The January 6 riot at the Capitol is a shameful blot on American democracy, a blot that is not likely to be erased anytime soon. In a new low, the US Senate has acquitted former President Donald Trump of the charge of inciting the insurrection that claimed five lives. According to the Democrats, many Republican Senators voted against Trump’s conviction as they feared a backlash from his supporters. Over three months after being voted out of power, he continues to be a disruptive force to be reckoned with. Days after the riot, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 70 per cent of the Republicans still approved of Trump’s performance in office; as per a subsequent poll, a similar percentage was convinced that he should be allowed to run for presidency again. The figures, though, are not on his side outside his party. An Ipsos poll published last week showed that 71 per cent of Americans believed Trump was at least partially responsible for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.
What’s beyond doubt is that Trump urged the crowd to march to the Capitol, where the Congress was meeting to affirm Joe Biden’s presidential election. Many of those charged with rioting have said that they were acting directly on Trump’s orders; some of them have even offered to testify. What could prove to be crucial is a phone conversation between Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in which the latter pleaded with him to ‘call off’ the mob that was overrunning the Capitol. Trump is said to have replied: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’ This remark gives the impression that Trump knew what the rioters were up to and was not keen on stopping them.
The clean chit from the Senate, however, is just a breather for Trump as he can still be held accountable by the judiciary as a private individual, no longer having protection from legal liability. A lot depends on a thorough investigation into the Capitol incident. The probe must strive for bringing closure to a sordid chapter in contemporary American history.