Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover

Behold the ironic end of Mike Pence, worthy of a Greek tragedy, or at least an O. Henry story.

After four years of non-stop, hard-to-watch, servile obsequiousness toward Donald Trump—a moneygrubbing sexual predator and pathological liar who embodies the diametrical opposite of the Christian faith that Pence claims to revere—Mike found out just how much goodwill that bootlicking earned him.

Less than zero, as Elvis would say. 

From the very beginning, Pence had calculated that pleasing Trump and the MAGA base was his ticket to the Republican nomination in 2024. But Donald Trump is not exactly known for his loyalty. In fact, he has a lifelong habit of savagely turning on business associates, wives, employees, and even friends (if he can be said to have any) in the blink of a heavy-lidded Adderall-addled eye. 

Even so, I doubt Pence thought his reward for his groveling servitude would be to wind up hunkered down with his family behind hastily barricaded doors in the US Capitol after Trump sent a bloodthirsty mob to murder him. 

Can there be a more fitting image of what it means to serve Donald Trump? 

Pence’s humiliating fate is emblematic of the entire GOP and the bleached-boned corpse of the conservative movement, thanks to its prostration at the feet of this cretin. 

GRAB ‘EM BY THE PUSSY, YOU PUSSY

Reports of Trump irrationally trying to strongarm Pence to overturning the election through his entirely ceremonial role in counting the Electoral College ballots were astonishing, even by the sewer-deep standards of Donald Trump. Trump not only attacked Pence on Twitter, but apparently berated him to his face and on the phone. Repeatedly.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Alex Witt, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg reported that Trump and Pence had a lunch that turned into a seven hour meeting in which Pence explained that he could not legally overturn the election (did he need to explain that?), prompting Trump to scream at him, in Nunberg’s paraphrasing: “I saved you. I made you! How dare you do this to me!” (Which sounds like what the lead singer of every disintegrating rock group says to his bandmates two-thirds of the way through every episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music.”)

Unlike past media appearances, Nunberg did not appear to be drunk when he recounted this. 

According to the Washington Post, on the morning of January 6, before the joint session of Congress convened, Trump made one last effort to sway Pence in a phone call: 

“You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Mr. Trump told him, according to two people briefed on the conversation, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

To be clear, Mike Pence is anything but a patriot. He is a pussy, but not in the way Trump thinks. 

(Sorry for the sexist slang. It’s gonna take a long time before patriarchal but deeply ingrained and very useful shorthand like “pussy” and “balls” are eradicated. And it won’t be by Donald Trump, whom his spokesman recently called “the most masculine person to ever hold the White House.” )

In any event, Donald seemed rather displeased when Mike chose the “non-patriot” route. We know now that Trump didn’t even bother to call his own Vice President while he was in lockdown from assailants who wanted to hang him. Instead, while people with nooses were hunting Pence like a dog, Trump tweeted: 

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

Nor did Trump call Pence or his family afterward to see if they were OK, let alone to talk to him about such mundane matters as how to quell the riot. (Because he didn’t want to quell it. Because he started it, and reportedly enjoyed watching it.)

Trump never did call Pence. Some six days went by before the two men met in person, in what was said to be a cordial encounter where the matter of one of them having ordered a rabid mob to murder the other never came up. Even now Pence has declined to invoke the 25th Amendment against this man who has baldly demonstrated the tremendous threat he poses to the republic, not to mention to Pence’s own mortal well-being. 

And thus Pence’s self-abnegation continues. 

Here’s longtime GOP consultant turned Never Trumper Stuart Stevens, quoted in the WaPo:

Mike Pence threw aside everything he said he believed in—everything—I mean, here is a guy who railed against adultery on his radio show, and then teams up with Donald Trump and of course it was going to end this way. He has no future in the Republican Party. When the base of the party is not booing you, but chanting hang you, that’s a bad sign.

I would add only that Pence has no future outside the Republican Party either, as one moment of doing the right thing is not going to make us forget about the rest of Mike’s political career. You don’t get kudos just for doing your job and not participating in the overthrow of the US government. Nor does that erase his vile legacy not only in the Trump administration but throughout his public life.

In Jacobin, Liza Featherstone writes:

Wednesday was a fitting coda to Mike Pence’s disgraceful career: hiding from armed fascists and feigning shock at the authoritarian antics of the clown he’s been faithfully serving for four years like a well-trained dog…. 

Mike Pence has spent his life enabling the rise of the far right and these remarkably unappealing chickens have now come home to roost, as Malcolm X would have noted. 

Pence may have tried to look like the adult in the room Wednesday, but the debacle was entirely his own fault. He may find these rioting chuds distasteful, but he’s not much better than they are and has been helping out their cause for years. Even if he does end up using the 25th Amendment to prevent Trump from serving the remaining days of his term, it will be too little, too late, and won’t make him any less complicit in Trump’s latest assault on democracy.

So Pence’s cowardice and ambition have delivered him not to the cusp of the presidency but to pariahhood. He is a man without a constituency, destined to be permanently loathed by both left and right alike—by the former for his long subservience to Trump and abetting of his crimes, and by the latter for not taking that subservience even further. 

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

So farewell Mike Pence. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass. 

BAD BAD BOY

When Donald Trump first ascended to the presidency, sneering Republicans assured us—assured us!—that he was going to be oh-so presidential, and that fears of proto-fascism were “liberal hysteria. The idea that Trump would mount a violent coup to try to stay in power if defeated in 2020? Pshaw! He would never do such a thing!

There were jawdropping reports of Trump’s vile behavior surrounding the Capitol riot, above and beyond his guilt for starting it in the first place. His delight at the images he saw on TV. His refusal to listen to aides pleading with him to call for calm. His continuing attempts to pressure lawmakers into overturning the election results even as the insurrection was unfolding, calling Alabama’s newly elected Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, among others, to slow down the EC vote count. 

We also learned the “we love you…you’re very special” video was the LEAST incendiary of three takes that were filmed, with Trump ad-libbing in all three. Trump reportedly also thought his second videotaped speech—the one on Wednesday night, furiously backpedaling and disavowing violence once the scope of the disaster was clear—made him look “weak.” Goddam, what is wrong with this guy?

When he finally did speak to the press in person, Trump was fully on brand. The New York Times reports:

President Trump on Tuesday showed no contrition or regret for instigating the mob that stormed the Capitol and threatened the lives of members of Congress and his vice president, saying that his remarks to a rally beforehand were “totally appropriate” and that the effort by Congress to impeach and convict him was “causing tremendous anger.”

That’s right—another Zelinskyy-style “perfect call.”

“People thought what I said was totally appropriate,” Mr. Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, en route to Alamo, Texas, where he was set to visit the border wall. Instead, Mr. Trump claimed that racial justice protests over the summer were “the real problem.”

I’ll say one thing for the man: he’s consistent.

But Trump is in trouble. After weeks of breathless reports of how he was going to rule the Republican Party for all eternity despite losing the election, in the space of a few days he has become close to radioactive—and “Margaritaville”-style, it’s his own damn fault. 

His red wall is breaking in Congress, if only a little, but that’s significant in La Cosa Nostra. Even Bill Belichik turned on him (insert “Patriot” joke here), which is almost enough to make me forgive him for the fawning letter he wrote Trump on the eve of the 2016 election. 

Word of major corporations cutting off the cash to GOP members who fomented the insurrection is also cheering. Surely that was a prime mover behind Mitch McConnell’s decision to cut Trump off at the knees, especially after Don pretty much singlehandedly cost him his job as Majority Leader. 

Mitch McConnell has no principles whatsoever, but he is the savviest operator out there, and he don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. So if he is truly turning on Trump, it must be because he thinks Trump is toast—a good sign. But a again, as with Pence, let’s not praise the man for what is not at all a matter of integrity but—as always—of cynical opportunism. It’s just that it accidentally is helping the side of goodness and light for once. 

When corporate America turned off the money tap, Mitch and the GOP suddenly saw the light. Will wonders never cease?

BLAME IT ON THE REIGN

Make no mistake: Donald Trump’s weeks of spewing the noxious lie that the election had been “stolen” from him—months in fact, as he laid the groundwork for that claim—were the fuel that fed this fire. 

I hadn’t listened to Trump’s actual speech at the Ellipse until last night. If you haven’t done so, do yourself a favor and check out some excerpts at least: it’s like something out of a dystopian popcorn thriller (or A Face in the Crowd), and it makes undeniably clear how firmly Trump bears the blame for inciting that siege of the Capitol and subsequent invasion. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr. and others also spoke at the “Stop the Steal,” rally all of them in fiery, militaristic terms about the need for the crowd to “fight for Trump.” In fact, Gosar, a dentist by trade, might give Rudy a run for his money as the movement’s bull goose loony, a COVID-denying birther whose own brother told Lawrence O’Donnell that he is mentally unhinged and ought to be expelled from Congress.

“What’s the downside for humoring him?” one anonymous Republican lawmaker famously in the early days after November 3rd, referring to Trump’s baseless, futile-from-the-start attempt to challenge the results of the election.

I guess we got our answer 64 days later. 

Of course, many of those Republicans did a lot more than just humor Trump. They amplified that incendiary lie of a stolen election, over and over, until they had a critical mass of deluded and self-deluding right wing citizens prepared to mount a putsch.

The 139 House Republicans and eight GOP Senators who cynically voted to challenge Joe Biden’s victory actively helped incite this riot almost as much as Gosar & Company. This was no symbolic protest; it was a cynical ploy to play to the fanatic MAGA base. Except that that MAGA base went full Frankenstein and rampaged murderously out of control, and the ensuing tragedy—and disgrace—is on the heads of those Republicans. 

To state the obvious: actions have consequences, and an action like ginning up a mob to kill people and try to overthrow the US government ought to have pretty serious consequences indeed, doncha think? Can we stop to remember that Al Franken was forced to resign from the Senate over some sexually risqué photos, for which he apologized, while Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley helped foment a violent rebellion and we’re having a debate over whether they deserve any punishment at all?

SPIES LIKE US

Just yelling “fraud” in a crowded democracy is criminal enough, but there is reason to believe that the culpability is even deeper and more concrete. If Trump and his deadenders are in freefall now, it only promises to get worse as more and more details of the attempted self-coup come out. 

The extent to which Republican members of Congress actively helped the insurrectionists remains to be investigated, but there are credible reports that on January 5 some led unauthorized “tours” of the Capitol, currently closed to the public due to COVID, that functioned as reconnaissance missions for the invaders, many of whom had suspiciously good grasp of the geography  of that notoriously confusing building when they breached it the following day.

As I wrote in a recent post, we also have to operate under the assumption that hostile foreign intelligence agents were mixed in with the insurrectionists who attacked the US Capitol. It’s impossible that there were not. What they were after, what they did while inside, and what they left behind, will require rigorous investigation and countermeasures. 

Now let’s go into Cloud Cuckooland for a thought experiment. 

What if there was not only foreign penetration of the Capitol, but actual, pre-arranged coordination between that foreign power and the Trump administration to their mutual benefit? (Which country is immaterial to this exercise, but let’s just say, for the sake of imagination, that it was a cold weather Eurasian country prone to furry hats, ice hockey players, and mail order brides.) That would be a crime of treason and a scandal to dwarf even the atrocities we’ve seen this far in this monstrous administration.

To be clear: I am not suggesting that there is any evidence that this happened. As I say, this is but a thought experiment. But does anyone doubt for a second that if a foreign power—even a hostile one—reached out to Trump offering help in overturning the election—even a violent assault on Congress—he would turn it down?

Be honest. 

Of course he would not turn it down. 

Objection! Calls for speculation. 

Does it though?

During the Mueller probe Trump said very plainly to ABC’s George Stephanpoulous that if a foreign power called him offering help defeating his presidential opponent, “There isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, (and said) ‘we have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

In fact, the Russians did exactly that—to Don Jr., Manafort, and Kushner in June 2016, and Team Trump did in fact eagerly take that meeting, in Trump Tower no less.

Is it much of a leap from accepting that kind of help—which is to say, intelligence sharing—to accepting physical, paramilitary help in storming the Capitol? Or are we saying that Trump has so much integrity that that’s where he’d draw the line?

(Pause for squirming and Rodney Dangerfield collar tug.)

And notwithstanding the current low-level mutiny against the Donald, how would Republicans react to that, should such revelations emerge? The way they’ve reacted to all of Trump’s outrages, I presume:

  1. Claim it never happened, and that it could never happen. Don’t be ridiculous!
  2. Assert that if it were to happen, they’d be outraged and take swift action to have Trump removed from office. 
  3. Suddenly decide, when presented with irrefutable evidence that it did happen,  that it’s not so bad.
  4. Quickly pivot to passionately defend the idea that whatever Trump did was actually the right thing, and great and honorable, and he should be praised for it, and PS Democrats are the evil ones destroying our country.
  5. Accept doggie treat from Donald.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS

We see that very dynamic at play in the reaction to last week’s news. For those of you who don’t want to subject yourselves to the Fox Nation spin on it (and I don’t blame you), I’ll do it for you. 

Prominent right wing pundits like the odious Victor Davis Hanson are snidely dismissing the severity of the Capitol insurrection, comparing it to the protests over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, along with the usual specious analogy to BLM marches. 

You remember the Kavanaugh hearings, right? When 10,000 violent insurrectionists screaming for blood broke into the Supreme Court attempting to lynch federal officials, smashing windows, shitting on the floors, beating journalists, and murdering at least two police officers in the process? What—you don’t remember that?  Snowflake.

Less noxious but still disturbing, Caitlin Flanagan recently had a piece in The Atlantic devoted to snickering about how comedic these insurrectionists were. 

I get it. There was plenty of Iannucci-grade absurdity to behold. Even the nicknames for the mob are funny: Y’all Qaeda. Vanilla ISIS. The Coup Clutz Clan. It’s shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of these mouthbreathing bozos

It’s also true that amid fears of hardcore Blackwater types mixed in with the yahoos, it now turns out that “Zip Tie Guy”—the professional-looking insurrectionist in the balaclava and body armor, carrying zipties, whose photo graced my blog last week— isn’t some ex-Delta doorkicker, let alone a Russian GRU infiltrator. He’s a cosplaying wannabe who came to the revolution with his mommy.

But wannabes can still be dangerous. 

In focusing only on the pathetic aspect of the would-be insurrection and not on the terrifying sight of a homicidal mob that wanted to install a despot, Flanagan’s was incredibly irresponsible journalism. Yeah, Viking Guy is a joke, but five people DIED…and it could have been a lot worse. Check the video of the mob that captured and brutally beat to death a member of the DC Metropolitan Police, with flagpoles flying the Stars & Stripes among the murder weapons. (A bit on the nose, don’t you think?)

And what correction did The Atlantic subsequently append to her piece? Only that “This article previously mischaracterized the plot of Back to the Future.”

The ghastliness of the right wing media machine is bad enough. It doesn’t help when the legitimate media continues to engage in the same kind of dismissiveness of the threat that helped Trump beat Hillary in 2016. 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

Thankfully, the Democratic leadership takes things a little more seriously than some of the press. 

If I’d told you at the beginning of last week that in the last eight days of his presidency Donald Trump would be impeached for an unprecedented second time, you would have laughed. But it is a fitting and proper response to a sitting US president who incites a violent insurrection to try to hold onto power. If that’s not impeachable conduct, what is?

Might this second impeachment backfire and help Trump a little bit, in stoking his followers’ resentment, letting him play the victim, and feeding the canard that this is all just left-wing Trump Derangement Syndrome? It might, a little, given how gullible a third of the country is. The same was true of the first impeachment. But principle demands it be carried out regardless, just like the first time around. Then as now, the long term effects of failing to do so would be far far worse.  

In arguing against impeachment, Republicans have the gall to claim that it would “divide the country.” Yeah, like that time I told a federal judge that convicting me of that armed robbery I committed would only divide America further at a time when it desperately needs unity.

It’s rich to be preached to about unity by the party that slavishly enabled the most divisive, hatemongering American president in history, and also tried to shitcan the votes of 150 million citizens last week. 

But we all know by now that the Republican Party has no shame. At one point during yesterday’s impeachment hearings in the House, the Washington Post ran a headline reading, “Trump allies argue that Congress should focus on combatting the coronavirus.”

I’ll just let that one sit there. 

Given that this was the counterattack being mounted on his behalf, it’s easy to believe the report that Trump himself wanted to go down to the House floor and act as his own defense counsel, and had to be dissuaded from so doing by means of a tranquilizer dart fired from a blow gun wielded by Pat Cipollone.

Even now the GOP is clinging to its oh-so-last-year mantra that this impeachment is nothing but partisan rage from the Democratic side, and that fears of the damage Trump has wreaked—and continues to wreak—are wildly overstated. On the floor of the House yesterday Jim Jordan even talked condescendingly about how of course “there will be a peaceful transfer of power next week,” as if scolding Chicken Little. 

That’s kind of like Giuliani’s claim that there were no terrorist attacks on Bush’s watch. 

News flash, Jimbo: the peaceful transfer of power has already been disrupted. Maybe you missed it while pulling your lookout shift at the showers at the Ohio State wrestling gym. 

BENEATH AND BEQUEATH

So here we are, facing the end of this atrocious presidency in the most fitting way possible.

When Trump was elected, one of the great fears—along with the risk of his designs on a presidency-for-life—was that he would drag the United States into a catastrophic war. Given his bellicosity, his stupidity, and his impulsivity, and notwithstanding the neo-isolationist bullshit, it seemed almost inevitable. It was perhaps the only pleasant surprise of the Trump era—amid endless terrible surprises—that he did not do so.

Until now.

With his actions of last Wednesday, Donald Trump has at last dragged us into a war after all—a civil one. I guess it was the very last item on his to-do list. Thanks, Don!

We all knew that part of Trump’s legacy would be that a third of the country would believe that the Biden administration was illegitimate. Many even discussed the possibility of a pro-Trump, right wing domestic insurgency. But until it hit us last Wednesday, it was all very abstract and academic. No more. As I wrote last week, it remains to be seen if January 6th was an aberration or the cannonshots at Ft. Sumter of the 21st century. In the mean time, impeachment is the one of the first steps in a right and proper response.  

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Photo: Worst duo since Leopold and Loeb. (With apologies to England Dan and John Ford Coley.)

This blog also available on Substack and Medium.

How to Tell You’re in a Guerrilla War

With each passing day, the pro-Trump insurrection that resulted in the occupation of the US Capitol on January 6 is looking less and less like a MAGA rally that got out of control and more and more like a assassination attempt against Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and others as part of a violent, deliberate coup d’etat. 

Spare me the semantics of a coup requiring the participation of the uniformed military. Like art or pornography, a coup may be hard to define, but its easy to spot when you see it. At a minimum, we watched an attempted autogolpe, or self-coup, defined by Wikipedia—font of all knowledge—as “a form of putsch or coup d’état in which a nation’s leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.”

If that’s not exactly what happened when Donald Trump whipped his supporters into a frenzy with his speech on the Ellipse and told them to march on the parliament and stop its certification of electoral victory by his opponent, I don’t know what is. 

(Note to historians and dramatists: the ultimate touch of Trumpian con man cowardice was his promise to join the march, which he quickly broke, instead scurrying back to the West Wing to watch it on TV.)

Early reports from still-tactful White House aides were that Trump was “bemused” as he watched the violence unfold on television, including his goons viciously beating reporters and even police officers. (#BlueLivesMatter, amirite?) Later descriptions went further, calling him delighted and “excited by the action.” 

I’ll pause now for everyone to take a Pepto-Bismol break, because I can’t think of any behavior more stomach-turning from a US President ever, and that includes Watergate, the bombing of Cambodia, and Clinton’s cigars. 

Every time I click on my browser more video comes out revealing how bloodthirsty this mob was, attempting to steal and/or destroy the Electoral College ballots, and bent on murdering the Vice President and Congressmembers, who were huddling behind hastily barricaded doors, as Trump’s thugs banged furiously on the other side. Trump, for his part, never even bothered to call his own VP to see if he was OK…..which kind of figures, when you understand that he had called him everything short of a Judas and encouraged the mob that went and attacked him. 

Yeah, there were plenty of QAnon clowns and larping “Call of Duty” dipshits and Walter Mitty fantasists in the crowd. Likely the majority. But there were also a disturbing number of professional-looking saboteurs, militia members, and even amateur insurrectionists who might not have been to BUD/S but were still deadly serious.

The question now is what this failed insurrection represents in terms of the future threat. The big fear of course is that this is not going to stop, that Trump’s ginned up minions—convinced that the election was stolen, that the left is evil, that the right to own RPGs is enshrined in the Constitution, that White people and White people alone are “real Americans,” etc etc—will carry on and even escalate this sort of violence. 

I think that “fear” has now graduated to a “certainty.” 

To echo SNL’s Dr. Wenowdis, everyone understands that the fanatical faction of the MAGA community that is willing to murder people and overthrow the government for the greater glory of Donald Trump is not going away any time soon. We know dis. But precisely what happens from here? How big is the threat, how dangerous is it, what is its nature, and how do we best fight it? Did January 6th mark the nadir of Trump-brand terrorism, or only the beginning of broader and even more violent unrest—in other words, a proper domestic insurgency?  

This we do not know. But it might be prudent to start preparing for the worst case scenario.

WILL THERE WILL BE BLOOD? YES, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

It is very reasonable to assume that the Capitol riot will just embolden these fuckers. As Tom Hall writes at The Back Row Manifesto, “an emergent fascist movement does not end after finding relative success using a violent attack to hold the nation in the thrall of its imagined grievances.”

So do you want the good news first, or the bad? 

The good news is that the pro-Trump insurgents are probably overestimating the scope of their recent victory. As I wrote last week, the kid gloves treatment they have consistently received from law enforcement, from Lansing to Kenosha to the Capitol, has surely given them a false sense of their own power. 

The bad news is, that false sense probably won’t be punctured until a great deal of blood is shed, some of it their victims’, but some of it theirs. 

How far are the worst of these people willing go? All the way, apparently. Trump’s most devoted cultists and other associated radicals have made it clear that they are very much prepared to commit murder, kidnap and “execute” government officials, and employ IEDs, not to mention engage in riots, beat people to death, and commit wanton property damage of our most sacred national symbols. So in that sense the “threat” is very lethal indeed. 

So the next big question becomes, how big is this faction? 

Since November we have been repeatedly reminded how astonishing it is that 74 million Americans voted for Trump even after witnessing the horrors of the last four years. It is indeed chilling. But when it comes to calculating the force ratios for a potential second civil war, those numbers are deceiving. Not every one of those voters is a hardcore seditionist—a great many are conventional (if willfully blind) Republican lever-pullers who simply voted the party line and will not be onboard with a Trumpian insurgency. 

We saw as much in the Congressional microcosm after the hideous spectacle of last Wednesday, when even such cowardly enablers as Graham, Loeffler, Lankford, et al finally drew the line. In the days since, there are already reports of internecine warfare within MAGA World, of right wingers turning on Trump, and of a battle between those who want to brag about trying to overthrow the government and those now beating a hasty retreat, covering their collective ass by promoting the predictable lie that it was a false flag operation by antifa-in-disguise.

In short, the MAGA community appears to be splintering. But even if its lunatic fringe is reduced to only a few million, that is still a scary number of potential terrorists and the network to support them. 

There is also the possibility that a right wing insurgency could carry on even if it repudiates Trump. After all, he didn’t invent violent racism, nativism, or domestic terrorism—give Nathan Bedford Forrest, J.B. Stoner, and Timothy McVeigh their vile due. Notably, the January 6th mob included a pre-existing menagerie of radicals who have been at war with the US government long predating Trump: Second Amendment nuts, sovereign citizen adherents, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen among them. When he launched his political career Donald Trump latched onto that toxic strain in American culture and it embraced him in return; it could just as easily sour on him, and jettison him, and carry on without him. 

If the number of committed traitors who are willing to go to war against their own country is reduced to a very small number, that can be handled at the law enforcement level with ordinary policing and detective work, even if the legal consequences the perpetrators face rise above ordinary street crime and into the realm of national security matters. Hey, we even have a prison in Cuba and a whole military tribunal system all set up for them. (Yes, it’s still open.)

However, if that insurrectionist faction proves to be larger, or metastasizes, we will have a much bigger problem. Then we begin to drift into the realm of what the US Army calls “low intensity conflict,” or LIC.

WEST POINT FOR BEGINNERS

The best and most famous definition of war has always belonged to the Prussian general and strategist Carl von Clausewitz, who called it “the continuation of politics by other means,” a formulation every military officer in the Western world has had drummed into his or her head.

To that end, drawing on the notion that active combat is only the most extreme form of conflict between ideological entities, “Low Intensity Conflict” refers to political struggle at the light end of the spectrum, from simple agitation and propaganda through terrorism and insurgency. At its essence, LIC is just a new suit of clothes for what during Vietnam had been called counterguerrilla warfare, and in the early 21st century was rebranded yet again as COIN—counterinsurgency. A rose by any other name. 

LIC is precisely what we will be engaged in if we have to fight a violent pro-Trump White nationalist insurgency. 

Luckily, we have shitloads of practice at this sort of thing, because it’s a version of what we’ve been doing in the so-called “Global War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. But now, with a homegrown threat, should it prove sufficiently large and serious, the war will be fought on our own soil, primarily against our fellow Americans. And some of the American veterans of those foreign wars will be fighting on the other side. 

Indeed, we were in a low intensity conflict with radical Islamist (NB: not Islamic) extremism even before September 11, 2001—arguably, beginning with the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. But it was only with the shocking events of 9/11 that most Americans began to realize it, and only then that the US government truly shifted into wartime mode. 

We may soon look back on January 6, 2021 as a similar watershed. But it will be far more fraught when the United States is the primary battlespace, and US citizens the enemy.

LIC is an intelligence-intensive form of combat, some of which crosses the fine line into police work…..or conversely, a form of a police work that sometimes crosses the line into military operations. Either way you slice it, it inevitably entails at least some deployment of direct action units, whether from law enforcement (SWAT or special operations in particular), the Intelligence Community, active duty military, National Guard, or other paramilitary organizations from the Homeland Security realm. 

Here we enter into fraught terrain for a democracy with the risk of draconian overreaction and the militarization of ordinary life, even if it is in the interest of preserving democracy. That is very much what the pro-Trump terrorists—like all terrorists—want, because it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they are the victims. Their own violent behavior prompts a violent reaction from the state, which they then point to as evidence of the monstrousness of the state, which justifies their violence toward it in the first place. 

IT’S JUST A SHOT AWAY

If pro-Trump terrorists are going to carry out further assaults on government buildings, truck bombings, assassinations, airplane hijackings, jailbreaks, and other acts of political violence, it will require a multi-pronged intelligence, law enforcement, and military effort to defeat them. That means rooting out these violent insurgents; it means infiltrating their organizations and cultivating networks of informants to provide us advance warning of their operations; it means increased electronic and other technological surveillance within US borders; it means forensic accounting to track and disrupt their funding; it means a public awareness campaign; it means an increased security presence to include a much more prominent police and military profile in our streets, airports, sports arenas, and other common areas; and yes it means kicking in doors, making arrests, and carrying out infantry-style raids when necessary. 

Who here saw Battle of Algiers?

Do the American people have the stomach for that? Can we carry it out without further damage to what’s left of our national unity? That too is a goal of our terrorist foe. Will a campaign of this sort drag us into full-blown civil war? It’s beyond ironic that radical Islamist extremism may ultimately prove to be far less of a threat to the United States than far-right White nationalist terrorism made in the USA. In fact, statistically, that is already true. Oklahoma City should have taught us that.

The US would not be the first Western democracy to wrestle with counterinsurgency operations against a homegrown terrorist movement. The majority of major European countries have dealt with it, going back to the 1970s, whether it was Germany grappling with the Baader-Meinhof gang/Rote Armee Fraktion, or France fighting Action Directe, or Italy facing Brigata Rosse. Most famously perhaps was the UK fighting the Provisional Irish Republican Army. (Let’s confine that struggle to Britain’s efforts to combat PIRA attacks in England and leave its COIN operations in Northern Ireland in a different realm, that of an empire trying to subjugate the indigenous residents of an occupied territory seeking self-determination. That is definitely the preferred interpretation if you want to order a Guinness at Ireland’s 32 on Geary Street in San Francisco, where a giant oil painting of Bobby Sands hangs over the bar.) 

But in this fight, we will face an additional complication—one that many of our European allies also faced, but that is new to us. To wit: 

Al Qaeda was plenty dangerous, but one thing it never had was the support of one of the two major American political parties. 

A BEACHFRONT CONDO ON THE REPUBLICAN SEA

Mao’s famous dictum was that the people are the sea in which the guerrilla fish swim. In this case, 74 million Trump voters and some 31% of the American electorate that identifies as Republican (pronouns: sie/ihr/ihnen) are a vast Atlantic Ocean in which these flesh-eating garra rufa are doing the backstroke.

Combatting pro-Trump terrorism will be made more difficult by the fact that there are sympathizers, overt supporters, and even active participants in that cause embedded within the US military, law enforcement, fire and paramedic units, and so forth, not to mention the government itself at the federal, state, and local levels. Indeed, as it stands right now, the mainstream Republican Party remains committed to Trumpian extremism insofar as it has not definitively rejected it…..and it’s not clear that it’s going to

A quick survey:

Over the weekend MSNBC ran a jawdropping chyron that read “Poll: Republicans split on whether Capitol breach was legitimate.” 

Really?

As I reported last week, one poll had 52% of Republican respondents blaming Joe Biden for the attack.

Trump himself was greeted like a hero at a party retreat in Florida just two days after the Capitol riot, where no mention was made of it, and the attendees re-elected as chairperson his chosen handmaiden Ronna McDaniel, a cheerleader for the insurrection movement, who ran unopposed. Meanwhile, per Heather Cox Richardson, last Friday “Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the Senate effort to challenge Biden’s election…tweeted that Biden was not working hard enough to ‘bring us together or promote healing’ and that ‘vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart.’” 

Good to know.

So no sign of a come-to-Jesus moment for the GOP at large, at least not so far.

It remains to be seen how this plays out in the long term. Many are the column inches being devoted to that debate, and whether the Republican Party will eventually break with Trump  and reform itself, or if it will split in two, or if it will stick with Cheeto Benito and go down in ignominy. Non-spoiler alert: I don’t know the answer. 

But I also don’t know how we can we fight a potential insurgency like this one when one of our two major parties kinda sorta supports it. How we can beat these terrorists when the GOP downplays their violence and pursues policies that abet it, when millions of fascist-friendly Americans are sympathetic to them, when we don’t know how many members of our armed forces, and our police departments, and even the CIA and FBI and Secret Service are actually working for the other side?

THE LONG WAR, PART II

This kind of right wing uprising in the wake of a Trump defeat was always on the table, but until now it has still felt remote and theoretical. No more. And with what we saw on January 6, it seems tipped to get even worse. 

Yeah, maybe the violent strain of pro-Trump domestic terrorism will peter out in favor of mere grumbling and low-boiling White grievance at Kid Rock shows. But I’m not betting on it. If not, we will have to face the fact of an enduring right wing guerrilla war within the US, waged by a committed, well-armed American terrorists happy to kill their fellow citizens. Inauguration Day in particular brings the risk of violent, Tet-style simultaneous attacks on state capitols all over the country, as well as at the big show in DC. That really has the stink of proto-civil war about it.

Immediately after Biden’s win in November, I posted an essay called “How We (Narrowly) Avoided a Coup.” I took some grief for being premature, and although I stand by my assertion, I’ll admit it would be fair to view the Democratic victory on Election Day as merely one battle in a slower-burning coup attempt that continued to unfold in the weeks that followed, finally coming to a head on January 6th. And we’re not entirely home free yet. Even once we are, and Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, it may mean only a new phase in the fight. 

Within the Pentagon and defense community, there is another more clinical and more clear-eyed name for what the Bush administration’s marketing and branding whizzes dubbed the Global War on Terror. 

They call it The Long War.

What we are entering now might be a whole new chapter in it. 

We better get ready.  

*********

Photo: Pro-Trump terrorists in balaclavas and tactical gear, carrying zip ties for hostage-taking, during the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Credit: Getty Images

This blog also available on Substack and Medium.

Will There Be a Reckoning….or a Repeat?

This may get a little stream-of-consciousness. When you’re in the middle of a dystopian nightmare, disciplined E.B. White style prose becomes challenging. 

Also, I’ve been microdosing. 

(1000 mikes washed down with Henry McKenna straight from the bottle is still a microdose, right?)

So where to begin? How about with the emerging details of what the hell went on during four of the most appalling and surreal hours in American history. 

THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON

The videos that have begun to emerge from inside the Trumpist mob that stormed the US Capitol paint a far more terrifying portrait than first appeared. Live TV footage on the day seemed weirdly casual, like a tailgate party, as many commentators remarked. But these new images—from freelance camerapeople and some even from the rioters themselves—show thousands of angry thugs bum-rushing the building, smashing windows and vandalizing property, screaming obscenities and threatening murder, physically attacking journalists and bizarrely placid Capitol Police officers (“Fuck the blue!”—so much for Blue Lives Matter), and even attempting to chase down fleeing members of Congress. Whom they were apparently bent on kidnapping and executing.

Overweight armchair revolutionaries engaged in cosplay suitable for a Raiders game dominated the early press coverage—“Vanilla Isis,” as BLM founder Alicia Garza dubbed it. But mixed amid these clowns were at least a handful of hardcore alt-right saboteurs in body armor and balaclavas, carrying zipties for hostage taking, as well as firearms and Molotov cocktails. 

Ironic that, amid the anti-mask crowd, the most dangerous people may have been the ones keen to cover their faces. 

These American brownshirts were proper terrorists, and they weren’t playing. We now know that they intended to take Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and perhaps other Congressional leaders hostage, and to lynch Pence (at a minimum) from a tree on the Capitol grounds, or on the homemade gallows that many saw on TV. That would have been a horrific image worthy of the worst Fourth World banana republic or Islamist hellscape, and we’re only now realizing how close we came. 

(I guess even being the most reliable Trump lickspittle is not enough for these folks, is it Mike? Geez, you dutifully polish Trump’s nob daily for four years, but when you say “no” one time…..)

We also have to assume that there were undercover foreign intelligence agents co-mingled within the mob—it would be professional malpractice by our enemies if there were not. That means that the entire US Capitol building and its environs are compromised, and every square inch, every light fixture and computer and piece of electronic equipment has to be disinfected if not replaced, and the whole place swept for bugs (not to mention bombs). So that happened.

More stories and images are sure to come out in the ensuing days, and I doubt they’ll be any more heartwarming. One anonymous federal law enforcement official called it “the darkest day for the United States since 9/11.” But there have been many such days under Trump. This one, I fear, marks not a finale but an appetizer.

LET ‘EM IN

The shocking inability—or unwillingness, or at the very least ill-preparedness—of law enforcement to deal with this incursion remains a topic of heated debate, and will for some time I am sure. It’s clear that the Capitol Police were out of their depth; what’s less clear is who failed to anticipate the kind of security forces that would be needed, and why. The post-mortem (literal, in some ways) will go on for months and even years as we try to untangle this colossal failure.

As I wrote earlier this week, prudence in deploying the US military domestically is not the worst thing. (Nor abroad either, for that matter.) In fact, the mood within the Pentagon right now is pretty angry and resentful, I’m told. You didn’t want troops in the streets after criticism of last summer’s reaction to BLM protests? Well, you got your wish. 

I am very sympathetic to that view. Troops in the streets adjudicating an election is a bad look for a democracy

Unfortunately, the unintended result of that abundance of caution was the demonstration of a blatant double standard— even if it was only accidental—in which peaceful Black and progressive protestors are tear gassed, beaten, and brutalized by National Guard MP battalions, militarized riot cops up-armored for the streets of Fallujah, and Putin-style little green men in unmarked uniforms, while truly violent White right wing insurrectionists get handled with kid gloves and damn near shown a red carpet.

Not a great look for a democracy either. And what’s worse, it’s not at all clear that the double standard was accidental. 

It’s true that, as ugly as Wednesday was, another Kent State or Tiananmen would have been worse, not only in terms of bloodshed but in that it would have allowed the radical right to take the moral high ground (much better than taking the Rotunda) and portray itself as valiant martyrs, painting law enforcement and the legitimate authorities as the villains. Even as it is, over in Fox Nation there’s risible bullshit about how this was really the work of antifa in disguise, irrationally sitting cheek by jowl with pride at what the alt-right did. That claim, of course, belongs with OJ’s hunt for the real killers, the Utah moon landing, and Mel Gibson’s views on the Holocaust. 

But prudence in avoiding a bloodbath and debunking the deceitful right-wing narrative are not excuses for wanton dereliction of duty. Even taking into account the Pentagon’s understandable desire to stay out of domestic unrest, every knowledgeable professional in the security, law enforcement, and military communities surely understood the threat that this rally posed, or should have. Its organizers didn’t exactly practice airtight opsec: for weeks they had heavily advertised their intent to engage in mayhem. Hell, the alt-right has regularly demonstrated its eagerness to do so, from Charlottesville to Kenosha to Lansing. Radical right wing message boards and other forums were chockablock with details and plans for a violent uprising. As Prof. Jason Johnson noted on MSNBC, if there was this much chatter about fomenting violence on the Black Internet, the whole country would have been on lockdown. 

Doubt it? We all saw the photos of National Guardsmen in full Darth Vader kit standing three deep on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last summer, as opposed to the kind and gentle boys in blue that the Trump goons were met by. (Not to malign the Capitol Police, one of whose brave members gave his life, killed after being smashed in the head with a fire extinguisher. But the disparity was stark.) 

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) rightly asked why there were no undercover cops infiltrated into the mob, COINTELPRO style. There may have been, but if so, they didn’t seem to do much. It’s far more likely that members of the alt-right have infiltrated various police departments, as well as fire departments, first responders, and the military. (Rep. Bass also had a priceless tweet about the FBI’s after-the-fact hunt for the instigators.)

Compounding the injustice, Tom Hall of The Back Row Manifesto points out that it is a false equivalence from top to bottom to compare Trump’s goons to Black Lives Matter or its related movements. First off, BLM arises from a legitimate grievance, as George Floyd’s crushed windpipe attests. (See also: Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, and the whole history of the USA.) Trump’s mob stems from a vile lie spread by a demagogue.

Moreover, the BLM demonstrations that arose in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s state-sponsored murder were largely peaceful (sorry, Fox, but it’s true) and were met with disproportionate force by law enforcement. This week’s obscenity in the Capitol was a full-blown riot met with lollipops and candy canes. Brutal suppression of these right wing aggressors would have been WHOLLY appropriate, even if it still would have given up lots of ground on the propaganda front. 

But there’s another fallacy at play in the idea that restraint was the driver of the limp response to this attack. There’s a huge gap between tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of a coup d’état (or even suppressing one) and the prudent and proper protection of the United States Capitol and the members of the US Congress during the discharge of their fundamental  duties. At a minimum, there was an unforgivable cockup in communication and coordination. (The sheer complexity and confusion of overlapping—or non-overlappping—security agencies in the District of Columbia, with its weirdly unique status, was also part of the problem. Maybe look into fixing that, guys—with statehood, perhaps.) But it goes deeper than that still.

The argument I’ve heard from credible sources I know within the homeland security community is that the relevant authorities truly did not anticipate how serious the threat would be. 

Per Prof. Johnson, that is a cruel joke, but it speaks to the systemic, subconscious, deeply ingrained racism in law enforcement across America. As Masha Gessen has written, it may well be true that the authorities genuinely did not see these Trump supporters—mostly conservative White dudes, like the mandarins of the law enforcement and community themselves—as a pressing danger. A bunch of Black protestors and left-leaning allies on the other hand? Call out the cavalry!

That they sincerely didn’t see these furious, armed, openly-violence-promoting White men as a threat is the very problem. 

BRING IT ON

Over the past two days I’ve also spent some time reading interviews with some of these pro-Trump insurrectionists. Mostly they are incoherent and insane. But apropos of the law enforcement response, one thread stands out and strikes me, and that is their jeering, inflated sense of their own physical power as they brag about what they will do “next time.”

Now to be fair, they have reason to be arrogant after being treated so gently by law enforcement this week….and in Michigan when they tried to kidnap and murder the governor, and in Kenosha after Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people dead with an AR-15 and walked right past the cops who let him go, having earlier given him water and told him they appreciated what he and his pals were doing. And of course there have only a relative handful of arrests, ongoing investigations notwithstanding.

But the delusion of these racist fuckwads that they can scare us with what they might do “next time” is wildly misplaced. 

So if any pro-Trump would-be rebels are reading this (if, in fact, you can read at all), let me offer you some friendly advice.

One of the main reasons the good and decent citizens of this nation are appalled by your behavior this past week, apart from its inherent criminality, is that you were treated with such unjustified gentleness. I can assure you, as a professional infantry soldier myself once upon a time, you will not fare well against proper law enforcement and security forces operating the way they are supposed to, let alone the US military, should you have any delusions of actual insurgency or civil war. 

Consider yourself duly counseled.

THE END OF TRUMP

So there is a lot to sort through in the fallout of this epic national security failure and bald demonstration of inherent racial bias. (But speaking of which, didn’t we just suffer “the worst intelligence failure since 9/11” with the Russian cyberattack that was revealed right before Christmastime? Jesus, we’re having a bad run. But this one was worse, because we did it to ourselves.)  

Sadly, a 9/11-style commission playing who-shot-John will be the easy part. The hard part will be isolating and cutting out the cancer that engendered that failure in the first place, beginning with holding accountable those responsible. 

Lacking a time machine, we can’t go back to the origin of the “paranoid style” and hatemongering racist demagoguery that is so baked into the American experiment. Instead, we will have to constrain ourselves to the current leaders of that movement. 

Trump of course is the alpha monster in that category, and he must be dealt with like a Hell’s Angel on PCP armed with a flamethrower loose in a nursery school. 

Trump’s lie about the theft of the election was the match that lit this fire, but his entire despicable political career is what built the pyre. Even though the effort is predestined to fail in the Senate, he richly deserves to be the first US president ever to be impeached twice. (For Trump, though, getting kicked off Twitter is worse.) “Some people ask: Why would you impeach and convict a president who has only a few days left in office?” wrote Bernie Sanders. “The answer: Precedent. It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the U.S. government.” 

Failing that, there is the 25th Amendment, though that seems just as unlikely, given Pence’s cowardice. (Hey, turns out I do agree with Trump’s goons on that point, though for diametrically opposed reasons.) Jonathan Swan of Axios has reported that a de facto 25th Amendment is already in effect, in that senior members of the Trump administration are simply acting as if he is not the president for the remaining eleven days of his term. I suppose that’s a good thing, safety of the planet-wise, although it’s not how the US government is supposed to work. But the US government has not remotely been working the way it’s supposed to for the past four years. 

In light of this leadership vacuum, former FBI counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggests that our enemies are right now calculating how to take advantage of this unique moment of American chaos, to include whether this is a rare opportunity to make aggressive moves that they otherwise could never make. Invasion of South Korea anyone? Crushing of dissent in Hong Kong? Annexation of the rest of Ukraine?

And what of Trump’s behavior during all this? 

For an odious bully who has undeservedly gotten every possible privilege in life and escaped repercussions for even his most despicable acts, Donald has always been a remarkably unhappy motherfucker. I’ve never seen a genuine laugh come out of his mouth, and only forced grins, even when he ought to be on top of the world. Wednesday was in some ways the best day he’s had in years, and yet reports are that he couldn’t even enjoy that, spending most of the day in a rage, fuming at Mike Pence’s so-called betrayal and other perceived injustices he believes he has suffered.

The Washington Post reports that he was completely out of contact with his own VP—as well as Schumer, McConnell, and Pelosi—while the mayhem raged and they were locked down in a secure location, displaying no interest in trying to coordinate a response to the riot he started. Instead he sat in the White House and watched it on TV, “bemused” (that’s a direct quote) at what was happening and pleased that the mob was “literally fighting for him.” “But at the same time,” the Post reports, “he was turned off by what he considered the ‘low-class’ spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.”

Incredible. A psychopath who doesn’t even understand his own responsibility for unleashing that violence, not to mention an asshole who looks down on his own supporters. It’s no wonder that some of them have, at long last, begun turning on him.

Trump apparently could not be persuaded to call for calm, rebuking his advisors for even asking, and prefiguring Fox talking points by making specious comparisons to the BLM protests. Pathetically, aides were forced to try to sway him by posting messages on Twitter. (Now that won’t even work.) Speaking on condition of anonymity, one described him as “a total monster,” and compared him to mad King George III.

Worst movie of the year? Relax, Hillbilly Elegy—it might be the nauseating video of Don Jr. and Kim “The Best Is Yet To Come” Guilfoyle partying before Don Sr. spoke to the mob and kicked off this whole obscenity. Then there was Trump’s own hostage-style video in which he tried to do some damage control, released only after it became clear that he was in deep doo-doo, as George Bush would say. (And there was at least one weird cut in it. Paging Rose Mary Woods.) Reportedly he had to be bludgeoned into doing even that, and has since expressed regret about making the video at all.  

INSTANT KARMA’S GONNA GET YOU

In addition to prompting calls for his impeachment, resignation, or removal, Trump’s actions had some other immediate And self-destructive implications.

The odds that Pence will pardon him have now plummeted….but the odds that Trump will self-pardon—already high—have skyrocketed. If he even suspects that there is any risk he might be removed, he will move to pardon himself sooner rather than later, perhaps in the next few days. Ironically, for him to try this now, in the wake of his clear culpability for the events of this past week, will surely prompt a tremendous outcry. Not that that would ever deter him, nor affect the courts’ verdict on the attempt, but it will put this shameless ploy in an even more glaring context.

The talk of Trump’s chokehold on the GOP forever and ever amen, a near article of faith as recently as this past Tuesday, has also taken a severe hit. 

Until this week, there was also debate about what kind of legal consequences Trump ought to face for his various sins, balancing the good of the country with the demands of justice, Nixon-like. Now that debate is over. The two are one and the same. A consensus has quickly emerged that Trump must be held accountable to the full extent of the law, and so must his followers, from Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows to the guy with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. More on that it a moment.

As my friend Bob Mastronardi quipped, “Am I alone finding irony that the aftermath of a Trump rally could be the final nail in his political coffin?”

That said, I remain wary of predictions that this is the GOP’s final break with Trump. We have all been Lucy-and-Charlie-Brown-with-the-football’ed too many times. But with this latest atrocity, Trump may have really done lethal damage to once-solid predictions of his post-presidential power. Once again he is his own worst enemy….which is no mean feat, given how much the rest of us hate him.

THE SENATOR FROM MISERY

So let’s talk about the culpability of the rest of the fellow travelers on the Trump Train to hell.

As we’ve observed over and over, Trump did not hijack the Republican Party or the conservative movement, as some would have us believe: he is the natural result of the toxic politics in which it has been trafficking for decades. In that regard, Trump has many enablers who are also to blame, both for this specific crime and for the broader pattern that led up to it. 

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser writes:

For four years, Trump has made war on the constitutional order, on the institutions of American democracy, and on anyone who stood in his way. Almost all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill let him do it. They aided and abetted him. They voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. They endorsed him for reëlection and even acceded to his request not to bother with a Republican Party platform. The Party’s ideology, henceforth, would be whatever Trump wanted it to be. 

Republicans had accepted the “perfect” phone call with Ukraine, the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, the “love” letters with Kim Jong Un, the monetizing of the Presidency for Trump’s personal gain, the unseemly firings and policy diktats by tweet, the politicization of the Justice Department, and the menacing war against the journalistic “enemies of the people.” 

Even after Trump decisively lost the election, Republicans across Washington went along with him as he spread lies and conspiracy theories, filed baseless lawsuits, and raged when judges threw them out, as they did again and again. When Trump called for a final reckless coup against the constitutional order, many were willing to follow him even to this legal, political, and moral dead end—cynical opportunists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, in the Senate, and a majority of House Republicans, including their leader, Kevin McCarthy, of California. 

When it comes to this latest offense, no one bears more blame than Hawley. 

The January 6 rally was long planned for the day that Congress, by law, was set to certify the results of the Electoral College, Trump’s last procedural chance to overturn the election before he is left with only martial law and other extremes. But that otherwise routine ceremony turned into something much more fraught when the callow and uber-ambitious Sen. Hawley announced that he was going to object to that certification for no good reason other than his desire to kick off his 2024 presidential campaign. 

Even after witnessing the unspeakable events that unfolded earlier that day, Hawley pressed on with his pointless and reckless kabuki, and did not exactly cover himself with glory in his late night speech on the floor of the Senate. As former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted: “So Hawley helped to spark this incredible awful day in American democracy because he disagreed with mail-in voting in Pennsylvania? Really? Did I miss something or was that it?” 

Hawley’s jawdroppingly dishonest and opportunistic behavior will live in infamy. So it’s fitting that a man so ambitious and pathologically willing to commit an act of such wanton immorality should experience such a steep fall. 

Overnight Hawley became one of the most hated figures in American life. He lost his sweetheart book deal, his mentor (retired Missouri Senator John C. Danforth called championing him “the worst mistake I ever made in my life,”), and his future as a rising Republican star. His Senatorial career is in tatters and his presidential ambitions are dead as disco.

Josh-o predictably whinged about censorship, which is REALLY beginning to make me question the value of a fancy Ivy League education. To state the fucking obvious, Josh, as a free marketer, you might recall that censorship is a matter of governmental action, while Simon & Schuster is a private business, and free speech under the First Amendment does not entitle you to a fat book deal from a prestigious publisher. 

But Hawley should face a lot harsher consequences than just that.

He should be censured, if not outright expelled from the Senate. If he had an ounce of decency, he would resign. (If he were a Japanese politician, someone would hand him a tanto.) His career in public life should be over, of course, consigning him to the dark corners of the right wing mediasphere, where he can always earn a well-feathered living and be celebrated by the other cretins. I’m not worried about Josh being able to feed his family.

But it’s not at all clear that any of that will happen. Josh Hawley may yet be a viable presidential candidate in 2024, even if it’s under the banner of a new far-right party, or the current Trump—er, Republican—Party, should it not conduct a thorough cleansing. 

The real question is, can America heal sufficiently such that Josh Hawley for practical reasons can’t muster any significant support as a viable national politician?

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

As Glasser notes, Hawley is far from alone in his responsibility for this dog’s breakfast.

After Josh first announced his spotlight grabbing stunt, the reliably reptilian Ted Cruz all but tripped over himself trying to out-monster him, no doubt kicking himself that the junior douchebag from Missouri got there first. So another silver lining this week was that it might have been the end of Ted Cruz’s political career as well, or at least his already shaky presidential ambitions. Let’s hope so. These guys can never be allowed to go back to pretending that they are acceptable, garden variety pols who didn’t foment this atrocity and the damage it did to America, and America’s standing in the world, not to mention the loss of human life.  

And there are many others. Watching DeVos, Chao, Mulvaney, Barr, Peggy Noonan, John Kelly, et al suddenly discover their consciences in the final twelve days of this hell voyage is a bitter joke. With the Cabinet officers in particular, it is more likely sheer cowardice in order to avoid a vote on the 25th Amendment. But they shouldn’t be mortified, Bonnie Kristian of The Week, they should be repentant. 

“I’ve tried to be helpful,” a smug and grinning Lindsey Graham told his colleagues on the floor of the Senate, hoping to cover his ass as he attempts to extricate himself from Trumpworld now that it’s gone to shit. Thanks, Lindsey—I think we’ve had about all the “help” from you we can take.

Asked about a second impeachment, Graham waffled, saying he hoped the worst of Trump’s reign was now behind us, then offered that if Trump did something else really bad in the next twelve days, “all options would be on the table.”

Hear that, Donald? We’re serious this time. We’re giving you ONE MORE CHANCE.

(*Susan Collins nods somberly.)

Craven as these all-but-meaningless eleventh hour defections are, they may at least mark the long overdue beginning of the end of Trump’s reign of terror and this Salem-like period of mass hysteria. Maybe. But then I look up and see Lucy Van Pelt holding that football again.

All these people and many many others have a lot to answer for (looking at you, Hugh Hewitt), and we should demand that they do so. There can be no mass amnesia, no clemency, no forgive-and-forget. It would not be merciful to do so—it would be suicidal. We’ll be lucky to have survived the Trump era at all, with only the damage we’ve already suffered. If we don’t begin repairs, including holding the guilty to account, it will happen again. 

Thus far, Trump’s enablers have mostly beaten the rap, which is infuriating in itself. The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells, a better gentleman than me, has the courtesy to call Trump’s rallygoers by their preferred name when he writes:

The Save America March featured Roger Stone, who had been convicted in federal court of witness tampering and lying to Congress in connection with the Mueller investigation; President Trump later pardoned him. The march also featured Rudy Giuliani, who had spent years directing Trump’s effort to bully the Ukrainian government into producing damaging information about Joe Biden’s son Hunter—the same effort that resulted in the President’s impeachment. Shortly before the invasion of the Capitol, Giuliani told a crowd near the White House that it was time for a “trial by combat.” He spent several years working to subvert the regular process of elections, got away with it, and now was at it again.

This is yet another aspect of the hypocrisy of which Tom Hall writes:

There is a double system in America now, one for you and me, and one for white nationalists. One for people of color and their allies, and one for Roger Stone and Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. Trumpists are cleared for criminal service of the fascist President’s will, and the rest of us get to eat shit as justice is leveraged as a political weapon.

All true. But the difference is, beginning January 20, a new set of folks are going to be meting out the punishment.

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN

Can the GOP undergo the painful process of reforming itself? Does it have the moral courage to do so, or even the simple desire? The same questions apply to our nation as a whole. 

It won’t be a easy task, and no one thinks it will. How deep and dark is the Trumpian death cult of personality? This dark: A recent poll shows that a majority of Republicans blame Joe Biden for the mob that stormed the Capitol.

The notion that MAGA Nation is just a bunch of harmless dumbasses now ought to be thoroughly discredited. Those pickup trucks flying oversized Trump flags blasting past on the LIE—already disgusting—suddenly seem a lot more menacing. And neither the hateful throng that desecrated the Capitol nor the poison that fed it will fade away without pushback from the rest of us. As Paul Krugman writes, “If you imagine that the people who stormed the Capitol will just go away once Biden is installed in the White House, you’re delusional.”

It’s time to stop appeasing the fascists among us…..there needs to be an accounting for whatever crimes took place during the past four years—and does anyone doubt that Trump allies and associates engaged in criminal acts? Don’t say that we should look forward, not back; accountability for past actions will be crucial if we want the future to be better.

Appeasement is what got us to where we are. It has to stop, now.

If there is no such reckoning, the events of this past Wednesday won’t be a low watermark. They will only be a prelude. 

In fact, even with a reckoning, so much damage has been done to the soul of this country that we will surely have to deal with a violent White nationalist, radical right wing insurgency for some time to come. If we don’t face its toxic wellspring, January 6th may one day look like a walk in the park. 

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Photo: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who once clerked for John Roberts, greeting pro-Trump insurrectionists outside the Capitol before they stormed the building. History will record that this raised fist salute also functioned as his farewell wave to his presidential ambitions.

Credit: Francis Chung E&E News and Politico via AP Images.

It’s Come To This

We’ve known for some time now that there is nothing that is beneath Donald Trump. Not kidnapping and caging children, not kowtowing to dictators, not stealing money from a children’s cancer charity, not bragging about sexually assaulting women, not looking away while bounties are levied on US soldiers, not golfing while a pandemic kills 370,000 Americans on his watch and counting.

But did you think his depths extended to inciting a violent mob to storm the US Capitol in an effort to overthrow the government and keep him in power?

No? Well, in that case, let me welcome you back to consciousness after your coma. 

A SHITSHOW BY ANY OTHER NAME (WOULD STILL STINK)

Let’s be clear about what we just witnessed. In The Atlantic, Yoni Appelbaum writes:

The president of the United States summoned his supporters to Washington, DC, today, and then stood in front of the White House and lied to them, insisting that he had won the election and that extraordinary measures were necessary to vindicate his win. They took his message to heart, marching up the National Mall toward Capitol Hill. Breaking through barricades and police lines, Confederate battle flags dotting the crowd, the insurrectionists seized control of the United States Capitol, putting Congress to flight. 

Hey sticklers, can we call this a coup now? When a defeated president speaks to an angry crowd and eggs them on and then they storm the parliament? You can get back to me.

While heating up his myrmidons, Trump said he would accompany them on that march, which would have been dramatic, but of course in the end he was far to cowardly to do so. But in the larger sense, Trump had already led a metaphorical march that has taken the United States to a place sniffing conservatives repeatedly assured us was never possible.

Here’s David Graham, also in The Atlantic:

For four years, Trump’s critics have been accused of hysteria and hyperbole for describing his movement as fascist, authoritarian, or lawless. Today, as Congress attempts to certify the election of a new president, the president has vindicated those critics. In attempting this coup, Trump has also vindicated the Americans who voted decisively in November to remove him from office.

While we’re on the subject of semantics, kudos to NPR and others for pointedly putting a stop to the practice of referring to these goons as “protestors.” Have we bandied about the word “terrorism” so much that we no longer even recognize the real thing when we see it?

The scene inside the Capitol put me in mind of the Viet Cong penetrating the US Embassy in Saigon during Tet ’68 (not to insult the Viet Cong), or the Iranian “students” occupying the US Embassy in Teheran eleven years later. But humiliation wise, this one was far worse, as we were doing it to ourselves. 

There was one stomach-turning scene after another, including federal law enforcement with guns drawn, and a grinning Trump supporter (a self-identified White nationalist and COVID conspiracy theorist from Arkansas) with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. With fitting symbolism, Trump’s followers also vandalized the camera equipment of the much-hated media. 

More than one invader from this incel-fest was seen carrying a Confederate battle flag, which was at least the proper, historically accurate banner for a bunch of treasonous insurrectionists; the ones carrying the Stars & Stripes offended me more. Some were also seen pulling down a US flag flying outside the building and attempting to replace it with a “Trump” flag. 

Republicans, “conservatives,” and other self-identifying patriots: please tell me more about how Trump hasn’t been so bad, and how his followers are loyal Americans.

POLICE ON MY BACK (NOT)

The tactical failures of the relevant authorities in failing to plan properly for this riot will be picked over elsewhere, I’m sure. Suffice it to say that they could not have been taken by surprise: the event was heavily advertised well in advance and its attendees’ predilection for violence is well-known. Last summer, those same authorities had no trouble turning out vast armies of paramilitary riot cops in full battle rattle to confront BLM protestors engaged in peaceful and legal demonstration. Which storming parliament, by way of contrast, is pointedly not.

Too bad Bill Barr’s not still around. He knows how to clear a crowd

In retrospect, last year’s “Liberate!” protests in Michigan and elsewhere, leading to the attempted kidnapping and murder of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, now look like an ominous harbinger…..and the much-praised restraint of the police in the face of screaming white vigilantes in body armor not so much prudence as dereliction of duty. 

Now as then, right wing respect for law enforcement seemed to have taken the day off. (As Tom Hall of The Back Row Manifesto says, “Enjoying the Blue Lives Matter crowd standing up for their beliefs.”)

It took a while, but even the mainstream media eventually got around to noting that this was the ultimate display of White privilege. To repeat the bleedingly obvious: If a mob of Black people stormed the US Capitol, some of them armed, the response from law enforcement would surely have been a bloodbath….and the reaction from Fox Nation would not have been equivocating op-eds about the right to protest and how we need to understand why these great Americans are so miffed.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid, in particular, was furiously eloquent in contrasting yesterday’s placid police response to the militarized reaction that met the protestors in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder. Had this been a crowd of Black Americans, she noted, they would have wound up “shackled, arrested, or dead.” 

So why, as the sun set yesterday, wasn’t Washington DC packed with Metro Police buses full of Trump insurrectionists with their hands zip tied behind them? Good question, and one that ought to inform our reaction to law enforcement’s handling of future protests by other groups. As the filmmaker Jameka Autry put it: 

So one thing we all witnessed as a nation is that the police actually do know how to de-escalate without force and weapons. Noted.

We will learn more about the delay in deploying the National Guard, which tellingly, was eventually ordered by Pence, not Trump. But when we were told that the bottleneck was at the Pentagon, that was a sure sign that the brass were deliberately trying to stay out of the fray, having already signaled their unwillingness to get involved in any kind of coup-adjacent domestic unrest.  

I don’t think that was the worst thing in the world, in the same way that it was wise of the left not to have deployed counter-protestors that would have allowed Hugh Hewitt, Marc Thiessen & Co. to turn this into a “very fine people on both sides” moment. A Tiananmen-style massacre, on the other hand, or even a reasonably forceful police response, would have only given these fuckers what they wanted, which was martyrdom. 

On that front, there is an instructive clip of a news crew from DC’s WUSA Channel-9, interviewing one of the insurrectionists, an dead-eyed, self-righteous kid from New Jersey in a backward trump cap (and, ahem, a Giants hoodie) who spoke of their actions, and expressed outrage that, after storming the halls of Congress, the police would push back at all. (Defying the time-space continuum, he also suggested their attack on Congress was to protest the police reaction to their attack on Congress, which he deemed extreme.)

Pointing to the police outside the Capitol, he intoned with great gravity, “This cannot stand any more. This is wrong.”

Behold the twisted logic of White Punk-Ass Grievance, which the aforementioned right-leaning media insists we are all duty bound to understand and accommodate. But of course, the actions of this kid and his fellow goons were ultimately self-sabotaging, an inadvertent public service that put on vivid display the sewer that is the MAGA mentality. As appalling as the riot was, it surely did more harm to Trump and Trumpism than anything else. 

After this, anyone know what odds Vegas is giving on Trump’s prospects for 2024?

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Trump himself took his sweet time in making a statement to stop the violence, which he apparently had to be forced into. (And why did we expect otherwise? He wanted the violence. Indeed, he cultivated it and egged it on. It may have be the first pleasant day he’d had since November 3rd.) When he finally did speak—on video, from the eviscerated Rose Garden—he in no way tried to tamp down the temperature. On the contrary, he further stoked his seditious followers’ various grievances, repeating the baseless allegations that the election was “stolen,” vilifying their enemies—whom he called “evil”—telling them “we love you,” and essentially directing them to fall back until he needs them again. Even that is the kind of power in which he sadistically revels.

(Biden, by contrast, went on TV and gave precisely the kind of calm, somber, presidential speech that one wants from the erstwhile leader of the so-called free world.)

And I have no doubt that Trump will call on them again; in that regard, the Rose Garden video was as much a mob-style threat to the rest of America and dictator-style demonstration of his power as it was any kind of appeal for calm.

I guess now we know what he meant during the campaign when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” 

Elsewhere in the First Family of Crime, Ivanka issued a tweet appealing for calm, but also calling the insurrectionists “patriots.” (She quickly deleted it, but on the Internet, everything lives forever.) Her brother opined that “this is not who we are,” but of course it’s exactly who they are. 

The remarks of other Republicans were equally odious, both in their objections to certification of the Electoral College results and the riot that briefly stopped it. (And ironically, curtailed and undermined that purely symbolic but still despicable obstructionism.)

No surprise, leading the pack was Ted Cruz, who along with Trump and Josh Hawley bears significant responsibility for yesterday’s events, and who issued a statement decrying violence whether by “left or right.” 

Fuck you, Ted: stop insulting the American people. 

That also includes your skin-crawling speech on the floor of Congress shortly before the rioters broke in, citing widespread belief in “election fraud” as a danger to the republic that demands the abeyance of Biden’s certification as president-elect, when your team were the ones that made belief in that lie widespread in the first place. (And bonus demerits for holding up as a model of civic pride the Compromise of 1876, which sold out Reconstruction and led to Jim Crow. Unless you meant that deliberately.)

Meanwhile, over in the House, Matt Gaetz was openly promoting the inevitable conspiracy theory, already being spread in the right wing media, that this was a false flag operation by the omnipotent antifa. (Check your bingo cards, because we knew it was coming.) I was waiting with bated breath for someone to decry how Merrick Garland’s DOJ was failing to maintain law and order in our nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, the look on Mitt Romney’s face sitting behind Josh Hawley as he spoke was priceless. I don’t know where Hawley got the gall to stand up and speak at all with the blood—real and figurative—that was on his hands, but I do know this: Irregardless is not a word. (Yeah, I went to Stanford too.)

The image of the callow, uber-educated Hawley—a man who once clerked for John Roberts—giving the raised fist salute to pro-Trump insurrectionists on the east outside the Capitol is one that ought to haunt him forever, and if there were any justice, put an immediate end to his Olympian, stomach-turning political ambitions. (In a scathing editorial largely blaming him for the entire fiasco, his flagship hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Star, reported that Hawley sent out a fundraising appeal to his supporters WHILE the seditionists he inspired were storming the building.)

Speaking of smug, booksmart, clever trousers, Ben Sasse stood on the floor of the Senate and gave a grinning speech about shoveling snow and a lecture on the election of 1800. (“You cannot imagine how much I am not in the mood for a lecture about John Adams from Ben Sasse,” tweeted the intrepid Naval War College professor and Trump critic Tom Nichols.)

An apparently soused Lindsey Graham cracked jokes (while four people died) and began the process of trying to make us think he’s a reasonable politician again and forget that he fellated Donald Trump for the past four years. 

Even Mitch McConnell—or should I say, soon-to-be Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—had the planet-sized huevos to appeal to his Republican colleagues not to be hypocrites in contesting the election. (Cough, cough.) Later, Mitch offered the opinion Senate has faced far greater threats than this mob (yes, and you’re one of them), and that “Criminal behavior will never dominate the United States Congress.”

Let’s just let that sit there a moment.

BLAME ENOUGH TO GO AROUND, Y’ALL

So this is what the United States has descended to under Donald Trump. But not only Trump is to blame—far from it. As the aforementioned Tom Hall wrote, “(T)his day has been incubated by each mollifying word from every, single American who has downplayed the fascist, authoritarian movement that is Trumpism.”

Listen also to Trump’s own former Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General Jim Mattis:

“Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.”

Even Unitary Executive Theory fanboy Bill Barr condemned Trump’s actions, and he’s an openly corrupt disgrace to the legal profession who makes Attorney Generals like John Mitchell and Alberto Gonzales look like Clarence Darrow. Let’s side aside for now his own culpability in bringing us to this pretty pass. 

One of many many sad aspects of the debacle was the way it overshadowed the historic victories of Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Georgia senatorial runoffs, making them Georgia’s first Black and Jewish Senators, respectively. (Who here is old enough to remember the Georgia runoffs, which took place approximately 10,000 years ago?) The impact of those crucial victories, which gave the Democrats control of the Senate for at least the first two years of the Biden administration, may have more practical impact than the riots, even if the riots will surely leave a more lasting psychological scar. 

That is, if the US Senate remains standing by January 20. 

For even if the Republic survives the next two weeks, yesterday doesn’t bode well for a spirit of healing and Kum-ba-ya brand togetherness in the post-Trump era. As the comedian Josh Gondelman tweeted, “Wow, Trump supporters are so eager to help Biden reach across the aisle they’re violently storming the Capitol two weeks before his inauguration! They sure seem like reasonable people, ready to compromise!”

Hey guys, I dunno if this is the right time, but I’d love to talk some more about Hillary’s emails. What a crime against humanity those were, amirite people?

I DON’T HEAR THE FAT LADY, YET

So what comes next?

When it comes to thirteen-day clusters, the one we’re in now promises to be among the most fraught since October 1962. 

We now know, in case there was any doubt, and contrary to still more assurances from his apologists, that there is nothing Trump won’t try.

He might cite the very violence he fomented as reason to declare martial law. There would certainly be angry pushback, at this point even from his own party, but would that stop him? Of course not. If I’d told you yesterday morning that pro-Trump radicals  would breach the Capitol building and temporarily shut down the certification of Biden’s win, would you have believed that?

He has other frightening options too. He might start a war. He might spin up a Reichstag fire, declare a national emergency, and invoke the Insurrection Act, which could piggyback with a Ferdinand Marcos impression and declaration of martial law. And of course, he always has the nuclear codes. 

All these possibilities are why—on top of sheer principle—voices from across the ideological spectrum, from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to David Frum to General (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey, are calling for Trump’s immediate removal, NOW, as a clear and present danger to the republic, whether by impeachment, the 25th Amendment (which Chuck Schumer called for), or a Goldwater-esque demand for resignation. 

Appelbaum again:

The seeds sown by Republican obeisance and congressional quiescence have now yielded their bitter harvest. With his incitement of a direct assault on the people’s house, the president has forfeited his claim to finish his term. The House must again impeach him, and the Senate must vote to remove him. And as it does so, it must bar him from ever again serving in public office.

All the aforementioned repercussions are unlikely, but if ordering thugs to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is not a high crime, what is? Nancy Pelosi should have articles of impeachment being drawn up right now and have a vote in the House today, and Schumer should convene a trial asap, which he has said he would do. Are there 17 Republican senators who would vote to convict? Probably not….though, secretly, the ones with presidential ambitions like Cruz and Hawley, for purely selfish reasons, would surely love to have Trump barred from running for office again.

In any case, make no mistake: this ain’t over. Does anyone really think that what happened yesterday—as horrifying and unthinkable as it was—will be the final or even the worst atrocity Trump has in store for us as the vise closes on him in his remaining two weeks in office? In the next two weeks and especially come January 20, he will likely call on his goons again, if not some even more destructive ploy. After yesterday, the prospect of a routine Inauguration Ceremony is all but unimaginable. (To begin with, the seditionists tore apart the stage that was being built.) The image of Trump physically refusing to leave the White House—with a phalanx of these troglodytes forming a human wall to protect him, and provoking a violent confrontation with law enforcement—is more likely than not.  

Like they say, watch this space. 

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Photo: Film Daily

The World’s Most Dangerous Crybabies

The Trump Party—oh, sorry, it’s still technically known as the Republican Party (the same way Kleenex is technically known as facial tissues, or Vaseline is petroleum jelly, or Dumpsters are mobile garbage bins)—has now made it very clear that it flat-out, indisputably, no-two-ways-about-it does not believe in democracy. 

There is a long chain of events attesting to that conclusion, but in the interest of keeping this blog below Dostoevesky length, let’s confine ourselves to just the most recent: the current crusade by some 140 House Republicans and a dozen Senate Republicans to have the fair and just results of the 2020 presidential election overturned on no grounds whatsoever, except that they’re mad that their party lost. 

Could there be a more blunt example of utter contempt for representative democracy, or the will of the people, or the most basic tenets of our system of government?

No there could not. It’s an unvarnished attempt at a coup d’etat.  

Yes, these cretins have predicated their demand on the claim of “election fraud,” but it’s risible. The GOP has been trying to promote that self-serving hoax for years by way of attempting to disenfranchise tens of millions of American voters, people of color in particular. CNN’s Gregory Kreig neatly captured the irrational, self-fulfilling prophecy of the Republican crusade, noting that their demand rests on the supposed “volume of ‘allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.’ Those charges, of course, are coming from the same cohort of lawmakers now trying to refashion them as evidence to support their actions.” 

Ironically, Trump’s bevy of almost sixty failed lawsuits trying to overturn the election has resulted in a sweeping and definitive rejection of his own party’s longstanding lie on that front, as the US court system has affirmed that no such fraud exists. (And, as Colin Kalmbacher notes in Law and Crime, “Not one of the Republican officeholders objecting to Biden’s victory have objected to their own wins on the same day on the same ballots using the same election systems.”)

Speaking of Kleenex, can we pause for a moment to note what a bunch of crybabies these punks are? This is the same crowd that cackled “fuck your feelings” at overwrought Democrats after the 2016 election, and drove around with bumper stickers reading “Trump Won, Get It Over It.”

Didn’t age well, that stuff. 

Speaking of Vaseline, can we pause to note how the GOP is once again trying to fuck us, and without benefit of lubrication? 

Speaking of Dumpsters, can we note that the one we’ve been living in for the last four years is still on fire? 

PRETENSE AND PRETEND

The recklessness of this Republican ploy, and the risks it poses to our democracy, can’t be overstated. But that is of a piece with Republican behavior throught the Trump presidency. 

It’s true that a handful of random Democrats raised purely symbolic objections to Electoral College certification in the past, but all in cases that was long after the concession of their candidate, who disavowed their efforts. What’s happening now is an active effort to overturn the result, involving a majority of Republican members of the House, with the endorsement of the Vice President who will preside over the proceedings, and the full-throated support of the defeated President, who PS has been musing about declaring martial law and already called for his armed supporters to take to the streets. 

Except for maybe newly elected Alabama Senator and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, the GOP politicians who intend to challenge the certification of Biden’s victory surely know that they have no grounds to do so, and that their effort cannot succeed. Their reasons for objecting, therefore, can only be performative. 

You can say that’s just empty grandstanding, but as Masha Gessen has written at length, performative authoritarianism is merely the test-driving of what aspiring authoritarians hope to get away with in the future. That crunching sound you hear is the Overton window moving. 

Despicable does not even begin to describe it. Michael Gerson of all people, the Bush 43 speechwriter who gave us “axis of evil” and the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud,” called for the names of these seditious Repubicans to be permanently inscribed in marble in a kind of reverse monument to cowardice, rather than the usual heroism that gets statues erected. 

Damn straight. I know they want to present it as an act of principle, but per above, there is no principle in play here except their communal attempt to pander to the MAGA base in the misguided interest of their own careers…. specifically, their own presidential aspirations in 2024. But let’s not for even a millisecond ever let any of these cretinous opportunists try to pretend that they are reasonable, law-abiding politicians (I won’t even use the term “public servant”) who have any business running for dog catcher, let alone president. 

The irony, of course, is that by they are cockblocking themselves by ensuring Trump’s continued chokehold on the GOP into 2024 and beyond. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes:

In giving credence to the President’s baseless claims that he is being cheated out of office, these prominent Republicans are just making it even more likely that, at least as far as the GOP is concerned, there won’t be a post-Trump future but, instead, another lengthy period in which he and his grievance continue to dominate all else.

You think you’re gonna be the Republican nominee four years from now, Ted Cruz? Not unless you do a Freaky Friday-style body swap with Donald J. Trump himself. Or maybe Don Jr., or Ivanka. 

PARTIES DIFFER ON SHAPE OF PLANET

The fact is, the reasons why Republicans are doing this make no difference; that they are doing it at all is the whole issue. If anything, the notion that they aren’t really trying to overturn the election, but rather pursuing some less ambitious but still opportunistic agenda, only makes it worse. 

As Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College, writes in The Atlantic, “Republicans in Congress are pretending to be seditionists—and so they have become, in fact, seditionists.”

No amount of playacting and rationalizing can change the fact that the majority of the Republican Party and its apologists are advocating for the overthrow of an American election and the continued rule of a sociopathic autocrat.

It is possible that they know their last insult to American democracy, on Wednesday, will go nowhere, as well. This is irrelevant: Engaging in sedition for insincere reasons does not make it less hideous. Arguing that you betrayed the Constitution only as theater is no defense.

Indeed, shredding the Constitution purely for personal gain is perhaps the worst of the sins of the sedition caucus. It would almost be a relief to know that these Republicans really believe what they’re trying to sell, that they are genuine fanatics and ideologues who have at least paid us the respect of pitting their sincere beliefs against our own.

So how is the media covering all this? Pretty much like you would expect. 

In the Understatement of the Year Department, The Atlantic’s Russell Berman, an otherwise fine writer, calls the effort to overturn the presidential election by 140 GOP members of the House of Representatives and a dozen GOP senators “a worrisome sign of a fraying commitment to democracy among a significant portion of the GOP.” And he’s not being ironic. Just in case you were wondering how pathetically ill-equipped the cream of the American press corps continues to be when it comes to addressing the rise of neo-fascism in our country. 

(As my friend Walter Sujansky quipped, “JAPAN BOMBS PEARL HARBOR: Worrisome sign of a fraying commitment to peace among a significant portion of Japanese leaders.”)

Berman’s not alone, of course. The Washington Post, continuing its tradition of headline-writing that abets Trump’s alternate reality, ran a story titled, “In extraordinary hour-long phone call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to re-calculate vote.”

“Re-calculate”? As if there is some math error that might be in question?

Sigh. Why did that headline not read “In extraordinary hour-long phone call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to OVERTURN vote”?

A clearer take comes from The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who writes:

Day after day, Republicans—it’s not just Donald Trump—keep demonstrating that they’re worse than you could possibly have imagined, even when you tried to take into account the fact that they’re worse than you could possibly have imagined. One of our two major political parties no longer accepts the legitimacy of elections it loses, which bodes ill for the fate of the Republic.

As Peter Wehner writes in The Atlantic, this is not a good sign for those pollyannas who believed that the post-Trump GOP would move on from its deposed despot….or even be “post-Trump” at all.

The problem with the Republican “establishment” and with elected officials such as Josh Hawley is not that they are crazy, or that they don’t know any better; it is that they are cowards, and that they are weak. 

The single most worrisome political fact in America right now is that a significant portion of the Republican Party lives in a fantasy world, a place where facts and truth don’t hold sway, where “owning the libs” is an end in itself, and where seceding from reality is a symbol of tribal loyalty, rather than a sign of mental illness. This is leading the party, and America itself, to places we’ve never been before, including the spectacle of a defeated president and his supporters engaging in a sustained effort to steal an election.

Nichols again:

The Republicans have gone from being a party that touted virtue to being the most squalid and grubby expression of institutionalized self-interest in the modern history of the American republic.

The members of the public and the institutions of American life should shroud these seditionists in silence and opprobrium in perpetuity: no television interviews, no sinecures at universities or think tanks, no rehabilitating book tours, no jokey late-night appearances, no self-serving op-eds.

The sedition caucus is worse than a treasonous conspiracy. At least real traitors believe in something. These people instead believe only in their own fortunes and thus will change flags and loyalties as circumstances require. They will always become what they pretend to be, and so they cannot—and must not—be trusted ever again with political power.

PEACHTREE 6-5000

What’s all the more galling about this overt Republican attempt at a coup d’etat is that it coincides with one of Trump’s most shameless and brazenly illegal acts as president, which is high praise considering the non-stop shitshow of the past four years. 

What is there left to say about Donald’s hour-long, mob-boss-style phone call attempting strongarm Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his general counsel Ryan Germany into illegally handing him their state’s electoral votes? A kissing cousin of the Access Hollywood tape (gulp), and a perfect bookend to the Zelinskyy call, the Georgia recording is the latest demonstration that Trump is nothing more than a common criminal whose venality knows no bottom. It’s the very definition of abuse of power, it’s a moral outrage, it’s stunningly contemptuous of democracy, the rule of law and the will of the people, and it’s fucking impeachable

But don’t worry, Susan Collins has personally assured me that Trump won’t do it again.

The call itself is almost unlistenable, so pathetic is the President of the United States in his bullying, irrational, unhinged pleading and threatening. (Apparently he called Raffensperger eighteen times before Brad grudgingly took the call. Memo to Donald: you look thirsty, brah.) 

Given the pressure he is under and the cowardice of the rest of his party, Raffensperger’s refusal to buckle is admirable—even though it’s also an inviolable requirement of his job—and that’s the first and last time I expect to say anything positive about a self-described Trump supporter. 

Notwithstanding his proper behavior in this instance, Stacey Abrams reminds us that Raffensperger has been a loyal ally of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in that state’s ugly history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement of people of color. So maybe hold off on his sainthood. But while we’re on the topic of disenfranchisement, let us not overlook the inherently racist component of Trump’s efforts, which involve disregarding the votes from predominantly African-American communities. Hence Never Trumper Stuart Stevens’ pithy and wholly accurate description of Cruz, Hawley, et al as the Jim Crow Caucus.

Of course, there’s little chance of impeachment with only fifteen days left in his term, but it’s heartening to hear state officials like Fulton County DA Fani Willis state publicly that she will not hesitate to prosecute Trump for this crime after he leaves office. (It’s also disturbing to see the US Attorney for North Georgia, Byung J. Pak mysteriously resignthe day after the recording came out. Hmmm—watch this space.)

Speaking of which, this would be a good time to revisit the eloquent and prescient words of Adam Schiff during last year’s impeachment:

He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.

Can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in [this] very election?…..The short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is no, you can’t. You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.

What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent. A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.

Schiff then called on Senate Republicans to do what almost all of them knew in what remained of their hearts was the right thing:

Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member can change the course of history. It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say “enough!”?

Turns out, there was one: Mitt Romney, who not coincidentally has also spoken out forcefully in opposition to this latest stunt by his Senate colleagues. But there were 52 who had no such courage, nor integrity, nor shame. 

THIS AIN’T NO FOOLIN’ AROUND

The other highly germane thing about Trump’s batshit call with Raffensperger is that it gives the lie to the oft-heard claim that he knows he lost to BIden and is merely pursuing this lost cause as a kind of kabuki in order to squeeze money out of his base, or cement his control over the GOP post-presidency, or both. 

Although his actions are indeed having that net effect, it should now be clear that Trump is not fronting in the least in trying to overturn the election. He is not playing twelve-dimensional chess (boy, am I sick of hearing that for the past four years): he actively believes, even now, that he can reverse the outcome of November 3rd and carry out a self-coup.

In that context, these Congressional Republicans willingness to play with fire is even more destructive of the very core of our democracy, given those not-facetious efforts by Trump to hold onto the White House. Sure, this time it will fail, but what about the next time?

How egregious is what they’re doing? So egregious that even some of the usual GOP weasels like Paul Ryan, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey have spoken out forcefully against it. It’s the very first time in the Trump era that any appreciable number of prominent Republicans have given any indication that there is a line they won’t cross. I’ll confess that I am as surprised by that as I am appalled by the actions of Hawley, Cruz, et al. As with Mr. Raffensperger, it’s a measure of how debased the GOP has become that Republicans now get praised simply for using to overthrow the government. 

But not everybody deserves a merit badge. Lindsey Graham—who just a few months ago himself called Brad Raffensperger to pressure him to overturn Georgia’s vote—gets no credit for not joining in this travesty. travesty. (In fact, Graham’s call is what prompted Raffensperger to record the Trump call, in self-defense.) Nor does Tom Cotton, who last summer advocated the deployment of the 101st Airborne Division to put down peaceful BLM protests by American civilians. You don’t get praised for hewing to the bare minimum or morally acceptable behavior. 

So what happens next? I dunno, but I don’t put anything past Donald Trump…..and after the recording that was released this weekend, neither should anyone else. (Not that we needed the tape to prove that.) Anything can happen in a world where cow-antagonist Devin Nunes and pederast-protector Jim Jordan get Presidential Medals of Freedom. (Carpet bombing enthusiast Henry Kissinger, I’ll remind you, has a Nobel Peace Prize.)

The Post’s Dan Balz writes:

Trump will never let this go, not between now and the day he is forced to give up the office and Biden is sworn in, not in the days and weeks and months after that. That he is on a mission is evident, but to what end, other than to avoid the ignominious label of “loser” after a single term in the White House? That, at least, is consistent with the behavior he has exhibited throughout the four years of his presidency. He cares nothing about collateral damage to democracy.

The president, however, is not on this mission alone. Instead, he continues to gather support from members of a party he has remade in his own image.

It is this last point that worries me most going forward, the complicity of his party, comprised as it is of people who may be amoral opportunists, but unlike Donald Trump, are not deranged sociopaths, and therefore ought to know better. But the cowardice they have made their trademark over the last four years shows no signs of abating, not even when the American people have clearly repudiated their Dear Leader.

The last card in Trump’s hand would seem to be a Hail Mary attempt to declare some sort of ginned-up national emergency and call out the US military to keep him in office. We have already discussed in these pages the very long odds of that succeeding. To hammer the point, all ten living former Secretaries of Defense, including two of Trump’s and even war criminals like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, recently issued a statement-cum-warning against the very idea, reading in part:

Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived….

We shall see. But even if we survive this brush with fascism, what the GOP is doing does not bode well for the future. As John Cassidy writes, “If the Republic gets through the next two weeks without a catastrophe, we must surely take steps to protect ourselves against the next would-be authoritarian, which could well be Trump himself in 2024.”

It can’t happen here? It’s happening here right now.

*******

Photos: AFP, Reuters, Wall Street Journal

This blog also available on Medium and Substack

For more essays see The King’s Necktie Archive

Buh-Bye, Annus Horribilis

I’ve rarely been so happy to turn the page on a calendar.

I’m aware that our measurement of time is an artificial construct. I know that, in reality (or is it Reality?) the sun that sets on the evening of December 31, 2020 and rises on the morning of January 1, 2021 is the same star. I am also aware that even the idea of a sun “rising” and “setting” is an anti-Copernican illusion.

In other words, the line dividing 2020 from 2021 is a purely imaginary one.

But as long as we are maintaining arbitrary allegiance to Gregorian calendar, this New Year’s Day merits an assessment of the past 366 rotations of the planet.

They sucked.  

There have been some other very bad years, of course. Just confining ourselves to the United States in the 20th century, there was 1963, from Birmingham to Dallas. There was 1968, from Memphis to Chicago to Saigon to the Audubon Ballroom in New York to the Ambassador Hotel in LA. There was 1980, from the Iranian hostage crisis to the murder of John Lennon to the election of Ronald Reagan.

Reaching further back, needless to say, there was 1941, 1929, or—or as some have noted—any year of the Civil War that you care to name. And all those were years of specifically American tragedy. Other nations have their own dark memories. Ask your Armenian friends about 1915, or your Rwandan ones about 1994.

But 2020, by contrast, offered an ongoing catastrophe on a global scale, one that enveloped the entire planet in a rare communal crisis, and for that it is destined to stand out.

It’s not alone in that league either, of course. The obvious precursor was 1918, which featured the emergence of the last global pandemic, one that killed 50 million people worldwide, as well as the final year of the war to end all wars (spoiler alert: it didn’t), an event that did, however, succeed in profoundly shocking Western civilization with its first taste of industrialized slaughter on a mass scale. It’s proven to have remarkable staying power.

Here in America, our experience of this latest grim plague was made infinitely worse by the criminal malevolence of our monstrous rulers, bringing on wholly unnecessary attendant suffering—physical, psychological, and economic. That part of the catastrophe was anthropogenic, which is a fancy way of saying man-made, and not a boozhy retailer that sells pashminas and pre-distressed housewares….exactly the kind of business that COVID-19 killed.  

I HEARD TELEPHONES, OPERA HOUSE, FAVORITE MELODIES

2016 wasn’t a great year either. It began with Bowie dying, followed soon after by Prince, and it was just getting started.

For me, that year was terrible on a very personal level. In July 2016 my mother Nancy died at the age of 78 after battling ALS for almost two years.

When she was first diagnosed the doctors told us she had about five years to live, which we knew was only a guess, and we were naively optimistic that she would last much longer. But the opposite proved true, and her decline much swifter. My father and brother and I watched this kind, loving, beautiful, artistic woman suffer and degrade under the crushing force of this unbearably cruel disease until she was gone.

We buried her at Arlington, amid the acres of identical white tombstones dress right dress, the military compulsion for order even unto death, as some poet once said. My father put on his dress blues for only the second time in three decades, the previous one being my wedding fifteen years earlier.

There are two kind of people in the world, so they say: those whose mothers have died and those who have no idea what is coming. Even for an adult, the death of a parent leaves a gaping hole, and not only for the lucky ones like me who came from loving families. Those unfortunate souls who had absent or malignant parents merely suffered that loss sooner. In the familiar phenomenon, for months afterward I would catch myself—for instance, when my five-year-old daughter would do something wonderful and my first instinct would be that I must tell my mom, quickly followed by the cold slap of remembering. It still happens to me once in a while, even now.

I was still adjusting to this new, gray-toned world when we were all bludgeoned by a second tragedy a few months later, with the election of the most criminally unfit man ever to occupy the Oval Office. It is awkward to speak of these two events in the same breath, as each seems to dwarf the other in its own way: one so intimate that to measure it against something like politics feels insulting, the other so global and vast that it feels solipsistic to suggest that any personal tragedy compares. But that very contrast made it feel like a sadistic one-two punch.

Even then, I had no idea how bad the next four years were going to be; few of us did. And that was before the plague.

FROM THE BRIM TO THE DREGS

Inarguably, amid all the terribleness, there were two good things happened in 2020. Loyal readers of this blog, I bet you can guess what they were.

The first was the resounding defeat of Donald Trump, presaging his imminent eviction from the White House, a verdict delivered in no uncertain terms by a majority of the American people. Yes, he still poses a danger, and so do his bigoted, benighted followers, and yes there is much work left to do. But his defeat is cause for rejoicing, and for hope that repairs can now begin. Can you imagine how dark this New Year’s would be if November 3rd had gone otherwise? 

The other good thing was the beginning of what my friend the filmmaker Peter Nicks calls the Awakening: a watershed moment in America’s long, slow, often grudging reckoning with the inherent racism that is in our country’s DNA. Tragically, that belated awakening was triggered by the unconscionable torture and murder of one of our countrymen over a period of eight minutes and 46 seconds, by an officer of the law no less, a crime that was only the latest in a long horrific parade of such crimes. The anger and outrage and demands for justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd were wrenching, but long overdue, and therefore not something to lament. They are a battle cry that ought to stir our hearts. The challenge now is to keep that passion up and carry it forward, and not let it be a moment but a movement. 

Let me add another good thing that 2020 brought, amid all the shite. That was the consistent demonstration of human kindness and compassion at its very best, as displayed by people all over the globe—health care workers, first responders, essential workers, and ordinary people of all stripes who rose to the occasion during the calamity of the pandemic. In that regard 2020 was a crucible that revealed both the worst and the best of humankind, as adversity tends to do.

So good riddance, 2020. Your successor promises to bring pain and suffering of its own, but also the promise of rehabilitation, and therefore cause for optimism. Here in America, we will soon be under new management, with adult supervision for the first time in four years. The rollout of the vaccine brings the end of this ordeal within sight, and our return to competent leadership makes me believe that recovery is possible. But we will have to fight for it.

The one thing we’ll never say about this year is that it wasn’t memorable. Which isn’t a compliment when it’s something you’d rather forget.

The Self-Pardon Is Coming

It’s only a matter of time before we wake up one morning and open our newspapers—or web browsers, for you newfangled, tech-savvy youngsters—to read that Donald Trump has pardoned himself.

I’m not saying it will work. But I’m saying he will try.

Trump has been openly inquiring about pardoning himself as far back as 2017. Having apparently skipped high school civics, he infamously claimed that Article II of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want.” And in June of 2018, in the midst of the Russia probe, he addressed the issue in public, tweeting: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.”

Yes, and numerous hockey experts have stated that I am the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer. After all, I’ve asserted it, so it must be true. (Most famous: my triple hat trick in a 9-0 shutout of Toe Blake and the Habs in 1942.)

So it’s not like this idea appeared out of nowhere this week. We’ve all known for sometime that Trump intends to use every lever at his disposal to insulate himself from legal reckoning for his crimes, even a lever that most legal scholars believe is unconstitutional.  

The much feared prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, one of Robert Mueller’s top lieutenants in the Russiagate probe, put it very simply in explaining why he is certain that Trump will try to pardon himself, to wit:

What does he have to lose? Even if the courts reject the attempt, as they are likely to do, Donald will only be back where he is now, and no worse off. Why not try?

True true. And with all due respect to Mr. Weissmann, the only reason I have not wholeheartedly agreed—until now—is that there is a far more foolproof alternative that will achieve the same result.

In lieu of a risky self-pardon, why wouldn’t Trump take the easy layup—switching to a basketball metaphor now—which is to say, resign, presumably at the eleventh hour, so that Pence can pardon him. A self-pardon, after all, would certainly be challenged and is likely to be overturned by the courts, even a Trump-heavy Supreme Court. A pardon by President-for-a-Day Pence, on the other hand, shameless and outrageous though it would be, would surely succeed.

So if Trump is really worried about his post-presidency criminal liability—and he should be—why not go for the sure thing?

I’ll tell you why: because he is an unhinged sociopathic narcissist. And if there was ever any doubt about that, his actions over the past few weeks have obliterated that doubt forever.

I BEG YOUR PARDON, I THINK I’LL DO IT IN THE ROSE GARDEN

It’s not a matter of chutzpah. We have long known there is no bottom to how low Donald Trump will go, on any matter you care to name. But until now I thought he might be more pragmatic Now I realize his sheer craziness vastly outweighs any sense of strategy.

First there were Trump’s attempts to get Congressional Republicans, state officials, and the courts to disregard the will of the voters and award him the election on no grounds whatsoever. This was a scenario that even the Transition Integrity Project did not contemplate, and it contemplated civil war.

Then there was his recent willingness to openly muse about declaring martial law.

Then there was his absolute silence on a Russian cyberattack/espionage operation that informed sources are calling the worse intelligence failure in American history. (Which is saying something. Move over Pearl Harbor and 9/11.)

And of course there has been his outrageous-even-for-him inaction as the pandemic rages, and worse, his willful attempts to creates obstacles for the incoming administration’s ability to deal with it.

In the remaining 24 days before he runs out of the White House with the Presidential silver stuffed into his pants, I am sure he will do even more things that will boggle the mind.

But when it comes to shielding himself from the long arm of the law, it was this latest round of pardons (46 over the course of just 48 hours between December 22nd and 23rd, or about a pardon an hour with two lunch breaks),that convinced me that Weissmann is right. From almost the beginning, the bitter irony of Trump’s vow to “drain the swamp“ of Washington corruption has been baldly apparent. But this raft of pardons is a new low, excusing some of the most corrupt public figures in contemporary American life,  almost all of them rewards for his toadies or allies (which with Trump, is the same thing).

After watching this display, I will be shocked if Trump doesn’t pardon himself.

Although publicly Trump has always been able to rationalize away even the worst defeats, I suspect that privately they eat him alive. Even as he maddeningly seems to get away with every fucking thing, note that he never casually shrugs these things off like a guy who is truly unbothered. Instead, he lashes out while simultaneously seeming to internalize the fake narrative. Witness his reaction to being defeated by Joe Biden.

That is why he clearly does not want to resign and have that stain as part of his legacy. Coupled with his aforementioned sky-high estimation of what he thinks he can get away with—in other words, what he thinks he deserves—it becomes clear that when it comes to shielding himself from legal accountability, he will go for the thing no sane person believes a president is entitled to do.

Recall also that Trump has repeatedly proven to be his own worst enemy, from the Comey firing to the release of the Zelinskyy letter to complaining to a campaign crowd in Erie, PA that he had to come to Erie, PA. Even now, when you think he’d be trying (unjustifiably) to take credit for the COVID-19 vaccine(s), he is unaccountably passing on that opportunity because he is so invested in his claim that the coronavirus is kinda of a hoax, or at least overblown.

In short, Trump is so arrogant, so entitled, so irrationally enamored of his own powers that I am sure he thinks he can get away with a self-pardon. You can understand why he feels that way, having gotten away scot free with the most incredible crimes thought his whole obscenely privileged life with almost no consequences except karmic ones.

He might be right, though I doubt it. But I no longer doubt that he will try.

I DIDN’T GET NOTHING; I HAD TO PAY $25 AND PICK UP THE GARBAGE

Warning: Mansplaining ahead.

Typically a pardon is meant to redress a miscarriage of justice in which an individual has been unfairly punished, or punished out of proportion to his or her crime, or so manifestly paid their debt to society or otherwise rehabilitated him or herself that they are deserving of clemency. By contrast, the people Trump has pardoned during his presidency are the exact opposite of that, a rogues gallery of unrepentant felons who are the very last people deserving of mercy.

This should not comes as a shock to any but the willfully naïve. In the words of Michael Allen Gillespie, professor of political science and philosophy at Duke, “The inevitable result of giving a criminal the power to pardon is that he pardons the members of his criminal conspiracy.”

So whom did Trump pardon in this latest one-two punch? A bunch of corrupt Republican politicians. A cop who needlessly sicced her police dog on defenseless immigrants. The odious duo of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, the former for witness tampering, obstruction, and lying to federal prosecutors, the latter for tax and bank fraud, witness tampering, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. His son-in-law’s father, for making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. (Chris Christie was the US Attorney who put him behind bars. Hey Chris, how does that feel, on top of Trump giving you COVID?)

And there’s more. The four Blackwater contractors he pardoned were responsible for murdering 17 Iraqi civilians in cold blood, including a nine-year-old boy, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. That particular pardon is obviously a favor to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, the billionaire Christian supremacist and war profiteer who has been at the center of several of Trump’s secret foreign policy crimes, and who may be in need of a pardon himself for lying to Congress. (PS Prince is also Betsy DeVos’s brother. And if you don’t know, now you know.)

Speaking to the Washington Post, Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, noted: “Nobody with a straight face can argue that this use of the pardon power is consistent with what the Framers envisioned when they conveyed it in Article II.”

This on top of previous pardons for the likes of Mike Flynn for lying to the FBI, US military personnel convicted and accused of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, right wing troll Dinesh D’Souza for a campaign finance felony, former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik for tax fraud, batshit anti-immigrant Maricopa County (Arizona) sheriff Joe Arpaio for everything under the sun.

(Meanwhile the United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world, disproportionately people of color, with millions of legitimate applications for pardon in which the Trump administration has no interest, unless Kim Kardashian calls.)

Accordingly, there have already been calls for Congress to constrain or even eliminate the presidential power to pardon. That may be a good idea, or not. But as with all the functions of government, it will be impossible to completely legislate our way to a foolproof system impervious to abuse by men of ill will who manage to gain power. Limitations on the awesome power of the presidency as designed by the Framers will always depend in some part on the goodwill of the person occupying that office. And history will record that no one has occupied it with more ill will and bad faith than Donald J. Trump.

MANSPLAINING, PART DEUX

It goes without saying that a “self-pardon” is a contradiction in terms. But the irrationality of the idea will be no deterrent whatsoever to Trump trying it.

Likewise, we all know that a presidential pardon would only inoculate Trump against federal charges. Meanwhile, Letitia James, the New York State Attorney General, and Cy Vance, the Manhattan DA, are waiting with a raft of state and local charges that could put Don behind bars for the rest of his natural life. (More on that in a future post.)   

But if he does in fact take a flyer on this insane idea, we will again see the hypocrisy of the so-called “originalists” among the ranks of American conservatives. In addition to mere common sense, a proper historical reading of the term “pardon” as used in the 18th century definitively rules out the idea that it’s something a president could confer upon himself. I think Roberts, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer will agree, and I think (THINK) Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will too. ACB is a tossup, I think. (THINK.) But if it comes down to this game of chicken, look for Alito, Thomas, and the rest of the Federalist Society to suddenly find a way to disavow their own judicial north star—at least when it comes to a Republican POTUS. (Democratic Presidents need not apply.)

Trump is clearly making hay while the sun shines, knowing that his power will drop precipitously at noon on January 20. He is rewarding toadies, protecting cronies, and trying to undo the legacy of the Russia probe……which he can try all the live long day, but ironically, will only have the bet effect of further cementing his place as the worst and most corrupt US president ever.

Though the pundits keep insisting that his influence over the GOP will endure, already we see the Trump mystique deflating, as his own party for the first time is about defy him by overriding a veto, in this case, his Confederacy-defending attack on the defense appropriations bill. (Admittedly, the mere circumstances for a veto, or overriding one, have rarely come up, given the way McConnell has blocked any and all legislation.) Meanwhile Trump continues to stick his thumb in the GOP’s eye by blowing up a hard-won COVID relief bill, while threatening that he’s keeping track of who’s been naughty and nice to him.

And we all know that this latest slate of pardons is really a warmup for the big ones to come.  Pardons for Ivanka and Jared and Don Jr and Eric all go without saying. Surely on that list too is Steve Bannon, who is already under indictment, and Rudy Giuliani, who soon will be. And as with Nixon there will be no requirement for an overt admission of guilt, even though the acceptance of a pardon by definition implies one. Trump and his family and his cronies will take the pardons while at the same time insisting they did nothing wrong….the polar opposite of a principled, innocent man sitting in prison who refuses a pardon because of that inherent admission of guilt.

Accordingly, you would think that a self-pardon is the sort of thing that might at long last make Trump’s Kool-Aid drunk supporters acknowledge his stunning criminality. But of course they won’t. We all know that MAGA Nation is completely impervious to reason, stuck in its Bizarro World alternate reality were day is night, good is bad, ignorance is wisdom, and freedom is slavery. Therefore they will nationalize it like they rationalize everything he’s ever done, crying that “He had to do it, to protect himself from the vindictive Democrats!”

This with a guy who claimed only the guilty have to take the Fifth Amendment. As an admission of irredeemable guilt, a self-pardon makes taking the Fifth look laughable.

It will be the perfect punctuation point at the end of this kakistocratic administration.

COSA NOSTRADAMUS

I am not really in the business of making predictions. It’s true that this past October I had a post called “The Impending Arrest of Joe Biden,” but that was not a serious prediction so much as an attempt to provoke discussion about just how far Trump would go to steal the election. (Though it wouldn’t have shocked me if Don had tried it.)

This forecast of a self-pardon, however, is a legitimate attempt at prophecy.

Of course, maybe a pardon won’t be necessary. Maybe Trump will yet again pull a rabbit out of the hat and manage to stay in office. We will soon learn more details of who was behind the Nashville Christmas bombing—nice callback to Nixon, btw—but let’s start an office pool: how long before Trump uses it as a Reichstag fire to invoke the Insurrection Act or even martial law, or at least advance his musings about it?

In the mean time, let us stop to ponder how we can to be the country we are, with domestic terrorism on the rise, a pandemic whose death total is approaching that of our casualties in World War II, and a president who occupies himself golfing, trying to subvert a fair election, and pardoning his cronies. And likely himself.

********

h/t Joe McGinty for the Rose Garden joke. Blame him, not me.

The Future of a Delusion

In the summer of 2016, when it looked like Hillary Clinton was going to annihilate Donald Trump, there were a lot of think-pieces about the bleak future of the Republican Party. Many of them asked if November would be the end of the GOP altogether, how it could possibly reinvent itself for an America whose demographics were evolving against it, or even asserted that it might never be able to put up a credible presidential contender again.

Also, that Hillbilly Elegy was going to be a great movie.

As we know, reports of the elephant’s death proved Mark Twain-esque in their exaggeration. Instead of getting obliterated, the Republican Party took the White House, both houses of Congress, and tightened its stranglehold on the federal judiciary (the Supreme Court above all), not to mention governorships and statehouses nationwide. It was the Democrats who were cast into the wilderness, left to wring their hands and gnash their teeth over what went wrong.

But as it turns out, that election may have destroyed the Republican Party after all….not because of Trump’s defeat, but because of his victory.

THE VERY SILLY PARTY

The damage Donald Trump has done to the GOP over the last four years—with its eager cooperation, I hasten to note—has been far worse than what would have been wrought by a simple electoral defeat in 2016.

First, of course, there is the record of what Trump has done to the country, which is akin to what a baby does to a diaper. We need not recount that here; you can get a sense just by listening to the wail of the ambulances, by observing the breadlines, and by drinking in the poison of right wing cable news, while waiting for historians to produce their withering, encyclopedia-length surveys on the subject.

But political parties routinely recover from periods of terrible leadership, even historically abysmal ones. What is likely to be more enduring is how he has transformed the GOP itself.

Since securing the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016, Trump has vastly remade the party in his own image. It is now undeniably the Trump Party in all but name, one committed to no principles whatsoever except what Donald Trump wants. No kidding: that was literally its platform at the 2020 Republican National Convention. (“The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”) Its historical positions on deficits, on Russia, on trade, on the projection of military power? Shitcanned.

Don’t get me wrong: the Republican Party was not exactly the picture of health four years ago. No party that nominated Donald J. Trump in the first place could possibly claim to be. The GOP itself willingly sowed the seeds for the ascent of this cretin over many many years of increasing extremism, and I say that ruefully as a former registered Republican, circa 1984. (Not proud of that.) 

The Republican Party has promoted a regressive economic policy since the days of Coolidge and Hoover. It has an ugly history of nativism going back at least to the Twenties (the previous Twenties—and they’re back!). It has been the world leader in red-baiting since the days of the New Deal, reaching its apotheosis with McCarthy. It swooped into the vacuum created by LBJ with the Civil Rights and Voting Acts to craft the race-baiting “Southern Strategy” that turned Dixie bright red, a color scheme only now beginning to alter. It gave us the plutocratic cruelty of the Reagan Revolution and the hoax of supply side economics, and proudly led the way on an aggressive, neo-imperialist foreign policy with a special interest in bombing the shit out of yellow and brown people.

So Trump’s rise was not a hostile takeover, no matter how much “moderate” Republicans would like us to believe that it was. Rather, it was the logical destination of a path down which the party had been heading for quite some time, and I do mean down. (For my money it was the ascendance of Newt Gingrich in the ‘90s that really put the GOP on the road to Trump’s gilded door, but that’s a tale for another day.)

Still, Trump’s, er, leadership steeply accelerated that decline, delivering the GOP to a state of moral turpitude unseen in modern times. This is a party that has become fully committed to a openly racist, white nationalist, proto-authoritarian, kleptocratic far right agenda pursued through a scorched earth policy of lies, disinformation, and demagoguery.

Now, with Don’s imminent eviction from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Grand Old Party stands at a crossroads. Trumpism has been angrily, definitively repudiated by a majority of the American people. Even so, its followers—his followers, to be precise—remain a potent force in our politics, albeit a nihilistic one with a severely limited long term future. Surveying that landscape, will the GOP stick with its current configuration as a neo-fascist cult-of-personality, or will it change course?

In other words, as the post-Trump era begins, the Republican Party is going to have to decide whether that era is really going to be “post-Trump” or not.

A NEW KIND OF EX-PRESIDENT

Many observers believe it’s not even a question. The GOP doesn’t seem capable of quitting Trump, even if it wanted to, and it’s not at all clear that it does.

Leading the pessimists is the Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last, and he’s pretty convincing:

Raise your hand if you think (Donald Trump) will retire to Mar-a-Lago and delete his Twitter account.

It seems much more likely—maybe inevitable—that once he leaves office, Trump will continue to tweet and call in to cable news shows. Perhaps he will even attend political rallies, which is the part of the job he seems to enjoy most.

There is no reason to think—none at all—that he will discontinue his penchant for weighing in on American politics on an hourly basis. There is every reason to think that he will vigorously attack any Republican who was disloyal to him during his administration. Or retroactively criticizes his tenure. Or runs in opposition to one of his preferred candidates. Or jeopardizes any of his many and varied interests.

Trump is not a caretaker of the Republican party. He is the owner.

Heather Cox Richardson tends to agree:

While a losing incumbent president usually loses influence in the party, Trump intends to continue to call the shots. He wants to run again in 2024, or at least to anoint a successor, rather than letting the Republican National Committee pick a presidential candidate. There is a struggle going on to control the RNC and, as well, to figure out who gets control of the lists of supporters Trump has compiled. Trump also controls a lot of the party’s money, since he has been out front as its fundraiser without a break since he decided to run for office. He was the first president ever to file for reelection on the day of his inauguration, permitting him to hold “rallies” and to raise money throughout his presidency.

So Republican lawmakers are willing to swear loyalty to him, either because they want to attract his voters in future elections, or because they want access to the cash he can raise, or both. They no longer defend traditional policy positions; they defend Trump.

This transformation of the Republican Party will long outlive Donald, with his cheeseburgers-and-Diet-Cokes diet. Even more than Trump himself, the Republican Party now seems committed to Trumpism. Even as he is kicked to the curb by the mass of the American people, his fellow Republicans are holding fast to that paradigm—for now—even when they have strong practical reasons not to.

Jonathan Last goes on, arguing against the view of “(h)ard-headed Trump-skeptical Republicans” who “like to talk about how it’s important to preserve some room to maneuver so that when Trump eventually leaves the stage, the hard work of rebuilding the Republican party can begin.”

But that view is predicated on the realities of politics as they existed in 2015.

Until Trump’s election, the working model for American politics was that parties were ideological organizations, not personality cults…..

The post-Trump future may be different: A world where the former president calls into cable shows while tweeting 150 times a day, settling scores, attacking members of his party who he deems insufficiently loyal and paving the way for his son to inherit the office.

(W)hat’s remarkable is that the old system lasted for as long as it did.

The Republican party is now a family-controlled syndicate which will run the business until either a rival gang takes them down or the feds catch up with them. Whichever view you choose, the arrangement will continue as long as Donald Trump has thumbs and a smartphone.

Last thinks the answer to the question posed by this essay is settled. “The election is over. Trump lost. But the battle for the soul of the Republican party is over, too. And Trump won.”

TIANANMEN ON THE POTOMAC?

Everything JVL says is true, though as I wrote two weeks ago (“The Ghost of Grover Cleveland”), it is far from a sure thing that Trump will be able to maintain and enforce that sort of fealty while in exile. Maybe, maybe not. We shall see.

But in a separate piece, Last has argued that this matter of fealty, and not the putative goal of retaining the White House, is the primary purpose of Trump’s ongoing attempts at a coup. (That and fleecing his suckers).

(F)or Trump, the lawsuits, the posturing, the couping—yes, it would be nice if he wound up as president on January 21. But that’s the secondary objective. The primary objective was to stop the Republican party from leaving him and, if possible, tighten his grasp on it.

Now, owning a major political party isn’t as useful as being president. But it’s not nothing, either. In a two-party system, you can exert a great deal of power by being the head of a party. You have businesses and foreign governments that will pay tribute to you. You have capos spread across the country, ready to do your bidding. You have an audience of something like 40 million partisans who can be mined for contributions and mobilized as a flash mob whenever you need them.

And while everyone laughs at how incompetent Trump’s Elite Strike Force has been as a matter of law, they miss how effective it’s been as a matter of politics.

Pragmatically speaking, it’s true that this has been the net effect of Trump’s appalling attempt to overturn the election. But in terms of intentionality, I dunno if everybody on Team MAGA got the memo, given that this past weekend, egged on by retired general and convicted felon Mike Flynn, Trump openly contemplated declaring martial law.

As is often the case, the media is giving Donald credit for playing twelve-dimensional chess when in reality, per Maya Angelou, he has told us what he’s doing and is just as simplistic as he appears. If only for reasons of sheer ego, he is apoplectic at the idea of losing the presidency, terrified of his criminal exposure on the practical front, and willing to entertain any ploy—even trying to put tanks in the streets— to avoid that fate. He may or may not consciously understand that even a failed coup d’etat will serve to cement his chokehold on the party, though I’m sure he understands that it is a license to print money. But I don’t think he’s winking when he says he intends to defy the will of the people and stay in power.

Even after his is driven from office, Trump will certainly try to hang onto control of the GOP, whether it wants him to or not. Whether he will succeed is another matter. Because by yoking itself to the flaming clown car that is Trumpism, the Republican Party would be willingly consigning itself to a disastrous long term fate…..and its top strategists and leaders know that (at least those without the surnames Trump or Kushner), despite the complications of a divorce.

Sure, in the short term this scorched earth kind of White Power politics is effective, as we’ve seen. That’s the whole problem. But it’s not sustainable in the long run. The GOP has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Even though it has gamed the Electoral College in order remain competitive, it’s not a winning approach for the future.

Racism and fascism will always be with us, but do Republicans really want to be a fringe party of violence-ready White grievance, rather than a mainstream conservative party that can attract a majority of a changing electorate going forward? Just in practical terms, not even moral ones, which incarnation serve its ambition for power better?

(Let’s leave aside the possibility that they succeed in establishing their Gilead.)

This takes us back to the question, oft heard during the Trump years, of why Republicans didn’t ever stand up to this tyrant. As I’ve said ad nauseam, it’s the wrong question from top to bottom. They didn’t want to stand up, because Trump was delivering them a Santa’s sled full of Christmas goodies, from Supreme Court justices to tax cuts for the rich to massive deregulation and stripping of environmental protections. And all they had to do kneel down and fellate him and thank him for the privilege.

But now that bargain is off the table, and they are in a pickle as a result of that shameful service to Satan.

A REFORMATION THAT WOULD DAUNT MARTIN LUTHER

So how do Republicans reform, assuming they want to?

It’s a very tall order. Like, Manute Bol tall.

How will they—or can they—rehabilitate a party that has so thoroughly debased itself through its embrace of this despicable con man? It’s a process that would first require an overt repudiation of their defeated ruler, and the eviction—and head-shaving—of all his collaborators. It’s also a process that requires sober recognition that the party’s systemic problems pre-date Trump, and in fact gave rise to him, not the other way around. 

So far, very little signs from Party Central that either of those qualifiers are remotely being met. 

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes, “The message is to move on, but it’s hard for Republicans to hear when they’re hunkered down—still intimidated by Trump and frightened by an angry base that seems to have lost the ability to separate election fact from fiction.”

Might they just be able to ghost their way out?

Equally unlikely.

Last says that there will be “no way for a Trump-skeptical Republican to simply wait out the Trump years. There will be no ‘life after Trump’ because Trump is going to be the head boss of Republican politics for the rest of his days.” Again: maybe, maybe not. But I’ll offer another reason why Republicans can’t just “wait out the Trump years.” Because their party cannot be taken seriously again as a potential steward of the public welfare until they renounce Trump, burn their organization down to the ground, and start anew. Just “waiting it out,” ain’t an option.

So the odds are not good that the GOP is gonna respond to Donald’s first post-presidency call with a text reading, “New phone—who dis?”

The GOP leadership is far more likely to try to incite mass amnesia among the American people, acting like they are reasonable politicians who didn’t just spend four years abetting and defending a openly racist, openly criminal, wannabe dictator…..while at the same time still kissing the ass of his openly racist, criminality-tolerating, dictatorship-curious base.

Speaking for progressive America (I’m authorized to do that, right?), we are not going to let them get away with that.

Already that effort has begun, with Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin opposing COVID relief on the risible grounds of concerns about the deficit, after supporting Trump’s deficit-busting 2017 tax cut for the rich, his border “wall,” and his lavish military spending. Then there was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, collapsing on his fainting couch over Biden staffer Jen O’Malley Dillon using the word “fuckers,” after supporting the most publicly vulgar president in US history, not to mention standing by silently while his fellow Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) “a fucking bitch” to her face in halls of Congress. IOKIYAR, right?

So to cop a phrase from Ms. O’Malley Dillon, we are not going to let these fuckers forget what they did and who they’ve been.

If the Republican Party wants to be anything other than the amoral gang of quasi-brownshirts that it currently is, it’s going to have to engage in the kind of soul-searching and commitment to reform that thus far it has shows zero signs of undertaking.

WE’RE ALL DEVO NOW

Though some have a vested interest in pretending otherwise, political parties do evolve (or devolve) over time. Or at least they can.

Most pertinently in the US of A, the Republican and Democratic parties have more or less reversed polarity since the 1850s. Republicans never tire of reminding us that they are the alleged “party of Lincoln,” of abolitionism, and of integration, while it was 19th and early 20th century Democrats who were the defenders of slavery, foes of Reconstruction, and the dominant party in the South violently in opposition to the Civil Rights movement, at least until the Kennedy administration.

Now, of course, the opposite is true.

Even as it wants to claim the moral high ground, the contemporary Republican Party stands proudly for the exact same retrograde ideals its forebear opposed. Is anybody fooled by this except the willfully dishonest? How the two reversed like that is a tome in itself. But how the members of the Grand Old Party of 2020 can simultaneously—proudly—fly the flag of racism and xenophobia while slanderously excoriating Democrats for their ancient history on that count says a lot about the Orwellian nature of the modern GOP.

It’s possible that, if a Republican reformation ever takes pace, it will require decades, and entail the eventual retirement (or mortal demise) of all those current members who sided with Trump. That will be a generational change. Only a handful of current GOP officeholders can lay plausible claim to any kind of integrity, and very few at the national level.

However it might emerge, the presence of a sane conservative party in American politics would be a healthy thing, if only in the interest of balance, especially if we continue with our current two-party system. Or perhaps now, at long last, it’s time for that system to break, with the creation of a party that genuinely represents reasonable right-of-center views, a Lincoln Project/Bulwark party—call them the capital C Conservatives—consigning the old GOP brand to the far right fringe where it has unaccountably taken up residence.

The former Republican congressman David Jolly of Florida, an eloquent critic of his erstwhile colleagues and a frequent presence on MSNBC, thinks there is indeed room for a true Conservative Party. “Mr X.,” the pseudonymous Democratic consultant whose interviews have appeared in these pages, believes that the two-party system is just too entrenched. I don’t know who’s right, but I do think that if ever there was an opening for a viable third party, this moment is a candidate.

In some ways I think the rise of a Conservative Party is more plausible than reform of the Republican Party.

PAGING MR. YEATS

Some might say that we already do have a sane conservative party—the Democratic Party.

Since the Clinton years, the Democrats have occupied a position more analogous to the centrist (or even center-right) parties in many Western democracies. We can feel that phenomenon in the intramural battles between the Democrats’ moderate and progressive wings, battles that shaped last year’s primaries and continue to roil the transition period as Biden picks his Cabinet and lays out his policies for the coming term.

AOC famously noted that, in most countries, she and Joe Biden would not even be in the same party.

For thirty years the moderates have controlled the Democratic Party. (Forever, really, if you don’t count McGovern and Carter.) But the demographic future, as well as the enthusiasm, and the best and boldest new ideas, are largely with the left-of-center faction….so much so that Biden has made significant shifts in that direction, fulfilling Naomi Klein’s exhortation to “move the center.” (Which the reliably McCarthyite GOP is keen to highlight, even amid continued grumbling from Bernie Bro Nation that Joe hasn’t done enough.)

So is it possible that the Democrats, rather than the Republicans, will be, or ought to be, the ones who should split?

It’s a bold idea. But there would really be no point, as the Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings would always need to form an alliance anyway in order to win elections and form a government, as party coalitions do in various parliamentary systems in Europe and elsewhere. In essence, the Democratic Party is already a standing coalition of discrete factions, permanently allied under one big blue umbrella.

Germany has long had the “traffic light coalition” of Social Democrats (in their signature red—confusingly, as they are solidly centrist, not Marxist), Free Democrats (yellow), and Greens. In the ‘90s, the country saw the emergence of the Jamaica coalition (also known as the Schwampel, or “black traffic light,” coalition), with the conservative Christian Democrats, in their trademark schwarz, replacing the SDP.

I don’t love the CDU/CSU but you gotta love a mainstream political party with the huevos to fly the black flag. But I guess reactionaries and anarchists do have some DNA in common, if only in their belief that government is useless.

Rather than splitting, it seems to me that the Democrats would be better served by never forgetting the monstrousness of their foe, and remembering that we have a common, urgent interest in keeping these cretins out of power.

BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

In closing, by way of handicapping Republican prospects for reformation, let’s circle back to the issue of how much damage Trump has done.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, and especially after he won but before he took office, Republicans contemptuously assured us that Democrats were “hysterical” in their warnings about how bad he would be. Trump Derangement Syndrome, they howled! He’ll pivot! You won’t believe how presidential he’ll be!

Turns out, he was infinitely worse by almost any metric you care to choose.

Yet even now so-called “moderate” conservatives (there’s that word again) like the New York Times’ preternaturally smug Bret Stephens would have us believe that Trump didn’t do that much damage, that the “system worked” to thwart him, that COVID hasn’t been as bad as some say, Putin doesn’t call the shots, etc etc. In his defense, he does go on to record how Trump corroded trust and destroyed truth as a commonly accepted standard. But the downplaying of Trump’s sins is truly blinkered and will not age well. Don’t look for it in Bret’s Greatest Hits.

Per above, this is the template for how the GOP will likely move forward: not fully repudiating Trump and burning the party to the ground, but disingenuously trying to make us believe It Was All Just a Dream and that they are reasonable, trustworthy public servants after all.

Good luck with that, assholes.

As I write this, the United States has just suffered the worst intelligence failure since 9/11, an operation by the Russian Federation that penetrated the very heart of our most sensitive national security institutions. Whether it was “merely” a stunningly successful espionage operation or a proper cyberattack—that is, an outright act of war—or is still being debated. Either way, it doesn’t matter because Donald Trump isn’t doing anything about it, staying meekly silent on the topic even as the attack continues. It’s Putin’s sadistic parting shot as Donald leaves office, a victory lap reminding us how he made the President of the United States his poodle for the last four years.

(Wait—that can’t be! Right, Bret?)

At the same time, our country is suffering upward of 3000 deaths a day due to COVID-19—a 9/11 every 24 hours—with total casualties topping 300,000 and rising fast, even as the White House’s main focus in that arena seems to be sabotaging the vaccine rollout in order to hinder the incoming Biden administration. Meanwhile, reports have begun to leak over just how criminally homicidal the Trump presidency’s non-response to the pandemic has been over the past eighteen months. Look for even more of that to emerge, and to horrify us.

Also in the news, the Republican-controlled Senate continues to block desperately needed economic relief for suffering Americans citizens, we still can’t account for all the children kidnapped and caged at the border, and we’re now told that Jared Kushner siphoned off some $617 million dollars—more than half the GOP war chest for the presidential campaign—and funneled it straight into the Trump family pockets, with no semblance of accountability.

And what is Trump doing amid this avalanche of crises? Tweeting nonstop in an attempt to undermine the very foundations of American democracy, foment violence, and steal an election he soundly lost. Oh, and also: preparing to pardon himself, his family, and all his cronies on his way out the door.   

Gee, why wouldn’t the GOP want to sign up for twenty more years of that?

*********

Photo: The Milwaukee Independent

Georgia On My Mind

I’ve been privileged to know a lot of smart people in my time, including a few MacArthur Genius grant winners. (They’re always huddling together and doing something with their secret decoder rings.)

But Bill Pilon might well be the smartest person I’ve ever known.

Born in Martin Army Hospital at Ft. Benning, Bill is a lifelong Georgian. Formerly a senior marketing research analyst for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he is currently in that role for a media conglomerate that shall go unnamed, and as such has his finger on the pulse of the state’s politics, demographics, and zeitgeist in a way that not many folks can match. He’s like Steve Kornacki, if Steve Kornacki had a huge wad of Red Man leaf tobacco in his cheek.

That is of special note at the moment, as all eyes are on the Peach State for the next 22 days for a pair of twin runoffs that will determine control of the United States Senate for—at a minimum—the first two years of the Biden administration. Are the stakes high? You bet your sweet bippy. (Early in-person voting in that runoff opens today, Monday December 14.)

I lived in Georgia myself for about a third of my first 22 years, off and on, all told. We lived on the Alabama side, at and around Ft. Benning and Columbus, and on the East Coast, in Hinesville (pop. 32,872), near Ft. Stewart, where Bill and I went to high school. My parents continued to live in Columbus for another five years after my father retired. So what’s happening down there right now is especially close to the bone for us.

Of course, even beyond Georgia, there is a lot going on in American politics right now, including—sitting down?—a lawsuit from the Texas Attorney General joined by 17 red states and the White House asking the Supreme Court simply to throw out the whole vote and give Trump a second term. More than half of the Republican representatives in the House (126 out of 196) signed a letter endorsing that suit. I say again: MORE. THAN. HALF.

So much for the idea that they were just humoring Don while the clock ran out. When the wonks at the Transition Integrity Project ran their tabletop scenarios last year wargaming a contested election, even they did not foresee something so blatant and outrageous as the GOP calling outright for the election to be awarded to Trump on no grounds whatsoever.

It matters not that the SCOTUS, even with a 6-3 right wing majority including three Trump appointees, dismissed the suit almost before it dropped over the transom. The fact that the center of gravity in the Republican Party is totally onboard with full-blown fascism is in itself sufficiently blood-boiling—and terrifying.

So as Christian Vanderbrouk recently wrote in The Bulwark, “Remember. Their. Names.” Because it won’t be long before they want us to act like they’re reasonable politicians and not autocracy fanboys who would destroy American democracy for a few pieces of silver.

But I digress.

The Senate runoffs in Georgia belong to a different planet, one where some semblance of reason still reigns, but they still represent yet another front in the ongoing battle for the soul of our democracy. I can’t think of anybody who can give us the inside skinny on that like Pilon. We spoke by Zoom last week.

FIVE GEORGIAS

THE KING’S NECKTIE: OK Bill. Gimme the inside dope.

BILL PILON: The first thing you really need to know is that there are about five Georgias.

There’s Metro Atlanta, which is literally half the population of the state, concentrated in about eight of 159 counties. That half is extremely liberal by Georgia standards and a little left of center by national standards. Atlanta and its environs are probably as liberal as any other major metro area in the country, and that causes huge problems in the state legislature. Metro Atlanta does really well in the state House, but the state Senate is county-based, and the other 151 counties of Georgia dominate the Senate.

But Atlanta is the economic engine of the state, and its liberality goes way back. There’s a reason Henry Grady advertised the New South in Atlanta in the 1880s and 1890s; Atlanta kind of dragged Georgia kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

In the Fifties, when Atlanta decided to become the City Too Busy to Hate, it was because Bob Woodruff, the longtime president of Coca-Cola, decided it was going to be. When Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize, nobody in Atlanta was going to do anything, and Woodruff said, “I’m going to host a dinner, and if you ever want to see any philanthropy from Coca-Cola ever again, you will buy tickets and you will attend.”

So one half of Georgia is Atlanta. Very liberal, very rich, well off.

Next, there’s the Black Belt that runs all through central Georgia from just south of Macon to just north of say Reidsville or Glennville, and that’s a bunch of rural counties that are majority Black and very poor. They were all sharecroppers: they didn’t have any money then and they still don’t have any money now. But when the Civil Rights Act came in 1964, these counties began to dominate the state government because they were 60 or 70 or 80% of the electorate.

Then there’s north Georgia, which is pretty much everything north of Metro Atlanta. It’s the mountains and literally you can hear banjo music when you drive through there. They’re not in favor of Black people. Forsyth County, for example, used to be the border of it. Now it’s part of Metro Atlanta, but around the time I moved here in ‘86, there wasn’t a single Black family in Forsyth County according to the 1990 census. That changed during the ‘90s and the ‘00s; now it’s just a bedroom community of Atlanta, but that heritage is still there. But the population is so small and there’s so little industry, that today they don’t really have a big presence in the state government except for the state Senate.

Fourth is the coast, everything from Savannah to Brunswick, which is all tourist-driven, lots and lots of money, lots of cooperation between Blacks and Whites to get that money, and for political and governmental things that advance and exploit tourism.

The fifth Georgia is the Piedmont region, the area south of Atlanta to just south of Macon where cotton-growing—and hence slave population—didn’t dominate. Because of the racial demographics, which are majority White but not overwhelmingly so, it’s fairly moderate. Economically it’s not as rich as Atlanta, but not as poor as the rest of rural Georgia.

So the demographics of Georgia are changing, because of changes in those five sub-Georgias. The Black Belt is expanding. In 2010, non-Hispanic Whites made up 56% of the population. By 2019 that had fallen to 52%, according to the Census. Some counties are shifting even faster: Chatham, which is Savannah, and Clayton and Henry, which are Metro Atlanta, have all flipped. And as they do, the GOP prospects of maintaining control of the state legislature come under increasing pressure.

The whole state’s going to be majority-minority as early as 2028, although it’ll take a little bit longer for the electorate to reflect that.

To me, the thing Stacey Abrams has done that’s the most important is she’s really expanded the electorate, especially among minorities. She added about 1.5 million voters. That’s huge in a state where there’s 5 to 6 million votes cast in an election. She registered people who hadn’t registered and turned out people who hadn’t turned out. Probably two-thirds to three-quarters of that expansion was among Democrats and the rest of it was Republicans going, “Holy shit. If we let her do this, we’re going to get swamped.”

Georgia will be solidly blue in less than 10 years, and Trump has only accelerated that.

HANDICAPPING THE RACE

BP: So the senatorial runoff is going to be all about turnout. Who motivates their crowd to come out and vote.

TKN: And what’s your prediction?

BP: Could go either way, but if I HAVE to make a prediction, I think the Dems win both seats. Current polling from reliable pollsters has both Warnock and Ossoff in the lead, though both are inside the margin. Trafalgar, which has a C- at Fivethrityeight.com, even has Ossoff up by 1% over Perdue and SurveyUSA has Warnock at +7 over Loeffler. There’s a shitload of money being spent so there will be a lot more polling to come, and unlike other states and the national, the 2020 Georgia polls were fairly accurate. Also, the current COVID case/death trend will continue or worsen and the Democrats are prepared to use absentee ballots to maintain turnout. And some Trump supporters may boycott the election.

TKN: Let’s talk about the individual candidates. In November we were looking at South Carolina having possibly two Black senators, which would have been remarkable, even though it didn’t happen. Georgia has never had a Black senator, which isn’t surprising when you realize there have only ever been ten Black US Senators period….and five of those are since Obama represented Illinois.

So what is the general feeling in Georgia toward Rev. Warnock? Could he be the state’s first?

BP: For probably 70 or 80% of the voters, Reverend Warnock is very much seen in the cast of Dr. King. He’s like Andrew Young would have been 20 or 30 years ago. He’s probably the most qualified and “positive imaged” leader from the Black community that could have run for Senate from the perspective of the White electorate, but at the same time he’s still “Black enough” for the Black electorate. I mean, he runs Ebeneezer Baptist Church, right?

TKN: And Ossoff?

BP: Ossoff is less positive. In the first place, he’s Jewish, and there’s a small streak of anti-Semitism that’s hurting him. You saw Perdue play to it when he Photoshopped Ossoff’s picture to give him a bigger nose. You know, a hundred years ago we lynched Leo Frank for exactly the same reason, for just being Jewish. That’s not all gone, but it’s not as big as it used to be.

In the second place, Ossoff was a protégé of John Lewis, and that buys him a lot of credibility, but it also hurts him a little bit. Some view him as kind of John Lewis’s pet. He is not nearly as strong a candidate as Warnock, but he’s got a lot more money behind him than Warnock does. A huge amount of it is from out of state, though, and that’s really an issue. There’s still a vestige of the idea that “we don’t want Yankee carpetbaggers coming down here telling us what to do.” The Ossoff Facebook groups and strategy groups are saying, “Look, we gotta be really careful.” They do not want people coming from out of state to knock on doors.

TKN: Yeah. I even heard Stacey Abrams say that. She was like, “You want to help? There’s a lot you can do from where you are. Don’t come here.”

BP: Right. The last thing they need is somebody from Boston coming here to tell people to vote for Ossoff.

TKN: Loeffler?

BP: Kelly Loeffler was almost unknown before she was elevated to the Senate. The few people that were aware of her mainly knew her through her WNBA team.

TKN: And those players hate her. Sue Bird leading the way.

BP: That’s one of the reasons Kemp was able to “sell” her as Senator: she was a kind of blank page upon which people could project what they wanted. Since then she’s been steadily driven right—or perhaps pro-Trump is a better description—during the election and is probably as polarizing as Trump himself at this point.

TKN: Where do the Collins voters go?

BP: They are gonna go to Loeffler. They don’t have a choice.

TKN: That’s what I figured. When I saw the numbers on November 3rd, I said there’s no way that the Democrats can win because when you add Loeffler and Collins, that’s the majority.

BP: But it’s not actually. I’ve got a spreadsheet; let me pull it up….

If you look at Loeffler, she was 1.27 million, and then you add all the other Republican candidates and you have another 1.15, so total GOP was about 2.4 million. Warnock actually beat Loeffler, and at the end of the day when you add the other Dems, you’re at 2.38. So it’s close. Again, it’s going to be about turnout, and where do the four people who voted for the Liberals and the five people who voted for the Green Party and the Libertarians, where are they going to wind up?

With the Ossoff/Perdue thing, again, about the same. There were 115,000 Libertarian votes in that race. In my experience, a lot of those voters stay home in the runoffs,  ‘cause they’re voting Libertarian to make a point. It’s not like they think their guy is going to get elected, right? Some stay home and some are actually Republicans who were pretending to be Libertarians.

TKN: What do you think the odds are of a split decision?

BP: If there’s a split decision, I think Warnock wins and Ossoff loses. I can’t quite get a handle on the odds. Maybe 1 in 3?

HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING

BP: It’s really interesting to see the runoff ads. Loeffler and Perdue are extremely negative, especially Perdue. The GOP ads to date have done nothing but try to scare their base into voting against Warnock and Ossoff, rather than for their own candidates.

On the other side, Ossoff’s kind of fighting off the negativity and going a little negative himself, hammering Perdue on corruption and insider trading and his lies about the severity of COVID.

Warnock‘s ads are just really interesting. They’re very calm, very measured. Last night he had one with a tracking shot of him walking his dog, and telling us, “You know, Kelly Loeffler says this and that, but I think Georgia voters are smart enough to know what Kelly’s actually up to”……just as he drops a little bag of dog crap in the trashcan. (Laughs.)

TKN: Do Georgians think the vote will be fair? Or did the GOP self-sabotage by telling its own voters that the November election was rigged, so now they think “Why bother?”

BP: Kemp has inspired people that they’ll get a fair vote by virtue of the fact that he and Raffensperger are kind of hanging in there against Trump. The Republican stuff on Facebook is saying, “Hey, look, if we go vote, the votes are actually going to get counted.” Even my dad, who’s a rabidly dyed-in-the-wool Trump guy, doesn’t believe the election was fraudulent because of Kemp and Raffensperger.

TKN: Incredibly ironic that Brian Kemp of all people can make people believe in the integrity of an election. Particularly—and another irony—when you’ve got these two GOP shitheels, Perdue and Loeffler, doing Trump’s bidding and complaining about an unfair election, in a state run by Republicans, whose governor is one of the most infamous vote suppressors in America.

So why is Kemp standing up to Trump now? It can’t be principle.

BP: Kemp desperately wants a second term as governor and he realizes he won his election by only 50,000 votes. He can’t afford to alienate both the Black vote and the suburban liberals and still win next time. Trumpers simply won’t be enough. He’s a smart guy. He’s way too conservative for me, but he’s smart.

TKN: What do you think the impact was of Trump’s visit over the weekend?

BP: Honestly? Other than spreading COVID? Nothing.

TKN: (laughs) So you don’t think he hurt the Republicans?

BP: I don’t think he hurt Loeffler or Perdue because both of them are already so tied to him. Nobody who went to that rally was going to vote for Ossoff or Warnock anyway, and none of them were going to stay home if they’re convinced that these two people are Trump acolytes who are going to be in there pitching for him.

TKN: Speaking of COVID, you wrote me a little bit about the impact of the virus and absentee voting. Is that still in play?

BP: Yeah. By Thanksgiving we had 700,000 requests for absentee ballots for the runoff, and I saw a thing today in the AJC that there were about 70,000 ballot applications from people who didn’t vote in the general. (Ed.: Now up to to 1.2 million absentee applications.) So people are planning on voting absentee again, and they’re very, very wired into how to do it. They’ve already got the applications; people on Facebook are checking with each other; there’s a Georgia My Voter page that actually lets you keep up with your application and your ballot status and everything.

The impact of the pandemic has been huge. If it weren’t for COVID and his active suppression of absentee balloting, Trump would probably have won here.

TKN: Such a shame he shot himself in the foot like that. Whoda thunk it?

BP: I’m not sure that Perdue and Loeffler have done themselves a lot of good either. Yesterday they both endorsed the Texas suit in SCOTUS to throw out the vote from the four swing states, including their own. I expect the ads to break Monday, saying, “Here’s how much Loeffler and Perdue want to help Georgia: they’re saying the Supreme Court should ignore Georgia voters.”

TKN: To me it’s crazy that Perdue and Loeffler are even in this race, with the insider trading and everything else. It’s just mind-boggling.

BP: I spend a lot of time yelling at the television. And the mind-boggling thing to me is that Loeffler and Perdue can run ads that claim they were completely exonerated and found innocent of all wrongdoing based on a report that said, “Yeah, they insider traded, but the insider trading laws don’t apply to Congress, so it’s not technically illegal.”

(bitter laughter from Bill and Bob both)

So yeah, they didn’t do anything illegal. It was wrong and it’s exactly what they were accused of, but they don’t have to abide by those laws. And their position is, “See? I didn’t do it.”

TKN: It never ceases to amaze me what Republicans get away with. Michelle Goldberg had a column in the Times this morning about the double standard when it comes to civility. She was saying, remember four years ago when people were up in arms because some restaurant owner in Virginia very politely asked Sarah Sanders to leave? And now you’ve got an armed Republican mob outside of the home of the Michigan secretary of state and somehow that’s OK.

BP: Yeah. After he comped her cheese plate. I mean, it’s just ludicrous.

STACEY CRUSHES IT

TKN: What do you make of Gabriel Sterling and Brad Raffensperger standing up the way they did?

BP: I think, first of all, praise God. (laughs) I think Raffensperger wants to be the governor someday, and he knows that in ten years the electorate’s going to be a lot bluer than it is now, and he doesn’t want to be the guy that caved in to Trump.  

Second of all, I think Georgia is very pragmatic and open to compromise, as I’ve said, and Stacey Abrams is almost a poster child for that.

Stacey Abrams is very well thought of here. There are very few people who have negative things to say about her, statewide. The Hope Scholarship is a good example.

The first thing that Stacey did when she got into the state legislature as minority leader was compromise with the Republicans to save that scholarship, because even though the vast majority of the benefits go to middle class White kids who would go to college anyway, enough go to underclass Black kids who have no hope of college without it. So Stacey Abrams helped save that program.

There was another time when Republicans wanted to decrease the income tax and increase the cable television tax. It was supposed to be revenue neutral, because it was going to take in less money in taxes from Ted Turner and Kelly Loeffler and more money from every other person in the state that had a cable TV subscription. And Stacey literally did the numbers and put a copy of the analysis on every single desk in the state legislature one morning before the session started. All these dudes went, (affects bigtime cracker accent): “Well, wait a minute now. Ah’m gonna save $15 on my income tax but my cable bill’s gonna go up $35? Why in the hell would I do that?” It would have been the biggest tax increase in the history of Georgia and she nipped it in the bud. It got crushed.

Like I said, she is very well thought of. There was a little bit of dogwhistling during the gubernatorial election, but she really didn’t get hammered with the socialist thing. I honestly think if Kemp had not been secretary of state in the four years leading up to that election, she would have won.

TKN: Well, a lot of people think that.

BP: But it didn’t really have anything to do with him not recusing, because by the time that the election came, the frame had been set. If Kemp were smart, he would have recused himself and said, “I don’t want there to be any doubt,” and the machinery he’d set up would still have proceeded and he wouldn’t have to deal with the allegation of putting his thumb on the scale, to the extent that he is dealing with it, which is really not a lot.

TKN: Though that’s exactly it. Not recusing—even though he’d already pre-built the machinery to assure his win, as you say—makes people rightly suspicious that he was continuing to meddle even during the race itself.

SUPPRESSION BY ANY OTHER NAME

TKN: It’s fascinating that suddenly in the last two weeks, Kemp has become…..I wouldn’t say a hero, but it’s odd that a guy with his horrendous record of voter suppression in who being vilified by his own party and by this president* for not doing more. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

BP: Historically Georgia has always been less extreme in its suppression of the Black vote. It never made it illegal for people to register or to vote, like Mississippi or Alabama; instead it used White primaries, poll taxes, and the county unit system to reduce Black voting power, though it couldn’t eliminate it altogether. “Suppress by finesse” they called it.

Georgia said, “Oh yeah, yeah, you can vote. You just can’t vote in the primary because of the right to free association guaranteed in the Constitution—if the party doesn’t want you in their club, there’s nothing we can do about that. But you can vote in the general election.” Well, 99% of the time there was only one candidate in the general election and that was the Democrat. So the Georgia political season really was in the spring because that’s when the party nominee was chosen.

In fact, the run-off requirement is an artifact of that history.

The county unit system was used for statewide races. 159 counties, four of them around Metro Atlanta were labeled “city counties” and each of those had four votes. There were another 15 or 20 counties labeled “town counties,” like Muscogee, where Columbus is, and Chatham, where Savannah is, and Augusta, and Macon. They got three votes each. The other hundred and something counties got two votes each. So all of Metro Atlanta, with half the population of the state, got to cast less than 20 of the 410 votes available.

When the county unit system was struck down by SCOTUS, the White power structure became concerned that a day would come where three or four White guys were running and one Black guy, and that Black guy got enough votes to win because the others split the vote. So they decided that they would go to a system where if you have less than a majority, you have to go to a runoff. And that gave the White people a chance to get their act together and pick one candidate.

So Warnock would have won if we didn’t have the runoff.

THE PARTY’S OVER

Hinesville, GA, where Bill and I went to high school, is about forty miles southwest of Savannah, not far from the even smaller town of Brunswick, where Ahmaud Arbery was murdered last February. It’s the kind of town where, in our day, there wasn’t much to do besides hang out in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen and follow the local high school football team. (Go Tigers.)

Our circle of friends back then were, frankly, a bunch of rednecks……very very smart rednecks who went on to do things like become nuclear submariners, but pickup truck-driving, tobacco-chewing, Willie Nelson-listening rednecks nonetheless. As an interloper from the North (in my friends’ view), my nickname was Yankee.

TKN: I’d like to wanted to ask you a little bit about your own political evolution, Bill. When you and I were in high school, we were all very conservative.

BP: You know “The Newsroom” on HBO? Well, I’m a Will McAvoy Republican.

TKN:  I can’t believe you’re a Republican at all, based on the things I know you believe in and how hard you’ve fought against Trump.

BP: What can I tell you? I’m an Eisenhower/Rockefeller guy.

TKN: I hear you. That’s what I came out of too, even though I left it 20 years ago. That’s The Bulwark, that’s The Lincoln Project.

BP: I’ll tell you when my final break happened. It was in ’08 when McCain selected Palin. I couldn’t vote for that ticket.

TKN: For me it was Iraq war. I had begun to move away before that, but that was the thing that ended it for me, once and for all.

BP: Yeah. I was a first term Bush guy but a second term Kerry guy because of Iraq. I wanted to go back to the GOP in 2008 with McCain, because I just think John McCain was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but then he picked Palin. If Lieberman had been his running mate, I would have voted for that ticket.

TKN: And they were buddies. But as much as I admired McCain as a man, like you, not his policies per se, I would still have voted for Barack. But the economy collapsing was the end of it. So it didn’t matter.

So how did you get to where you are now?

BP: The Internet did it. A PDF. And I can tell you exactly when it happened.

In the early ‘90s I was a huge listener to Rush. I thought Rush Limbaugh was the oracle on the hill, and these Clinton people were scum and they were going to destroy the country. Then the Starr report came out and Rush started talking about what was in it. So I downloaded it. It might be the first PDF I ever downloaded from the Internet. And I read the whole damn thing. And then Rush would talk about the Starr report and say things about it, and I’d be like, “Well, that’s not true.” And then Rush would say something else, and I’d look it up in the report, and it didn’t say that either. And I’m like, “Well, if he’s lying about that, what else is he lying about?”

So then I got in the habit of downloading and reading Supreme Court decisions. And sure enough the Supreme Court didn’t say the things Rush was claiming it said either. And the more I read of the primary source documents, the more the conservative positions didn’t hold water. They just didn’t work.

I read an analysis of federal revenue after the 1980 tax cut. The whole supply side thing was that if we cut taxes that will increase revenue. But it didn’t increase revenue. All it did was lower the tax base.

So one part of it was that the Internet gave me access to information that I didn’t have that wasn’t filtered by the right wing blogosphere or bubble. That was huge. The Internet has this unique ability to freeze stuff and make it available forever. So you can hear somebody like Grover Norquist say something when they said the exactly opposite six months before. Before the Internet you would never have known. But now you can Google it, and sure enough, there it is.

TKN: Bill, you must be the first human being ever who actually learned something accurate from the Internet. It’s really unfair of you to look for the facts. That destroys the whole right wing paradigm.

BP: (laughs) Well, it was Krugman who said that facts have a liberal bias.

The second part was that I kind of ran into this philosophical thing about positive freedom and negative freedom. And then the third thing, in a lot of cases, was media. “The West Wing“ had a huge part in it. “The Newsroom” had a huge part in it.

TKN: That Aaron Sorkin is good.

BP: Yeah he is.

TKN: I realize it’s kind of an unfair question to ask about “your” change, because if we characterize ourselves as Eisenhower Republicans, it wasn’t that we changed: the Republican Party changed around us.

BP: Yeah. I mean, look at Eisenhower’s platform from ’56. It’s almost the same as Biden’s platform now.

TKN: As many people have pointed out, Eisenhower could not be a Republican today. Nixon could not. Reagan could not. None of these icons could be; they’re all way too far left for the contemporary GOP….and they were not left wing at all! It’s tragic.

This is a whole ‘nother topic that we can talk about another day, but I wonder about the future of the Republican Party. David Jolly thinks there’s room for a third party, a truly conservative party, which would be healthy for the republic just in terms of variety. I dunno if he’s right about the practicality of it, but it’d be a good thing.

BP: I still consider myself as a Republican in philosophy, but can have no association with the party as its currently configured.

**************

If you’re a resident of Georgia, please vote. Early in-person voting is open now. Remember to bring your ID, as Georgia is one of 36 states that require identification to vote.

Requests for a ballot by mail must be received by Friday January 1, 2021. If mailed in, ballots must be received by 7pm ET on Tuesday January 5, 2021 (Election Day). Ballots can also be submitted in person until that time.

For more on how to vote in the runoff, go to How to Vote.

Illustration: from the Allman Brothers’ album Eat a Peach (1972). Do you dare?

The Ghost of Grover Cleveland

During Trump’s impeachment last year—can you believe that was less than a year ago?—I never seriously thought he’d be convicted. The GOP’s venality and cowardice  are far too strong. But it did occur to me that if he were, he might become the first US president ever removed who went on to run again…..in that case, just months later. (Trump was already the first POTUS to be impeached in his first term. Barring an impeached president from holding future office is a separate Congressional vote.)

That didn’t happen, of course. Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, and other Senate Republicans assured us that Donald had learned his lesson and would be an upstanding citizen ever after.

(Pause for laughter.)

Instead, Trump was evicted from office in an even more resounding way, by the will of the people at the polls, which was what a parade of those Republican senators speciously informed us would be the better form of judgment, while abdicating their own responsibility as a co-equal branch to hold a criminal president accountable. Now of course those same senators are tacitly—and in some cases, actively—trying to help Donald Trump overturn the will of the people, but never mind. Joe Biden is a communist, everybody!

So the spectacle of an ousted POTUS standing for office again just nine months later didn’t come to pass, though the spectacle of an impeached POTUS who managed to dodge conviction did—another first. (In 1868, after avoiding removal by a single vote, Andrew Johnson sought his party’s nomination again but didn’t get it.)

But now we are faced with a less baroque but still quite rare possibility: a defeated President, deposed after one term, who might run again and successfully retake the office. It’s only happened once before, when President Grover Cleveland lost his re-election bid to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, then came back to beat him in a rematch in 1892. (Fwiw, Grover won the popular vote in all three of those elections.)

The notion of Trump pulling off a similar comeback is the stuff of nightmares. But how likely is it?

So let us look at the odds of that scenario so we can calculate how much pharmaceutical grade ketamine we will need to get through the period between now and January 2025.

ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS

Let’s take the two opposite extremes.

At one end, we have Donald Trump continuing to control the Republican Party like a high-priced dominatrix, tormenting the Biden administration from exile, maintaining an only slightly diminished profile in the media (with its obvious addiction to covering this trainwreck), and preparing himself for his revenge in 2024. 

I realize that that is both terrifying and depressing, and I hope it’s not the case. But there is reason to give this scenario serious credence.

Trump has all but formally announced that he will run again; by some accounts, he will make that announcement live, during Biden’s inaugural address, a high watermark both for counterprogramming and for pettiness. Even if that presidential run is just a feint, the whole point of a feint is to convince people to behave as if it is true until disproved, which might not be until the Republican convention in the summer of ‘24. That means that Trump will be able to keep a chokehold on his party, freeze the field of other potential Republican contenders, dictate GOP policy as the de facto leader of the opposition, remain in the spotlight he craves, and most importantly for him, raise money hand over fist from his cult of reliable suckers until they are bled dry.

He will most certainly try to do all that. Is there even one thing in Trump’s long, pathetic life history that makes you think he won’t?

In tandem with that tease, as many have speculated, Trump might also start his own media empire, or—being both lazy and incompetent—just become a ubiquitous, well-compensated presence on existing right wing platforms, from Fox to OANN to Breitbart. After all, as Yale history professor Beverly Gage writes, “When he no longer has access to the White House, he will still have his base, tens of millions of Americans whose identities and aspirations are wrapped up in the amorphous but energetic politics of Trumpism.” And for that reason, the Republican Party is likely to continue bend to his every whim. To grasp the depths of the GOP leadership’s servility, one has but to witness their craven obsequiousness even in this lame duck period, when they know he will soon be out of power, to the point of sitting on their collective hands while he tries to mount a coup.  

Speaking of servility, let’s listen to Lindsey Graham, who referenced Grover Cleveland by name in speaking to The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas, predicting “that Trump will indeed run again—and that doing so is ‘the best thing for the party, frankly.’”

“Right now, assuming for the moment that Biden wins, it’s Trump’s nomination if he wants it,” Graham told me. (Like many other Republicans, Graham has not yet acknowledged that Biden has won the election.) “He has a lot of sway over the Republican Party. If he objects to anything Biden [does], it would be hard to get Republicans on board. If he blessed some kind of deal, it would be easier to get something done. In many ways, he’ll be a shadow president.”

Caveat: we must take Lindsey’s words with a Jimmy Buffett-sized shaker of salt. Once an otherwise reasonable Republican (if that’s not an oxymoron), Graham has since become one of Trump’s most nauseatingly reliable lapdogs, and these days never says a word that is not designed to flatter his master. So here he is almost certainly speaking to an audience of one, as opposed to offering an honest assessment.

But from Donald’s point of view, there is no down side to that plan, and no upside to a quiet life playing golf and cheating on Melania at Ma-a-Lago. Nicholas again:

For Trump, the party is a bankable asset under any scenario. Foreign governments considering his company’s projects might be more receptive knowing a once-and-perhaps-future president is on the other side of the deal. Audiences may be more apt to tune in if Trump starts a conservative news venture. Candidates looking for fundraising help will be courting Trump, enabling him to stockpile chits. So will members of Congress hoping to make inroads with his base.

A Republican consultant named Patrick Griffin put it even more bluntly, speaking to the right wing Washington Times:

Donald Trump is not exactly going to follow Jimmy Carter, who is out building homes with Habitat for Humanity after leaving the White House. This is going to be the worst leader in exile the world has ever seen.

IRRELEVANCE CALLING

OK, so we’ll need, like, a Burning Man-level supply of ketamine.

But then there is the scenario at the opposite end of the spectrum, which most informed observers actually think is more probable: that Donald Trump, like most defeated presidents, quickly fades into irrelevance.

After all, America hates a loser.

Steve Coll in The New Yorker:

The President may imagine that he can remain the sole and powerful master of his following after January—and, perhaps, to strengthen his grip, he will even announce a preemptive campaign for the White House in 2024, as he has mused privately about doing. Yet he cannot deny a reality: generally, ex-Presidents lose power very quickly…..

Trump had no inkling what it was like to be President before he won the office, in 2016. Come February, he may be stunned again, this time by the speed at which former loyalists distance themselves.

Coll allows that “Trump may again prove to be a mold-breaker.” He does, after all, have, a lifelong record of cheating karma. But it may not be enough.

(E)lectoral politics is a ruthless zero-sum game. Trump failed decisively to be reëlected, becoming the first sitting President to meet that fate in nearly three decades. As Trump himself might put it: when you’re a loser, people can treat you like a dog.

I’d be lying if I said that prospect didn’t make me feel good. After four years of this shitshow, I think we’re all entitled to a little schadenfreude.

In addition to all the garden variety reasons for ex-presidential irrelevance, Trump also has issues unique to him that promise to bedevil his post-White House days.

Federal pardon or no, once he leaves office he is going to be hit with a tsunami of legal problems and criminal prosecution, almost surely including felony charges for everything from bank fraud to money laundering to tax evasion. Come 2024 he may well be in prison, or at least under indictment. (Not that that would stop him from running, or his supporters from voting for him.) There is even a movement, however remote, to charge him for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Even if he avoids the orange jumpsuit, he is already saddled with nearly half a billion in personal debt that is about to come due (to whom? Hmm, good question), and will soon have legal bills might bankrupt him.

Of course, Trump being Trump, he will only use such legal and financial woes as fuel for his candidacy, given that his political career has always been built upon personal grievance, in a feedback loop with the grievance of his supporters. But there is a limited appeal to that model, and the last four years have largely exhausted it.

Trump depends mightily on those hardcore followers, and the willingness of MAGA Nation to go along even with a coup stunned even Republican muckity mucks. A prime example is smartypants New York Times columnist Ross Douhat, who recently expressed shock that members of the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party support leopards eating people’s faces.

Doubt it? Have a listen to right wing talk radio, if you dare. It will scare the shit out of you to think that this is the poison that is being pumped non-stop into the minds of gullible Americans.

But 74 million votes and a roughly 40% favorability rating in the polls, scary as they are, will not necessarily translate into an equal number of disciples once he’s out of power. Many of the people in that count aren’t diehard redhatters but casual conservatives who won’t pay to see a show that they used watch for free, especially once it’s canceled. We may find that the numbers of red-hatters who are willing to maintain that kind of passionate allegiance as Trump is evicted into the wilderness is far smaller.

Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic:

Trump certainly could stage a spectacular comeback. Maybe Americans will keep staring at his Twitter feed in horror or fascination for the next four years. Maybe primary voters will resoundingly anoint Trump as the Republican candidate in 2024. Maybe Trump will even make a triumphant return to the White House.

But what is possible need not be likely. And the odds that Americans will grow bored with the ever more histrionic antics of the sore loser they just kicked out of office are pretty good.

Of course, there is a whole world of possibility between the two extremes of shadow prez and just plain pale shadow. But on balance, the chances tilt much more toward the latter. In the New York Times, Steve Inskeep writes that history may ultimately view Trump as a nothing more than a footnote to Obama, which would be fitting for a human ball of envy and rage whose entire presidential life, beginning with the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, seems to have been nothing more than an attempt to spite the man from Honolulu.

DONALD WHO?

Already we see it happening. Once the threat abated that Trump might succeed with his attempted coup—that fraught period of about 20 days between the election and the GSA’s ascertainment of Biden’s victory—there has been an almost palpable sense that the bulk of the nation has moved on. Even now, coverage of his futile but continuing attempts to overturn the election—Rudy’s hair dye, Drunk Girl’s testimony before the Michigan legislature, even Trump’s outrageous call to pressure Georgia Governor Brian Kemp—has felt like a sideshow at best. The country is more interested in Biden’s plan to fight the coronavirus as we move into the grim winter months, more interested in the future than the past, more interested in regaining our sanity than in being subjected to Trumpian madness 24/7.

The Atlantic’s David Graham:

The past few weeks have offered a preview of what Donald Trump’s post-presidency might look like: The president fulminates at length, playing pundit, but is a practical nonfactor in policy discussions. He can still command the affection of millions—and raise millions of dollars from them—but the balance of the country has already moved on and tuned out. Trump’s ability to command the news cycle has been eclipsed by the virus he couldn’t be bothered to stop and the rival candidate he couldn’t beat.

Trump won’t go away entirely, and he certainly won’t get quiet, but fewer Americans will listen to or care about what he has to say. They’ve voted with their ballots, and now they’ll vote with their attention.

There is hard evidence that this disengagement from Trump is underway. Heather Cox Richardson notes that last week alone Congress finalized a version of the defense authorization bill that refused to reduce the number of troops in Germany and South Korea as Trump wanted, ignored his demands to punish tech companies like Twitter, and shrugged off his threat to veto the renaming of military bases currently named after Confederate generals.

HCR also notes that “Trump’s hand-picked Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has invited about a dozen potential 2024 candidates to a meeting in January, signaling that she is not wedded to another Trump candidacy.” It’s true that McDaniel’s mere retention of the RNC chair reflects Trump’s continuing strength in controlling the party, and maybe her openness to challengers is just a ploy. But maybe not.

Trump may soon be a marginal figure in American culture: a pathetic, unhinged old man rambling around his Florida mansion in the grip of increasing cognitive decline, in between trips to the courthouse, beset with financial woes, ranting at an ever-diminishing following and leaving the rest of the country scratching its collective head at how this guy was ever president in the first place. 

So a shadow president? Whatever. A shadow has very little practical power, I’ve noticed. Trump tweeting non-stop bullshit from Mar-a-Lago while eating cheeseburgers and watching TV will not put any more kidnapped children in cages. So, as a grown-ass man, I ain’t afraid of no shadows.

The thing I am rightly afraid of—let’s call it on guard—is the extent to which we will still have to deal with Trumpism even when Trump himself has faded from the scene, and someday shuffled off this mortal coil, presumably to his Dantean reward.

In that sense, the ghost of Grover Cleveland worries me a lot less than the ghost of Joe Tailgunner Joe.

JOE WELCH GETS HIS ANSWER

In Washington Post, Beverly Gage, the aforementioned Yale history professor, compares Trumpism to McCarthyism:

Though we now think of McCarthy as one of the most hated men in American politics, even in 1954 he retained a passionate base of support, with about a third of the public backing his anti-communist campaign.

Once the Senate voted against him, the tale of how he had been victimized by a corrupt and self-interested Washington establishment helped fuel the far right’s grievance politics—and spark what would become the modern conservative movement. Far from bringing an end to McCarthyism, the 1954 Senate vote mainly pushed it out of Washington, and a new generation of right-wing activists took up his cause.

Gage calls this a “counternarrative that began to build among McCarthy’s grass-roots supporters during those years, in which the sheer volume of criticism aimed at the senator became proof that he was right all along: that the country was, indeed, run by a menacing but elusive liberal-communist conspiracy aimed at taking down right-thinking, God-fearing Americans…. (T)his tale—of a courageous warrior taken down by illegitimate foes—helped fuel a wave of institution-building on the right.”

Sound familiar?

And the connection is not merely a matter of resemblance but of direct lineage:

As recently as 2003, Ann Coulter published a book called Treason, arguing that McCarthy was right and his critics were not only wrong but, as the title suggests, traitorous. Trump himself was schooled at the knee of Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s infamous committee counsel, who long insisted that his good friend Joe had been the victim of an outrageous elite conspiracy.

McCarthy-like, Trump will soon depart office howling to his fans about conspiracies and an election that was stolen from him (read: them), “encouraging his base to see themselves as noble warriors against an illegitimate political order.” And in that effort, Gage notes, Don has an advantage that Joe never did, as he “continue(s) to sell the tale of his martyrdom through Twitter and cable news and talk radio and conspiracy sites—forms of direct public communication that McCarthy would have envied.” Even when Trump is gone there will remain “this vast swath of citizens who love and admire him will still be here, better organized than they were four years ago, now with a martyr’s tale for inspiration.”

While the Trump presidency will soon be over, the history of Trumpism is just beginning.

The McCarthy analogy is apt, but not the only one. The New Yorker’s Steve Coll compares Trump to George Wallace, the racist former Alabama governor and champion of segregation who won five states and 14 per cent of the national popular vote as an independent candidate in 1968.

By the time of Wallace’s death, in 1998, his influence over the electorate and the two major parties had dissipated to the vanishing point. Yet, as Dan T. Carter, Wallace’s authoritative biographer, writes, this was partly because, as Nixon and successive Republicans co-opted and mainstreamed aspects of Wallace’s strategy, “The politics of rage that George Wallace made his own had moved from the fringes of our society to center stage.” Carter concluded that Wallace “was the most influential loser in twentieth-century American politics.”

In Wallace’s time, it was common to dismiss his candidacy for the Presidency as a last gasp from the dying Jim Crow South. We can now see it as a warning flare—and as a reminder that it was not only Donald Trump who conceived of Trumpism.

This assessment helps us understand that, contrary to the self-comforting myths of Never Trump Republicans (sympathetic and grateful to them though I am), the rise of Trump was not a hostile takeover of the GOP, only the logical conclusion of where the party had long been heading. There really is no such thing as Trumpism: only a new incarnation of McCarthyism, which itself is only another manifestation of the very heart of right wing reactionaryism in toto.

Trump did not invent the Know Nothing, anti-Reason, paranoid reactionaryism that now bears his name any more than McCarthy did—far from it. Trump was just a con man who fit perfectly into an existing mold, an empty vessel for his apostles’ dark urges. So even if and when the man himself fades into irrelevance, Trumpism by any name will remain alive and well, merely the latest manifestation of a sickness as old as this nation, as old as humanity: the Erich Fromm-style appeal of authoritarianism, and the innate human susceptibility to the grift.

And that is what we have to worry about.

QUEEN’S GAMBIT

Whether Trump is the nominee or not, the 2024 election promises to be just as ugly as this past one.

Imagine four years from now, when even in the best case scenario, we will still be recovering from the ravages of COVID and its attendant economic destruction—ills that the GOP foisted on us with its monstrous incompetence and malevolence. With an infuriating level of obstructionism and hypocrisy, the Republicans will have spent all four of those years hammering the Biden administration mercilessly, blithely ignoring their own responsibility for the mess they bequeathed to it. Millions of Americans will buy that con. Millions did even last month at the polls, and continue to do so even now, while we are still in the middle of their horrific mismanagement.

It’s easy to picture a Republican demagogue, whether Trump or some even craftier successor, ginning up that juvenile public outrage and riding it to victory. In that case, I will publish a post called “The Ghost of Jimmy Carter.”

Speaking to the Washington Times, a Florida-based Trump supporter and GOP consultant named Brett Doster—who claims “Trump would destroy anyone in a GOP nomination contest in ‘24”—offered a vision of how that might work:

If Biden is tested by Russia and China, and if the economy free-falls, Trump can take the nomination without ever leaving Mar-a-Lago, and he’ll be invited back to Washington—not for the Oval Office but for a throne.”

He didn’t mean it in a cautionary way either; more of an optimistic, even prematurely jubilant one. To say nothing of Republicans’ general comfort level with autocracy.

For his part, Biden seems stunningly serene and self-assured, no doubt based on his long service in the Senate and confidence he can get things done. I hope he’s right.

But imagine if Biden—who will be 82 in 2024—retires after one term and hands the torch off to Kamala. Many of us would be delighted with that, and welcome the changing to the guard, even as we applaud Joe for the public service he has already done. (For my money he has already secured his place in history just by beating Trump.)

But can you imagine the obstacles of racism and misogyny Kamala will be up against, atop the usual vitriol aimed at a white or male (or white male) Democrat? Indeed, that venom is already in play even now.

And that is the more civilized scenario. Trump’s “shadow presidency” could easily turn into a violent insurgency, as we have already seen in various acts over the past four years, from the murder of Heather Heyer to the attempted pipe bombing by Cesar Sayoc, the killings in Kenosha, the foiled kidnapping and murder of Gretchen Whitmer, the death threats against Georgia election officials, and most recently, the mob threatening Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in her own home.

We might count ourselves lucky if Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism is all we have to deal with, as it’s clear that it would not take much to nudge MAGA Nation into a full-blown intifada.

I am not trying to be a buzzkill here, nor Schleprock, nor Eeyore, nor Debbie Downer, nor any other wet blanket of your choice. I am merely laying out the battlespace we’re facing and must prepare for.

The mad king is dead, or soon will be. But his loathsome movement lives on, and must be reckoned with.

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Photo: Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States, 1885-89 and 1893-97