December 11, 2021 - 6:16pm

The images from the 6th January riots at the US Capitol will be with us for years — shocking, unnerving, and ultimately tragic for the five people who died. But was it “armed insurrection” or a failure of policing? How close did the President come to directly inciting violence? What is a wise way for Democrats to respond?

To help understand this significant moment, and what these final astonishing weeks of the Trump administration mean for the US and for the world, I spoke to writer and commentator Andrew Sullivan. He lives just a few blocks away from the Capitol and from the first moments of our interview you can see how traumatised he has been by the events of the past few years, culminating (so far) in the events of last week:

Do not minimise this, for God’s sake. This is what conservatives have been doing from the get go, which is attempting not to see what is in front of your face. They planned it. They wanted to take over. They had ties to hold people hostage. They were calling for people to be killed… They had a plan — maybe not one that could have succeeded, but you only need one gun.
- Andrew Sullivan, LockdownTV

Sullivan is worried that it is not over yet. Many of his friends in Washington DC are planning to leave the city for the inauguration on 20th January on the grounds that it is not safe: “We don’t know what’s going to happen now. There are a lot of arms in the country. And Inauguration Day is going to be another stress test of whether this place is going to survive civil conflict.”

He sees the “tyrannical” streak in Donald Trump’s character as constituting the tragic part of this epoch, because he has now prevented the overlooked and important issues that got him elected from being properly addressed:

This is the tragedy of it. He brought attention to subjects and issues that really the elites had completely ignored, because they could: the question of the implosion of the middle class economy, the question of immigration and trade, and indeed, the swift demographic change that really destabilises the entire idea of a coherent nation state. Equally, what happened last summer, when people let the cities of the United States burn, because of another large conspiracy theory that white supremacy which was operating on the Left — as often happens, the radicalisation of one side radicalises the other. I think Trumpism and an adjustment of conservatism towards the needs of the working class is, is a great move, but you just can’t separate the two, unfortunately, you can’t. He is so uniquely dangerous and irrational, that there was never a way.
- Andrew Sullivan, LockdownTV

As a result, he fears that any attempt to challenge “wokery” is now fatally undermined. An illiberal Left, closely coupled with the might of Big Tech, will now seek a revenge that may be unassailable:

It’s possible that the Republican Party really is over, that it will fracture, and it has to fracture so that the rump, know-nothing part of it will be in permanent exile. And that Trump’s legacy will be a kind of Left-liberal orthodoxy in America that will never loosen its grip.
- Andrew Sullivan, LockdownTV

Responding to the challenge by some of President Trump’s defenders that he didn’t, in fact, directly incite violence, and that the social media bans are therefore unfair, Sullivan counters:

If you want to play legal scholar on that, you can. Okay, go ahead. But at what point are these conservatives gonna recognise what’s in front of them and stop excusing this stuff? It’s insane that people will find any excuse for this person. I’m sorry, I am exhausted. There is no fucking way to justify this person in any fashion of any way, whatever the cause. This is an unbelievable breach in American history. And in the West. It’s a huge blow beneath the waterline of Western democracy, fomented by this person, and people are asking me to prove it. I mean, text and verse, look at the last four years. Has he ever tried to hold the system together? Has he ever not tried to blow it further apart? Has he done anything which isn’t about him, rather than the country as a whole?
- Andrew Sullivan, LockdownTV

At the end, he confessed that he is wracked with emotion about the whole topic: “People say I have Trump Derangement Syndrome or whatever. But I love this country. And he’s taken a flame thrower to it. There comes a point at which you have to say, I don’t care. Get rid of him. Get him out of here… He’s driven me crazy”.

It’s a powerful nearly hour-long discussion that I won’t forget. Deep thanks to Andrew for his sharing his time and thoughts.

Freddie Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.