The president incited a break-in at the Capitol; then Mick Mulvaney resigned as special envoy to Northern Ireland. Elaine Chao is reportedly stepping down as secretary of transportation. White House aides, including Sarah Matthews and Stephanie Grisham, slinked out by the hour. A cluster of advisers appear to be close behind.
Chevron issued a statement calling for a peaceful transition of power. Twitter responded to the president’s false tweets by banning him for 12 hours. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg announced that Trump’s account would be banned for “at least the next two weeks” and maybe indefinitely. The National Association of Manufacturers, or NAM, called for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and assume the power of the presidency for the remainder of Trump’s term. Blackstone Group Chief Executive Steve Schwarzman issued a statement condemning “the insurrection that followed the president’s remarks.” The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for an end to the “attacks against our nation’s Capitol Building and our democracy.”
If there is any sense of normalcy to be wrung from this moment, it was in the pure cravenness of these statements as the country’s elites suddenly found themselves aghast at the president’s conduct. The riot at the Capitol was a reputational escape pod for the people and corporations that have enabled the president over the last four years. Much like mosquitoes or bed bugs, they can hop on and off a host president as needed, their interests served through multiple administrations. Trump was useful. Now he’s not.
On Wednesday, a contingent of Trump supporters, believing and reveling in a steady feed of lies about the 2020 election spread by the president and his fellow Republicans, stormed Congress to disrupt the election certification process. One of the participants was killed during the break-in. Those are bad optics.
Besides, there was no harm in fully cutting the cord with two weeks left in this presidency, so these powerful people found themselves suddenly courageous. Chevron CEO Michael Wirth’s condemnation of the president was nonexistent in April, when he and other major oil executives met with Trump to get natural gas production back on track. And the company had no problem throwing tens of thousands of dollars at the Senate campaigns of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, two of the leading forces in trying to undermine the election. The NAM leadership had no problem inviting Pence to its summit in 2017, applauding when the vice president promised an Obamacare repeal and “seven and a half years” of deregulation under Trump. Similarly, it had no second thoughts about standing as one of the major supporters of the Republican tax bill. Twitter and Facebook similarly never found reason to question the president’s unfettered ability to spew lies and malicious threats.
It’s also worth questioning if any of this will stick. Trump may no longer be useful, but the Republicans who facilitated the chaos of the last four years will stay right where they are in Congress. Look back to the short-lived corporate and political backlash to the Charlottesville riots, wherein Trump’s initial response to white supremacists who killed Heather Heyer was to note that there were “very fine people” on both sides. (Similarly, Trump told the mob of conspiracy theorists and white supremacists on Wednesdsay: “We love you.”) CEOs hemmed and hawed, dropping out of the president’s manufacturing council, while presidential economic and science advisers drafted the same kinds of letters of resignation that are being filed today. Having a short memory and a high tolerance for violence is the best and only asset a CEO needs.
If pressed, all of these esteemed leaders and important-position holders will relay their belief that something changed between a vague but distant “before” and “now”—that Wednesday’s events were somehow a deviation from the expected course and that they would never support such conduct. To wit, with his resignation, Mulvaney whinged that Trump is “not the same as he was eight months ago.” Anonymous administration officials told The Washington Post that Trump’s actions were that of “a total monster.”
Brace yourself for a repeat. Even after the mobs were finally removed from the chambers, a majority of Republican House members still voted to reject Pennsylvania’s and Arizona’s electors. (All but six Republican senators, maybe thinking ahead to their next campaigns, withdrew their contentions about the election, effectively killing the challenge.) This is Trumpism without Trump. This isn’t going anywhere. The people jumping ship today were the ones steering it yesterday.