Trump’s Treacherous Attack on American Democracy

By Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Translated by Isabel Morales

This essay covers the events that occurred before, during, and after the attack on the United States Congress on January 6. It analyzes the measures in process to punish the seditious and their inciter and gives policy recommendations to prevent these events from being repeated. 


In 1800, the second President of the United States, John Adams, lost his reelection against Thomas Jefferson and peacefully left office in 1801. For the next 220 years, there was no president that lost an election and tried to perpetuate himself in power against the will of the voters. Donald Trump interrupted that long-standing tradition in 2020. 

In 1814, Secretary of War John Armstrong, facing the war with England that started two years earlier, ruled out the possibility that four thousand British troops approaching Washington would invade it because of the city low military importance. So, there was no adequate preparation for defense, although 5,500 American militias camped nearby. The English occupied the city and burned the Capitol that comprised the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress. For more than 200 years, no other attack on Congress occurred. On January 6, 2020, encouraged by Trump’s instigation, a mob of thousands of fanatics believing in the President’s lies about a fraudulent election, confronted a small group of Capitol policeman, invaded the building causing extensive damage, disrupted sessions of the two houses discussing the certification of the legitimate election of Joseph Biden (against the challenge of a minority of far-right Republicans), forced the quick flight of hundreds of lawmakers, and caused five deaths and dozens of injuries. Despite many signs that such a tragedy could occur, there was no proper preparation (just as in 1884) to defend the Capitol and guarantee the constitutional process. 

Two weeks after proclaiming his presidential candidacy, the author of this essay and the Mexican historian Enrique Krauze published a statement in which we criticized Trump’s autocratic features: his hate speech appealing to negative sentiments, political intolerance, xenophobia, authoritarian attitude against his opponents, the expulsion of journalists for asking uncomfortable questions, physical attacks by his bodyguards and henchmen against peaceful protestors, and verbal attacks not based on evidence, but only on his unfounded opinion. The statement was signed by 68 prestigious Hispanic intellectuals, scientists, academics, and artists (including two Nobel laureates), and it was published in the United States, Mexico, and Spain.

Trump’s authoritarian attitude was widely proven in his four years as president. He expressed admiration for autocrats such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping from China, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, for their ability to act decisively without the controls of a democratic government. Conversely, Trump fought with various Western democratic leaders, including the European Union and Canada, said that NATO was outdated and called the opposition media "enemies of the people" (a phrase used by Stalin). He fired dozens of high-ranking US officials because they did not comply with his wishes and turned federal secretariats and agencies into instruments of his power, including the attorney general who became his personal attorney. During the first peak of the pandemic, he declared that he had "total authority" over the states, and during his four years in office, he insisted that he would reject as illegitimate, any election that did not give him victory. He also threatened that he could extend himself in power and have a third presidential term. From his inauguration until mid-2020, he had told more than 20 thousand lies, the vast majority to advance his interests and break democracy. But the worst lie was alleging that the 2020 elections were stolen. In late 2019, Trump was impeached by Congress accused of attempting to subordinate millions of dollars in US military aid to Ukraine, in exchange for the Ukrainian president to give him evidence that could discredit Biden's candidacy. All Republican senators voted against the impeachment except Mitt Romney. These actions were described as “models of authoritarianism” in the 21st century by Ruth Ben-Ghiat (Strongmen from Mussolini to Trump, 2021).

This essay summarizes Trump's incitement to the violent mobs that attacked Congress and its consequences, discusses whether it was sedition, insurrection, internal terrorism, or attempted coup, assesses the internal and external effects of the Trumpism attempt, analyzes the measures in process to punish the seditious and their inciter, and makes policy recommendations to prevent a repetition of these events. 

The incitement to sedition

For two months after the November 6 elections, Trump called them, without any proof, fraudulent and "historic theft." With his discredited lawyer Rudy Giuliani (who called for a "trial by combat," a medieval practice among knights) and other lawyers, he filed more than 60 lawsuits in the nation's courts, all of which were dismissed for lack of evidence, including the Supreme Court with the votes of the three new conservative members appointed by Trump. His campaign generated donations of 250 million dollars that the President will likely keep himself. 

Republicans unconditionally supported Trump, first in the belief that they could control and benefit from him (as it happened in Germany with Hitler), then, they bowed to the president when they understood the enormous power he had, and that if they criticized him, he would denounce them as traitors and lose their fan base support, costing them the election. The day before the insurrection, Republican Representative Mary Miller of Illinois praised Hitler for his campaign of indoctrination of German youth during a speech at the Capitol (NYT, 1/9/21).

On January 2, Trump had a telephone conversation (recorded) with Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and for an hour he pressured him to “get 11,000 votes” (a little more than the margin Biden won), claiming that there had been various frauds and repeating 30 times that he had won the election. Trump also warned the state secretary that if he refused, he would be committing a criminal offense. Raffensperger challenged with evidence, one by one, the president's false allegations and asserted that the elections had been fair (CBS “60 minutes,” 1/10/21). The next day, after Trump tweeted a fake version of the conversation, a summary of the recording was posted on the front page of the New York Times. The President appealed without success to the Republican governors of Georgia and Arizona, summoned the Republican legislators from Michigan to the White House to change the electoral results, and the Republican leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with the same objective. Trump also pressured Vice President Mike Pence to support the objection in Congress of several Republicans against the legitimate election of Joseph Biden (both by seven million in the popular vote and 306 electoral votes versus 232 Trump). The president had the erroneous belief that that the vice president had the power to block congressional certification of Biden's victory in all 50 states of the Union, reverse the election result, and give him a second presidential term. In fact, that act was impossible because it required a majority vote of both houses and the Democrats controlled that of Representatives, as Pence himself warned him.

On the morning of the 6th, an irate president exhorted his uncompromising supporters, gathered in the Ellipse near the White House to march on Congress, around five blocks away, to reverse Biden's election, as well as  to support Republican congressmen who objected to said election in some states, and to punish treacherous Republicans who opposed the objection in Congress (he criticized Pence as "weak"): "You have to fight much harder ... show more strength ... to stop the theft… if you don't fight like hell, we won't have a country anymore… I'm going to march with you to Congress,” which of course he didn't (NYT, 1/ 11/21). His older sons were also involved in the instigation: Donald Jr. called on the henchmen to “fight a corrupt election”, while Eric declared “we will never, never stop fighting”. Ivanka first sent out a tweet calling the rebels "American patriots" but, as they became more violent, called for them to stop and urged her father to calm down (Kate Bennett, CNN, 1/8/21).

A mob of tens of thousands of predominant white people, some of them armed (bombs and eleven Molotov cocktails were found), carrying flags (including Confederates), and several wearing anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi T-shirts (“Camp Auschwitz”), attacked a grim escort defending the Capitol, smashed windows and broke into the compound where they destroyed furniture and art objects. They also stole "trophies", shot into the air, and sat in the presidential chairs of both chambers and in the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives (taking selfies), in which they spread documents on the floor and stole two laptops with classified information. Also, they tried to enter the chamber where the legislators met, but the door was barricaded by armed Capitol guards who escorted the congressmen's escape to safety. An aide rescued the two boxes containing the ballot certificates, ensuring that the vandals did not—literally—steal the election results. Five people died due to the incidents (including one police officer) and dozens were injured. A policeman was dragged down the Capitol stairs and brutally beaten by the horde. It was a miracle that no legislator was assassinated and that there were no more casualties. There were also armed attacks and assaults on various state capitals.

A video taken inside a tent set on the White House lawn, shows Trump and his three oldest children with about 20 other people, all following the mob heading for Congress in jubilation on various televisions. In a general party atmosphere, Donald Jr. addresses the camera and observes that the demonstration is near the monument in Washington, says that there must be 100,000 people, and thanks them for their support and love, “something incredible, beautiful "; Donald's girlfriend calls them "patriots" (Video-2021-01-07-22-05). Despite the ensuing outrages and the mob invasion of Congress, Trump did not call in the National Guard to end the chaos. This was the opposite of the attitude he took in June last year when confronting an African American crowd (not seditious whites) peacefully protesting outside the White House against the murder of African American George Floyd by police (the movement Black Lives Matter), ordered 5,000 military troops to brutally break up the demonstration with tear gas, so that he could go out and take a picture in a nearby church with a bible in hand. Trump's candidacy was based on "law and order," but he sponsored the greatest chaos and worst constitutional violation in the history of the republic.

On the afternoon of the 6th, a distressed Biden addressed the nation on television asking for calm and exhorting unity but affirmed that what was happening was not a protest but an "insurrection." "Our democracy is being assaulted, like never before in modern times," he said and urged Trump to fulfill his oath to defend the constitution and end the "siege" (NYT, 1/7/21). Several influential Republicans also begged the president to do so. It was Pence, who was presiding over the interrupted session of the Senate, who condemned the violence and ordered the National Guard to end it, prompting criticism from Trump and shouts of "hang Pence" by the seditious. The president finally made a short video address in which he asked the seditious to return to their homes but claiming that the vandalism had been caused by electoral fraud, warning them that their actions were being used by the "enemy" (the Democrats), and praising them as "special." Following this, Twitter blocked Trump from accessing his account, first for 12 hours and then permanently (due to the danger that the president would instigate new violence), an action also implemented by Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Instagram, which removed the President’s main communication channel and was unprecedented in the nation. 

Once the attackers were evacuated from Congress and calm was restored by the National Guard (shortly before the curfew began at 6 p.m.), lawmakers resumed the certification session. In it, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a devoted Trump ally, implored senators not to continue to obstruct the election results and provoke a divisive vote, because they had no chance of winning. Utah senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney condemned Trump's incitement and Republicans who objected to Biden's election. Because of all this, and overwhelmed by what happened, a small but important group of Republicans who supported the objection changed their initial position, including the devoted Lindsey Graham, Senator from South Carolina who proclaimed the legitimacy of the election of Biden and Harris, although, due to strong criticism from Trump supporters, two days later he resumed his tirade against the Democrats. Only eight Republican senators (15% of the total) and 139 Republican representatives (two-thirds of the total) voted in favor of Biden's victory objection, the majority coming from the states of Texas (17) and Florida (13). Among them was Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who had welcomed the seditious and, after the assault, was the first to "defend the right to confront fraud" in Pennsylvania, falsely claiming that they had not been able to go to the state supreme state (in fact, they did, and the claim was denied due to lack of evidence). Senator Ted Cruz of Texas also supported their claim: “We have seen unprecedented allegations of vote fraud”. He said this without showing any evidence, even though he and his family had been defamed by Trump during the 2016 primary election campaign. The legislative session ended at 3:30 in the morning with a crushing defeat of the objecting Republicans and the proclamation of Biden as president.

At the time of the uprising, the two Democratic Senate candidates in the Georgia election were chosen: African American Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock—the first black senator from a former Confederate state—and Jewish filmmaker Jon Ossoff: symbols of the diversity much-hated by Trump supporters. Said election gave 50% of the Senate votes to Biden, which added to Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote gave him the majority. A double victory for democracy. With his egotism and insistent claim that the election was stolen and discrediting the vote as fraudulent, Trump contributed to the defeat of the two Republican Georgia candidates and the loss of the Senate.

The next day (Thursday 7) after the defeat in Congress, the widespread criticism of his incitement, demands for his resignation and the danger that he would be declared "unfit" to continue in office or impeached  again by Congress, Trump radically changed his rhetoric, reading a message from the teleprompter; in it, he condemned the violence and the destruction of property as a violation of law and order (“those who violated the law will be punished”), falsely claimed that he had called the National Guard (it was Pence who did it ), assured that there would be a peaceful and orderly transition (without admitting defeat or mentioning Biden), and called for unity and reconciliation to face the pandemic and rebuild the economy. However, he reiterated that the election was stolen from him, said he loved the seditious, and promised them: "our incredible journey is only beginning," that is, that he would continue his devious conduct (CNN, 1/7/21). In another change of opinion (three times in three days) on Friday the 8th, returning to his defiant tone, Trump asserted that he would continue to be a potent force in American politics. He added that he would not resign and repudiated his moderate video from the day before, condemning violence and promising a peaceful transition, but declared that he would not attend the Biden’s inauguration—the first president to do this in 150 years. On the 12th, during a visit to the anti-immigration wall in Texas, a boastful Trump declared that his incitement to the riot had been "totally appropriate" (NYT, 1/13/21).

Conservative Fox News journalists, such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, justified Trump's conduct by blaming the Black Lives Matter movement and justifying the insurrection as a reaction against "Antifa" (anti-fascist left-wing activists), falsely claiming that the two movements had infiltrated the protesters (Fox News, 6/1/21 and 8/1/21). Others have alleged the same ruse, such as Sarah Palin, former Republican candidate for the vice presidency in 2008, and the arch-conservative representative for Florida Matt Gaetz (NYT, 1/8//21). 

How could the “takeover” of Congress take place?

A clear sign of danger was the occupation of the Michigan capitol on April 30, 2020, after Trump's incitement to “liberate Michigan”; he had earlier exhorted his proselytes to apprehend Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and there was a failed kidnapping and explosives attempt at the capitol. A gang of people in military garb carrying automatic weapons stormed the compound when the senators were in session. Senator Sylvia Santana, who suffered the assault, said that “Michigan was the forerunner of what happened [in Congress in Washington]” (NYT, 1/10/21). There were no major incidents with the police and only two arrests.

On January 4, metropolitan police arrested the leader of the far-right militia Proud Boys for burning a Black Lives Matter flag stolen from an African-American church and confiscated his weapons. The following night– the eve of the insurrection–2,000 riots gathered in Washington at the rally called “Save America,” responding to Trump's call to march to Congress on the 6th. The keynote speaker exposed false theories of electoral theft and attacked the “enemies”: Democrats, treacherous Republicans, Communists, and Satanists. Another speaker cried out, “it's time to make war.” Several of the attendees carried clubs, knives, and pistols. Among them were members of the neo-fascist militia whose boss was arrested and shouted, “We will not go back anymore” (NYT, 10/1/21). Other computer platforms, including those that support conspiracies like QAnon, sent thousands of messages over the weeks calling for the demonstration, organizing it, and announcing that they would fight for its cause. Numerous buses transported activists from various states, and permits were issued for 30,000 protesters. The instigation of Trump and his sons to march to the capitol has already been described. 

Six days before the assault, California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters interrogated Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund for an hour about his preparation for a possible riot: if the rooftops were safe, if the streets would be blocked, and if he knew that violent groups were prepared to sow chaos: “He assured me that they had everything under control and that they were prepared against any event” (NYT, 1/8/21)

Furthermore, the Capitol police rejected offers of help from the National Guard and the FBI, claiming that they wanted to avoid using federal force against Americans, as had happened in June. The forces of "order" were prepared to confront the supposed violence of African Americans who peacefully protested in Washington in June, but they assumed that the march of white extremist supporting Trump would be peaceful—a racist double standard. Although many Capitol police officers bravely fought against the attackers and defended the legislators, an investigation was launched against at least 12 of them who collaborated or were friendly with the seditious: several policemen took photos with the assailants, another opened a Congress door to the mob (he was charged for it), one wearing a Trump cap (MAGA) gave directions to the attackers, and several calmly led the invaders out of the Capitol. The two sergeants in charge of security in the Senate and the House resigned, accused of rejecting the request for protection by the capital guard (Kellie C. Jackson, “The inaction of capitol police was by design", The Atlantic, January 2021; NYT, 1/12/21).

The congressional police budget exceeds an annual $460 million, and it has 2,000 officers protecting two square miles. These officers are half of the entire Washington DC police force. Presumably, Congress is one of the safest buildings in the world. The hordes that arrived first were no larger than those the police routinely face. But within minutes, the weak outer fence collapsed, the officers were in retreat, and then they seemed to evaporate, yielding the building to the attackers. There was no intelligence or prior strategy, and the police did not carry automatic weapons. "It is the greatest police failure in the history of the United States" (Stephen Voss, "Behind the strategic failure of the capitol police", Politico, 1/8/21). The mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, who declared a curfew in the capital on January 6, telephoned Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy at 1:30 in the afternoon asking for reinforcements from the National Guard. Pentagon officials asked for details on capabilities and for what the reinforcements were for: "There has to be a certain sense of urgency, not panic". They also argued that the Capitol Guard should have made the request. It took 90 minutes before the red tape was completed, and it was even longer for the protection equipment to arrive in Congress (Scott Calvert et al, "In capitol riot ...", Wall Street Journal, 1/9//21). After the analysis above, it is naïve to believe that it was all negligence or ineptitude. The logical conclusion is that Trump was actively involved in the failed defense of the Capitol.

Congressional security officials tried to explain their failure, staggeringly claiming that they had no signs that the demonstration would turn violent. Due to the legislators' outcry over the inexplicable breach in congressional security and the obvious lack of preparation to contain the mob that assaulted the building, the Capitol Police Chief resigned.

The disaster could have repeated itself in the last days of the Trump administration, if necessary precautions had not been taken. Far-right groups were sending messages through computer platforms (Parler, Telegram,, the same used in the rebellion of January 6 that proclaimed the insurgents as “heroes”), calling for another violent attack on January 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration. “We will return on January 19, bearing arms, in support of our mission, which the world will never forget! We will go in such numbers that no army or police can contain...The second round will be on January 20...This time there will be no mercy...we want war”. Trump announced he won’t attend the inauguration ceremony, and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, which includes the Secret Service, had resigned. This could have facilitated an attack on Biden on that day. According to Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director of the FBI: “There is growing concern that violent extremists, emboldened by the assault on the Capitol, will act again” The National Park Service, which grants permits for demonstrations in Washington, reported 16 requests from Trump supporters to hold protests. The Secret Service stated that would oversee security for the inauguration ceremony (Anna Schecter, NBC News,1/8/21). The mayor of Washington DC sent a strong letter to the Department of Homeland Security, requesting that the protection preparations be implemented on January 17 instead of the 19th as planned. Furthermore, there were threats of attacks against the capitals of all 50 states. The authorities of the District of Columbia declared a state of alert, created coordination between all the security agencies, mobilized 15,000 National Guard troops to protect the capitol, and erected a protection zone around the building with checkpoints, metal detectors, security checks, etc. State capitals also took precautions. Fortunately, all this preparation assured a peaceful inauguration, but raids could happen in the future if the violent attackers are not condemned, needed legislation is not enacted and proper precautions are not taken.

Insurrection, sedition, internal terrorism, or coup

The legal definition of sedition prescribes: “whoever incites, assists or becomes involved in a rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or its laws or provides aid, shall be fined or sentenced to prison for no more than ten years or both and will be unable to occupy any office in the United States”. The description of “insurrection” is very similar: “An uprising or rebellion against the government, usually manifested by acts of violence against the State and its officials. Under federal law, it is a crime to incite, assist, or engage in such conduct; the punishment is equal to that of sedition (18 US Code, section 2383, West Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008). In his speech on the day of the assault, Biden said that it was close to “sedition", and the National Manufacturing Association stressed: "It is sedition”.

A coup is an illegal attempt to seize power using force, usually with military participation, security troops, or organized groups. Technically, this is not what happened in the U.S. (although the FBI has found proof of planning the attack by extremist groups such as The Proud Boys). But, with increasing frequency in the world, democracies gradually collapse. For example, in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Venezuela, a democratically elected ruler systematically restricted freedoms and then changed the law to be reelected and perpetuate in power; the first part of this approach applies perfectly to Trump, whereas the second part could have occurred had he succeeded in his attempt to reverse the presidential election (Amanda Taub, “Tumultuous day, but a coup attempt? NYT, 1/8/21).

The NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, a conservative critical of Trump, stated that he “attempted the first legislative coup d’état in the history of the United States;” he also accused senators Hawley and Cruz of “plotters” and predicted that Trump would continue provoking grave conflicts (“Never forget Republicans plotted a coup,” NYT, 1/6/21). Journalist Andrés Oppenheimer labeled the events as “a classic example of a ‘self-coup’,” as that attempted by former Bolivian president Evo Morales in 2019, when he tried to reelect himself for a fourth term (“Make no mistake, Trump is trying to pull off a Latin American-style ‘self-coup’,” Miami Herald, 1/6/21) 

Domestic terrorism is a crime defined since 2001 as “violent acts committed within the United States in violation of federal or state criminal laws, with the intent to intimidate or coerce the civilian population, influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the government's conduct of mass destruction, murder or kidnapping” (ChicagoTribune, 1/7/21). The communications director of the Republican National Committee described the events as "internal terrorism" (AP, 1/6/21).

The above legal definitions leave no doubt that Trump committed the crimes of insurrection, sedition, and internal terrorism while he was on the verge of carrying out a coup, although he was unable to complete it.

Effects of the failed attempt in the United States and abroad

The day after the riot, several White House aides resigned in protest (although it is speculated that some did so at the last minute to save their reputations): the Adviser and former Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Tyler Goodspeed, Security Advisor Robert O'Brian, Social Secretary Rickie Niceta, and First Lady Team Leader Stephani Grisham, as well as Education Secretaries Betsy DeVos and Transportation Elaine Chao (the wife of Senate Republican leader McConnell). Later, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf resigned. Other officials decided to remain in office to avoid further damage and danger. On the other hand, the press officer of the State department, Gabriel Noronha, was immediately fired after sending a “tweet” in which he stated that Trump "is totally unable to remain in the presidency and has to resign” (NYT, 1/9/21). Alaska’s Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski, stated that she was considering leaving the Republican Party: "I want Trump out, he's done enough damage already". Meanwhile, Maine’s Republican Senator, Susan Collins, said she was insulted by Trump's role in the violent acts.

The danger that President Trump represented to the nation and the world in his last days in the White House was substantial, as he was willing to commit any crime or promote an international conflagration to stay in power. Two examples will suffice. His former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, convicted of confessed felonies and later pardoned by the President, met with him at the White House and called for martial law, raising fears that he would use it to count votes in several states that Trump lost or back an armed intervention in Iran. Simultaneously, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller reported that Iran could attack US troops or diplomats in the Persian Gulf. On January 3, the ten living former Defense Secretaries signed a letter urging the nation and the military to accept that the voters had made a choice, that time had passed to question its results, and that the military should not be used for political purposes. The director of the US program at Chatham House in London said those officials clearly warned Pentagon agents that it was essential to uphold their oath to the Constitution and not intervene in politics (NYT, 1/6/21). To prevent a mentally unstable president from committing another dangerous act, House Leader Nancy Pelosi had to ask the head of the White House military team to deny the president access to the nuclear detonators.

Richard Hass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States, stated: “We have seen images that I never thought would occur in this country...No one in the world will probably respect, fear or depend on us in the same way in the future. If the post-American era has a start date, it is certainly today” (NYT, 1/9/21). Former Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that Trump fomented the mob rebellion boosted by Republican pseudo-political leaders "whose names will go down in infamy as cowards" (CNN, 1/7/21).

Meanwhile, the FBI and other federal agencies had arrested 55 suspects (more than 100 by January 27th) and initiated proceedings against at least 13 attackers, including Derrick Evans, Republican Elector of West Virginia, and Richard Barnett, who posted his photo sitting on a chair from the desk in Pelosi's office, as well as the white supremacist who appeared in multiple videos with his face painted and a Viking cap with horns. Four Hundred suspects are being investigated, several connected to internal terrorist organizations, based on more than 100,000 leads (including photos and videos of the assault). The reaction against Trump's betrayal has had economic repercussions for him and his emporium: large corporations, such as Coca Cola and Marriot, have stated they will not make political donations to Republicans (despite Trump's huge tax cut). Banks that lent him substantial sums have cut ties, and his hotels are suffering heavy losses. Among his allies, Rudy Giuliani is being investigated by the New York Bar Association to oust him. 

Abroad, friendly countries of the U.S. lamented Trump supporters’ insurrection and the moral damage it has caused to the defense of world democracy against tyrannical or autocratic regimes, while enemies took advantage of it to proclaim the decline of democracy (NYT, 1/7//21 and 1/9//21).

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the target of multiple attacks by Trump, drew parallels with the burning of the parliament in Berlin (Reichstag) by the Nazis in 1933 that were manipulated by Hitler to take power, as well as the attack on said building past August, by a far-right mob protesting an alleged restriction of freedoms necessary due to COVID-19. The cover of Der Spiegel magazine (1/7/21) showed Trump with a lit match in his hand and a flaming background with the headline "The Dare-Devil: The President Burns His Country". President Emmanuel Macron, who tried unsuccessfully to establish a friendly relationship with Trump, said: "the temple of American democracy has been attacked and its universal ideas have been subverted." Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a strong Trump ally, criticized the "unfortunate scenes in Washington." The main Austrian newspaper said: "The oldest and most enduring democracy was at the point of the abyss ... if this could happen in Washington, with its strong democratic institutions, no one is immune." The Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "Dictators and strongmen around the world are now euphoric celebrating what happened”. Globo (Brazil): "the United States has fallen to the level of Latin American countries."

On the other hand, the Iranian president declared that what happened in Washington "demonstrates how fragile and vulnerable Western democracy is." Despite the close relationship between Putin and Trump, Russian state channel Rossiya 24, said the US was now suffering firsthand from the violent fruit of its interventions abroad. The Chinese Foreign Ministry scoffed: "The same American leaders who now condemn the mob in Washington had exalted as heroes the protesters who invaded the legislature in Hong Kong." In Cuba, the newspaper Granma, of the Communist Party, highlighted in a front-page headline: "They break the windows of democracy with which the United States has tried to teach world lessons," while Juventud Rebelde, the second most important of the official press, highlighted: "Democracy in the United States Collapses" (1/7/21).

 Trump impeachment for his attempted sedition and the aftermath

Three measures could have stripped Trump of the presidency. The first was his resignation. Pelosi appealed, unsuccessfully, to Republican lawmakers to demand it from Trump; the conservative Wall Street Journal in an editorial demanded that Trump resign (1/7/21) but, of course, he did not do it. The second was to apply Amendment 25 of the Constitution, which allows replacing the president when he is "incapable of carrying out the powers and obligations of his office"; this process had to be initiated by the vice president and approved by most of the president's cabinet. More than a hundred legislators supported this action and Pelosi tried to speak to Pence on the phone, but she was in hold for 20 minutes and he did not respond (interview with Pelosi, "60 Minutes," CBS, 1/10/21). Republican Representatives rejected the measure. On Tuesday the 12th, the House passed a resolution giving Pence and the cabinet 24 hours to invoke the 25th Amendment, this led to nowhere. The third possible action is the presidential impeachment by Congress, making Trump the first president in American history to be indicted twice, based on an article for his "violent incitement against the government of the United States." Such conviction requires the vote of two-thirds of the senators; if convicted, another vote by single majority would ban Trump to run for president again. On Wednesday the 13th, all Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House (232 to 197) approved the indictment, and it was sent to the Senate. This body was in recess until the 19th. and a decision was made to postpone the process after Trump left the White House. McConnell said he was open to consider the prosecution. 

Biden stated he will not get involved in the impeachment, but will not prevent it either. A legal expert believes that it was Congress that was attacked, and it is Congress that must act. The executive power should not intervene, since this would be to defer the power of the legislative branch who has the constitutional responsibility to monitor the violation of the law by the president, “the alternative of going slowly, or worse, of not taking action, will create a sense of impunity” (Jamelle Bouie, NYT, 1/9/21). The impeachment process during the first 100 days of Biden mandate is a serious distraction for the actions that he must take immediately, such as implementing his strategy to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, including accelerating the tasks of vaccination; pass a larger aid package to revive the economy; return to the global agreement against global warming; negotiate a new nuclear treaty with Iran; renew the expiring nuclear arms control agreement with Russia, and reverse Trump's inequitable policies such as cutting taxes on the wealthiest, setting a higher minimum wage, and creating a universal healthcare system. Hence the agreement to suspended the procedure until after Biden has made the appointments of his cabinet (to be confirmed by the Senate) and taken the most urgent measures. Several Republicans who without legal justification challenged the legitimate election of Biden, causing deep division in their party, now beg on behalf of unity that there be no prosecution. After a discussion at the Senate on whether the impeachment, after the president had left his post was constitutional, on January 26, 45 out of the 50 Republicans senators voted against the impeachment, including McConnell but, having the majority, the Democrats decided to go ahead with the indictment. However, the impeachment by the Senate requires the vote of two-thirds of the senators and, by January 28, only 10 Republican senators were expected to vote in favor whereas 17 are needed.

There are alternatives to prosecute Trump after he left the presidency and lost his immunity. One is for him to be indicted by the Attorney General. Biden nominated Merrick Garland (whom Obama had nominated to the Supreme Court and blocked by Republicans), granting him complete independence— unlike the previous secretary William Barr, who became Trump's personal attorney and staunch defender. Nevertheless, Biden said he would not object if the new Attorney General were to put Trump on trial. The President could have forgiven himself and other family members involved in various crimes. There was no precedent for this action, which has not been tested by the judiciary, and there was division about its legality among jurists, but they agreed that it would set a dangerous precedent. The pardon would protect Trump from federal prosecution, but not against state lawsuits for criminal or civil liability, as they are filed, among others, by the district of New York. Among more than 100 pardons, officially Trump did not enact one for himself and close family members, but it is rumored that he might have done that secretly.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman noted that history teaches us that appeasement of fascists only emboldens them to go further: “The lesson for Trump extremists is that they engage in violent attacks on the core institutions of American democracy and face hardly any consequences. Clearly, they view their exploits as a triumph, and will be eager to do more... accountability for past actions will be crucial if we want the future to be better” (“Appeasement got us where we are”, NYT, 1/8/21). Under the law, incitement to insurrection or sedition by Trump is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and this crime must not go unpunished. He must be prosecuted in one way or another to banish the Big Lie of electoral fraud, avert a repeat of his transgressions, prevent his potential candidacy in 2024, and impede other autocrats like him from daring to attempt a future insurrection.

Build on past lessons to better protect the future

Lessons must be drawn from Trump's sedition and ignominious trajectory to preclude a repeat of transgressions against American democracy. Here are some essential actions that the Biden administration and the new Democratic Congress could take:

Replace the presidential election through the Electoral College with the direct vote of the citizens. In the last 20 years, two presidential candidates lost despite winning the popular vote.

End practices restricting access to voting for minorities, such as African Americans and Hispanics, and gerrymandering, the unfair and arbitrary division of electoral districts to achieve electoral advantages.

Make voting compulsory; guarantee early and absentee voting, as well as vote by mail, regulating them to eradicate any possibility of fraud.

Automatically register all eligible voters, using their social security number, driver's license, or, even better, through a universal ID.

Strongly sanction the transgressions committed by Trump officers, including a ban on holding public positions in the future.

Force all federal presidents and senior officials to submit their tax returns for at least the previous five years, as well as all the documents deemed necessary when they declare their candidacies to ensure transparency.

Establish clear and strict rules for the president and other senior officials to completely separate their businesses from public office in order to prevent them from benefiting from such offices, generating conflicts of interest.

Guarantee the absolute independence of federal secretariats and agencies, including general inspectors, as well as the safety of officials who report violations (whistle blowers) to prevent them from being fired or becoming the president’s servants.

Create rules to control the financing of electoral campaigns, including the return of caps to large contributions, as well as to lobbyists who exert their influence through donations.

Prohibit the President from forgiving himself and his family members, and establish clear rules for granting pardons to make it impossible for criminals to testify (or refuse to do so) in order to obtain a presidential pardon.

Strengthen the Office of Government Ethics, empowering it to impose heavy sanctions on violators.

And last but not least, enact legislation to strictly control buying weapons and terminate both the carnage of hundreds of innocent people as well as the attacks on democracy.


Carmelo Mesa-Lago is Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh, he has been a visiting professor or researcher in eight countries and a lecturer in 39. He is the author of 90 books/monographs and 318 articles/chapters in books published in eight languages in 34 countries. His articles on Trump have been published in Letras Libres, El País, Estudios de Política Exterior, Nueva Sociedad, Pensamiento Propio and Transition. This article was originally published in Spanish by Letras Libres (Mexico), January, 2021, and has been updated by the author for Panoramas Latinoamericano.

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