Those of you who have argued politics with strangers on the Internet (try it, it’s fun!) will be familiar with the following dynamic:
1. You post something that suggests that Donald Trump might not be the best president ever.
2. They reply with an angry, insulting remark—usually containing an obscenity, often involving your mother and farm animals.
3. Trying to stay on the high road, you reply with evidence to support your side of the argument, often in the form of a link from the New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Atlantic, New Republic, etc. You know: credible journalism.
4. They sneer at the very thought, suggesting—without reading the piece, of course—that these publications are worthless even to line a birdcage, seeing as they are tools of a vast liberal conspiracy.
At that point I typically bail, as there is no point carrying on a discussion with someone engaged in the right wing’s infinite loop of malignant ignorance.
This insidious phenomenon has been much remarked upon, but to recap quickly:
Because the Right is propagating an ideology that runs contrary to demonstrable reality (on climate change, economics, foreign policy, immigration, nuclear proliferation, et al), when confronted with facts that they cannot logically refute, right wingers habitually adopt a strategy of murdering the messenger. In the Republican world, even the most legitimate news organizations—like the aforementioned publications and their kin, the very gold standard of American journalism—are all lower than supermarket tabloids, controlled as they are by George Soros, the Clintons, and Barbra Streisand. Not a word in them can be taken seriously, or even merits the energy to move one’s lips to read.
It’s a perpetual motion disinformation machine which no critical data can penetrate, because such data is heresy by definition.
Needless to say, this dynamic is toxic for a functioning democracy, as it makes intelligent debate impossible. It is an insidious, deliberately Orwellian subversion of truth as a common metric and a serious danger to the health of the republic. And Donald Trump, an inveterate, pathological liar and con man par excellence, is both the ultimate product of this mentality and its perfect standard bearer, the drum major marching at the head of the parade of proud Know Nothings that the modern GOP has become.
A MIDDLE FINGER TO JOE FRIDAY
Ho-hum. What else is new?
The GOP’s embrace of what the vampiric Kellyanne Conway memorably called “alternative facts” long pre-dates the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it has reached its apotheosis with a Republican president* who blithely ignores the truth and spews falsehoods as naturally as he breathes. Anti-intellectualism is an old strain in reactionary politics. But reverse snobbery at eggheaded academics is one thing; denying that the sky is blue is quite another.
Many have written about this decimation of truth itself as the greatest of the many dangers that Trump poses. (And I have too. See The Nature of the Person….and the Nature of the Threat, September 14, 2017.) But it is worth considering again the state of the “post-truth” landscape as we lurch forward toward some sort of closure to the Russia inquiry and the other criminal and counterintelligence investigations involving Trump, his family, and his businesses. For the right wing disconnect from the reality-based world will soon come into full bloom.
Last week’s post in this blog, about Trump’s fake national emergency, was illustrated with a photo of a pair of migrants with a baby clambering over a piece of the pre-existing border wall. I chose that photo to illustrate a) how ineffective walls are, and b) who these alleged “criminals” and “terrorists” are whom we’re told we need the full military might of the US Army to repel.
The post drew a lot of comments, especially from Trump supporters, most of whom apparently “read” no further than that photo. Many of them were on the order of “yer a fuckin idiot, mr necktie” or “BUILD THE WALL!!!!!!!” (A convincing argument, admittedly.) More than a few suggested that the wall in the picture should be electrified, or fortified with snipers. When I pointed out the lack of Christian charity in the idea that the US government ought to kill innocent children in cold blood, one of these commenters wrote, “You obviously don’t understand sarcasm.”
In fact I do, and while that may have been a morbid and despicable attempt at humor, it is not sarcasm. It’s also disingenuous to claim that it’s “just a joke,” when the “joke” itself inherently betrays the commenter’s hateful mentality. (My wife and I spent five years studying humor as it relates to taboo topics for our documentary The Last Laugh. Believe me, I can tell when someone’s punching down, not up.)
The other homicidal comments apparently weren’t meant as jokes at all.
Per above, it’s pointless to make any kind of logical argument with people in the grip of this kind of fanatic resistance to facts. In response to one individual who was up on his “law and order” soapbox about border crossings, I asked why he wasn’t concerned with other lawbreaking, citing as just one example, the New York Times’ exhaustive, eighteen-months-in-the-making report on the Trump family’s long pattern of brazen tax fraud. The response I got was along the lines of, “LOL—the NY Times? Fake news!”
In another political argument I had online—ironically, one of the more calm and reasonable ones—a woman cited an apocryphal, derogatory story about Obama. (I can’t recall which one, as they as legion.) In response, I sent her a Snopes link debunking the tale. She replied, without rancor, that she wasn’t going to read what Snopes had to say “because I like to make up my own mind.”
That’s like saying, “I don’t need a scale—I like to decide for myself what I weigh.”
But that is where the American right is in 2019. Like the man said, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.
You may say that I am the true knucklehead here for even wasting my time arguing with these folks, and you’re not wrong. But if nothing else, it’s instructive about the sheer irrationality of Trump Nation and the American right at large.
And of course, as we all know, these people are led by public figures who gleefully exploit that gullibility with the most shameless dishonesty imaginable. Last week, in a contentious interview with Chris Wallace of Fox, Stephen Miller made the circular, Kafkaesque argument that the border wall was necessary to protect the US Army troops that Trump deployed to the border in order to build the wall. (Then he unhinged his jaw and swallowed a live rat.)
Blind allegiance. Denial of irrefutable reality. Fanatical loyalty in defiance of the plain truth. What all this boils down to, as Chris Hedges recently wrote, is that the Republican Party has become a cult. Not like a cult, not cult-as-metaphor, but a literal cult in which the word of the leader is to be believed over what one can see with one’s own eyes. (See Drinking the Flavor-Aid [And Yes, I Mean Flavor-Aid], December 4, 2018.)
Is there any reason to think that these same people are ever going to wake up and smell the bongwater about this fake president and the vast criminal enterprise over which he presides, no matter what evidence eventually emerges?
BEHOLD THE TROUSER INFERNO
This same right wing impulse was on display in Michael Cohen’s bombshell appearance this week before three Congressional committees, or at least the public one that was televised live. (We can presume the Republicans didn’t behave any better in the other two behind closed doors.)
Even though he didn’t offer many new revelations—just stunning first person confirmation of wanton criminality we already knew about—Cohen’s testimony was such a juggernaut that I find it too daunting to try to assess just yet. Its import and impact will emerge over time. But already this much is clear:
The Republican members of the House Oversight Committee displayed not an iota of concern that there is credible evidence that the President of the United States directed hush money payments to a porn star that constitute felony campaign finance violations; that he may have had foreknowledge of illegal coordination with hostile foreign actors, both via Wikileaks and the Kremlin hack of the DNC and a meeting that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager held with agents of the Russian Federation; that he baldly lied to the American people about his extensive business connections in Russia, dealings which continued even after he won the Republican nomination; that he is at the center of decades of tax evasion, real estate fraud, intimidation, coercion, and corruption; and that he suborned perjury to cover all this up, not to mention other ongoing cases in the SCO and SDNY that Cohen couldn’t talk about.
(But her emails!)
It was telling that not one of the Republican congressmen even tried to defend Trump by saying that these were outrageous allegations that couldn’t possibly be true; we all know that they are more than plausible. All they could do was try to undermine Cohen’s credibility, literally employing what is known in legal parlance as the “liar liar pants on fire” gambit. (Sorry for the technical jargon.)
But Michael Cohen is already on his way to prison for lying to Congress, and while the GOP tried to make that irony the centerpiece of their assault, the reverse is actually much more convincing. This is a man who cannot afford to be caught in any further falsehoods, especially given that the feds know the truth and would pounce on anything he said that was untrue. That’s how he got caught in the first place.
The real irony is that every time they called Cohen a liar for deceiving Congress about the Moscow tower project during his last appearance on Capitol Hill, they were de facto calling Trump a liar, because both men were spreading the exact same falsehood. Indeed, Trump is the one who directed Cohen to lie in the first place.
Even as the GOP continues to defend him to the death, how far has Trump’s stock fallen as a credible frontman? Consider this.
When he met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore last June, it was major news. This time, when they met in Vietnam, it barely merited a blip, except for jokes about how Trump’s bone spurs finally healed. By now not even Fox can pretend that he is accomplishing anything with these ridiculous summits except further debasing America’s global stature and enhancing North Korea’s. To that end, the Hanoi meeting didn’t even work as a distraction from Cohen’s showstopping appearance before Congress, proving that you can’t use the same stunt twice. (To exactly no one’s surprise, Trump was the one who got distracted and cut the summit short, heading home in a piteous rage.)
WHEN IT’S TIME TO RELAX…..
So what does the right wing’s willful ignorance mean for the approaching endgame?
Every time Mueller drops an indictment, I—like many of us—am always surprised by the depths of Team Trump’s criminality, which I already thought was at Marianas Trench-level. But writing recently in The Atlantic, David Graham neatly summarized the known facts of the Russiagate case, and made the astute observation that while the special counsel’s eventual report may contain new bombshells, we don’t really need it to conclude that this president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors:
(I)f one is not already convinced that the president’s behavior is unacceptable, it would require an immense revelation to change one’s mind—if that’s even possible. Conversely, if one looks at these facts and believes they merit impeachment (or another sanction), then standing sentry for a nebulously timed, nebulously structured report hardly seems worth the effort.
There may well be bombshells in Mueller’s report, or in indictments between now and then; the special counsel has repeatedly shocked even close observers with new revelations and details. But the number of smoking guns already in plain sight make it hard to believe that a new one will have an effect on Trump’s GOP allies that the earlier ones haven’t…..
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need a special counsel’s report to know what kind of president Trump is.
In other words, no matter how damning, the special counsel’s findings are likely to be yet another inkblot in our ongoing, nationwide Rorschach test.
By the way, I’m not yet convinced that Bob Mueller is filling up banker’s boxes and getting ready to un-ass the AO, despite breathless reportage to that effect. (Watch this space.) And even once the Mueller probe does grind to a close, Congressional inquiries will continue, as will the investigations by the Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General, among others. But it goes without saying that no matter what findings are returned by the Mueller team, the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight Committees, the SDNY, and the New York State AG, Trump Nation will dismiss them without the batting of an eye. We must prepare ourselves for this fact.
In their Bizarro World, no fact is too ironclad to be scoffed at, brushed aside as “libtard” lies, or chalked off as “everybody does it” business as usual, if that fact inconveniently suggests that Donald Trump isn’t the second coming of Jesus Christ. (The blue-eyed Sallman Head one, natch.) We should not expect any amount of incontrovertible evidence to change those minds. As we all know, to this day there are Americans who defend Nixon, McCarthy, and Jefferson Davis. Hell, in some dark corner of unrepentant colonial Toryism there may even be some who defend Benedict Arnold—another fella Donald Trump is likely to find himself seated alongside in American history’s hall of shame.
As the vise closes on Trump, these dead-enders will be completely irrelevant to any kind of serious discussion. It’s astonishing to think that we’re talking about just writing off some eighty million adult Americans, but there you have it.
But that Salem-like mass hysteria will not excuse the leadership of the Republican Party from having to contend with the facts. Naturally, they too will try to adopt the same nonchalant “nothing to see here” approach as any other red-capped Joe Sixpack tuned in to Hannity and still railing about the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria. But they are not going to be able to do that.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Mitch McConnell would EVER do anything because it’s the right thing to do, or that he considers anything more valuable than raw power, and certainly not morality, the rule of law, or the United States Constitution. The only principle he adheres to is “Fuck you; I got mine.”
But I am saying that I can imagine a scenario in which the external pressure on Mitch and the rest of the Republican Party is so great—outnumbered as they are by sane, incensed Americans both in the professional political class and the public at large—that their defense of Trump will become untenable.
Let us not forget that we are the majority. For more than two years now America has been held hostage by a mere 30% or so of its citizenry, protected (and exploited) by a craven Republican Party that has forfeit all claim to being a legitimate political organization, and now resembles nothing so much as a cult, a criminal gang, or a terrorist insurgency, depending on which angle you view it from.
The GOP’s die-in-place defense can be overcome, but only by resolute commitment and focused outrage from principled Americans who comprise that majority. If we mobilize, and organize, and get our act together for 2020, talk of impeachment or the 25th Amendment will become moot, with the added bonus that the fundamental mechanisms of American democracy will be seen to have worked, and we won’t have to endure right wing whining about a Deep State coup (though they’ll do it anyway of course).
The idea that Trump might not peacefully leave office, even if he is defeated in 2020—a prospect which Cohen chillingly raised this week—is another matter, especially if the presidency is the only thing standing between him and an avalanche of criminal indictments that await him in private life.
But for now, as a start, let’s show these motherfuckers democracy in action.