Late last January, in the wake of the Insurrection, I had a conversation with my fellow commie bastard libtard blogger Tom Hall of The Back Row Manifesto about how the country ought best reckon with that historic travesty, whether Biden was bringing a feather duster to an RPG fight, and similar issues. We recently met again to reassess those and related topics nine months down the road.
Bottom line: Back in January, Tom was more pessimistic than I about the chances for a proper reckoning, both legal and moral. He turned out to be right. Presciently, Tom said:
I see signs, multiple, aggravating signs, that the Republican narrative machine is going to be effective in re-shaping this conversation.
It is not even three weeks since the mob attacked US Capitol at the order of the President to physically prevent lawmakers from certifying a free and fair election. The most obvious, blatant lie, that the election was “stolen,” told precisely and reinforced by a network of propaganda on TV and social media, was a narrative that, after the failure of the mob, was still supported by over 150 lawmakers in Congress. They voted to overturn the election results in multiple states. The result? Nothing. No consequences. And they immediately pivoted to typical Republican obstructionism and seeking to shame Joe Biden for acting to implement his agenda as somehow not being about “unity.” And they get away with it, because “both sides.”
At the time, I was still hoping that there would be repercussions for a violent attempt to overthrow the government. (!) Silly me. I said:
I think it remains to be seen what the consequences are. I’d like to see Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley removed from the Senate, and the 150 House members too. At a minimum I’d like to see them censured, stripped of committee memberships, and more intangibly, made pariahs except in Alex Jones World. I’d like see them criminally prosecuted for inciting violence. Maybe some of that happens or maybe none of it does. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on.
But none of that has happened. There have been no appreciable consequences. Maybe the gears of justice are just grinding slowly, but if so, they are grinding so slowly as to be functionally nonexistent, and far too slowly for the speed at which Republican autocracy is careening. Meanwhile, the lack of repercussions is allowing the seditionists to carry on with their vile campaign, putting the country at even greater existential risk.
In regard to what I called “the inevitable Republican gaslighting and disinformation blitz” that we knew would arise surrounding the Insurrection, I wrote that, “It remains to be seen if rational voices rise up to call out that vile absurdity, and that hypocrisy, and if the American people will listen.”
This just in: they haven’t. Close to a third of the country considers the Insurrectionists either peaceful protestors, or—if they admit to them engaging violence at all—great patriots for having done so.
At the time, I also expressed the hope that we would not let Trump’s allies get away with distancing themselves from the Insurrection, and from him, and trying act like they’d always been part of the rational world of normal politics. But even that turned out to be laughably over-optimistic. If anything, they have bound themselves closer to him than ever on the (correct) assumption that that is the only way forward in the still-Trumpist Grand Old Party.
Trump has never accepted his defeat, and has now made fealty to the Big Lie the cornerstone of Republican politics and a litmus test for anyone who wants to be a player in the GOP. In fact he has openly stated that it is the core principle of Republican politics to which all Republicans who hope to win elected office must bow down.
Some saw January 6th as a chance for the Republican Party to break with Trump at last, but when are we going to learn that THEY DON’T WANT TO BREAK WITH TRUMP! Trump’s was never a hostile takeover of the GOP: Republicans welcomed him with open arms, once they realized what he offered, which was the answer to their dreams. Trump became the mechanism by which the GOP could put its inherent autocratic impulse into overdrive. Yes, he has destroyed the party as its principled members (now pariahs) once saw it, but it has not been that party for a long time. And even with him out of office that autocratic campaign continues unabated and even, in some ways, accelerated.
As Susan Glasser recently noted in The New Yorker, “Nine months after the storming of the Capitol, Trump is more popular with the GOP and his Big Lie is more widely believed.” That is astonishing and soul-crushing—to me and to many people. (Not Tom, whose capacity for gloom is vast.) But perhaps we ought to stop being surprised by the depths of Republican depravity, and the willingness—eagerness even—of our right wing countrymen to buy into the most vile Orwellianism to justify it.
DO YOU SMELL SMOKE?
Like many observers, myself included, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has stated that we are now in the midst of a second Insurrection—or if you prefer, a second phase of a single rebellion—this one being carried out by Congress itself. The legislative branch’s refusal to protect voting rights and its abetting of voter suppression and electoral subversion at the state and local level is “nothing less than insurrection by other means,” in the words of the Washington Post’s book critic Carlos Lozada, in reviewing Schiff’s new book Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.
The formidable and eloquent Mr. Schiff, who was the lead House manager in Trump’s first impeachment, is also a member of the House select committee on January 6th. That committee is moving fairly aggressively by Congressional standards, but it may not be nearly enough, as demonstrated by the defiance of its first batch of subpoenas by the Republicans served with them: Meadows, Bannon, Scavino, and Patel. The problem is that no matter what Schiff and his colleagues do, they will always be operating within the realm of rational political discourse and a deliberately cumbersome and cautious democratic structure…..but the threat they are fighting is a radical, borderline nihilistic one unconstrained by rule of law, principle, or anything else. Indeed, it is a movement that eagerly weaponizes the very mechanisms of representative democracy and turns them back against it.
That’s far from a fair fight.
On his HBO show Real Time, Bill Maher recently ended an episode with a much-discussed segment titled The Slow Moving Coup that was essentially a more comedic version of Robert Kagan’s also-much-discussed WaPo column “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.” Maher makes the same predictions Kagan did: that Trump will run in ‘24, that he’ll get the GOP nomination, and no matter what the results, he will claim he won. He concludes by arguing that Democrats are living in a dream world if they treat 2024 like a normal election.
It’s an alarm that many are raising, and the more the better. But some action in response to that alarm would be even better.
It makes me insane when I watch MSNBC or CNN or any of the legitimate networks and hear the pundits talking about poll numbers and approval ratings and the other legislative horse-trading of politics as usual. But therein lies the rub. Democrats still have to do all that regular political stuff—stuff that is even harder than ever thanks to new GOP-driven voter suppression laws—and at the same time have to go far beyond that and worry about a flatout ratfucking of our electoral system more akin to guerrilla warfare than normal politics.
In my conversation with Tom last January, I wrote of the failure of Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election:
I don’t have any truck with the oft-heard, self-congratulatory cry that “the system worked!” The system only worked because of Team Trump’s haplessness and because a handful of people of good faith happened to be in key positions that came under attack. With a better demagogue or weaker local officials in crucial roles, “the system” would have collapsed like wet cardboard.
This is precisely the scenario that is now unfolding for 2022 and 2024. From county election officials to secretaries of state to state legislatures, governors, and Congress itself, the GOP intends to have Trump loyalists in power who will ignore the popular vote if need be and award the Republican candidate (i.e., Trump) the win. So the second insurrection of which Schiff warns is well under way, aimed at making sure Republicans control the electoral process at every level in order to ensure their “victory.”
It will be a bitter irony if Vice President Kamala Harris has to decide whether to throw out electors who really are fraudulent after Team Trump tried to get Mike Pence to throw out legitimate ones (and Pence tried everything he could to figure out a way to comply). Be prepared to hear that the Veep doesn’t have that power, along with the expected cries of “Tyranny!” and “Coup d’état!”
The best case scenario is that we pass voting rights protections that safeguard the integrity of the vote—which needs to be done immediately, in case Republicans retake the House (and maybe the Senate too) a year from November. The worst case scenario is that Republicans get control of Congress, and possibly the White House as well—even if it’s through rigging the system—and, in conjunction with the control of the judiciary that they have carefully established over a quarter century, slam the door to democracy behind them. Then what?
A less dramatic scenario, but ultimately one that would be even harder to combat, would be if Republican efforts at voter suppression result in popular vote counts that actually award the GOP victories at the state level, albeit misrepresenting the genuine will of people, but requiring no such obvious travesties as a state legislature overruling the results, or governors or Congress throwing them out.
The even more worrying question is whether that Republican chokehold has already happened?
Don’t ask Tom Hall, unless you have a strong stomach.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
THE KING’S NECKTIE: When we spoke last January you were already convinced that there would be no consequences for the Insurrection and you were correct. Why do you think that is?
TOM HALL: I just think there’s no narrative for consequence. The narrative right now is infrastructure and Democratic infighting and the collapse of the Biden agenda over spending bills and all that. But the whole premise of Republican “governance” at this point is opposition. They have no principles: it’s just whatever the Democrats say, fuck them, we’re not going to do that, no matter what it is, while they carry out this active plan to subvert democracy.
TKN: But don’t you think that the Democrats and the left in general ought to be able to craft a narrative in the wake of January 6th that is compelling and says, “This is an unprecedented horror in American history and they’ve not stopped and we have to do something about it.” Seems simple enough.
TH: But the Democrats and the left haven’t said that. At least I’m not seeing an active campaign to frame it that way from the leadership. Every three weeks or so, there’ll be articles saying, “Oh boy, Republicans sure are passing a lot of laws that look bad for democracy. Don’t you think we should pass this bill to stop it? It’s never going to pass because we’re not willing to make the institutional changes required to pass it. But boy, it doesn’t look good.” That’s the extent of what I’m seeing. As recently as a month ago, I saw people saying, “We just have to get out the vote. If we turn people out, we’ll win.” No. There’s a process that’s being enacted by the right that’s going to be turnout-proof. The other side is going to disregard the election. They’re going to call it a fraud. It’s not like they’re hiding their plan. The plan is happening in plain sight and there’s a refusal to take it seriously.
It’s incredibly maddening to be in control of the levers of power and watch nothing happen.
TKN: Not long ago, James Carville was interviewed in Vox, and he said we have to pound the Republicans with January 6th, every single day, and never let the American people forget what they did. Now, you may like Carville or hate him, but he’s smart and he’s strategic and he was totally right about that. Yet last night he was on MSNBC and all he was talking about was a kind of pre-2016 sort of politics, attacking the progressive caucus for not passing the first infrastructure bill, taking the win, etc, etc. He conveniently left out the part where the so-called “centrists,” the so-called “moderates,” are the ones behaving dishonestly and not even saying what they want, while the progressives are the ones acting in good faith and being grownups, even as they have learned to play hardball. But my point is that even James Carville, who knows that we have to shout “Insurrection, insurrection, insurrection!” every day, is not doing that.
TH: Yeah, totally. That whole generation is used to a transactional politics where you give this to get that and figure out a middle ground, because the other side has legitimate needs that you can live with. In this case I don’t think that’s true at all. First of all, no one knows what Kyrsten Sinema wants. There’s no indication that she wants anything. There’s just a nihilistic void that’s sitting in the middle of the Senate stopping everything. And of course, no one will do anything about it. She and Joe Manchin have decided they don’t want to enact Biden’s policies. They don’t like spending, unless it’s for a yacht from which they can shout down at paddling constituents, which is the same position as the Republicans, even though they wedged through a multi-trillion dollar tax break for the rich. It’s always the same with the right. “It’s okay for us and not okay for you.”
There is no dynamic leadership on the Democratic side. I’m not even talking about like accountability for January 6th. The White House has washed its hands of that whole thing and is leaving it to the select committee to do the work of investigation, but what’s really to investigate? It’s pretty clear cut. This is another case, like Russia or Ukraine, where we’re waiting and waiting and waiting for information that we already know. There’s not going to be some big moment where Steve Bannon’s going to tell us that Trump was involved in planning the Insurrection. Yeah, no shit—we already know all this. This whole slow thing of, “We have to live by the rules of journalistic verification” doesn’t work when people are hiding stuff and lying all the time. It’s an impossible environment in which to make progress, because they’re never going to tell the truth. They’re not going to participate in democracy in the same way that we’re expected to do.
As you saw when we talked last time, I have a very dark outlook on how this is going to go down, because I don’t think it’s going to be good.
TKN: Not only is there no big “aha!” moment coming, but even if it did come, it wouldn’t matter. On January 7th people were generally kind of appalled, and nine months later, you’ve got a Republican fundraiser for Glenn Youngkin in Virginia where the crowd is pledging allegiance to a flag carried by the insurrectionists when they attacked the Capitol. They’re not trying to distance themselves from what happened—they’re embracing it. It’s same Trumpian evolution that was in play in all his scandals, going from, “We didn’t do it,” to “We did it but it wasn’t so bad,” to “Hell yeah we did it and it was a great thing and all-American!”
TH: It’s been normalized by the right as acceptable, and turned into “we’re the victims of injustice.” Yesterday, Trump said that the number one agenda for the Republican Party needs to be to state that the 2020 election was a fraud. Number one. So you have to tell the lie, continue to tell the lie, build energy around the lie. You’re not going to get his support or any support from the party unless you claim that the wound of his defeat is false and that he won, because he’s psychologically incapable of taking the “L.” And as a result, the whole nation, and the whole world, has to suffer in order for him to feel legitimized. If not, he’ll burn it all down and he doesn’t give a shit.
There’s no line in the sand that they won’t cross. There’s no moral anything there, just this emptiness, and the narcissistic injury of Donald Trump. That is the unfillable, irredeemable heart of all this, and the whole Republican Party has given itself over to it because they know the energy of Trump’s fanatical supporters is beyond anything else that you’ll see in the country.
I don’t share their energy. I’m not crashing school boards to stand up for mask mandates. The left does not have the same fire to preserve common sense and rational thinking and political normalcy. An infrastructure bill is going to carry us to victory? It’s crazy that the counterweight against burning down the country is, “Well, let’s build roads so that when the other guys take over, it’ll be in great shape.”
What’s going to happen with the January 6th commission in a year and a half, after they grind out these hearings and write a report that’s released right on the edge of the 2022 elections? Are we going to have people going to jail? Is Merrick Garland’s Justice Department going to bring charges and try people for their crimes? If the shoe were on the other foot, I have no doubt that Republicans would. Their whole campaign in 2016 was about throwing Hillary Clinton in prison. And whose mind is it going to change, any legal result? Are there people who would look at the report and say, “Hmmm, that’s pretty criminal. All these convictions have made me rethink my position.” The report, or even convictions, would just be pitched as partisan.
TKN: Right—more “political prisoners.” But that’s genius of right–wing propaganda, that everything can be pitched as partisan or turned inside out. The Wall Street Journal reported that Garland has expressed concern that throwing people in jail over the Insurrection would only further radicalize them.
TKN: I mean, we’re not talking about the Muslim Brotherhood in an Egyptian prison; we’re not talking about unjust imprisonment by a police state that becomes a university for radicalization. Generally when you commit a crime in the United States, we punish you and we don’t worry about whether it’s going to make you mad. That’s the sort of…institutionalism is too kind of word for it, but the sort of naivete that you were talking about before, and from Merrick Garland of all people. If Merrick Garland ends up getting fired, that would just be too ironic.
TH: Fine by me. You need somebody who’s going to uphold the law. If he’s not willing to do it, then he should go.
IT’S TOO LATE BABY (YEAH IT’S TOO LATE)
TKN: So this is the problem, and it’s not a newsflash. You’ve got a party that has abandoned representative democracy and is fully onboard with autocracy and isn’t even trying to hide it. And if I understand you correctly, you feel like we’ve already passed the point of no return. It’s not a matter of “get out the vote,” as you said before, it’s not a matter of having to stop these voter suppression laws or overcome them somehow. You think the boat has sailed.
TH: I do. I’m still where I was in January. There’s not going to be any action taken. If everyone got together in Congress and passed a federal voter protection law that had to be implemented at the local level, and revised the Electoral College process so that the results can’t be changed or rigged, that would be one thing. But there’s not enough fight. I just don’t see it.
It’s funny: I keep looking at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s Twitter feeds and thinking about Donald Trump’s Twitter feed in comparison. Biden and Harris are like, “Get vaccinated. It’s good for everybody!” (laughs) “Hey, you know what? If we passed the infrastructure bill, it’d be great for America. Let’s go get that bill passed!” And that’s how we want it. We want it normal. But you can’t fight a bully on the playground by saying, “Let’s talk about this for a minute. Why are you so angry?” (laughs) Sometimes you’ve got to punch back. Biden and Harris are not fighters. And I was worried about it when I had to vote for them. Biden’s an institutional centrist, and he’s up against people who are willing to burn the whole thing down in order to take over and impose their will on the country.
TKN: We could do all the things you said in terms of passing voter protections if we just got rid of the filibuster. Clinging to this arbitrary mechanism that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, doesn’t exist in any other advanced democracy, that’s purely invented and could be changed with a simple majority vote of the ruling party, but they won’t do it because they’re afraid of “disrupting democracy.” Meanwhile, it’s achieving the exact opposite effect. And if the other side gets in power, the first thing they’re going to do is get rid of the filibuster so they can advance their agenda unhindered.
TH: Absolutely. The rationale behind keeping it is complete bullshit. The real rationale is that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema don’t want to forfeit their own personal power and ability to get what they want.
TKN: Of course, even without the filibuster, you’d still need Manchin and Sinema’s votes for anything you want to do in a 50-50 Senate, and more than half the time you can’t get those two, because they’re de facto Republicans. Look at Manchin and clean energy.
But the scenario that worries me the most is the one you laid out, where the right has already rigged the electoral system such that they don’t even have steal it on election day. It’s pre-stolen. Because the vote count will be skewed and then there’s just nothing at all to grab onto and fight back against because it’s too abstract and any outcry at that point feels like sour grapes, as opposed to something like a Republican governor sending his own handpicked electors to be verified in Congress, where you can stand up and howl at an obvious armed robbery.
So short of what you were talking about before, where all of a sudden we find our balls and pass voter protections and so forth—and it may already be too late even for that—what do you propose as the strategy for our side going forward? How do we fight against that?
TH: I guess the question is, what do you mean by “we”? Do you mean “we, the Democratic Party”? They’re not going to get it done because they don’t have discipline as a party around this issue, the way the other side is willing to bend itself backwards and be unified. Not a single Republican voted for anything Democrats have proposed, and they’re not going to lose any voters at home for that. They have a whole propaganda network in place to reinforce the messaging, motivate the troops, and get everybody in line.
The left is a much messier coalition, and we know that. But if the left can’t agree on the fundamental principle of preserving democracy, I don’t know what to say. It’s just beyond belief to me. But that’s where we are.
Everyone’s like, “Oh, the party in power always loses the midterms.” But are people’s memories really that short that they don’t see what that would mean? It’s already being framed as a horserace, which I can’t stand, as if it’s two equal horses on the track, the Democratic horse and the Republican horse, and who’s gonna win? Except that the jockey on one horse is shooting at the other jockey. But we won’t talk about that. So for me, the worst case scenario is if 2022 goes wrong and we lose the levers of power. Then we’re going to get Benghazi 2.0 with some sort of bullshit investigation into the nonexistent corruption of the Biden administration, which will be like a funhouse mirror representation of Trump’s corruption, just so they can twist the knife and make it even more bitterly ironic and ridiculous. And then 2024 comes around and the Republicans have rigged everything in their favor. There will be no voting rights protection, and voter suppression will happen en masse. If there’s any local official willing to announce results that are not in favor of Trump—which I doubt there will be on their side—they will go after that official and cry fraud and throw the whole election into question. Then Congress will reinforce that fraud claim and will install Trump as president in January 2025. I don’t see that not happening. I really don’t.
The Republicans could also somehow win a popular election. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it could, because I think you’re going to see a lot of unmotivated Democrats looking at their own party and going, “Why aren’t you fighting?” Not even just the progressive wing; I just think there are a lot of people who want more fight out of the Democratic Party and will not be motivated enough to vote.
TKN: Not even motivated enough to get out and vote if it meant stopping Trump, regardless of what you think of the Democratic Party? Or are you saying the system would already be so rigged that the vote won’t matter?
TKN: So you asked “who do you mean by ‘we’?” If we rule out the Democratic Party to lead the resistance from the top down, what do progressive citizens do in a situation like that, where essentially you’ve already had a slow motion coup d’état in advance of the election?
TH: I don’t know. If you look at coups all over the world throughout history—”soft coups, hard coups, whatever—it just depends on how much the Republicans are willing to put into political violence. One thing we’ve not seen in this country that you see in a lot of states around the world is heavy duty political violence against the opposition party. So the lack of that does tend to create a false sense of security, or make us not take the threat seriously, at least the way that people do when you compare it to a Chile or to other military coups that have taken place historically, because people will say, “Oh, it’s not the same thing.” You can still get up and go to work everyday like nothing’s happened. The takeover doesn’t feel as extreme.
TKN: But that’s why it’s more dangerous.
TH: I think so too. It’s just a softer, more insidious version of the same thing. And when Trump’s back, is it going to be all about retribution? Are the police just going to be unleashed? Will the government be putting troops out into the streets? We saw them test drive that. Certainly there are not a lot of backstops to prevent that from happening. If you install loyalists all up and down the chain, and the right wing Congress approves every nominee, and you don’t make the mistake of having institutionalists and experts from previous Republican administrations and just put in diehard Louis DeJoys at every level of government instead, I don’t see how you stop it.
So what do you do in the face of that type of threat? I think it comes down to leadership. A disorganized civil movement will get crushed in that environment, as happened in China. I’m not a big fan of “individuals above the group,” and I believe in collective action and all that stuff, and in the authenticity of organic action, but at some point, the other side’s got a commander and a very organized propaganda machine behind it. That is a recipe for getting your ass kicked if you don’t get organized. There has to be a leadership dimension to it. It could be just massive civil unrest, sort of like we’ve seen in other big capitals around the world when authoritarian governments take over, but I haven’t seen a lot of change come from that. It’s very disheartening.
TKN: Well, that sort of rebellion happens very slowly, like the Velvet Revolution. It takes decades.
TH: Right. And that was with the support of the United States government and a global anti-Soviet campaign. (laughs) I don’t know what would happen here. You’re going to get France to come back and help again?
TKN: We should have let them sell Australia those submarines.
TH: (laughs) But I really do think it’s very dark. I think about it quite often, and it’s worrying to me.
WILL TO POWER
TH: Let’s have a little back and forth. I think that’s a really viable possibility, Trump’s return. What do you realistically think is going to happen?
TKN: I think what you’re describing—that it’s already too late—is absolutely a viable possibility. I don’t think it’s done and dusted, there’s a lot of time before November 2024, and loads of unexpected things will happen, of course. But I had a sick feeling when we got rid of Trump last year that this was just going to be a respite, and the GOP would come roaring back. I didn’t think that they would be as brazen as they have been, and I don’t know why I didn’t think that, because at every turn they’re always brazen. But I think that your dark prediction is a hundred percent plausible.
Maybe we can hold the line. Maybe they will carve out an exception on the filibuster for voting rights protection only, if it lets Manchin and Sinema hold on to their selfish levers of power but still vote for that, if they care enough. I don’t know. But these are all such half measures in the face of that onslaught that you very eloquently described. And if we fail, our options are a grim menu.
I don’t think it would change the calculus, but one wrinkle would be if there was substantive criminal action against Trump on other fronts between now and then, whether it’s taxes or a rape allegation, or whatever. Anticipating your reply: I don’t think it would change things for his supporters. He could be in an orange jumpsuit, pumping iron in the senior citizens wing of the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado, and still win the Republican nomination, given MAGA Nation’s fanaticism. But it might change the contours of the situation.
TH: Yeah, it might make a difference if the party was decapitated. I don’t mean literally, obviously, but in the sense of removing its leader, the way Al Qaeda was when Osama bin Laden was removed. Which is a weird conversation to be having about a former President of the United States, but taking him out of public life by delivering real repercussions for his crimes.
Who would step in? I feel like they would lose a lot of momentum, because this is a cult of personality and not an ideological movement per se. I don’t see Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley or Nikki Haley or Kristi Noem stepping into the void. So maybe that does make an impact. But I just don’t think the left has the institutional will to do that. And if they do, then the next time the right gets in power they will manufacture charges and throw the previous Democratic president in jail.
TKN: They may try to do that even if the left doesn’t prosecute Trump.
TKN: And the problem is, tens of millions of countrymen would thrill to that.
That’s the thing about Republican rule. Don’t get me wrong: we are definitely talking about anti-democratic minority taking power in defiance of the will of the people. But it’s not a small cabal that would be holding the country hostage: t’s a cabal that has the eager backing of tens of millions of our fellow Americans who are fully onboard with a racist, right wing autocracy. Which is often the way autocracies work.
This faction has always been with us, but they are newly aggressive in a way we’ve not seen since the 1920s, really. Until we reckon with this sickness in the American public, the Republican Party—which is to say, the forces of John Birchism that now control that party—are going to continue to be a menace.
TKN: This gets back to what you were saying before, and I’m glad you brought that up, the idea that the Republican Party is in thrall to this manchild and is somehow debasing itself to please him. That is one way to look at it, but that is really not the dynamic. Throughout his whole reign, you’d hear, “Why don’t Republican stand up to him?” Well, it’s because they don’t want to. They love it. So the fact that Trump is insisting that everybody who’s running on the Republican ticket has to sign on to Stop the Steal: they’re fine with that. They’re weaponizing that. Trump is the greatest thing that ever happened to the GOP. And so, as you say, if he were to die, that would be a real blow to the Republicans because he’s super useful to them. He’s certainly used them, but they’re using him too. He’s the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party. Also the worst, but also the best.
TH: Well, he’s the energy machine. This is what I’m saying about the other side: this is the energy that they want, because they were living in an imaginary version of America where people like you and me want to control their lives and tell them what to do. We’re smug elitists living on the East Coast.
But again, you can’t even have a rational conversation about it because it’s built on this false perception of what the other side is. We’re baby-eating, child rapist, pedophiles…..the right has to go to the worst extremes to build their enemies. And people will believe it—not the people who are propagating it, because they know they made it up, but it energizes the “low information voters” as they’ve been called.
TKN: Somebody was saying to me the other day, “God, it’s one thing to have a cult of personality, but it’s another to have a cult of personality that worships the worst person you can possibly think of.” But I don’t think that’s an accident. There’s no cult of personality around a Tom Cotton or a Josh Hawley. They’re awful, but they’re boring. It’s the sheer extremity of Trump’s awfulness that is appealing to his followers because it lets their id out. “He’s maligned, I’m maligned. He’s a victim, I’m a victim.” They love it. And the pussy grabbing and all that? Feature not a bug. OK? That is precisely what they like.
TH: Right. Like I said, it’s absolute jet fuel for the grievance engine, and that’s what they’re built on.
It used to be that the right would say, “Oh, the left is the grievance party.” But then the right realized that there is energy around this idea of victimhood. And Trump built that. The weird part is that it’s all personal grievance on his behalf that gets sort of blown out into the world. It’s like an expanding amoeba that starts at this very small cellular level of the narcissistic injury of one person and becomes a catch-all for everything and everyone who identifies with him.
I just don’t get it, because who’s more elitist than the guy who owns gold-plated buildings? It just doesn’t make any sense to me at all, this idea that this person is sort of the vessel for this energy, but it’s completely true.
TKN: I recently saw that a majority of the Republican Party is now against mandatory vaccines period: against the measles vaccine and the rubella vaccine and all that. A little less than half of Republicans now favor something that has been the norm for decades, across party lines. So we’re moving backward.
TH: Yeah, anything that would create human progress under the Biden administration they would be against, until it’s their turn.
TKN: It beggars fiction. My only regret is I will not live long enough to see what our robot overlords someday make of this in the history that they write about the fall of the American empire.
TH: I got an email today at my job asking why I’m discriminating against unvaccinated people by not allowing them into movie theaters. I was told by this individual that it was a discriminatory policy and that I should be in favor of diversity and inclusion.
TKN: So diversity, including people with lethal infectious diseases. It’s the same Orwellian thing they did with “religious freedom” and “religious liberty.”
TH: Yes, exactly. Because now they’re going to co-op diversity, equity, and inclusion narratives.
And where’s the narrative energy going the other way? Everyone’s just shaking their heads and rolling their eyes about school board meetings being crashed, but now you have school board members resigning, and people running for school boards who believe this right wing conspiracy stuff. The guy from Q Anon just declared that he’s running for Congress in Arizona. There’s all this sort of energy to take over institutions and impose their will, and there’s no one standing in the way; there’s no firewall, no dam of support going the other way. You and I aren’t going to school board meetings in the Midwest and fighting back. There’s no buses taking us there. It seems like a bunch of local problems, but it’s not. I mean, I sort of sit in Park Slope and watch that stuff and go, “I’m glad I don’t live in such-and-such a place.” But on the other hand, a lot of people do live there.
TKN: We even have the Oathkeeper guy running for the New York City Council from Park Slope. (A man in the neighborhood where Tom and I live is an overt member of the Oathkeepers—even advertising it on his car—and is now running for public office in NYC.) So if it’s penetrated here in District 39, where the City Council vote was like 98.5% Democratic in the last election, that gives you some idea of where we’re at.
TH: He’s really counting on apathy. You need a lot of apathy , when you’re polling at 1.5%.
TKN: He saw that Brad Lander was term limited, so he thought, “Here’s my chance.” He’s the change candidate.
TH: I just don’t know what to do about it. We need leadership.
Previously Tom has been Director, Artistic Director, and Director of Programming at numerous other film festivals, and prior to that was former Director of New Media for Bravo/The Independent Film Channel. He directed short films for Bob Mould’s Carnival of Light and Sound Tour, written extensive film criticism, and conducted and published interviews with many of the most prominent filmmakers of our time, from Altman to Herzog, Carax, Aronofsky, Schnabel, Assayas, Wiseman, the Dardennes, and many others. In 2010 Hall was named one of Spring Board Media’s 20 under 40 in Film. A graduate of the University of Michigan (’94) with a degree in intellectual history, he resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and two sons.