Two Days that Shook the World

On Friday, a brilliant January sun shone on my home of Belfast, Maine, and I took advantage. I hiked eight miles on the 46-mile Hills to Sea Trail that starts less than three miles from my home.

I got home just in time to watch Joe Biden’s January 8 press conference – held two days after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Biden said the Trump administration is one of the most incompetent in US history. He said Trump is absolutely unfit for office, and incompetent. He likened election lies to Goebbels propaganda. And he said Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri were complicit in instigating the Wednesday Capitol riot that left five people dead.

Strong stuff. And Biden didn’t so much as blink.

Biden was asked about Trump indicating he would not attend Biden’s inauguration. Biden said that was good. Asked whether Vice President Pence was welcome at the inauguration, Biden said he would be honored to have Pence there. This for a man, Pence, who has unswervingly enabled Trump’s hate and divisiveness for four and a half years. But it will be interesting to see whether Pence does attend the inauguration. Pence’s decision will be sheer political calculation. Will Trump followers be a force in 2024 or did the events of one day, Wednesday, finish them, all 71 million of them. Pence has 11 days to decide.

To my surprise, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to have betting odds on Pence’s presence at the inauguration.

Trump’s star crashed to Earth in a single day. Trump may have fallen from a strong 2024 presidential candidate, even, perhaps, the presumptive 2024 Republican Party nominee for president, to the end of his political career, in just one day. As a political force, Trump, who received 71 million votes just nine weeks ago, may be finished. Maybe – but it’s remarkable that this is even possible, and that it happened in just one day. It took Nixon 21 months to fall from the biggest landslide in the history of US presidential elections to resignation, disgrace and permanent political ruin.

Now reports have emerged of feces and blood in the capitol, of rioters inside the capitol with ziplock handcuffs calling for the kidnapping of congressmen and the murder of Vice President Mike Pence. It seems unlikely this will play in Peoria. More nails in Trump’s political coffin.

Trump may not be the only person whose political career may have imploded this week. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, weighing in at only 41 years of age, gave a fist-pump of encouragement as he passed the mob violently attacking the U.S. capitol. Coupled with his Arizona and Pennsylvania vote challenges, the two biggest newspapers in his home state, in scathing editorials that mentioned none other than Adolf Hitler, called for Hawley’s immediate resignation. And Hawley’s mentor, former Senator John Danforth, a veritable titan of Missouri politics, said his prior endorsement of Hawley was the biggest mistake of his life. This for a man, Hawley, who by all accounts intended to run for president in 2024. Forty-one years old and on top of the world Tuesday, and finished, in utter ruin, by Friday.

The suddenness and speed of Trump’s possible political collapse is equally stunning, but not surprising. The harder they come, the harder they fall. When one mounts a wild pony of hate and divisiveness it’s not always easy to get off.

Given Trump’s psychological make-up, it’s no surprise his election loss might cause his head to explode. Nor is it surprising that Trump’s decades of getting away, scot free, with outlandish behavior would cause him to think he could get away with anything. In fact, that’s a perfectly logical conclusion that even a perfectly sane person would arrive at.

Trump’s sociopathic father, and the equally sociopathic Roy Cohn, who was Trump’s mentor in the early part of his career, pounded into Trump’s head that in life there are only winners and losers, and losers are utterly worthless and pathetic. They are nothing. They are worth no more than dog feces on a shoe.

For decades, vast swaths of media and celebrity fawned over Trump as if he were almost magical. Everything he touched turned to gold. Trump’s six bankruptcies have so far had no lasting consequence. And for the last 4-5 years, tens of millions of people have treated Trump as if he were the second coming of Christ. He could do no wrong. Trump was right when, in the midst of the 2016 campaign, he said he could murder someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and not lose a single vote. It’s a long way from that lofty perch to subterranean depths of disgrace, and that’s one hell of a long way to fall in one day. That kind of fall would make many heads explode.

Trump was, and is, extremely unlucky that five people died in the mob riot he instigated Wednesday. He’s also extremely unlucky that one of them was a cop, a Capitol Police cop. Those two things radically changed the entire equation of Wednesday’s riot.

The last 10 months have seen a wild acceleration and compression of history. It has been the most interesting period in US history since the Vietnam War, the movement against the Vietnam War, the simultaneous cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s, and Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. And the last three days have seen an even greater acceleration and compression of history. The U.S. capitol was violently stormed by armed attackers for the first time in more than 200 years. And five people were killed. And it was instigated and encouraged by a sitting president. And all of a sudden, in two days’ time, major politicians from both political parties are openly questioning the president’s sanity.

It is truly remarkable that the leader of the greatest empire in the history of humanity is out of control, or largely out of control, and may have substantial, clinical mental health issues. To put it more bluntly, he may be insane. Arguably the mental health equivalent of Hitler in a Berlin bunker, with nuclear weapons – and with a wife likely less devoted than Eva Braun.

It was widely reported that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and spoke with him about what would happen if an unstable president were to try to start a war, or try to launch nuclear weapons. Only once before in U.S. history has anything like this happened. In 1974, when then President Nixon could see his presidency disintegrating before his eyes, he started drinking heavily, and sleeping little – like Trump. Nixon had long, rambling conversations with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Kissinger was so alarmed by Nixon’s behavior that he and then Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig conspired with the U.S. military to take away Nixon’s power to launch nuclear weapons.

Skip forward to January 2, 2021 – four days before the capitol riot. Trump rambled incoherently for almost the entirety of his 62-minute phone call to Georgia election officials. He spoke uninterrupted for the first 12 minutes. Read the transcript. It’s chilling. It’s a lunatic rant.

The news reports seem to indicate that General Milley assured Pelosi the U.S. military wouldn’t allow Trump to do anything rash. But whether true or not, it is remarkable that such a conversation even happened, and that it was made public. In a normal world, such a conversation would be kept under wraps. Perhaps Pelosi and Milley decided it was important to reassure not just the US, but the entire world – and Wall Street – that Trump wouldn’t be allowed to do anything insane.

Trump will likely be president for 11 more days. The most pressing – and fascinating – question is whether Trump will experience a complete psychotic break in those 11 days. The odds of this are increased by the purportedly permanent Trump Twitter ban. Twitter is Trump’s crack, the instant rush and high of instant affirmation and adoration. It was a pressure valve on his brain. And now that pressure valve is gone. On Friday, Trump’s handlers reined him in long enough for him to issue a brief conciliatory statement, but three minutes is not 11 days.

In historical terms, it is extraordinary to think that this could happen to the sitting leader of the biggest empire in the history of humanity – and it could happen on live television. Stay tuned.

Lawrence Reichard lives in Belfast, Maine, and can be reached at