Trump's American Carnage

From his first days as president to his last, how Trump stoked division, violence, and insurrection. FRONTLINE investigates Trump’s siege on his enemies, the media, and even the leaders of his own party, who for years ignored the warning signs of what was to come.

AIRED: January 26, 2021 | 0:54:22

>> President Trump's supporters

are gathering in D.C. to protest...

>> We will stop the steal. We're going to walk down to the

Capitol, and I'll be there with you.

>> NARRATOR: They had been summoned by the president of

the United States. >> We fight, we fight like hell.

And if you don't fight like hell, we're not going to have

a country any more. >> Scuffles breaking out as

Trump supporters gather in support of his efforts to stay

in power. >> Madam Speaker, members

of Congress, pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of

the United States... >> They have stormed the U.S.

Capitol, and something else that should be noted, they have done

so with ease. >> It happened very quickly,

that the mob ran over the first barricades, that were

really just bicycle racks, and then ran up the steps.

>> Stand aside and let us in, you traitors!

>> This is the United States of America and we're watching

protesters try to undermine the course of an election?

>> The situation is getting out of control, but it is, has

turned insane, frankly. >> I could not believe when they

actually were able to shatter glass that I had assumed was

bulletproof. They were able to wedge open

what I thought was the strongest door on Earth.

>> NARRATOR: Their goal: to overturn the presidential

election. >> (bleep) the G.O.P.!

(bleep) Mitch McConnell! >> We are debating a step that

has never been taken in American history.

I've served 36 years in the Senate.

This will be the most important vote I've ever cast.

>> NARRATOR: The mob was hunting Republicans who turned on Trump.

>> You're scared now, mother (bleep)!

>> (chanting): Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

Hang Mike Pence! >> NARRATOR: It was the final

chapter of Donald Trump's presidency.

>> It's ending pretty much the same way it began-- with a lot

of chaos and disarray and... Just a lot of head-shaking at

events that have transpired. >> Get off of him.

Get off, get off of him! Get the (bleep) off!

>> This is Donald Trump's America.

We were warned, over and over and over about it, and we

ignored all of that. So here we are.

>> He's got a gun! >> This is going to get dirty,

man. >> NARRATOR: Now on

"Frontline," "Trump's American Carnage."

(gun fires) >> Shots fired!

Shots fired! >> Shots fired!

(sirens wailing)

>> U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! >> NARRATOR: Donald Trump's

presidency ended in a violent assault on American democracy.

>> Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

Fight for Trump! >> NARRATOR: Just four years

before, he stood at this very place, lighting the fires that

would become an insurrection. >> The establishment protected

itself, but not the citizens of our country.

Their victories have not been your victories.

Their triumphs have not been your triumphs.

>> NARRATOR: America's elected leaders looked on...

>> From this day forward, it's going to be only America first.

America first. >> NARRATOR: ...unable to stop

it or unwilling to see it. >> Now arrives the hour of

action. >> NARRATOR: The carnage he

vowed to end was in fact just beginning.

>> This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

(siren wailing) >> NARRATOR: From his early

days as a candidate, Donald Trump came out fighting.

>> We are going to start winning big league.

>> NARRATOR: Rallying distrust and anger against the

government. >> We can't beat ISIS-- give me

a break. >> NARRATOR: Targeting

Washington's leaders. >> We are led by very stupid

people. >> And it was every location.

It was the same messages: "We're tired of Washington lying

to us." >> We're going to drive the cars

over the illegals. Build a wall!

>> (chanting): Build a wall! Build a wall!

>> The American people were angry, and they have a right to

be, and what they see in Donald Trump is someone who's willing

to fight for them for a change. >> NARRATOR: And as Trump's

appeal grew, his rivals in the Republican Party tried to fight

back. >> He's a race-baiting,

xenophobic, religious bigot. And you know how you make

America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.

>> In 2016, President Trump is seen as an outlier in the

Republican Party. The Republican Party is

in some ways shunning him. The loudest voices in the

Republican Party are not getting behind Trump.

>> Guys, we have a con artist as the front-runner in the

Republican Party, a guy who has made a career out of telling

people lies. >> He was a shock to the

Republican establishment, and they did everything they could,

for the most part, to prevent him.

>> This man is a pathological liar.

He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.

>> Tonight, live from the Peace Center in...

>> NARRATOR: On the debate stage, Trump spared nothing to

destroy his political opponents. >> You are the single biggest

liar, you probably are worse than Jeb Bush.

You are the single biggest liar. This little guy has lied so much

about my record. >> The way that Donald Trump

rose was one very much of a pit bull.

I mean, very much of a fighter. And I think that was largely

his appeal from very early on. >> NARRATOR: And he was willing

to enlist a type of support others would not.

>> Made in (bleep) U.S.A. >> What Trump exploited was

that most Americans carry some level of prejudice.

>> Most Americans carry some fear of people who are different

than them. The power of that message, I

think, was deeply underestimated.

>> The campaign is continually dogged by a small and vocal

number of white supremacists, Klansmen, neo- Nazis.

This isn't a very large group of people, but they are very vocal.

And they attach themselves to Trump.

>> NARRATOR: As anti-Trump protesters showed up at his

rallies... >> There's a guy.

Totally disruptive, throwing punches.

>> NARRATOR: ...he stirred chaos and violence.

>> I love the old days. You know what they used to do

to guys like that when they were in a place like this?

They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks.

I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell ya.

Ah, it's true. >> You start seeing these really

ugly moments at the rallies, um, with protesters, some of whom

are non-white protesters, getting treated very violently

by, by his supporters. Trump himself seeming to incite

his supporters to go after protesters.

>> Knock the crap out of him, would you?

Just knock the hell... I promise you I will pay

for the legal fees, I promise. I promise.

>> NARRATOR: It worked in state after state.

>> Donald Trump is the projected winner...

>> He regains his front-runner status in a crowded field.

>> He's pulling ahead in virtually every Super Tuesday...

>> NARRATOR: Trump had marshaled a powerful base of support

in America. >> Trump, unlike any other

political figure, has been able to channel the real anger and

dissatisfaction on the part of half of the country, if not

more. >> We are going to make...

>> This makes back-to-back victories for Donald Trump,

dominating his third consecutive...

>> Donald Trump is a professional political wrecking

ball. >> Donald J. Trump!

(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: By July 2016,

Donald Trump headed to the Republican Convention after

crushing the establishment candidates.

>> Let's face it, he was larger than the Republican Party.

In fact, his nomination was the hostile takeover

of the Republican Party. >> NARRATOR: In their defeat,

the G.O.P. leaders lined up behind the man who had

ridiculed and attacked them. >> They ceded the reins

to somebody who was pulling together this enormous movement

on the far-right fringe that was swamping the party.

They thought-- the G.O.P. thought they were in control.

But by that point, they were already losing control.

>> NARRATOR: They even gave him one of their own as his running

mate. >> The next vice president of

the United States, Governor Mike Pence.

>> It was a shock to the staff when they found out that Mike

Pence had been chosen, given Trump's rhetoric and how

extreme he was. I don't think that they expected

him to be the one chosen as the running mate.

>> And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the

United States, together we will make America great again.

(crowd cheering) >> Mike Pence was added to the

ticket to give Donald Trump a measure of legitimacy in the

Republican Party. If somebody like Mike Pence

would agree to join the ticket and be the running mate for

somebody like Donald Trump, then maybe he wasn't that bad.

>> NARRATOR: It was an unlikely partnership.

>> Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

>> NARRATOR: On election night, it paid off.

He had the party, a powerful base, and now the presidency.

(crowd calling and cheering) >> Most people who have assumed

the office of the presidency believed that they had a

responsibility to bring the country together.

That's not the way President Trump came to office.

>> We are just passing Trump Hotel.

We did pass protesters, so... >> We didn't win an election

to bring the country together. It's time to take on the elites

in this country, take the torch to 'em.

Hit 'em with a blowtorch. >> NARRATOR: Day one, the

divisiveness was on full display.

A few blocks from the White House, peaceful protests against

Trump morphed to standoffs... (indistinct yelling) violence. (yelling)

(sirens wailing) (crowd roaring)

>> There's a brand-new team in charge of the White House,

a brand-new staff to keep the wheels turning.

>> This is just the beginning of what is going to be a very

busy day... >> NARRATOR: And in his first

week, Trump leaned in, alienating and angering huge

swaths of the public with an executive order aimed at

blocking people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

>> "Protection of the nation from foreign terrorists entering

into the United States." It's big stuff.

>> NARRATOR: The tensions were rising on both sides of the

divide. >> Swift reactions from around

the country... >> Now protests, outrage, and

backlash from President Trump's...

>> These actions that Trump does to appease his base and to

excite his base have incited the resistance against him.

>> No ban! No wall!

>> The travel ban is one of the most important days of the Trump

presidency. Not just because of the policy

itself and what it says about us as Americans, much less the

people themselves who are now imperiled, unclear if they could

come to the United States. But it was the thousands of

people rushing the airports. (indistinct chanting)

>> No ban! No wall! >> It was the day when it felt

like democracy may be crumbling at its seams.

>> Let them go! >> Right now!

>> Let them go! >> Right now!

(applause) >> NARRATOR: In those first

weeks... >> The president and vice

president... >> NARRATOR: ..Trump reveled

in the imagery of the job. >> How am I doing?

Am I doing okay? I'm president.

Hey, I'm president! Do you believe it, right?

>> We know this president to be the kind of president who was

not very steeped in details of legislation or policy or

just the nitty-gritty aspects of governing.

So he was very happy, I think, to let others take the lead, and

he would just be the person to sign the legislation.

>> NARRATOR: What he wanted were "wins," and he expected

Republicans on Capitol Hill to deliver.

The highest priority: repealing Obamacare.

>> The Senate is scheduled to vote on the latest version of

the bill to replace Obamacare. >> Much anticipated vote on

healthcare, a vote that's too close to call.

>> NARRATOR: It came down to one vote and one senator--

Republican John McCain, a longtime Trump adversary.

>> Capitol Hill today to cast what is expected to be a

yes vote on... >> NARRATOR: Mike Pence,

representing Trump at the Senate, tried to convince McCain

to vote for the bill and give Trump a win.

>> The vice president stood toe- to-toe with John McCain.

And he was in his space, it was very close.

They went on for, I don't know, it seemed like 15 or 20 minutes,

back and forth, back and forth. Vice President Pence turned

on his heel and walked away. (gavel pounding)

>> The clerk will call the roll. >> It was the most dramatic

night on the Senate floor I had seen in all my years up there.

>> Mr. Durbin... >> John McCain walks up to where

the vote clerks are and he lifts his hand very dramatically.

>> NARRATOR: McCain, with a thumbs down gesture, shocked

the chamber. >> No.

(gasps, light applause) >> You could hear audible gasps

in the chamber. And those gasps of surprise came

from both sides of the aisle. >> In the Senate chambers, you

could hear the shock, first gasps, then applause.

>> Another devastating blow to Republican...

>> NARRATOR: The president had been watching on television.

>> We were in the dining room off the Oval Office.

There was profound disappointment that we were that

close, and that had spent a lot of effort really believing that

we could finally do something when it comes to healthcare.

So it was just a huge disappointment.

>> NARRATOR: In response, President Trump would deal with

his party much as he had his opponents on the campaign

trail-- he'd attack. >> You can thank Congress, the

same people that can't even give us HCare!

>> NARRATOR: He targeted congressional Republicans,

especially the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

>> Senator Mitch McConnell said I had "excessive expectations,"

but I don't think so. After seven years of hearing

Repeal and Replace, why not done?

>> There's a lashing out when things don't go his way.

John McCain was the deciding vote, and so, you know, it was

hard to understand how Mitch McConnell would be the blame

of it, but, you know, that's the president's nature,

as we all know. >> Can you believe that Mitch

McConnell, who has screamed Repeal and Replace for seven

years, couldn't get it done. >> Trump was using the most

powerful weapon he has, which is Twitter, to humiliate him

repeatedly, to rake him over the coals, to let his followers

know, "This is Mitch McConnell's fault.

He's failed you, not me." >> Mitch, get back to work and

put Repeal and Replace, Tax Reform and Cuts, and a great

Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing.

>> NARRATOR: Mitch McConnell learned a lesson-- he had to

keep Donald Trump on his side. >> Mitch McConnell is a very

smart politician. I think he understood the Trump

base, perhaps better than most. And he understood that the Trump

base was probably not loyal to him, but was loyal to Trump,

and he needed them. So what Mitch McConnell did

was to try and patch things up with the president, to try and

say supportive things as much as he could, and say nothing any

other time. >> ...will not replace us!

You will not replace us! >> NARRATOR: Then, an ominous

harbinger of things to come. >> ...the torch-wielding white

nationalists coming face to face...

>> ...a demonstration by white nationalists at the University

of Virginia in Charlottesville. >> What you had in

Charlottesville was the alt-right people, many of them

marching in Trump's name. >> This is Trump's America!

>> We could see them marching with torches, and it looked like

something out of Nazi Germany. >> NARRATOR: Neo-Nazis and white

nationalist protesters were forming, protesting plans

to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.

>> Hello, how y'all doin'? >> NARRATOR: Former Ku Klux Klan

leader David Duke praised President Trump.

>> We are determined to take our country back, we're going to

fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, that's what we believed

in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump.

>> Charlottesville was a long time coming.

Even during the campaign, Donald Trump's flirtation with white

supremacist organizations and the alt-right was a real

problem. (crowd yelling)

Those folks were being brought back into the political

mainstream by Donald Trump, and Charlottesville was the moment.

(indistinct yelling) >> Violent clashes between white

supremacists and counter-protesters broke out...

>> Charlottesville under siege...

>> NARRATOR: And then, the unthinkable.

(crowd screaming) >> Holy (bleep)! Holy...

(crowd screaming) >> A man drives his vehicle

into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others.

(metal scraping) This was an incident that was

clearly the tale of these far right, white supremacist powers

emboldened and out of control. >> Panic and horror in

Charlottesville: a car slams into a crowd of counter-

protesters at a white supremacy protest...

>> ...woman was killed when a man drove his car into a

crowd, injuring 19 others. >> ...when a driver plowed into

the crowd, killing a young woman...

>> NARRATOR: In the face of that horror, Donald Trump would send

a message. >> Excuse me, what about the

alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the

alt-right? Do they have any semblance

of guilt? >> He's so fiery, he's so

angry, and he's really getting a personal back and forth

with members of the press. >> So, you know, as far as I'm

concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.

Wait a minute! I'm not finished!

I'm not finished, fake news. >> You have a president of the

United States who is willing to give tacit approval to some of

the darkest elements of American politics.

And even when it goes wrong, even when it turns ugly, he's

unwilling to denounce it. Because these were allies that

were useful, and you didn't want to alienate them.

>> I think there's blame on both sides.

And I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt

about it, either. (crowd clamors)

And, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say it.

(cross-talking) And you had some very bad people

in that group; you also had people that were very fine

people, on both sides. You had people...

>> The president evidently, I mean, you know, did not want

to discourage that type of activity; as a matter of fact,

wanted to encourage it. And as we've seen over the

course of his four years of service, the strength among

those organizations, their place in what is happening around the

country, has, has continued to increase.

>> But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis

and white nationalists, okay? Thank you all very much.

Thank you. >> What about the Nazis

who support you? >> It's probably the first

time where the country realizes this is gonna get bad.

And it is the beginning of a time in America where people

realize that America is not just a place where racist ideals can

exist, but it's a place where racist ideals can be fueled

by the White House. >> President Trump is being

criticized by fellow Republicans...

>> Trump had faced criticism... >> NARRATOR: Some Republicans

broke ranks and came out against him.

>> White supremacy, bigotry, and racism have absolutely no place

in our society, and no one, especially POTUS, should ever

tolerate it. >> Mr. President, you can't

allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.

>> There's no moral equivalency between racists and Americans

standing up to defy hate and bigotry.

>> I reacted in a way that most of my colleagues did, as well.

This was not where a president should be.

This was a layup. This was easy, you know?

If there's white supremacy in any form, you condemn it.

I mean, that's, that's the easy thing to do.

And he, and he didn't. And I thought, "Oh, man.

That's really drilling down on the base."

>> NARRATOR: While Vice President Pence condemned white

supremacists, he also stepped up to defend the president.

>> Many in the media have spent an awful lot of time focusing

on what the president said and criticisms of what the president

said, instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred

and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

>> He certainly was appalled at the events in Charlottesville.

I heard him say that behind closed doors.

The problem is, this is a White House where, if he said

that, it would be in direct contradiction to sort of the

side-stepping that the president was doing.

But by doing that, when you're Mike Pence, you're enabling it

to happen again. >> President Trump is holding

a Make America Great Again rally in Phoenix...

>> NARRATOR: But Trump showed no regret.

>> ...campaign-style event tonight...

>> NARRATOR: He went after his critics, especially Republicans

who had spoken up. >> Well, I'm thrilled to be back

in Phoenix, in the great state of Arizona.

(crowd cheering) >> NARRATOR: He rallied his base

against their own senator Jeff Flake.

>> They all said, "Please, Mr. President, don't mention any

names." So I won't.

I won't! >> It's about going back to the

base, to demonstrate how popular it is to be with the president,

particularly in Jeff's own state.

>> And nobody wants me to talk about your senator, who's weak

on borders, weak on crime, so I won't talk about him.

(crowd cheering) No, I will not mention any

names. Very presidential, isn't it?

Very presidential. >> When the president criticizes

you, people back home are upset. They think that he's the

supreme it, if you will, in the Republican Party.

And therefore, if you're, if y'all are at odds or you're

disagreeing, then, then it's not good for your health.

>> NARRATOR: Trump put an end to Flake's political career.

>> I think he knew at that time that I was out of step with

a lot of the Republican base, that, that he represented more

of their feelings than I did. >> We will make America great

again. Thank you, Arizona, God bless

you... >> He wielded enormous power

over Republicans. A lot of that power instilled

in them a certain level of fear, which then led them,

many of them, to refrain from calling out the president when

he did something that they disagreed with.

>> Breaking news-- two more G.O.P. congressmen announcing

that they will not seek reelection in the 2018...

>> President Trump from two Republican senators calling it

quits. >> NARRATOR: In time, dozens of

Republicans would be run out by Trump.

>> ...of more than a dozen Republicans who've decided...

>> NARRATOR: Senator Bob Corker was one of them.

>> To me, we're the party of Lincoln.

To be race-baiting, to be demeaning people because of

their color or their background, I mean, that's... I'm sorry,

that's just not the Republican Party that I grew up in.

But instead, ours became the party of grievances, right?

>> NARRATOR: In the wreckage of Charlottesville, Trump emerged

even stronger. >> Charlottesville was shocking

at the time, but actually the template for much that followed.

He understood that there were no practical limits or constraints

except for norms that he was willing to violate; except for

public opprobrium, which he didn't care about.

>> It looks like President Trump is going to get his Christmas

wish. >> The most sweeping rewrite of

our tax code... >> NARRATOR: It culminated in

front of the cameras at the White House...

>> Republicans cheered as they passed the most sweeping tax

overhaul in three decades. >> NARRATOR: a ceremony

for the passage of his first major piece of legislation-- a

tax cut. >> A major victory for President

Donald Trump. >> I guess it's very simple.

When you think you haven't heard this expression, but we

are making America great again. You haven't heard that, have

you? >> (cheering)

>> NARRATOR: One by one, congressional leaders,

including those he'd attacked... >> Mitch, how about you start

it? >> NARRATOR: ...came forward

to praise the president. (applause)

>> Let me just say, Mr. President, you made the case

for the tax bill, but this has been a year of extraordinary

accomplishment for the Trump administration.

Thank you, Mr. President, for all you're doing.

>> A very special guy, and great friend of mine, Vice President

Mike Pence. >> What the Republican

establishment now know is Donald Trump is unequivocally the

leader of the Republican Party. He is the one who sets the tone

for what takes place in Washington.

He is the leader of our country, both politically and from

a legislative side of things. >> I serve with him every day.

President Donald Trump is a man of his word.

He's a man of action. Thank you, Mr. President.

Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love for this

country and the people of this country.

You will make America great again.

(applause) >> Their bottom line was, "Give

us what we want." The tax cuts were what they

wanted. The judges were what they

wanted. And I think Donald Trump

thought, "This is a good deal for me.

In return, I get ownership, lock, stock and barrel,

of the Republican Party." >> Orrin, say a few words,

please. >> Mr. President, I have to say

that you're living up to every-- everything I thought you would.

You're one heck of a leader, and we're all benefiting from it.

And we're going to make this the greatest presidency that we've

seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.

God bless all of you. (cheers and applause)

>> This was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and

Trump won. There's no question about it.

And it's not so much that Trump took over the Republican Party,

it's that the Republican Party completely capitulated to him.

They're all united in believing that in order to survive

politically, and not lose in a primary, they have to stick

as close to him as possible. Even when he puts out racist

tweets, you cannot criticize him in public.

Even when he engages in the most reckless behavior, you cannot

break with him in public. >> NARRATOR: With his party

behind him, Trump was emboldened.

He seized an issue that would continue appealing to the

extreme elements of his base: immigration.

>> We want our country to be a sanctuary for law-abiding

Americans, not criminal aliens. >> The closer we get to 2020,

the more this president and his advisers are saying immigration

is our fire. That's the fire we put in our

torch. >> NARRATOR: The shocking

centerpiece: "zero tolerance," separating children from their

parents. >> Now Democratic lawmakers are

voicing their anger over the family separation...

>> Young children are pulled from the arms of their mothers.

>> The growing outrage over families being separated at the

border... >> It ushers in a part of

America and a history of America that people are going to look at

for years to come as the defining moments of the Trump

presidency. >> NARRATOR: Trump kept raising

the stakes. >> If we're going to have a

great country, we have to have a great, strong powerful border.

>> NARRATOR: And his followers were right there with him, ready

to fight. >> Tonight, American civilians

on our side of the border preparing to take matters

into their very own hands. Militia group called the Texas

Minutemen are headed to the Mexican border...

>> To stop what President Trump calls the migrant invasion.

>> NARRATOR: Now with the base behind him, and the 2020

election looming, Trump would see just how far he could go.

>> This is CNN breaking news. >> We're following breaking news

on President Trump's contacts with Ukraine.

>> About the phone call that inspired a whistleblower

complaint. >> He has his phone call with

President Zelensky, the new president of Ukraine.

>> I would like you to do us a favor though...

>> There's the, you know, brazen request to open an investigation

relating to the Bidens. >> There's a lot of talk about

Biden's son and a lot of people want to find out about that, so

whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.

>> Clearly driven by a very narrow political purpose,

which was to neutralize a Biden candidacy that looked like it

was about to be a real threat to his reelection.

>> The president pressured Ukraine's leader about eight

times-- eight times! >> NARRATOR: It created a

firestorm on Capitol Hill. >> (chanting): Impeach Trump!

>> NARRATOR: Impeachment. >> The question is on adoption

of article two. Those in favor say "aye."

>> Aye. >> Those opposed, "nay."

>> No! >> The "ayes" have it.

>> Trump is waking up as the third president in U.S.

history to be impeached. >> NARRATOR: As the Democrats

marched to the Senate to present the case against the president,

Republican leader Mitch McConnell had made clear he

would stand by Trump. >> He had decided that he was

going to marry his fortunes to Trump, no matter how unpleasant

or painful that might be to him. And that meant that he was going

to steer Trump through this trial successfully.

>> NARRATOR: Frustrated, the Democrat leading the prosecution

of Trump, Congressman Adam Schiff, issued a warning.

>> The daily attacks on the guardrails of our democracy, so

relentlessly assailed, have made us numb and blind to the

consequences. Does none of that matter anymore

if he's the president of our party?

>> Over and over again, that speech has echoed in my head

over the last couple months. He said, "By letting Donald

Trump off, you are enabling his attack on our election.

>> The scheming persists and the danger will never recede.

He has done it before, he will do it again.

What are the odds if left in office that he will continue

trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent.

If you have found him guilty and you do not remove him from

office, he will continue trying to cheat in the election until

he succeeds. >> They were warned over and

over and over again about Donald Trump, who he was, and what he

was capable of doing. And they looked the other way.

They thought that the tradeoff was worth it.

They thought, well, how bad can it possibly be?

What could he possibly do? >> In this article of

impeachment, 52 senators have pronounced him not guilty.

Donald John Trump, president of the United States, is not guilty

as charged in the first article of impeachment.

(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: He would use the

moment to tighten his grip on the party.

>> This is what the end result is.

(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: And continue

rallying his base. >> The impeachment process acted

as a slingshot for Donald Trump, because he came out of that

suddenly convinced, not only that he had total impunity, he

could more or less do what he wanted and could get away

with it... But that he also had the

support of almost every Republican leader in Congress

behind him. (cheers and applause)

>> We can take that home, honey, maybe we'll frame it.

It's the only good headline I've ever had in the "Washington

Post." Thank you very much, everybody.

Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you.

(cheers and applause) >> It was a kind of moment of

permission. (cheers and applause)

And then, at that point, all the guardrails fell away.

He had nothing to be afraid of at that point.

He could do whatever he wanted. (protestors shouting)

>> NARRATOR: And that's exactly what he did.

As the country was reeling in protest over racial injustice...

>> (chanting): I can't breathe! >> NARRATOR: ...he exercised his

power violently. >> I'm sitting on the corner

of Pennsylvania and 17th street. And I start coughing, and

choking, and I start wondering what's going on?

(people screaming, panicking) And I look up and it's, it's

clouds of smoke and it's officers throwing some sort of

chemical gas that is making my throat and my eyes burn.

And I see people running. (explosions)

And this line of police officers coming and they're clearing

the streets. And I'm completely confused

because I'm wondering, why is the White House doing this?

>> NARRATOR: It was a photo op, the president marching from the

White House with staff in tow. >> The fact that the president

and his inner circle celebrated that moment, I think, says

everything about the type of people that they truly are.

That should have been a major warning to these Republican

leaders that, you know, there was no line he wouldn't cross.

>> Empty streets lead to packed emergency rooms across New York

City. >> Paralysis in this typically

vibrant city in just a matter of weeks.

>> NARRATOR: Across America, desolation and despair.

>> FEMA sent 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City to hold

the people who've perished. >> NARRATOR: As Trump's handling

of the pandemic cost lives and threatened his reelection.

>> True cost of COVID, measured not by numbers, but families.

>> NARRATOR: In the crisis, Trump attacked opponents.

>> Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,

you know that, right? (crowd boos)

Coronavirus... they're politicizing it.

>> NARRATOR: And incited supporters to rise up against

governors who ordered pandemic lockdowns.

>> Liberate Virginia! Liberate Minnesota!

Liberate Michigan! >> (chanting): Lock her up!

>> He went on Twitter and tweeted "liberate Michigan."

You saw a lot of them stream to the state capital with weapons

and roam the halls of the state capitol there.

>> NARRATOR: The far right forces and militias heeded his

call. >> Heil Hitler!

>> NARRATOR: Some went even further.

>> A stunning domestic terror plot to storm the Michigan state

house and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been

foiled tonight. >> NARRATOR: Trump stoked the

uprising. >> You got to get your governor

to open up your state, okay? >> There were chants of "lock

them up, lock them up." And the president didn't say

to the crowd, "Well, no, we don't want to lock anybody up,"

he kind of joined in with them. >> Lock...

>> (chanting): Lock them up! >> Lock 'em all up.

>> NARRATOR: And all over the country, anger was boiling over.

(shouting, whistling) >> To the violent socialist

mob, we will not be silenced. >> Get outta here you (bleep)!

>> We know that there are people out there who can be

radicalized. What was different here was you

had a president who, for however he was communicating, gave those

people the idea that he was on their side.

They feel like they have the ultimate cover-- the president

of the United States, they believe, is fighting for them.

>> NARRATOR: With the election nearing, the president courted

extremists like the Proud Boys. >> Proud Boys, stand back and

stand by. >> NARRATOR: Casting his

struggle as their struggle. >> You can't underestimate the

fervor from that base. >> But you sometimes you have

to meet force with force; you can't just stand back, sit back

and watch it take it place. >> That's for everything that

you (bleep) did to me, bitch! I told you I'd get you!

>> Him telling those people who believe in him and who have

made him a part of their lives and their hopes, that he's under

attack, they all feel under attack.

And I think that's when we saw things really get haywire.

>> Get his ass! (gunshots)

>> NARRATOR: Despite the violence, Republican leaders

stood by Trump. >> Like President Trump, we

won't be bullied by a liberal media intent on destroying

America's institutions. >> President Donald Trump has

been fighting for you, and now it's our turn to fight for him.

(cheers and applause) >> Decision 2020.

Election night. >> NARRATOR: But on election

night... >> It's 192, 114.

>> Biden picking up Arizona changes the math...

>> NARRATOR: The presidency began slipping away.

>> Right now Biden has 220, Trump has 213; we're watching...

>> NARRATOR: Just before 2:30 in the morning, Trump went

before the cameras. >> This is a fraud on the

American public. This is an embarrassment to

our country. We were getting ready to win

this election. Frankly, we did win this

election. (cheers and applause)

>> What Trump said to them on election night, "We're going

to win-- unless they steal it from us, we're going to win."

>> Trump is set to speak for the first time...

>> We have not seen the president since the early hours

of Wednesday morning... >> Thank you very much...

>> NARRATOR: He would not let go.

>> If you count the legal votes, I easily win.

If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the

election from us. >> NARRATOR: Now Trump's final

assault on democracy would begin.

>> We are up big but they are trying to steal the election.

>> NARRATOR: He took to Twitter. >> They are finding Biden votes

all over the place. >> NARRATOR: To promote

baseless conspiracy theories. >> Surprise ballot dumps were

counted, very strange. >> That's when it got out of

control. >> Stop the count!

>> Rather than just being a sore loser who's complaining that he

didn't get what he thought he deserved, he becomes the

fomenter of a whole new reality. >> Where are the missing

military ballots in Georgia? Watch for massive ballot

counting abuse. >> We saw the annihilation of

truth aggressively in the weeks after the election, where the

president pushed one bizarre conspiracy theory after another,

one lie after another. >> NARRATOR: One by one,

congressional Republicans jumped on board.

>> You got more than 10,000 dead people confirmed in Michigan

to have voted. That is outrageous!

>> NARRATOR: They ramped up the disinformation, inciting

the pro-Trump base. >> Philadelphia elections are

crooked as a snake. >> They are setting the stage to

potentially steal an election. It is lawless and they need

to follow the law. >> President Trump won this

election, so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet.

>> Trump people believe, to this day, that the election was

rigged. >> (chanting): Stop the count!

>> They believe, to this day, that Donald Trump is duly

elected president of the United States, they believe that.

They are wrong, but they believe it.

>> (chanting): We want justice! >> NARRATOR: At vote counting

centers, the anger was growing. >> The president perpetrates

this total untruth about the election.

>> Stop the count! >> And intelligent, hardworking

Americans follow him, lock, stock and barrel.

And it demonstrated to me the tremendous fragility

of our democracy. >> Stop the count!

>> Threats were beginning to pour in-- election officials

were being accosted near their homes, it was... this was

becoming something that was about much more than just

politics or elections. It was beginning to take on the

aroma of a physical conflict. >> And now some of those folks

that have been misled are threatening violence.

>> Death threats have targeted the secretary of state and other

state officials. >> One election official even

had a noose hanging outside their home.

>> It has all gone too far! >> NARRATOR: In Georgia, a

Republican election official had a warning to the president and

Mitch McConnell. >> Someone's going to get hurt.

Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed.

And it's not right. >> This was the warning, and

Donald Trump was unmoved by it. It was building and building

and building, and there were... there was one warning after

another. >> Mr. President, you have not

condemned these actions or this language.

Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions.

This has to stop. >> President Trump has accused

Georgia and its leaders of voter fraud.

>> Fiery rebuke from Republican officials in Georgia.

>> NARRATOR: Undeterred, the president pushed even harder,

calling Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad

Raffensperger. >> Okay, thank you very much.

Hello, Brad, and Ryan, and everybody...

>> It was very blatant. The conversation was more than

an hour long with the president of the United States continually

pressing these officials to find votes, to find enough votes

to be able to declare him the winner of a state that he

clearly lost. >> So look, all I want to do is

this, I just want to find 11,780 votes, so what are we going to

do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes.

Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.

>> Startling phone call where President Trump is heard

pressuring officials to overturn the election...

>> This remarkable phone call the president does vaguely

threaten the state election officials.

>> Some legal experts say this could actually be criminal

behavior. >> NARRATOR: Desperate, Trump

was running out of time and out of options.

>> Donald Trump tried to get the courts to overturn the election.

They refused. He tried to get Republican

legislators to overturn the election-- they refused.

He tried to bully governors into overturning the elections.

They refused. He went after the secretaries of

state, one after another. >> NARRATOR: He turned to Vice

President Mike Pence with a stunning demand.

>> Trump had come to be convinced that Pence could

actually do something about it. And his team adopted the belief

that the vice president of the United States could unilaterally

choose the president. >> He continually turned the

screws on Mike Pence. And so this was a moment for

Mike Pence to either stand up or buckle under the pressure.

>> There is this remarkable confrontation between President

Trump and Vice President Pence that goes on for hours in the

White House. And Trump is just haranguing him

and berating him. "You have to do this, after all

the things I've done for you, how can you not do this?

You were a loser until I came along and saved you."

>> (chanting): Fight for Trump! >> NARRATOR: Then with Congress

meeting to ratify the election, Trump unleashed the

insurrection. >> We will never give up, we

will never concede, it doesn't happen-- you don't concede when

there's theft involved. >> This was specifically a rally

to stop normal democratic process of U.S. government.

It was a rally, stop the steal, that was intended to oppose the

peaceful transition of power. >> Our country has had enough.

We will not take it anymore, and that's what this is all about.

>> He incites this sort of rhetoric.

He incites angers, he gets these people fired up.

You have a whole group of supporters out there who thinks

that's their call to action. >> Now it is up to Congress to

confront this egregious assault on our democracy.

And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there

with you. We're gonna walk down to the

Capitol. >> He may not have said, "Man

the barricades, storm the Capitol," but that's what

they heard. And he should have known better.

(crowd screaming) After five years in politics,

he should have known better. >> NARRATOR: Inside the Capitol,

Mike Pence would disobey the president.

>> Madame Speaker, members of Congress, pursuant to the

Constitution and the laws of the United States, the Senate and

House of Representatives are meeting in joint session.

>> NARRATOR: Mitch McConnell would also break with the

president that day. >> If this election were

overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our

democracy would enter a death spiral.

>> Mitch McConnell finally says, "That's it, no more, we are

done." We never heard Mitch McConnell

say anything like that in the last four years-- he had

finally had enough. >> NARRATOR: As the angry crowd

ransacked the Capitol, Trump gave them a target.

>> Trump in the middle of it, he sends out a tweet attacking Mike

Pence. >> Mike Pence didn't have the

courage to do what should have been done to protect our country

and our constitution. >> I still can't get over that.

I imagine that Mike Pence can't get over that.

>> (chanting): Hang Mike Pence! >> NARRATOR: The mob began

hunting for Pence. >> Whenever in the recent

history of this country have we ever heard regular people

calling for the vice president of the United States to be

hanged for doing his job? >> NARRATOR: He was whisked away

only seconds before the mob arrived.

>> Mike Pence must have thought, "It has come to this, that

the one moment as vice president where I have stood on principle,

I am being treated as the enemy. And they come for me.

And the president is attacking me, he's not... not only is he

not calling to say, 'Are you okay?'

He's egging it on." >> NARRATOR: They also seized

the Senate chamber where McConnell presided.

>> Mitch McConnell achieved so much with President Trump, but

on that day it was clear how much it had cost, to him and

to his party. >> NARRATOR: A few hours later,

after the deadly riot was quelled, Congress returned.

>> The Senate will come to order.

>> NARRATOR: But the battle over the election was not over.

>> Mr. President, sadly but resolutely, I object to the

electoral votes of my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

>> NARRATOR: Even after the attack that would leave five

people dead and many injured, 147 Republican members of

Congress stood with the president, voting to overturn

the election results. >> They may think they did it

for short-term political gain, but the videos of people

beating cops with American flags, running around, "Where's

Mike Pence? Hang Mike Pence!"

Is that who you want your political base to be?

Is that... do you feel the need to pander to those folks?

I would hope the answer to that would be no.

But that's exactly what that vote was-- it was a pandering

vote to people who were resorting to violence with

the tools and the intent to really hurt people.

>> NARRATOR: Donald Trump had brought carnage to the nation's

capital. In his wake, a fractured

Republican Party and a bitterly divided America.

>> It is not over. This is an ongoing attack on

democracy. The big lie is still out there.

This is now prologue to what I think is going to be a feature

in American politics for some time, that if lies and

conspiracy theories will be embraced by this many people, if

one of the two major political parties is not willing to push

back against it, this becomes part of the reality.

And we're going to be living with that, I'm afraid, for a

very, very long time.

>> Go to for the latest FRONTLINE

transparency project. Explore interviews from the

film. >> Chaos and disarray...

>> Ran over the first barricades...

>> Ours became the party of grievances, right?

>> And listen to our podcast with director Michael Kirk.

>> And it wasn’t until the very end that you it, finally, see it

all culminate in what happens at the Capitol Building.

>> Connect with FRONTLINE on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,

and stream anytime on the PBS App or

Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH >> For more on this and other

"Frontline" programs, visit our website at


"Trump's American Carnage" is available on Amazon

Prime Video. ♪ ♪


  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv