to one of the finest Elton John-Bernie Taupin collaborations.)
I’m not expecting much from Trump in this case, though, despite his lengthy record of juvenile creativity.
Given the chance on Wednesday to distinguish between the legitimate — and constitutionally protected — protest outside the Capitol, and the lawless and dangerous behavior of a relative handful of thugs inside that hallowed building, the president utterly failed.
It would have been so simple.
In a video message posted online about 90 minutes after members of Congress were evacuated, Trump urged people to “go home” and said “we have to have peace.” He also called for people to respect the “great” people who work in law enforcement.
That’s all appropriate.
But the president, whose grossly exaggerated claims about fraud in the election inspired Wednesday’s debacle, gave a generic and milquetoast appeal for moderation that, given the decidely unmoderate circumstances in Washington, D.C., fell pathetically short of what a legitimate statesman would have said.
Indeed, Trump, by inexplicably failing to specifically condemn the actions of the few, impugned the many who, in support of his grandiose claims of a “stolen” election, acted responsibly, lawfully and in the best tradition of American protests.
I’m loathe to cast blame for violence and chaos on anyone but those who actually perpetrate it.
And it may well be that even had Trump issued a strongly worded message early Wednesday, imploring protesters to stay outside and remain peaceful, some people would have committed crimes.
It is no coincidence that the words “mob” and “violence” so often share space in a sentence.
But what happened at the Capitol was hardly ordinary.
The connection between the president’s rhetoric and the storming of the building is as easy to assemble as a 10-piece puzzle designed for a kindergartner.
Trump’s initial inability to chastise those who damaged the Capitol — or even to identify them as separate from those who did not commit a crime — is, if such is possible, even more indefensible when his words are compared with those of some of his fellow Republicans, many of whom are also troubled by aspects of the election.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey: “We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth. We saw bloodshed because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans. Let’s not abet such deception.”
Baker County’s newly sworn in congressman, Rep. Cliff Bentz of Ontario, issued a statement Thursday morning calling the events at the Capitol “a stain on the history of our country.”
“There is absolutely no excuse for protests to turn into riots, and I condemn the actions of the rioters in the strongest terms possible,” Bentz said. “I call on all Americans to choose peaceful protests over violence, chaos, and anarchy. I commend Capitol Police for their brave efforts to end yesterday’s incident and enable Congress to return to our important work.”
Bentz’s statement also offers a sharp contrast with the president when it comes to claims about election fraud.
Trump, in his video message Wednesday, resorted to the brand of hysterical hyperbole that is one of his trademarks. The president reiterated the claim that rather than losing to Joe Biden, he actually won in a “landslide.”
For this to be true would, of course, require a conspiracy so widespread, and so obvious, that it could hardly be hidden.
Bentz, meanwhile, explained that he voted in favor of an objection to the Electoral College results from one state — Pennsylvania — because he believes the state, by extending the deadlines for the return of absentee ballots, violated the U.S. Constitution.
Bentz did not oppose the results from any other state, and he acknowledged that Biden won.
Whatever the case might be in Pennsylvania, it could not reverse Biden’s victory — much less lead to a “landslide” for Trump.
A legal challenge to the extension of the ballot acceptance is pending, but it’s also irrelevant to the presidential election because Pennsylvania didn’t include the disputed mail-in ballots in its tally of votes for the presidential race.
Thursday was a better day.
Trump, though unrepentant in his belief he was cheated, finally acknowledged that he will be moving out of the White House later this month. The president also said what should have said the day before, strongly condemning those who committed crimes on Wednesday and calling for “healing and reconciliation.”
The inauguration will not end the debate over how the 2020 election was conducted, of course.
Nor should it be the end.
Trump’s ludicrous exaggerations notwithstanding, the election, due to the pandemic, was indisputably different, most notably the vast increase in Americans who voted by mail for the first time.
But as Oregon has proved for more than 20 years, mail-in ballots do not threaten the sanctity of the electoral process.
Still and all, I can’t object to a thorough examination of the 2020 election — not because it could change the outcome, which is beyond dispute, but because it could identify possible flaws in the system in some states.
This is a legitimate task.
But this exercise will almost certainly fail, and likely continue to devolve into absurdity, if President Trump is its leader.
The president, as he proved yet again on Wednesday, is incapable of inspiring the sort of reasoned, sober opposition that is as much a hallmark of America as the right to peaceably assemble.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.