Democrats are right to launch impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump for a second time. But he is a symptom as well as a cause of the current crisis

The inauguration of Joe Biden as US president on 20 January has become a touchstone moment in the history of American democracy. Following the outrage of last week’s storming of Congress by Donald Trump supporters, at least 10,000 members of the national guard will be deployed in Washington by this weekend. Reports have detailed FBI warnings of possible armed protests in the capital and across the United States in the days ahead. The area around the Washington Monument, close to where Mr Trump urged supporters to “fight” for his right to stay in office, has been closed to the public. The mood is fearful, febrile and somewhat surreal. In the words of one newspaper headline: “Is this America?”

Since the foundation of the federal republic, the peaceful transition of power has been fundamental to America’s understanding of itself. In US democracy’s choreography, the presidential inauguration is designed as a moment of civic celebration that transcends partisan differences. That Mr Trump chose to mobilise an insurgency against the handover gives the measure of his narcissism, hubris and deranged will to power. Last week’s riot was not a one-off piece of performance theatre that got out of hand. The pitch for an assault on democracy had been rolled for months. In the autumn, speaking more like a mobster than a president, Mr Trump told the neo-fascist Proud Boys movement to “stand by”, and warned that the Democratic party would try to “steal” the election. Last week’s violent mayhem, which led to five deaths, was the culmination of a strategy to intimidate and discredit the democratic institutions of the country he leads.

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