“That behavior was unconscionable for our country,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote to Trump in a letter announcing her resignation. “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
Even some of the president’s allies in Congress are distancing themselves from him ― although, to be clear, plenty are sticking with him. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s golfing buddies, said it “breaks my heart that my friend, a president of consequence, would allow [the attack] to happen.”
Many of the people who broke into the Capitol Wednesday came straight from a nearby “Stop the Steal” rally with Trump, who continued to insist there was no way he could have lost the 2020 election without fraud and cheating.
He encouraged the crowd to walk to the Capitol, telling them they would “never take back our country with weakness.” He said Vice President Mike Pence had better do “the right thing,” and falsely claimed that Pence had the power to deny President-elect Joe Biden his rightful election victory.
Pence had to be whisked out of the Capitol to a secure location, as rioters were heard talking about how they wanted to lynch and execute him.
None of what happened last week was surprising. And Trump’s comments inciting violence were perfectly in line with everything he has been saying since he first entered presidential politics.
Republicans have long ignored Trump’s habit of openly using violent rhetoric that puts people at risk. GOP lawmakers, when asked whether they support what Trump says, have consistently tried to pretend they never see his tweets. Or they insist the tweets don’t matter. Or they simply refuse to weigh in on what he’s said.
Others have tried to tell themselves that Trump will surely feel some shame and remorse and get better. After Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted to acquit Trump in his Senate impeachment trial last year, she predicted that the president had learned a “pretty big lesson” from impeachment, and that he would be “much more cautious in the future.”
This time, what Trump did hit closer to home for GOP lawmakers. It wasn’t just journalists or people of color at risk.
Wednesday’s overtaking of the Capitol was a tragic, unsurprising culmination of everything Trump has said and done as a candidate, as a nominee and as president.
When he launched his first presidential campaign in 2015, he said Mexican immigrants were “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime.” He has also described undocumented immigrants as “animals” and “invaders.” He made nativism mainstream for his supporters, and his rhetoric has resulted in an increase in violence and hate crimes.
Trump has invited violence against protesters at his rallies, urging the crowd to go after them. In a representative example from 2015, Trump said, “Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!” when a Black activist yelled “Black lives matter” at a campaign event. Video captured by CNN showed the activist shoved, tackled, punched and kicked by rally attendees. At a rally in 2016, Trump said: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them.” At another campaign rally that year, he said of a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
Trump has also praised his supporters for attacking protesters. In March 2016, a white Trump supporter punched a Black protester at a rally in North Carolina. Police handcuffed the protester and took him away, while the attendee was allowed to continue watching the rally. Only later, after video of the incident went viral, did police charge the man. Trump has falsely claimed that it’s the protesters who are the truly violent ones. And after the North Carolina incident, Trump encouraged his supporters to fight back even more. “The audience swung back. And I thought it was very, very appropriate,” he said in an interview. “He was swinging, he was hitting people and the audience hit back. And that’s what we need a little bit more of.”
Besides implementing his infamous ban on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, Trump has also vilified Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The president, and others in the party, have repeatedly tried to paint Omar as anti-American and anti-Israel. In April 2019, Trump tweeted a video that dishonestly purported to show Omar downplaying 9/11. He also continued to characterize her as anti-Semitic in tweets and speeches. Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, saw a rise in death threats following the Trump attacks. Her office said she “receives daily death threats ― almost all of them threatening to kill her because of her religion.” Other Muslim candidates running for office, including at the state and local levels, said they also felt the repercussions of Trump’s attacks on Omar, including a rise in death threats.
Trump has constantly demonized the media and encouraged his supporters to treat journalists as “the enemy of the people.” He berates and belittles reporters when they ask him questions he doesn’t like, becoming particularly incensed when female journalists challenge him. In July 2017, Trump shared an edited video of him attacking a person with a CNN logo for a head in a wrestling match. He also praised Greg Gianforte, now the Republican governor of Montana, after Gianforte actually did body-slam a reporter as a congressional candidate. The president said: “Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!”
This is only a small sample of the dangerous, violent rhetoric Trump has used. There were also the times he praised white supremacists, urged police to be more violent, and continued to attack a Democratic governor even after the FBI thwarted a right-wing plot to kidnap her.
Most Republicans are still refusing to condemn Trump outright, instead sticking by him or staying quiet. One hundred forty-five of them went ahead and voted to undo the presidential election results after the deadly attack on the Capitol.
For the ones who have spoken out, Trump’s rhetoric finally came to their front door. It was too close for them to say they hadn’t seen it.