On January 6th, 2021, a group of violent supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. This attack left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer, and dozens more injured. It was a shocking and disturbing display of violence and insurrection, one that has deeply divided the country and tested the strength of its democratic foundations.
In the days that followed, there were many questions about who was responsible for inciting the violence and what role Donald Trump played in it. Many of Trump’s supporters pointed the finger at Antifa or Black Lives Matter activists, claiming that they had infiltrated the crowd and instigated the attack. But the evidence quickly mounted against this claim, with videos and social media posts clearly showing Trump supporters breaking into the Capitol and wreaking havoc.
As the nation tried to make sense of the chaos, Trump himself was conspicuously silent. It wasn’t until the evening of January 6th that he released a video statement, in which he told the rioters to “go home in peace” but also repeated false claims about the election being stolen from him. He seemed to condone the violence by saying, “We love you, you’re very special,” a statement that was widely criticized for being insufficiently forceful.
In the days that followed, Trump continued to face mounting pressure to take responsibility for the violence and to condemn it unequivocally. Vice President Mike Pence, who had been presiding over the joint session of Congress that was interrupted by the rioters, was among those calling for Trump to do more. But Trump remained defiant, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and that the election had been stolen from him.
Then, on January 12th, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection, making him the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. The article of impeachment specifically cited Trump’s false claims about the election and his repeated calls for his supporters to gather in Washington D.C. on January 6th. It argued that Trump’s words and actions directly led to the violent attack on the Capitol and that he should be held accountable for inciting it.
In his first public statement following the impeachment, Trump doubled down on his claims that the election had been stolen from him. He also lashed out at Pence, who had refused to overturn the results of the election despite pressure from Trump and his allies. In a tweet, Trump accused Pence of lacking courage, stating that if he had “done what should have been done,” Trump would have won the election.
This was a stunning rebuke of Pence, who had been a loyal supporter of Trump throughout his presidency. Pence had stood by Trump during the Russia investigation and had faithfully executed his duties as vice president. But the events of January 6th seemed to have strained their relationship to the breaking point.
As the Senate prepared to hold its impeachment trial, Trump continued to express his displeasure with Pence. In a statement released on February 6th, Trump told his supporters that Pence had “let us down” and had missed “an opportunity of a lifetime” to overturn the election. He seemed to be blaming Pence for his own failure to secure a second term in office.
This rhetoric was deeply troubling, both for its narcissistic overtones and for its potential to incite further violence. Many Republicans were alarmed by Trump’s behavior and called on him to tone down his rhetoric and take responsibility for his actions. But Trump remained defiant, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and that he was the victim of a witch hunt.
In the end, the Senate voted to acquit Trump of the charges of incitement of insurrection, with only seven Republicans voting to convict him. It was a disappointing outcome for those who had hoped to see Trump held accountable for his role in the violence of January 6th. But it was also a reminder of the deep political divisions in the country and the challenges that lie ahead for those who seek to heal them.
As for Pence, his role in this saga will be long debated. Many will argue that he lacked the courage to stand up to Trump and do what was right for the country. Others will praise him for his steadfastness and his commitment to the Constitution. Regardless of where one falls on this spectrum, it is clear that Pence will be forever associated with the events of January 6th and their aftermath. Like so much else in American politics today, his legacy is likely to be a deeply contested one.