So Trump’s authority is ebbing before our eyes. Having helped deliver the Senate to Democrats, he’s no longer much use to Republicans like Mitch McConnell. With two weeks left in the president’s term, social media has invoked its own version of the 25th Amendment. Twitter, after years of having let Trump spread conspiracy theories and incite brutality on its platform, suddenly had enough: It deleted three of his tweets, locked his account and threatened “permanent suspension.” Facebook and Instagram blocked the president for at least the remainder of his term. He may still be able to launch a nuclear strike in the next two weeks, but he can’t post.
Yet the forces Trump has unleashed can’t simply be stuffed back in the bottle. Most of the Republican House caucus still voted to challenge the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election. And the MAGA movement’s terrorist fringe may be emboldened by Wednesday’s incursion into the heart of American government.
“The extremist violent faction views today as a huge win,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former Trump counterterrorism official who has accused the president of encouraging white nationalists, told me on Wednesday. She pointed out that “The Turner Diaries,” the seminal white nationalist novel, features a mortar attack on the Capitol. “This is like a right-wing extremist fantasy that has been fulfilled,” she said.
Neumann believes that if Trump immediately left office — either via impeachment, the 25th Amendment or resignation — it would temporarily inflame right-wing extremists, but ultimately marginalize them. “Having such a unified, bipartisan approach, that he is dangerous, that he has to be removed,” would, she said, send “such a strong message to the country that I hope that it wakes up a number of people of good will that have just been deceived.”
In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Kathleen Belew, a scholar of the white power movement, wrote about how, in “The Turner Diaries,” the point of the assault on Congress wasn’t causing mass casualties. It was “showing people that even the Capitol can be attacked.”
Trump’s mob has now demonstrated to the world that the institutions of American democracy are softer targets than most of us imagined. What happens to Trump next will tell us all whether this ailing country still has the will to protect them.