Trump said it was “disgraceful” and that it was “a political maneuver that they’re doing,” a vague “they” that, as usual, refers broadly to Trump’s opponents.
The former president then tried to rewrite history.
“Right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump said of the Capitol. “Look, they went in. They shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in and they’re — they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards. You know, they had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in and then they walked in and they walked out.”
“They’re persecuting a lot of those people,” the former president said of those who had been arrested.
He did grudgingly then admit that some of those arrested were more problematic, just as he once grudgingly admitted that not all immigrants were criminals and just as he once grudgingly admitted that there were some White nationalists involved in Charlottesville. But now, as on those occasions, his most immediate assessment of what happened reveals his most honest opinion. Just as the reporting at the time indicated, Trump approved of the storming of the Capitol.
By itself, this is a problematic position for a former president to hold, much less to espouse publicly. It’s a whitewashing of the events of that day, events that left five people dead and that led to the injury of hundreds of police officers unlucky enough not to receive kisses and hugs. The litany of law enforcement injuries is probably familiar to you now — concussions, bruises, a heart attack, death — and tells a very different and more accurate story than the one Trump offered.
It is ridiculous for Trump to make claims like this, but we’re accustomed to such behavior. The familiarity of it, though, can blur how dangerous it is. When coupled with other developments on Thursday, it becomes much more difficult to ignore the risk posed by a president rationalizing a violent attack on his political opponents.
Shortly before Trump’s interview with Ingraham, for example, Fox News host Tucker Carlson welcomed the far-right personality Jesse Kelly. The two were discussing a Politico report about President Biden’s son Hunter involving his purchase of a gun in 2018. The details are murky, but the report alleges that the Secret Service tried to secure the record of the gun purchase after it went missing and that Biden denied being “an unlawful user” of drugs when applying for the weapon, despite being discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine use several years earlier.
Any nuance or uncertainty about the incident was swept aside when Carlson and Kelly were talking. To them, this — whatever it ends up having been — served as even more evidence of how the rules don’t apply to Democratic elites.
“It’s just item 1,000 in proving to people that there are two different sets of rules in this country,” Kelly said. “There are rules for powerful Democrats and there are rules for people like you and I.”
The word “Democrats” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Carlson then lamented “the sadness and the powerlessness” that people feel in the face of such purported inequity. “Things kind of break down at some point, don’t they?” Carlson asked.
“They will break down. They are breaking down,” Kelly replied. “I’ve said this before and I’m telling you, I’m worried that I’m right: the right is going to pick a fascist within 10 to 20 years because they’re not going to be the only ones on the outs.”
“Right,” Carlson replied. “That’s right.”
This is a remarkable progression, from a single source story about the president’s son (that the Secret Service has denied) to “it’s inevitable that the right will pick a fascist.” Both Carlson and Kelly will no doubt argue that they are simply saying that this is a threat about which they worry. But there’s a clear “well, if no one else is going to eat the last slice of cake, I guess I will” eagerness that runs as an undertone.
Trump is not terribly skilled at masking his sentiments, making his true feelings obvious. Kelly and Carlson quickly moving from a Politico story about Hunter Biden to shrugging about looming fascism certainly suggests some more complicated underlying sentiment.
“The inevitable counter to communism is fascism,” Kelly wrote on Twitter last month. “We will see a monster rise on the Right in response to the Left’s violence and censorship. It will be awful. But it is coming. I promise you that.”
Fox News is the network that Republicans are most likely to reward with their viewership. Carlson and Ingraham pulled in millions of viewers last month and, on Thursday, hundreds of thousands saw Carlson nod at fascism as hundred of thousands more heard the former president reframe a fascistic attempt to undermine the results of the 2020 election with approval.
That’s just media, of course. But that commentary overlapped with real-world manifestations of how the political right is rejecting democracy.
One of the less obvious occurred in Missouri. Last November, voters were asked to weigh in on a proposal that would expand Medicaid coverage in the state. It passed by a 6-point margin.
Republicans in the state legislature, though, have blocked funding for the program. One offered an explicit rationale for opposing the move.
“Rural Missouri said no,” said State Rep. Sara Walsh (R). “I don’t believe it is the will of the people to bankrupt our state.”
It probably isn’t the will of the people to bankrupt the state, but it was the will of the people to expand Medicaid, as last November’s vote makes clear. But here we again see the differentiation between us and them that’s the anchor of the Kelly-Carlson-fascism dance. Rural voters — which is to say Republican voters — didn’t approve the measure. Therefore, it’s invalid.
That is not how democracy works, which is the point. Walsh doesn’t like how the election turned out, so she rejects the election. She’s not the only one to do so; we’ve seen other examples of Republican legislators suggesting that urban (read: Democratic) voters should be considered ignorable. Plus another salient example: Trump didn’t like how the 2020 election turned out, so he embraced those who tried to overturn it.
As Carlson’s show was airing on Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) was signing into law a bill that imposes new restrictions on voting in his state. It’s an odd turn of events for Kemp, given that he and other state Republicans were praised in the months after the 2020 election for rejecting Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the results in the state. State leaders argued — accurately — that the election was not in any way tainted by fraud. Yet, because of the pressure applied by Trump on the subject and because of their own obvious interest in avoiding further Democratic victories in state elections, they moved forward with a slate of new rules that make voting less easy.
It is hard to argue that making voting more difficult will not reduce the number of people who vote, particularly if one also holds that, say, putting a wall on the border will reduce the number of people who immigrate illegally. It is obviously the case that Georgia Republicans hope to constrain voting in the state and that they are doing so weeks after their party lost both presidential and Senate contests. It is the case that the changes they made will not only limit voting access but also empower Republicans to reshape completed elections in precisely the way that Trump sought.
All of these things intertwine. Trump embracing an attempted insurrection on the same network that suggests fascism is all-but-inevitable as legislators in one state ignore unfavorable election results and legislators in another give themselves new power to do the same.
We’ve documented the GOP’s shift away from small-l liberalism, but rarely have so many examples of that shift presented over such a short period of time. Many in the party are concerned about losing power in the face of an evolving American electorate and, as a result, many embrace the idea that democracy should or can be handcuffed.
It is this trend, not whatever Hunter Biden does, that will clear the way for fascism.