Before he came out to speak, the president-elect watched the TV footage with a mix of outrage and dismay. Between sentences, his mouth would drop into a scowl of disgust as he visibly considered whether he was going to stay on script or tear off. Biden has spent his life dreaming of being president—but not like this. His instinct is to be a conciliator, a dealmaker, the man constantly in pursuit of the middle ground. He’s spent his career insisting that people are good, that they can get along, that America isn’t the country it’s become under Trump. This afternoon, he was supposed to give a short speech about small businesses, some subtle counterprogramming to Trump’s rally in Washington. Biden aides worried about what Trump was up to, but ultimately regarded it as a distraction: They felt they could safely get out the popcorn and enjoy watching the Republicans try to justify Trump’s actions.
But there’s no ignoring what members of Congress have called everything from “banana-republic crap” to “domestic terror.” There’s no reaching across the aisle when the president’s oldest son and self-styled political heir started the day by telling rally attendees, “These guys better fight for Trump. Because if they’re not, guess what? I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months!” and then panicked into backtracking when he saw that his words were being taken seriously, literally, and violently.