The sight of protesters storming the Capitol in support President Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in power after losing the election caused the world to stop on Wednesday and wonder anew just where all this was going.
Images of an angry crowd squaring off with police inside the heart of American democracy — projected onto TV screens and Twitter feeds — were taken by many as a last gasp of Trump’s four years in power.
President-elect Joe Biden promises a return to something closer to the pre-Trump normal — as normal as possible in the midst of a pandemic — but the protests underscored the deep divisions in society that will long outlast Trump.
On Wall Street, where investors were pushing stocks higher as it looked more likely that Democrats had retaken the Senate, the momentum was lost as protesters at least temporarily stopped the certification of Biden’s win.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average had been trading above 31,000, but fell midafternoon to close at 30,831.40, still up 1.4 percent for the day. The Nasdaq fell into negative territory following the disruption in Washington and ended down 0.6 percent to 12,740.79.
Markets and investors — like everyone else — were not quite sure how to read the unprecedented breech at the physical center of U.S. democracy.
With few political and legal experts seeing a legitimate path for Trump to stay in office and with Biden set to be sworn in on Jan. 20, many seemed to be sensing or hoping for calmer waters ahead.
Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Investment Management in Chicago, said: “I’m guessing this doesn’t last too long and the election will be certified and things will once again move along as normal once we get past the inauguration.”
He compared the impact of these protests to some of the actions taken by the Tea Party, which made a lot of noise, but had little lasting economic or political fallout.
“As long as the protest does not become violent, I think we’re at a situation where we will get back to business as normal over a period of time, a few days, maybe a week,” Nolte said.
But the prospect of the nation’s divided political spheres meeting again seems further off.
“That coming together part will be tough — too many places to get ‘information’ (good/bad/nonsense) and [that] creates [a] self-reinforcing loop,” Nolte said. “I’m not sure how to change that.”
Trump, who has been trying to claw back an election he lost with increasingly desperate efforts — many diametrically opposed to the truth, the law and reality — posted a video to supporters on Twitter that seemed aimed at sending protesters home while keeping them riled up.
“I know your pain. I know your heart. We had an election that was stolen from us,” said Trump, repeating assertions that have been rejected by the states and the courts and for which he has provided no evidence.
“There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, when they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country,” Trump said. “This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace, so go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home and go in peace.”
Washington, D.C., went under curfew at 6 p.m.
Trump came into office with an “America First” agenda and promise, but is leaving with the impression that the America he was referring to is mostly his supporters.
Biden now will try to bring the country together.
“Our way is plain: It is the way of democracy — of lawfulness, and of respect — respect for each other, and for our nation,” Biden said on Twitter, adding that, “America is so much better than what we’re seeing today.”