How strange it must have seemed for US lawmakers to be suddenly facing what was described as a "mob", not so much storming as striding into the Capitol with angry purpose. A terrified security force proved understaffed and overwhelmed. Members of Congress hid. Five people lost their lives.
With the US imperium responsible for fostering numerous revolutions and coups across the globe during its history, spikes of schadenfreude could be found. China's state paper Global Times found it irresistible to use the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as a point of comparison. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remark that the Hong Kong protests were "a beautiful sight to behold" was rubbed in the face of US lawmakers. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, remarking on the gloating reaction of Chinese netizens, also referred to remarks by US lawmakers on the Hong Kong protests.
It did not take long for carelessly chosen words such as "coup" to find their way into the political stuttering, as if President Donald Trump had somehow been having beer hall meetings in an atmosphere thick with plotting. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss was one. "This is a coup d'état attempted by the president of the United States."
Many members of Congress concurred. "What happened at the US Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president," concluded Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. "This president should not hold office one day longer." Republican Senator Mitt Romney also stated that "an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States," had taken place. Republican Rep. John Curtis went further, calling the move on the Capitol "an act of domestic terrorism inspired and encouraged by our president."
Meaty words for scenes more nastily absurd than politically planned or devised, despite assertions by Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming that "the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob."
This summation is all too tidy. It would have been far better to see the rioters much as the commander-and-chief himself: disposed to chaos, unrepentant in petulance. There was the QAnon conspiracy theorist Jake Angeli, sans shirt but donning a fur hat with Viking horns and spear, treating the occasion like a Christmas panto. There was Richard "Bigo" Barnett, who occupied, for a moment, the chair of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving a note reading: "Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch."
There is no denying that such protestors had been offered rich encouragement by the president to protest the certification of the election results by Congress. "You'll never take back our country with weakness," he said coaxingly. Preoccupied with his own version of the stab-in-the-back theory involving a "stolen" election, Trump is crafting a version of history that, should it stick, will propel him for a future campaign to retake the White House.
The Capitol incident had tickled and teased out the prospects of a real coup, currently being hatched by a rerun of the impeachment narrative and suggestions that the 25th Amendment of the US constitution be invoked. Section 4 of the amendment establishes a process by which the president can be declared "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" provided the vice president and a majority of "the principal officers of the executive departments" think so. The prospect of a hazardous use of that amendment is in the offing.
The wording of the amendment is broad and undefined, even though the original intent of it remains one of removing an executive who suffers true incapacity. The idea of medical emergency lies at its core. Even then, a letter has to be signed to the speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The president is also given a chance to offer a written response contesting the finding, leaving it to Congress to decide. A supermajority of two-thirds in both congressional chambers would then be required.
Press outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and organisations such as the National Association of Manufacturers have not bothered themselves too much about the original nature of the provision and its purpose. President and CEO of the latter, Jay Timmons, took the broadest interpretation for the sake of urgency. "Vice President Pence, who was evacuated from the Capitol, should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to preserve democracy."
Various lawmakers have also adopted an expansive, if cursory interpretation. In the view of Vermont's Republican Governor Phil Scott, "President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress."
Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, in their note to Pence, urge him along with a majority of Cabinet secretaries, to find Trump unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. They even go for a layman's diagnosis of his mental wellbeing. "Even his video announcement this afternoon, President Trump revealed that he was not mentally sound and is still unable to process and accept the results of the 2020 election."