Over a span of 14 days this month, our nation's capital will bear witness to three events that will tell us much about the state of American democracy: a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, where electoral votes cast in December will be read and counted aloud; protests in downtown Washington scheduled for the same day; and the Jan. 20 inauguration of the president of the United States.
How will America look after all this is over?
Under normal times, Wednesday would be just another day. Congressional certification of the Electoral College winner is nothing new. Neither is a presidential oath-taking. Both are ceremonial formalities that memorialize politically settled events. Likewise, political protests on any given day and time are hardly novel in Washington.
This year, however, all three are fraught with uncertainty because President Donald Trump, a buffoonish one-term wannabe autocrat, will not accept his election loss. Weeks after his rejection at the polls, Trump continues to falsely portray the outcome as fraudulent. And in the waning days of his presidency, when he should have one foot out the door, Trump is desperately scheming to find new ways to alter the outcome.
By all accepted standards of political morality and decency, what Trump and his allies are up to is obscene.
In the face of more than 90 state and federal judges who have rejected challenges to the election by Trump's campaign and his allies, and despite claims of fraud that have failed because there is no evidence to support them, Trump is engineering a scheme to contest the Electoral College votes on Wednesday.
He has scraped together a cult of House Republicans and a Senate publicity hound to lodge formal objections to electoral votes in swing states where those unfounded fraud claims were raised. They plan to interrupt congressional certification, and force House and Senate members to retire to their chambers to debate and vote on the objections.
Wednesday will be a day of acrimony, probably to Trump's delight, because, at the very least, the disruption will cast a cloud over the incoming president, Joe Biden.
It could, however, be worse than that.
Trump is actively inciting supporters to amass in Washington to pressure Congress to not approve the 2020 elections results. "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" tweeted Trump. He followed that up with a Wednesday tweet to supporters, "JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!"
And Trump's forces are coming.
Four rallies are planned for the day. The Washington Post reports that "threats of violence, ploys to smuggle guns into the District and calls to set up an 'armed encampment' on the (National) Mall have proliferated in online chats about the Jan. 6 day of protest. The Proud Boys, members of armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists have pledged to attend."
The Proud Boys turned out the last time they were here, on Dec 12. As dark approached that night, The Post reported, Proud Boys were observed putting on Kevlar helmets, bullet-resistant vests, protective forearm coverings and rucksacks. Some carrying long poles, long-handled black flashlights, collapsible batons or even cases of beer, they left a downtown D.C. hotel and began marching around in groups, chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!" The Trump-loving Proud Boys were spoiling for fights. Four churches in downtown D.C. had Black Lives Matters signs removed and damaged.
Imagine Congress assembling to count Electoral College votes in the midst of Trump-encouraged chaos.
Are D.C. residents, local law enforcement and America up to the challenge?
Nothing would please Trump diehards more than the eruption of an all-out conflagration around Capitol Hill. (Trump: "Be there, be wild.") Obstructions that throw congressional proceedings in disarray. A breakdown in order that would give Trump an excuse to call out military force in response, citing the Insurrection Act, which allows the president to send troops when "any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy" prevents enforcement of state laws in a manner that deprives residents of that state of their federal constitutional rights.
And get this: There is no intrinsic limit on how long he can employ troops to enforce federal law, reports University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck.
Trump isn't calling his followers to Washington for sport. Or to make lawmakers nervous. Or to dominate the news cycle.
Trump wants to overturn the 2020 election and take the presidential oath on Jan. 20.
This is our current state. How will democracy look on Inauguration Day?
King writes for The Washington Post.