By Will Bellaimey with Elizabeth Gracen:
At the start of 2021, on the afternoon of the inauguration, I sat down for a conversation with Will Bellaimey for our monthly Historically Speaking discussion about current events and the state of politics in America.
Will is an avid student of history and a high school history teacher in southern California. His podcast, All The Presidents, Man, takes the listener through American history as told through the lens of the presidents of the United States. This entertaining and informational podcast is produced and directed by Bianca Giaever.
EG: Will, it's been a couple months since we last spoke. I think it might be time for a recap. Would you do the honors?
WB: Well, we had an election, and it followed pretty much what we expected—which is to say that it was close, but not historically close— there've certainly been a lot closer elections. It followed the kind of path with vote counting that we expected. On the evening of most of the votes that had been counted were votes for Trump, because there was more in-person voting. And then as the absentee and mail-in ballots were counted, there was the swing back towards Biden. But that phenomenon, which everyone was predicting, gave a lot of fuel to President Trump, or now former president Trump, in arguing that the election was stolen from him. So over the course of the next few months, on Twitter and at rallies, he continued to claim that that was what was going on in a kind of vague way—that there had been massive fraud that he had won in a landslide.
I think a lot of us expected there to be some pretty serious litigation. There were a lot of lawsuits, but none of the lawsuits resulted in uncovering any major irregularities in the voting. There's always things that happen in different places, but nothing that suggested that this was anything but one of the most smoothly conducted elections in recent memory.
And yet for a whole sector of Americans who spent their time taking their news from sources that were kind of feeding into what Trump himself was saying and what many establishment Republicans were not outright denying—these Americans believed that there had been a stolen election. This felt like a really scary time to them, and people got really angry. Then on January 6th, there was a giant rally at the Capitol and people ended up breaking in to the building, looking for who knows what. In some cases, it was selfies and souvenirs, and in other cases it was much more serious like possible attempts at violence against members of Congress. Certainly their ultimate goal was to stop the certification of the electoral college, which had already voted and sent its votes to Congress at that point. And that didn't work. So now I'm speaking to you on inauguration day, and today Joe Biden took the oath of office and Donald Trump went back to Florida where now he's just a guy.
Now we have both a moment to reflect on what's happened over the last four years and also a lot of politics ahead of us. Biden is signing a bunch of executive orders that were expected. There's a bill about immigration being sent over to Congress, and of course the results of the Georgia election means that we have a 50/50 Senate with the tie-breaking in the hands of now Vice President Kamala Harris. So that means the potential of more legislation being passed than certainly would have been possible if those elections hadn't gone the way that they did. But, I think the reality of the moment is still one of a pretty slim Democratic majority—about as slim as possible. It remains to be seen to what extent you can hold that whole caucus together and to what extent any moderate Republicans will be on board.
EG: When we talked right after the election in November, we didn't talk about attempted coups and insurrection. As someone who studies history, were you surprised that any of that happened?