“He did it first!”
This childish whine, in so many words, emerged Thursday from the lips of right wingers from Mitch McConnell down to FOX pundits on The Five. Democrats, according to them, were no better than Wednesday’s rioters, when fires and looting occurred last summer in various cities around the nation. Or when the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2016 fell under public scrutiny and led to questions regarding the legitimacy of the subsequent presidency.
That’s their excuse, their pathetic effort to somehow escape censure for their failed president and his ‘leadership’ in fomenting an attempted coup.
This gloss does not withstand even cursory scrutiny.
First, the violent street demonstrations.
Protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police erupted in the streets of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and over 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Between 15 million and 26 million people participated in these protests, the largest outpouring of public rage in the nation’s history. Investigations concluded that about 93% of the protests were peaceful, but in a few locations, violence including arson, looting, and assault resulted in an estimated $1-2 billion in damages nationally.
Under President Trump’s not-so-subtle encouragement, racism flared into full bloom during his term, a seeming grant of carte blanche to white extremists which in turn ignited protests. Multiple other black lives lost to excessive police violence (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more) and the two protesters killed in Kenosha by a 19-year-old white militant Kyle Rittenhouse became part of these events where protesters demanded changes to police practices as well as the removal of local statuary honoring Confederate heroes and slave traders.
These protests involved citizens of communities massing in their town centers to demand change in local policies and civic entities (police, lawmakers) that heretofore had led to disproportionate deaths of people of color. For the sake of brevity, we will not delve into clear evidence that in at least some instances, alt-right actors penetrated peaceful protests to instigate violence and property damage.
There is no comparison between these protests and the invasion of the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. For over nine weeks since his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Trump had refused to accept election results, claiming the election was rigged. He agitated and advocated for his followers to take action, promising that on January 6, it “will be wild.” On the morning of the 6th, he held a rally at which he aggrandized his accomplishments, denigrated his opponents including some Republicans, and elaborated at length on convoluted conspiracy theories meant to explain why he had been the legitimate winner of the presidential election.
Trump’s speech, which rambled on for over an hour, concluded with:
“So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” [Italics mine.]
Rabid followers expressed no doubt as to what their leader expected of them. What followed has been burned into the brains of virtually every American as we watched masses of Trump true-believers storm the Capitol, overrun security guards, vandalize, steal, and invade the inner sanctums of the people’s house, the center of our nation’s government. One demonstrator occupied the speaker’s chair to proclaim Trump the president. Others roamed, strewing papers and files, no doubt searching for the elector ballots in an effort destroy official election results.
This was no local protest about policies and public services that need reform. This was a directed effort to overturn a presidential election. An attempted coup. This is not equivalent to anti-racism street protests by any stretch of the imagination.
But oh, they want to make it so. Even as they voice outrage at the violence and destruction, they scramble for excuses of why it’s no worse than the summer protests. They want, more than anything, to shift the blame from themselves for aiding and abetting Trump’s lunacy over the last four years and somehow make it about Democrats.
Democrats alongside Republicans and all the rest did not endorse or in any way approve of protesters setting buildings on fire or the looting of private property. We can ALL agree that violence and property destruction is not the right path. That is not the way to solve problems in our society, whether we’re talking about racism, police brutality, or anything else.
BUT – that is not what happened January 6. Trump conceived of, directed, and initiated the invasion of our capitol building because he lost his bid for re-election. Spinning off into la-la-land amid a thick stew of conspiracy theories, he incited his hapless followers to these acts of contempt and dishonor against the very center of our national government.
There is no equivalency.
For the record, whether or not McConnell is, at this point, capable of admitting the facts, in each of the 2000, 2004, and 2016 elections, there were legitimate problems with the election results. There were not disgruntled Democrats trying to overturn an election nor did the defeated candidates lead an attempted insurrection.
In 2000 in Florida, the election was so close that Gore was initially declared the winner. Further complicating the Florida results was the infamous hanging chad issue where election officials debated whether the incomplete removal of a tab on a punch card ballot signified a vote or not. A preliminary recount decided in favor of Bush by 537 votes. The state supreme court ordered a more thorough recount but that ruling was overturned on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The result, without a legitimate recount, came out with George Bush: 50,546,002, Al Gore: 50,999.897 votes with an electoral count of 271 vs 266.
It’s not clear what McConnell might refer to in his mention of Democratic complaints about the 2004 election. There were legitimate concerns about voter suppression and purges of voter lists in largely minority districts but there wasn’t much public protest about the results, and certainly nothing remotely similar to the January 6, 2021, disgrace.
As for 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. Whether future examinations (without Trump stonewalling) will reveal Russian manipulations behind the electoral vote count, U.S. intelligence agencies had warned for months that Russia had become involved in the presidential campaign. McConnell led the Senate in its refusal to consider the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives as a result of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference and obstruction of justice. Trump’s refusal to release information in the Mueller investigation or allow testimony by members of his staff became part of the obstruction of justice charge. Trump has continued to dismiss the investigation as a hoax, bringing along his sycophants including McConnell. Both matters will be more fully revealed to the public once Trump is out of office.
If anyone could feel justified in leading a public protest about election outcomes, it would have been Hillary Clinton with nearly three million more votes than Trump. But like the professional she is, she conceded graciously to the electoral college results.
At this point for McConnell to allege that this and other Democratic concerns about Trump’s rogue presidency somehow equals rightwing invasion of the Capitol is an absurdity. Nevertheless, this is all they’ve got, this whiny ‘he did it first’ allegation that in itself does not hold water. Since Election Day, there has been no resounding civic outcry about injustice as there was in the street demonstrations protesting overzealous police and systemic racism. There was no massive support across the nation in support of Trump’ claim. What happened January 6 was about one man’s pathetic inability to accept defeat.
The response by McConnell and others in an attempt to deflect blame for this outrage does not speak well for the future of the Republican Party. Either they acknowledge the depths of their culpability and immediately set out to correct the screed of lies inculcated on their voters or face the very real likelihood that the party will not survive Donald Trump, just as Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted in the 2016 primaries: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
 Twitter May 6, 2016