There will not be a peaceful transition of power between the 45th and 46th American presidents. The country’s leaders and its leading institutions—the traditional ones, not the Trump ones—spent four years promising that transition, despite everything Donald Trump might say to the contrary. It was the safe, secure alternative to other, more confrontational courses of action, the fallback plan when congressional subpoenas, judicial oversight, and even impeachment turned out to be toothless: Let the voters decide, trust the Constitution, and this will pass.
No matter how this administration eventually gives way to the next one, the promise of a peaceful transition has already failed. It failed on live video, over the course of hours. The president told his supporters he would never accept the results of the election he lost, he urged them to go to the Capitol to support him, and they complied. Trump’s loyalists stormed in on the official counting of the electoral votes, forcing the legislators to break it off, hide under their desks, and then flee the building. The invaders looted souvenirs; police shot a woman dead.
The Trump era (and American history, of which it is a part) has been defined by a stubborn, fretful failure to call things what they are. Bribery, ethnic cleansing, kidnapping, murder—surely the president didn’t really do these things. He couldn’t have meant them that way. Not seriously, or not literally.
Seriously, literally, actually: On Jan. 6, at the president’s direction, the constitutionally scheduled process for the transfer of power was interrupted by violence. By night, police had cleared the building, and Congress set out to try again.
In the meantime, the National Guard was called in for additional security—but not on the president’s orders. By the account of the secretary of defense (or the acting secretary, in the preexisting shambles of the Trump administration), the decision to deploy the…