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Sensemaker: DC insurrection

Sensemaker: DC insurrection

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Joe Biden’s election victory was certified by Vice President Mike Pence in the US Senate shortly before 4am, hours after Trump supporters stormed Congress.
  • Jon Ossoff, 33, was confirmed as the second Democrat to win a Senate seat from Georgia in two days.
  • Kelly Loeffler, defeated in her Senate runoff in Georgia after positioning herself as Trump’s most ardent supporter, said she could no longer “in good conscience” support objections to the electoral vote count.

DC insurrection

What happened? Four people died and the world looked on aghast as a crowd egged on by Donald Trump forced its way into Congress, yelled the slogans of Trump’s losing battle with the constitution and took selfies in the House Speaker’s chair. At least one unexploded IED and a truckload of weapons were reportedly found within the Capitol’s perimeter. Three senior White House staff quit, and CBS reported that by nightfall cabinet members were discussing using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office two weeks before he’s due to leave it anyway.

Was it a coup attempt? No. If you were watching cable news coverage of Capitol police fleeing intruders and House Representatives reaching for their gas masks, there were moments when you might have thought so; moments when breathless anchors reached for the coup lexicon. But real coups aim laser-like at army bases, TV stations and the levers of executive power. This was a last outing to the nation’s capital by credulous thugs who know they won’t be welcome there for at least the next four years. With the help of stunning security lapses that will be the subject of deep and laborious investigation, it turned ugly. 

Should Trump stay in office? In principle, no. He’s lied for months about the election he lost, bullied state officials to doctor its results and goaded followers to march on Congress and disrupt the certification of Biden’s win. He remains Commander-in-Chief of the world’s biggest military, with two weeks left to misuse it on a whim. So it’s no surprise that his own most senior appointees may have discussed using their powers under the constitution to install Vice President Mike Pence in his place until inauguration day. And the parallel case for instant impeachment and removal for sedition is well-made by the conservative columnist Bret Stephens in the NYT:

“To allow Trump to serve out his term, however brief it may be, puts the nation’s safety at risk, leaves our reputation as a democracy in tatters and evades the inescapable truth that the assault on Congress was an act of violent sedition aided and abetted by a lawless, immoral and terrifying president.”

Will Trump stay in office? Almost certainly. He has now said he’ll go quietly even though he still refuses to accept publicly that he lost. Asked if he should be impeached, Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Oregon), told the New Yorker last night: “He will be removed officially by a ceremony a few days from now. Let’s put our energy into planning for a successful Presidency.” If that sort of view prevails among Senate Democrats, Trump is safe in the White House until 20 January.

Unanswered questions:

  • Can the Republican Party hold together when split so bitterly between those who raised objections yesterday to the Senate’s ceremonial counting of electoral votes, and those who didn’t?
  • Who ordered the deployment of the National Guard to restore order to the Capitol, and when, and why did they take so long to arrive?
  • Will the 60-odd per cent of Republican voters who still believe the November election was stolen from them remain a potent political constituency, or will it shrink because of what the Trumpers did yesterday?

Quote of the day: “We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride, and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months.” Mitt Romney in the Senate, after being heckled almost continuously from Salt Lake City airport to DC while sharing a flight with Trump supporters on Monday.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Markets shrug – contentedly

The chaos on Capitol Hill barely registered on Wall Street. Instead, S&P 500 futures rose by 0.5 per cent as traders tuned out the din on CNN and focused on a) the slow but inexorable progress towards certification of Biden’s win and b) Jon Ossoff’s Senate win in Georgia, which between them make a massive new round of stimulus spending a near-certainty. Trump’s late promise of an “orderly transition” didn’t hurt. 

New things technology, science, engineering

To Mach 1 and beyond

Supersonic passenger flights are getting closer to making a comeback, thanks to American regulators. The big problem facing supersonic flight has long been its accompanying “boom”, which led to a Nixon-era ban on all supersonic passenger flights over US land, prompted by noise complaints. This ban is still in place, but the FAA yesterday finalised its rules on the testing of supersonic aircraft, in what was described by the Transportation Secretary as a significant step towards reintroducing civil supersonic flight. The move will make way for the testing of new high-tech engines that can propel planes across the sound barrier with a much softer boom – thereby removing the need for the ban. First up: Nasa’s X-59 “Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-Plane”.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Paradise threatened

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a vast tract of untouched wilderness in Alaska’s far north. We wrote last year about the Trump administration’s determination to sneak through the sale of oil drilling leases inside the refuge before Biden’s inauguration, in defiance of the president-elect’s opposition and environmentalists’ pleas to leave the refuge alone. The sale went ahead yesterday but it was, gratifyingly, a flop. Of 22 leases available only half of them sold, raising just $14.4 million. There were three buyers in total (all the big oil companies steered clear of the sale), and the major purchaser was Alaska’s state-owned industrial development authority. The dearth of buyers was likely driven by persistently low oil prices – as well as by political prudence. With a new president pledging $2 trillion towards a climate plan entering the White House in a fortnight, it would be unwise for big energy players to vex him as an opening gambit. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Faster than warp?

Biden’s transition team plans to install new people to speed up America’s Covid vaccination efforts, which have proceeded slower than promised and slower than the breakneck development of the vaccines themselves. General Gustave Perna of the US army will stay on in charge of logistics but Moncef Slaoui, a registered Democrat and former head of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, will step down early next year. Progressives have raised questions about his ties to Big Pharma. He’ll make way for a new civilian team headed by Jeff Zients, a former head of the National Economic Council, and Vivek Murthy, a former US surgeon general. Fewer than 5 million Americans have been vaccinated so far, compared with a target of 20 million by the end of last month. 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Georgia is changing

Some of the most interesting reporting on American politics on a day some compared with Pearl Harbor is buried, oddly, in an op-ed by the former Bush advisor Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. Ever a numbers guy, Rove compares Jon Ossoff’s lead over his Republican rival David Perduein a series of Georgia counties in the November election, with his lead on Tuesday. In each case Ossoff extended that lead, erasing an 88,000 vote margin in favour of Perduethat was not enough to prevent this week’s runoff. Rove squarely blames Trump, whose petulance and public bullying of Georgia’s Republican election officials were, after all, the main differences between the political landscape in November and now. What did not change was Perdue’s allegiance to Trump. Bad call.  

Thanks for reading, and do share this around. 

Giles Whittell

Ella Hill

Kim Darrah

Photographs Getty Images, Lockhead Martin/NASA