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Voters Elected the Jan. 6 Donald Trump

A video exhibit plays during a public hearing of the House Jan. 6 Committee in Washington, June 16.


J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The Jan. 6 hearings probably haven’t gotten voters’ minds off inflation. If you’ve been paying attention at all, nor have they revolutionized your understanding of that day’s events notwithstanding the deluge of useful testimony that

Donald Trump

had no basis for his claim of a stolen election.

Mr. Trump’s claim was indifferent to the evidence—we already knew this. In 2016, asked whether he would accept the outcome of his first race, he quipped, “If I win.” Later, his attorney general would tell the Jan. 6 committee that Mr. Trump was “detached from reality if he really believes this stuff” about the 2020 race.

Exactly. Mr. Trump didn’t believe it or it didn’t matter if he did. He was attached to a different reality, 40 years of brand discipline: Mr. Trump doesn’t lose. Gold sprouts from his fingertips except when foiled by nefarious cheaters and corrupt incompetents.

Mr. Trump’s authentic anger was reserved for White House underlings who forgot their job was servicing the Trump brand. His legal theory, its own originator told him, was bound to lose 9-0 before the Supreme Court. When has Mr. Trump ever won any lawsuit he was involved in? When was that even the purpose?

I’ve found it hard to excuse Trump supporters who didn’t realize from day one “stop the steal” was a bucket-shop scam—had they understood nothing about the man they were so devoted to?

Ditto, I thought the media coverage after the election should be a good deal more eye-rolling. Trump was being Trump (and also was being

Stacey Abrams

and Hillary Clinton—he hardly invented the “I wuz robbed” shtick as a means to keep oneself the center of attention after Election Day).

Mr. Trump was the most known, understood, advertised personality ever to be elected president, a four-decade American prodigy of Barnumesque branding. The true wonderment was the Trump voter. Yes, some were ignoramuses, but many knew exactly what they were getting (and let me know they did).

“I’m a total act and I don’t understand why people don’t get it,” Mr. Trump supposedly told

Anthony Scaramucci.

Many did, and were his supporters.

In turn, the appalling wonder of Jan. 6 was the wonder of many accidental things set in motion by voters when they made Trump the 2016 GOP nominee.

The chain of events that landed Mr. Trump in the White House, most Americans still don’t know, included a Dutch intelligence document handed to FBI chief

James Comey

in March 2016.

If the Capitol Police had done their job on Jan. 6, we’d be living in a different world today and the risk of a Trump restoration would seem at least a tad less ominous.

Or consider: If the invading Trump mob had cornered

Nancy Pelosi

or Mike Pence, you don’t know what would have happened. Don’t assume you do. But how different again our world might be.

What distinguishes conspiracy theorists from the rest of us is their inability or unwillingness to believe that big consequences can flow from small, accidental, disorganized, even ludicrous causes.

Take the irony of Democrats putting forward Rep.

Adam Schiff

to argue the case that Jan. 6 all unfolded according to Mr. Trump’s master plan. Mr. Schiff’s own shortfall of character—along with Mrs. Clinton’s, Mr. Comey’s and Mr. Trump’s—was a crucial contingency helping to turn the voters’ Trump experiment into the dark chapter it didn’t need to be. Democrats clearly now hope to take advantage, on Mr. Schiff’s behalf, of the psychiatric propensity known as “splitting”—the unfortunately reliable assumption that, for certain viewers, blackening Mr. Trump whitens his enemies (in the Manichaean sense).

But we don’t live in a Manichaean world. We live in a Darwinian world. When reckless mendacity, cynicism and demagoguery paid off so handsomely for Mr. Trump, Democrats adopted them wholesale, and Mr. Schiff led the way. To me, this is still the most eye-opening revelation of the strange Trump interlude.

Mr. Trump’s moment landed arguably because he was a parody of the flaws of our political class, and some of his prominent non-crazy supporters sincerely argued only an ultra cynic could beat the Washington cynics at their own game and move the country forward on important fronts.

Has anything at all productive come from the experiment the electorate set in motion in 2016? Would we recognize it if it did? There may be some evidence but an instinct tells me not to bet on it until I see some “come to Jesus” willingness to face up not only to Mr. Trump’s sins but those of his enemies. That’s when I’ll start feeling optimistic about America’s ability to pull it together and rise to the challenges of the current moment.

Main Street (01/11/21): After the Capitol was stormed by hard-line Trump supporters, Washington is consumed by just how humiliating the President’s exit from the stage will be. Image: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

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Appeared in the June 18, 2022, print edition.

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