Not since Lincoln

As Biden prepares to take office, a president-elect faces violent resistance to his victory for the first time in 160 years

Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election ended 71 days ago. The inauguration happens in seven days.

The Latest

The United States is still in the midst of a transfer of power — but the “peaceful” phase of the transfer ended on Jan. 6, with the riot that overran the Capitol and claimed five lives.

As investigations into the violence continue, the president faces an impeachment trial on a charge of incitement of insurrection. The New York Times reported yesterday that outgoing Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell might support the impeachment charge (although this is unclear). Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of the last Republican to serve as vice president, also announced her support for impeachment, saying of Trump’s conduct that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution” — joining a total of 10 Republicans who voted on Wednesday to impeach the president.

Soldiers of the National Guard have bivouacked on the floor of the Capitol Visitors Center — placing soldiers on station at the Capitol grounds for the first time since the Civil War. The troop deployment is part of a surge of 20,000 troops into Washington to safeguard the rest of this marred transition.

Capitol Police on Monday briefed Democratic members of the House of further plots — such as a scheme to intercept and perhaps kill Democratic representatives in order to end their control of the chamber. On Wednesday afternoon, the Secret Service, which coordinates security for presidential inaugurations, advised of additional “armed protests” planned in Washington for the week of Jan. 20. 

Meanwhile, new details of last Wednesday’s events keep emerging. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), on Tuesday, accused unnamed colleagues of bringing groups of rioters into the Capitol one day before to conduct reconnaissance. The chief of staff for Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told the Boston Globe about discovering, during the riot, that panic buttons installed in the office Pressley has occupied since 2019 had been “torn out.” 

With trust among representatives at an understandable low, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the office of the House sergeant at arms ordered the placement of metal detectors outside the House chamber — where at least one first-term representative, as noted in last Wednesday’s issue, had sworn to bring her gun. In response, House Republicans took umbrage — condemning the action, then proceeding to ignore the protective measure altogether. 

House Republicans, for their part, have also reportedly voiced fear for their personal safety — in particular, worry about how radicalized supporters of the president might react to a vote for impeachment. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), an Iraq War veteran who counseled colleagues on how to protect themselves during last Wednesday’s riot, characterized some Republican lawmakers with whom he has spoken as “paralyzed by fear:

This newsletter began as an effort to chronicle the presidential transition. In its liminal state over recent weeks, however, the nation entered one transition more than it bargained for: a transition into the sort of country where the word “coup” is said without hyperbole, and where a “peaceful transition of power” is something to aspire to — not what Americans do any longer do as a matter of course.

Right after the election, many reporters, pundits of all stripes, and other well-known figures in  Washington excoriated a fledgling “Trump Accountability Project'' out of existence. The stated aim of the group was to gather the names and backgrounds of Trump administration political appointees, for the purpose of stopping them from “profit[ing] from their efforts to tear our democracy apart — but it received wide condemnation as a “purge,” as “cancel culture,” and “a major break with past Washington practice.”

Well, a deadly putsch during certification of presidential election results is also a major break with past Washington practice. We’ve now had one of those — and it happened thanks in part to the incitement of a president whose political workforce Americans were urged, two short months ago that feel a lifetime away, to hold harmless.

That outcry for “unity” over division has aged poorly, wouldn’t you say?

Last Wednesday, members of the House “united” in a safe room — sheltering together while police endured the rioters’ assault. Multiple Republicans in the room repaid the gesture by refusing to wear masks, rejecting insistent pleas from Democratic colleagues and the sergeant-at-arms to take the health of those in the room seriously.

In the week since, at least three Democratic representatives who sheltered in that safe room have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The coronavirus — lest we forget, as the putsch and its fallout demand Americans’ focus — continues to wrack the nation and its economy. One of every 868 Americans has died since the onset of the pandemic. A Yale public health professional, watching as the death toll in the United States stays on a trajectory to pass 400,000 by Jan. 20, describes the ongoing loss of life as “the worst case.” 

Against this backdrop, House Republicans stormed in anger this week about … the indignity of submitting to metal detectors.

This, to state the truth plainly, is a low pass for the American experiment. Interregnum collaborator Justin Hendrix warned, last month, that January could be among the worst months in American history. Thirteen days into the month, January’s claim on that distinction seems secure.

We will see, over the weeks to come, whether this year brings worse. What seems certain is that hollow displays of “unity” — without accountability for the mischief, systemic failures, and outright depravity that led us here — would make a continuation of our misery a certainty.


In the Conversation

Fiona Hill, at Politico Magazine: “Yes, It Was a Coup. Here’s Why.” 

“The good news for the United States is that Trump’s self-coup failed. The bad news is that his supporters still believe the false narrative, the Big Lie that he won the election. Trump has not repudiated it, nor have the House and Senate Republicans who voted against the Electoral College results. Millions of people still think the election was stolen. They still support Trump the person, not the Republican Party, and many are prepared to take further action on his behalf. … As in the case of other coup attempts, the president’s actions have put us on the brink of civil war. Trump did not overturn the election results, but, just as he intended, he disrupted the peaceful democratic transition of executive power.”

Timothy Snyder, at The New York Times Magazine: “The American Abyss.”

“Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts, is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics. For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.”

Adam Serwer, at The Atlantic: “The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class.’

“The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence. … The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule.”

Waleed Shahid and Nelini Stamp, at Crooked Media: “Only Democracy Reform Can Stop Trumpism.”

“Many Democrats believe that their sole task is to defeat Republicans, and that change will follow naturally. But the structural incentives that led Republicans to embrace Trump in the first place remain in place, even as they lost the Senate and the presidency, and likely even as they’ve been tarred with complicity in an armed insurrection. … The only way to change their behavior is through the adoption of a robust democracy reform agenda—one that will help America complete its transformation into a pluralistic, multiracial democracy and splinter the Republican Party as it currently exists into oblivion.”

Tim Miller, at The Bulwark: “The Attack on Democracy Is Not Over. It’s Still Happening. Right Now.

“For the first time in the last ten transitions, the GOP Senate is not confirming Biden cabinet members prior to the inauguration. That’s right: There will be no Homeland Security secretary, attorney general, secretary of State, or secretary of Health and Human Services when Joe Biden takes office in the wake of a domestic terror attack during a pandemic which has killed nearly 400,000 Americans.”

Colin Woodard, at Washington Monthly: “How Joe Biden Can Help Forge a New National Narrative.” 

“The challenges to building a dominant, persuasive, civic nationalist politics are formidable. One-third of the country appears to wholeheartedly embrace ethno-nationalism. These are the Americans who not only vote for Trump but also love him and his crude, exclusionary vision of the United States. …Another major segment of the population, mostly younger Americans on the political left, believe in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence but argue—because the promises America made to Black, Indigenous, and other nonwhite people have been so consistently not met, and because American foreign power has been so brutally thrown around—that racism and imperialism are immutable aspects of our character and system. The only way to convince this rising generation to enthusiastically embrace a civic nationalist story is to prove them wrong—that is, to deliver domestic policies that finally give a fair deal to Black Americans and a foreign policy that keeps the peace without embroiling the country in brutal and endless wars. … This obviously won’t happen overnight. It is the work of a generation.”

Biden Hires and Appointments

Samantha Power, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for Aid and International Development.

From the Biden-Harris transition team:

“Ambassador Samantha Power served in the Obama-Biden Administration Cabinet from 2013 to 2017 as the 28th U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During her time at the United Nations, Ambassador Power rallied countries to combat the Ebola epidemic, ratify the Paris climate agreement, and develop new international law to cripple ISIS’s financial networks. She worked to negotiate and implement the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and helped catalyze bold international commitments to care for refugees. And she advocated to secure the release of political prisoners, defend civil society from growing repression, and protect the rights of women and girls.”

The transition team also announced additional hires to the White House staff and the National Security Council

A Moment of Huh-Huh-Huh, Huh-Huh

That’s all for this issue. Stay safe; we’ll see you on Friday.

American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from Nov. 3, 2020, through — are we there yet?  — Jan. 21, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Have questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most. 

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