Trump's coup failed — but January 6 was a success

The Capitol riot may have failed, but Trump finished his fascist takeover of the GOP

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 6, 2022 1:02PM (EST)

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Thousands of Donald Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

I spoke on the phone with a conservative acquaintance on January 6, 2021. She had been posting disinformation about "voter fraud" on Facebook. I had pushed back in comments by pointing out one batch of votes Donald Trump was demanding be thrown out — the ones from Philadelphia — included mine. Things had been tense for a couple of days, with multiple Republicans trying somehow to deny they were targeting my vote, while also standing by claims that the ballots should be tossed. By the time the situation had escalated to a phone call, insurrectionists had already stormed the U.S. Capitol, trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory through violence. 

Immediately, she dashed any hope I had that she might feel remorse, seeing the impact of spreading these lies on Facebook. Instead, the conversation was a disjointed mess. She said she opposed violence, but then made excuses for it. Most were incoherent — she even griped at one point about local government officials who she believes sit around in their cars and don't work — but I got the gist. It was the usual right-wing nonsense about liberalism breeding indolent parasites who feed off hardworking Americans. And if Trump's "solution" to this non-problem is overthrowing democracy, well, so be it. It was then that I realized that January 6 would be a galvanizing moment for Republicans.

RELATED: Sorry, Republicans, but there's no way to acquit Trump without endorsing his insurrection

It did not, contrary to what many liberals hoped or the mainstream press assumed, make them realize things had gone "too far" or to abandon Trump. Instead, the violence of Jan. 6 functioned more like the hazing rituals used by cults (or even fraternities) to draw their members deeper in. Induced to go along with that which ranges from embarrassing to immoral, once having gone there, members feel they can't go back. Use whatever cliche you wish — "in for a penny, in for a pound," "crossing the Rubicon," "down the rabbit hole" — but ultimately it's all the same thing. Having the leader of their party incite a fascist riot created a stark and undeniable choice for Republicans, both voters and politicians: You're either a fascist or a Democrat — and the vast majority of them think there's nothing worse than being a Democrat. 

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On the night of the insurrection, a lot of Republican politicians — ensconsced in the Beltway press and all of its assumptions — freaked out, believing that this really would be the breaking point for Trump and Trumpism. Some GOP Congress members backed off plans to vote for Trump's plan to throw out electoral college votes from swing states he lost. Others — 147 in total, 65% of House Republicans and 15% of Senate Republicans — went forward with plans to formally support Trump's attempted coup by voting against election certification. But by the time Trump's impeachment for inciting the riot came around, he had scooped up most of the stragglers — 93% of House Republicans voted not to impeach Trump and 86% of Senate Republicans voted to acquit. 

Republicans tried to spin excuses for why voting against the impeachment was not somehow a vote for the insurrection, but the political reality is that voting against impeachment was voting for the insurrection. What had changed in the weeks between the insurrection and Trump's impeachment and trial was that the polling data came in and made it quite clear: The Republican base still backed Trump, which means they are all-in on this insurrection, and in overthrowing democracy generally. 

RELATED: A second civil war: One year after Trump's violent insurrection, how worried should we be?

To be sure, few of them will come right out and say they're for the insurrection. Instead, as I saw on the day of the actual riot, there's a lot of dissembling excuses. They'll tell pollsters Trump didn't do it, or antifa did it, or it wasn't that violent, or that the mob was trying to protect rather than overthrow democracy. None of these are sincerely held beliefs, so much as ways for Republicans to say they support the insurrection without coming right out and saying so. As Osita Nwanevu explained in the New York Times, the true belief motivating Trump and his supporters is that they are owed "an eternal compact that keeps power in their rightful hands," and nothing, not even democracy, should stand in their way. 

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No one should doubt that, in the extremely unlikely chance that Trump had succeeded last year, Republicans would be heralding the Jan. 6 anniversary as a day of celebration and the insurrectionists would be celebrated as heroes. Indeed, Trump was going forth with plans to celebrate the day anyway when he was pulled back by Republicans who want to maintain the pretense of official disapproval for the violence, while still steadily working to make sure that the next time Trump tries to steal an election he will succeed. 

It's easy to see the game Republicans, both voters and leaders, are playing. To each other, they need to signal support for the insurrection and the broader goal of ending democracy. But they use coded language, so as not to out themselves as opponents of democracy to either the mainstream press or those low-info swing voters they still need to win elections. So there's lots of disingenuous posturing about how the riot was bad — sometimes aided with false claims that it was really leftists or the FBI who did it — coupled with actions that speak the truth, which is that the vast majority of the GOP is fully on board.

This kind of bad faith comes easily to Republicans, who have employed it for years to cover for other repulsive views they have. Support for forced childbirth is laundered as "pro-life," racism is laundered as opposition to "political correctness" or "critical race theory," and a rejection of responsibility for stewardship of the planet is laundered as "skepticism" of climate change. So it's really not much of a mental leap for your average Republican to get on board with ending democracy, while pretending all along it's about saving it. 

RELATED: How Christian nationalism drove the insurrection: A religious history of Jan. 6

This strategy works for complex reasons that have been thoroughly examined in both the mainstream and liberal press.

There is the media's addiction to false equivalence that makes it impossible for them to cover Republican radicalism for what it is. The corruption of a handful of Democrats, mainly Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, means the continued blockage of vital democracy-saving legislation at the behest of greedy lobbyists. There have been decades of failure to pass meaningful legislation to dramatically reduce the influence of moneied interests over voter interests. Corporate leadership is more worried about quarterly returns and low taxes on the wealthy than preserving the democracy that allowed their companies to grow in the first place.

So many people feel it's in their individual interests not to stop fascism that they're failing to see that the long-term collective interest is in doing something to stop this — before it's too late. Many historians and researchers see strong parallels between January 6 and Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, in which the Nazi leader and a couple of thousand followers tried to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Hitler failed, and much of the press treated the attempt like a joke. But it ended up being a galvanizing moment for Nazis to move forward and seize power through legal means. The same thing is playing out now, with Republicans rewriting state election laws and purging election officials who are disloyal to the fascist cause. It's all with an eye towards making sure that, next time Trump wants to be declared the winner of an election he lost, there's no one to stop him. Every day that plan isn't thwarted, he gets closer to success. One year later, time is only running out. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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