Saturday, January 16, 2021
It feels as if we have spent four years watching the wheels come off, yet the vehicle somehow still keeps rolling forward.
But now, finally, the end is at hand. Trump is suffering a series of wounds that, in combination, are likely to be fatal after Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20. Trump is obviously going to surrender his office. Beyond that looming defeat, he is undergoing a cascading sequence of political, financial, and legal setbacks that cumulatively spell utter ruin. Trump is not only losing his job but quite possibly everything else.
One crisis, though the most opaque, concerns Trump’s business. Many of his sources of income are drying up, either owing to the coronavirus pandemic or, more often, his toxic public image. The Washington Post has toted up the setbacks facing the Trump Organization, which include cancellations of partnerships with New York City government, three banks, the PGA Championship, and a real-estate firm that handled many of his leasing agreements. Meanwhile, he faces the closure of many of his hotels. And he is staring down two defamation lawsuits. Oh, and Trump has to repay, over the next four years, more than $300 million in outstanding loans he personally guaranteed.
Trump has reinvented his business model before, and he may discover new income streams, probably by monetizing the loyalty of his fanatical base through some kind of Trump-branded “news” organization, as has been predicted since before the 2016 election. But starting a media property is difficult and hardly a guarantee to make money. (It’s not as if conservative alt-news fans have nowhere else to find an angry white man shouting about antifa, socialism, and Black Lives Matter protesters.)
If this were still 2015, Trump could fall back on his tried-and-true income generators: money laundering and tax fraud. The problem is that his business model relied on chronically lax enforcement of those financial crimes. And now he is under investigation by two different prosecutors in New York State for what appear to be black-letter violations of tax law. At minimum, these probes will make it impossible for him to stay afloat by stealing more money. At maximum, he faces the serious risk of millions of dollars in fines or a criminal prosecution that could send him to prison.
Trump reportedly plans to pardon himself along with a very broad swath of his hangers-on. But a pardon hardly solves his problems. For one thing, a federal pardon is useless against state-level crimes. For another, the self-pardon is a theoretical maneuver that’s never been tested, and it’s not clear whether the courts will agree it is even possible to do so.
And what’s more, a pardon might constitute an admission of guilt, which could open up Trump to more private lawsuits. Remember how O. J. Simpson was ordered to pay $34 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, even after he beat the murder rap? The families of victims of the January 6 riot might well sue Trump for his role in inciting the violence. Trump might try pardoning himself to make sure he can’t be charged with criminal incitement, but admitting the crime makes it even easier to bring a civil suit against him.
The easiest way out of the self-pardon dilemma would be for Trump to make a deal with Mike Pence, under which he would resign before leaving office and Pence would grant him a pardon. Unfortunately for Trump, Pence is still sore about the whole “whipping up a paramilitary mob to lynch him” episode. ABC reported recently that Trump does not want to resign, in part because he doesn’t trust his vice-president to pardon him.
It might be easy to overlook the significance of Mitch McConnell letting it be known that he wishes to be rid of Trump. McConnell probably won’t push for Trump’s conviction in a second impeachment trial, but he does wish to disqualify Trump from holding office and clear away the threat of a third straight presidential election with Trump at the top of the ticket. A prison sentence would solve that problem nicely.
McConnell obviously can’t dictate decisions by prosecutors or courts. But courts do follow the lead of political elites. And if McConnell sees Trump as a liability for the party and the conservative movement, the ideologue judges he helped install just might see it the same way. Trump will be staving off lawsuits, state prosecutions, and possibly federal prosecutions. He needs help from the courts, and the reserves of latent deference and sympathy he might have counted on to save him will be exhausted.
At noon on January 20, Trump will be in desperate shape. His business is floundering, his partners are fleeing, his loans are delinquent, prosecutors will be coming after him, and the legal impunity he enjoyed through his office will be gone. He will be walking naked into a cold and friendless world. What appeared to be a brilliant strategy for escaping consequences was merely a tactic for putting them off. The bill is coming due.
The presidency of Donald Trump has left such a wretched stench in Europe that it's hard to see how, even in four years, Joe Biden could possibly get America's most important alliance back on track.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a final trip to meet with European and NATO leaders. . . . Throughout Trump's term, Europeans have been walking a tightrope, trying to balance outright condemnation of the President's most destructive behavior with not alienating the leader of the Western world.
Pompeo was unlikely to be received warmly on his farewell tour, even before the insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday. For many, Trump's incitement of rioters was the final straw.
"It was clearly not going to be a congenial trip, as many European institutions and diplomats are happily turning their back on the Trump administration. It's no secret that Europe is very much looking forward to working with Biden," said Tyson Barker, a senior Europe analyst and former State Department official under Barack Obama.
This week's snub of Pompeo brings an ignominious end to four years of exacerbation with a White House that went out of its way to burn bridges with allies who were caught off guard by the election of Trump, then horrified at his administration's inability to rein in his worst instincts.
"From our perspective, Trump saw Europe as an enemy," a senior European diplomat told CNN. "The lasting impact of 'America First' is the US having fewer friends in Europe."
A senior European Union official said the general view in Brussels was that Trump went out of his way to "gradually undo a lot of what the EU was working towards on the world stage," pointing specifically to the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.
While the assumption is that the transatlantic relationship will improve under Biden, four years of carnage has spooked the European political scene.
"The arrival of a Biden administration has yet to be embraced with the same fanfare as Obama as President-elect, because Trump has done more damage to the relationship than George W. Bush. Trump's outward aggression affected all aspects of European life, be it trade, defense or even the emotional shared ideas and cultural ties. All those things suddenly seem debased and of less value."
The repudiation of shared ideas and cultural ties Cluver describes are one prong of the fork that has punctured the alliance. According to Barker, officials in European capitals were agog at the types of people Trump employed to work as envoys overseas.
"Europeans have considered the last four years extremely distasteful. They've been bemused by Trump's envoys, like Richard Grenell in Germany, who have turned up and started behaving like Fox News anchors and insulting the country they were supposed to be building relations with," Barker said.
Another prong has been the practical implication of Trump's approach to foreign policy. "Trump's disengagement and hollowing out of the State Department meant that we were suddenly without our most important ally on projects in the Middle East and Africa," a senior German diplomat told CNN.
"When they did take big stances on things like China or Iran, they chose not to involve anyone, leaving Europeans scrambling for a response," the diplomat added.
Cluver says this has forced a structural change in the dynamics between allies. "Europeans have had to carry the can on things like the Iran deal and climate change. On one hand, this means that Biden can pick up where Obama left off with some serious American muscle. But he might have to accept that America's role in these relationships has changed."
Barker agreed, saying it would be "important to see how the new administration acknowledges the damage that has been done by Trump to America's reputation." And on top of the big picture issues like Iran and China, Barker said, "how can [Biden] send State Department officials to Ukraine to warn about corruption with any immediate credibility?"
This idea, that Europe has lost its trust in America, comes up time and again when speaking to European diplomats and EU officials. Cluver believes the combination of unpredictability from the White House and "US bureaucracy being dismantled from the inside to make it less effective worldwide" under Trump means we have crossed the Rubicon. "American influence in European defense, security, and other global priorities has diminished. This has led to lots of countries having to think more seriously about their future with a less assertive US," she added.
"In some respects, it was a good thing Trump forced us to think more about diplomatic initiatives, NATO and withdrawal of US troops," said the German diplomat. "It might come as a shock to Biden, but the prospect of the US underpinning European security is not as attractive as it was when he and Obama left office."
A view many European officials share is that no matter how friendly Biden is, Trump happened once -- and could happen again. The President lost the election, but clearly there is still a lot of support for his politics. In 2024, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pompeo, or any other of his allies could conceivably pick up the torch and win an election.
"We cannot afford to be naive. If you look at the number of votes that Trump got, he wields an influence on American voters. This anti-global, 'America First' undercurrent in American politics is still very much alive and we have to hedge our bets," said the EU diplomat.
Cluver is equally convinced that Trump's supporters are going nowhere, not least because they are unlike traditional voters. "A lot of his followers have been radicalized by conspiracy theories spread by groups like QAnon," she said. "Even if Biden succeeds in his domestic agenda, it will be difficult to pull people away from Trump's movement. Worse, elected representatives who want to bank on their support in the midterms and might continue pandering to them."
If this all sounds a little gloomy, to some extent, it is. "Bush was supposed to be an aberration and Obama a restoration," said Barker. "This idea of a reset seems a much tougher sell, especially since Trump's used his lame-duck period to burn the house on the way out."
By largely refusing to join Democrats in voting to impeach Donald Trump, House Republicans sent several messages to their followers, the American people and the world more generally. These include:
- Right-wing political violence is acceptable in the United States — as long as it advances the goals and objectives of the Republican Party and right-wing movement.
- Coup attempts and other efforts to subvert elections or usurp democratic outcomes are now acceptable — if pursued by Republicans and members of the far right against their enemies.
- The United States is no longer the world's leading democracy. If American fascism continues to thrive — Trump won at least 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016 — the country's liberal democracy (however imperfect) is in danger of degenerating into what political scientists have described as "competitive authoritarianism," "inverted totalitarianism" or "managed democracy."
In all, the Republican Party has shown once again that it is the most dangerous political organization in the United States and the world.
Many leading voices among the mainstream American news media have spent the last few weeks and months (and for that matter years) downplaying the obvious threat of a coup and other political violence by Donald Trump and his followers.
When the Trump-inspired coup plot was put into action last Wednesday, those same voices in the mainstream news media suddenly shifted their language and tone, emulating those writers, thinkers and activists they had previously — and in some instances very recently — mocked, marginalized, denounced and sought to silence.
Watching this happen is like hearing a movie soundtrack being changed, without interruption, from the wistful chords of a romantic comedy to the thunderous crescendos of an action spectacle.
During last week's siege of the U.S. Capitol, the "hope peddlers" and other professional centrists abruptly appropriated the language of "the Resistance," spontaneously finding last-minute courage to tell the truth about Trump's presidency and his movement. Now those same public voices are pretending they never denied the real dangers of Trumpism and American fascism, playing their new role as imposter defenders of democracy.
Such a shift in speech, tone and thought is patently insincere: it is the worst sort of cowardice and self-serving behavior, driven by the fear that history will remember one's errors. There are also great financial and reputational incentives in pretending to have been correct all along, when in fact those public voices were repeatedly and fabulously wrong.
As part of this sudden rewrite of history, those in the mainstream news media who denied the obvious reality of Trump's imminent coup (which could have been foretold before he took office in 2017) are also claiming that "we" were all victims of a "failure of imagination" and that "it was impossible to think such a thing could happen" in America.
With such claims, mainstream journalists are adopting a version of the royal first-person plural, speaking of how "we" have finally woken up to the dangers of Donald Trump, or saying that "we" have ignored" the dangers of right-wing extremism in the United States for too long.
In the world as it actually exists, Black and brown Americans have long understood that Donald Trump and his movement are an existential threat to the United States. Because of their personal or historical experience there are other individuals and groups, such as Muslims, Jewish people and recent immigrants and refugees [and gays], who also possess similar insights and instincts.
Many liberals, and progressives of all races, are also aware that Trumpism represents an extreme threat to democracy and American society. And of course, there are a select few public voices who, at considerable personal risk, have spent the last few years sounding the alarm about the rise of American fascism.
When prominent pundits, journalists and others in that sphere make the specious claim that Trump's coup attack and other examples of right-wing terrorism are "unthinkable," they are really pursuing a reclamation project for the reputation and authority of the mainstream media, in an era when that institution has consistently failed to defend democracy.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media is not likely to learn from its errors, or to consider how it enabled, normalized and empowered Donald Trump and his neofascist movement. What should of course happen in the aftermath of Trump's presidency is an ambitious recommitment to advocacy journalism and to holding government accountable, as well as a commitment to diversify America's newsrooms in terms of race, class, geography, professional and educational backgrounds and other meaningful criteria. In that world, the mainstream media would also come to grips with the principle that neutrality is not the same as objectivity.
To wit: It is objectively true that Donald Trump is a public menace. But the hope peddlers, professional centrists and stenographers of current events will inevitably present such facts as opinions demanding "balance" from "both sides" in an equation built on false equivalence.
Such obsolete rules and norms will also inevitably be used as cudgels by the mainstream news media against Joe Biden's administration and the Democratic Party. This will only further embolden the Republican Party and its anti-human and anti-democratic agenda.
Ultimately, because the mainstream news media failed so dramatically in its response to Donald Trump, it will overcompensate through Janus-faced vigilance toward the Biden administration and the liberal or progressive agenda more generally. When this happens — and it is happening already: see Lesley Stahl's interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on last Sunday's "60 Minutes" — American democracy will suffer more damage, succumbing still further to the poison of authoritarianism.
Let's also not forget the media's contortions to explain Trump's as a phenomenon of the economic worries of working and low educated Americans when in reality there was always one prime motivating factor: Racism and white Christian Americans' desire to remain the ruling class.
Friday, January 15, 2021
“What about my gun?” a man in the back called out . . . . I was with a busload of white conservative Christians who had come to D.C. from all over the country to learn a Christian nationalist interpretation of the history of the United States. They loved the Second Amendment almost as much as the First. The man reluctantly disarmed and disembarked with the rest of us, and we began the trek up Capitol Hill. What followed was a series of indignities that made most of the group long for the pre-9/11 days when visitors could simply walk into the Capitol and wander the halls of power at will. This was, after all, their house.
From 2014 to 2015, I spent two years observing and participating in Christian heritage tours in Washington, D.C. I had grown up in a white evangelical family, and even though I was no longer evangelical myself, I remained fascinated by conservative Christian politics. White Christian nationalism—a movement that believes the United States was founded as a Christian nation and should be ruled by conservative Christian values—was on the rise. For scholars, Christian heritage tours provide a rare window into the formation of certain kinds of nationalist ideas, including Washington, D.C.’s peculiar place in that ideology.
Some commentators have called last week’s insurrection at the Capitol a “desecration” of a national sacred space, if not of democracy itself. But to white Christian nationalists, this claim fundamentally misunderstands what is sacred. To members of this group—now a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s political coalition—the Capitol has already been desecrated by lawmakers who fail to enact God’s will for the nation. The building may be full of relics from America’s Christian past, but real Christians and their God have long since been exiled.
When Trump’s insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, they were living the dream of countless frustrated white evangelical Christians on those tours. For a brief moment, they bypassed everything designed to keep them out, and claimed the Capitol for their own. They ran wild through the halls, toppling furniture and smashing windows. They sat in prohibited seats and snapped selfies of their rebellion. They lived out a fantasy of taking back the country, or at least its Capitol, for God.
At the siege, the presence of white conservative Christians was unmistakable. The Proud Boys stopped to pray to Jesus on their march toward the Capitol, and the crowd held signs proclaiming Jesus Saves and God’s Word Calls Them Out. One flag read Jesus is my savior. Trump is my President.
Not all of the January 6 insurrectionists were white Christian nationalists. Some represented themselves as pagan, while others were later identified as Orthodox Jews. Many came because they were inspired by QAnon conspiracy theories. But they were all united by the idea that the establishment should be overthrown and the nation returned to its founding principles, an idea white Christian nationalists have been promoting and normalizing for decades.
For white Christian nationalists, taking back the country is about more than just political power. They see themselves as faithful patriots fulfilling the American Founders’ covenant with God to maintain a righteous Christian nation. Their success means the nation will be rewarded with economic prosperity and military might, while failure will lead to divine wrath and, eventually, the demise of the nation itself. The stakes of the battle could not be higher. Washington is where this great battle must take place, whether in the streets or on the Senate floor.
The capital looms large in the imagination of many white Christian nationalists. On Christian heritage tours, guides dissolve any distinction between American icons and Christian imagery, spotlighting the countless statues and paintings of Christian leaders and the biblical inscriptions on buildings and memorials all over the city. To them, these symbols are proof of the nation’s Christian past, and a promise of its future restoration.
[T]heir chief complaint was about the lack of “real Christians” in the federal government, as evidenced by lawmakers who supported abortion rights, prohibited school prayer, and failed to defend traditional marriage. In many ways, D.C. embodied what they saw as the nation’s decline from its righteous past.
Although not all of Trump’s white evangelical supporters embrace Christian nationalism, the ideology is prominent among a wide range of American conservative Christians. Since the 1970s, leaders of the Christian right have been calling for Americans to rise up and retake their country from the forces of evil. They have shared this message in many forms, including sermons, films, and art. Christian heritage tours, which draw a few thousand people to D.C. every year, are an ideal recruiting opportunity: As participants tour the city, they learn the key arguments of white Christian nationalism and are called to join the cause.
One mother told me that she’d brought her two children on a Christian heritage tour to prepare them for what lay ahead: “I truly believe they will be persecuted in their lifetime,” she said, explaining that when that happened, she wanted them to know what they were fighting for.
But white Christian nationalism also unites nostalgia for a lost age of Christian power with a profound sense of victimization, and it baptizes death as a heroic sacrifice for the nation. No one should underestimate how dangerous this combination is, particularly among those who decide that their faith requires them to retake their nation.
Adherents are right about one thing: The fate of this nation is at stake.
As noted may times on this blog, the Christofascists' warped sense of persecution is not so much actual persecution by restrictions upon their ability to persecute and abuse others be they blacks, gays or non-Christians. They are anathema to Christ's message yet are so brainwashed and so lusting for superiority and power that they do not see that they are the modern day equivalents of the biblical Pharisees.
In the aftermath of the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, I have watched as Republicans and some Democrats expressed their shock and horror at what happened: Unthinkable, unprecedented, appalling, and unbelievable, they’ve said. Of course I understand that jolt of fear and surprise; it is human, and correct, to feel destabilized by the reality of chilling, violent revolt and democratic upheaval. But none of this was unpredictable. Part of what I have marveled at most, over the past week, is how explicit, loud, and public a strain of the American right has been in broadcasting its violent political agenda — even before the election of Donald Trump.
What happened last week should not have been a shock to any of us. It has been years that hard right-wingers — including but most definitely not limited to the man who is still president of the United States — have been openly threatening violence grounded in racist and misogynistic resentments. For years, they’ve made it clear that they see their only path to victory as being through bloodshed. What’s interesting is how those threats have been heard, and by whom they have been taken seriously before now.
[A] New Hampshire state representative and Trump delegate named Al Baldasaro told a talk-radio program that “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason” for her handling of the 2012 attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and then later reiterated his commitment to her execution, though for a different reason, to the Boston Globe. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s information for the enemy,” he said, of her use of a private email server. “In the military, shot, firing squad.”
At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, Rudy Giuliani told the crowd and global audiences, “There’s no next election; this is it. There’s no time left for us.” At the same gathering, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said in his speech that he was going to “do something fun tonight,” before beginning a mock trial in which he repeatedly asked the crowd if Clinton were “guilty or not guilty” of a series of crimes. The writhing, pulsing mass on the floor chanted “Guilty!” with the fervor of spectators at a witch trial.
Four years later, would-be kidnappers in Michigan are alleged to have planned to hold a mock trial for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, after kidnapping her and before murdering her.
Last week, insurrectionists held a Confederate flag aloft as they marched through the seat of federal power, a sight that came as a chilling shock for many; the Confederate flag had never before been flown in the Capitol. But this has been the stated drive of every group that has rallied and held torchlight marches to defend Confederate statuary in recent years
It’s not just that Donald Trump said the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 while chanting “You will not replace us” were “very fine people.” It’s that his party and its supporters have taken that yowling insistence on maintaining minority authority; supported it as electoral strategy (winning power via an Electoral College that overrides the popular vote, gerrymandering and redistricting to ensure Republican control, and increasingly investing in voter suppression); and melded that with a stated eagerness to destroy anyone, including themselves, rather than cede to “replacement” in any form.
“Whose blood will be shed,” if Trump loses, former Kentucky governor Matt Bevin asked the crowd at a Values Voters conference in September 2016. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something, that we through our apathy and our indifference have given away.” At another 2016 gathering, Georgia senator David Perdue, who just lost his seat to Jon Ossoff, suggested to the crowd that they pray for Barack Obama in a “very specific” way: “We should pray like Psalms 109:8 says,” he proclaimed. “It says, ‘Let his days be few, and let another take his office.’”
None of this rhetoric was limited to Donald Trump. It was his surrogates; it was members of the party who elevated and have supported him since, gaining more power over courts and statehouses under his reign. They drew that power from the devotion of his base, a base they now fear crossing: crowds of riled fans that Trump drew to mass gatherings, where they expressed the very same bloodthirsty drive to punish and harm. In August 2016, the New York Times published a video compendium from Trump rallies, showing crowds yelling “Fuck Islam!” “Fuck those dirty beaners!” “Fuck that n- - - -!” “Get out of here you fag!” “Send them bastards back!”
And yet here we are, so many absolutely shocked, gobsmacked by the images coming from the Capitol. Part of it is that surely some of us, like many of those inside, had felt assured that security was in place, in a country that invests far too much in military and policing, to protect the most central lawmakers in the nation.
But part of it is also that those who warn and write about the violent impulses and drives of America’s punitive, oppressive, violent white patriarchy are regularly told that they are being overdramatic fantasists: On the right, worried Cassandras are deemed snowflakes; on the left, they’re written off as hysterics whose concern is born of a bourgeois investment in identity politics and woke victimhood.
All of which means that when armed terrorists break into the Capitol Building after years of advocating for a violent uprising, bringing a noose, wearing Auschwitz sweatshirts, carrying zip ties — and when the people who wind up most endangered by their incursion are the Black, brown, and female people who have been most targeted and villainized in an outsize way — somehow, too many people can still be shocked.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
“Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry. I have been labeled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”
This is the beginning of a Facebook post from Sunday by the conservative preacher Jeremiah Johnson. On Jan. 7, the day after the storming of the Capitol, Johnson had issued a public apology, asserting that God removed Donald Trump from office because of his pride and arrogance, and to humble those, like Johnson, who had fervently supported him.
The response was swift and vicious. As he put it in that later Facebook post, “I have been flabbergasted at the barrage of continued conspiracy theories being sent every minute our way and the pure hatred being unleashed. To my great heartache, I’m convinced parts of the prophetic/charismatic movement are far SICKER than I could have ever dreamed of.”
This is what is happening inside evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. As a conservative Christian friend of mine put it, there is strife within every family, within every congregation, and it may take generations to recover.
On the one hand, there are those who are doubling down on their Trump fanaticism and their delusion that a Biden presidency will destroy America.
The violent Know-Nothingism, which has always coursed through American history, is once again a torrent, threatening more violence in the days ahead.
On the other hand, many Trump supporters have been shaken to the core by the sight of a sacrilegious mob blasting Christian pop music and chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” There have been defections and second thoughts. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at the Trump inaugural, told his congregation Sunday, “We must all repent, even the church needs to repent.”
The Trump-supporting Texas pastor John Hagee declared: “This was an assault on law. Attacking the Capitol was not patriotism, it was anarchy.”
Trump’s approval ratings dropped roughly 10 points across several polls in a week. The most popular piece on the Christianity Today website is headlined, “We Worship With the Magi, Not MAGA.” In the world of secular conservatism, The Wall Street Journal editorial page called on Trump to resign. Addressing Trump supporters, the conservative talk show host Erick Erickson wrote, “Everything — from the storming of the Capitol to people getting killed to social networks banning you to corporations not giving you money — everything is a logical consequence of you people lying relentlessly for two months and taking advantage of American patriots.”
One core feature of Trumpism is that it forces you to betray every other commitment you might have: to the truth, moral character, the Sermon on the Mount, conservative principles, the Constitution. In defeat, some people are finally not willing to sacrifice all else on Trump’s altar.
The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.
Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.
It’s a pure power struggle. The weapons in this struggle are intimidation, verbal assault, death threats and violence, real and rhetorical.
The problem is, how do you go about reattaching people to reality?
David French, the conservative Christian writer who fought in the Iraq war, says the way to build a sane G.O.P. is to borrow a page from the counterinsurgency handbook: Separate the insurgents from the population.
That means prosecuting the rioters, impeaching the president and not tolerating cyberterrorism within a community or congregation. . . . we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.
History will record that the second impeachment of President Donald Trump branded him forever as a catastrophically immoral and divisive leader. It will also mark most of his defenders in the Republican Party as duplicitous opportunists who claimed at the last moment that the country needed unity after they had contributed to the rhetoric bringing the nation to the precipice of civil war.
In their speeches in the House of Representatives during the impeachment debate, the 197 opponents of the measure put on a carnival of hypocrisy, a spectacle in which they tried to persuade their colleagues, the country, and perhaps themselves, that after they spent months trying to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election, suddenly they cared about unifying and healing the nation above all else.
Who could possibly believe such a fiction?
Perhaps they think they can convince us that they now believe nothing matters more than coming together because they spent so much time spreading a different falsehood, claiming that Trump won in November.
In the waning days of Trump's smoldering, suppurating presidency, what's one more lie?
Democrats described the events of Jan. 6. Rep. Jamie Raskin noted the chilling fact that Trump's mob may have been hunting Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stage their coup, "but every one of us in this room right now could have died."
At least he [Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] acknowledged that Trump "bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress," and tried to shut down some of the ridiculous lies making the rounds in a deluded Trumpistan. The riot, he said, was not caused by Antifa.
Importantly, McCarthy finally recognized that Joe Biden won the election. But imagine that: It took him more than two months to get here. He doesn't get a pass. He doesn't get to clear his name after months of fomenting and spreading the corrosive Big Lie about the election.
McCarthy waxed almost poetic in his exhortation to national unity. He talked about calling on our better angels and deplored the sordid events. . . . . The mind reels. This is the same McCarthy who voted against certifying the results of the election even after the coup attempt. With his vote, he supported their goals. "We solve our disputes at the ballot box," McCarthy claimed, after two months of backing an effort to steal an election.
This is the same McCarthy who told Fox News after the election Trump lost that, "we cannot allow this to happen...join together and let's stop this."
Now he wants unity, healing, lowering the temperature. And he's hardly alone in discovering his inner compromiser.
Pick a random name from among the 147 Republicans who voted to steal the election from the American people and you're likely to find someone saying impeachment is too divisive. People like Debbie Lesko, who voted against certifying, now finds it "concerning" that Democrats are pursuing impeachment just one week before Trump leaves office and "at a time when our country needs unity."
Similarly, Rep. Ted Budd, another member who voted against certifying Biden's election, tweeted, "If Democrats say they want unity, this isn't the way to show it."
All the Republicans who repeated the lie, relentlessly fueling a dangerous falsehood about the election, who enabled Trump, who failed to stand up to him until this moment -- and even now -- contributed to the "terrible events that we all condemn."
If Republicans want healing and reconciliation, it may have something to do with the threats they are receiving In what is the closest to a fascist tactic we have seen in this godforsaken presidency. Republican Rep. Peter Meijer wrote in the Detroit News of how one of his "profoundly shaken" colleagues had acknowledged after last week's riot that voting to certify Biden's win was a constitutional duty -- but instead voted to overturn the election result for fear of endangering family members.
In the end, 10 brave Republicans broke with the hypocrites and voted to impeach Trump.
The right way to heal those divisions, the right way to unite the country, is to come together in repudiating the poisonous presidency of Donald Trump. What better way to do that than by impeaching and convicting him? Even if he completes the full four years of his term, Americans will have formally declared his presidency a grave national error, telling future generations -- and even current ones -- that Trump's values and tactics are abhorrent to this nation.
That's the way to achieve unity. The claims we're hearing that impeachment is bad for healing are lies. They are a way to avoid responsibility, to protect the President, to sweep the filth under the rug. At a time like this, when the country should stand together, what America needs from its leaders is courage, not hypocrisy.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
President Trump made history on Wednesday, becoming the only president to be impeached twice. Nine Republicans found the courage to join Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in voting to impeach Trump for inciting sedition. This made Trump’s impeachment the most bipartisan in history. Perhaps this is a sign that we are inching toward unity. That said, the rather low number of Republicans willing to hold Trump accountable for his monstrous conduct tells us several things.
First, the quality of Republican members of Congress is abysmally low. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Wednesday acknowledged that “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” But he couldn’t support impeachment. In other words, McCarthy concedes the egregiousness of Trump’s behavior, but he cannot find the decency and honor to seek the president’s removal. McCarthy’s only discernible argument was that there would not be time to remove Trump before a new president takes office, which is laughable since Republicans control the Senate and therefore the schedule for the impeachment trial. It was a shameful display by a weak, hollow politician.
Other Republicans voting against impeachment argued that Democrats had done bad things. Or that, contrary to what Americans saw on television, the mob acted on its own. Or that impeachment would be divisive (unlike allowing sedition to go unpunished, one supposes). The moral and intellectual degeneration of the Republican Party was there for all too see.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who does not have the nerve or the votes to summon members back swiftly — put out a written statement that said he was open to impeachment.
Second, the stain of Trump will remain with the GOP for a good long time, given the broad support he received from House members who are still under the thumb of a demagogue and his MAGA mob. Corporations that vowed not to give money to the 147 Republicans who challenged electoral votes after the Capitol attack will be hard-pressed to lift their ban, but it will require an enormous effort on the right to primary those lawmakers.
As a result, people of good conscience who have not already done so must decamp from a party that now embraces white nationalists and excuses sedition.
Finally, the Senate will have to decide whether to stick with Trump, McCarthy and the raving House Republicans or to cling to respectability and rationality. If a large contingent of Senate Republicans stand by Trump, it will only reinforce the image of a party that countenances sedition and rejects democracy. The Senate will need to consider censure for some of its more visible pro-sedition members.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the lawmaker who gave a clenched-fist salute to the mob as it approached the Capitol, has lost the support of several corporate donors, his home state papers and even some of his law school professors. Feeling the heat, he penned a ludicrous statement claiming that he continued to pursue objections to the election — which had no basis in fact — after the siege because he would not be intimidated by the mob. But in doing so, he did the mob’s bidding. The mob sought to overturn an election — and that is precisely what he tried to do.
In short, a grim picture emerges that the Republican Party, with few exceptions, has departed from the bounds of reason, truth and democracy. If the House is representative of the party and its members as a whole, one can expect them to remain in the political wilderness for some time. There is, to the chagrin of those who support a two-party system, only one party that can be said to stand for the Constitution and objective reality.
The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.
Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob.
The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence.
The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen.
There’s ample precedent for this. When the Ku Klux Klan formed during Reconstruction, according to the historian Eric Foner, its leadership “included planters, merchants, lawyers, and even ministers. ‘The most respectable citizens are engaged in it,’ reported a Georgia Freedmen’s Bureau agent, ‘if there can be any respectability about such people.’”
Respectable people can be very dangerous. President Ulysses S. Grant responded to the outrages of the KKK in the Reconstruction South by sending the military to crush the Klan and the newly formed Department of Justice to prosecute it. For a time, the effort was successful.
In New Orleans, “carpenters, grocers, and tinsmiths belonged [to the White League], as did laborers and stevedores,” according to the historian Justin Nystrom, but “more common were professional men from Factor’s Row: clerks, accountants, sugar and cotton factors, weighers, and lawyers.” In South Carolina, a leader of the Red Shirts, Benjamin Tillman, was born into a wealthy slave-owning family. His men were made up of “substantial landowners already prominent in local agricultural societies, Granges, and conservative political clubs,” the historian Steven Hahn wrote. The white-supremacist militants who massacred Black people and overthrew the government of Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898 were described as “reputable white citizens” in contemporary accounts.
The elite leaders of white-supremacist organizations, however, were content to cultivate the perception that the outrages condemned by northern newspapers were the work of lower-class white men, which only increased the urgency of their political project: restoring the rule of the white elite, so that the alleged passions of the white lower classes could be restrained, and the supposed corruption of Black men and their white allies could be punished. In truth, however, it was when Black and white laborers formed alliances—such as the Readjusters in Virginia—that the white supremacists were most effectively resisted.
After Republicans retreated from Reconstruction, making clear they would neither defend the rights of Black people nor prevent Democrats from violating them, the respectable men who had overthrown the Reconstruction governments were far more open about their deeds. They became mayors, governors, congressmen, and senators. They erected monuments to the Confederate Army and its valor in defending the institution of human bondage, both to celebrate their accomplishments and to dissuade Black southerners from ever again contemplating political equality with white people.
Of course, it was their success in seizing power and disenfranchising their political rivals that allowed them to maintain their respectability. Had they failed, had the South’s brief experiment in multiracial democracy succeeded, they would have been seen as the bandits, assassins, and terrorists that they were. Impunity is what makes murder and terrorism respectable. After all, if these deeds were actually crimes, they would have been punished.
Watching the mob ransack the Capitol last week, Trump is reported to have been initially enthusiastic about the riot, but later disgusted by “what he considered the ‘low-class’ spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.”
Now we know the truth. They weren’t “low class.” They were respectable. They almost always are.