This morning, the newspapers are full of information on the absconding defense lawyers, the pundits are busy pontificating, and the talking heads on the teevee are warming up for a good chinwag on the topic.
My sense is that some of them are getting out over their skis, in terms of explaining what is going on. That said, it seems that Trump views his forthcoming trial as a golden opportunity to further spread the big lie about the “stolen election.”
This plan presents major problemas for any lawyer who wishes to keep on earning money by practicing law. Two, in particular, stand out.
One. Trump apparently wants his lawyers to defend a proposition that is demonstrably contrary to fact.
Two. Apart from being demonstrably contrary to fact, the purportedly stolen election is only relevant to Trump’s guilt or innocence, if he is prepared to argue that, because the election was stolen, insurrection is justified.
This in a situation where seventy or eighty courts have declared that the election was not stolen, and no court has ruled to the contrary.
Now, Trump has a right to appear pro se and to argue his own case. Defendants always have that right, though it’s a really bad idea. But it happens anyway, from time to time.
Alternatively, Trump’s option is to find one or more lawyers who don’t care about being disbarred. Rudy Giuliani would fit the bill. Sure, he’s both a witness to, and a participant in, the events in question. Sure, he’s not supposed to be a witness and a lawyer at the same time. Sure, violating that rule could lead to disbarment. But Rudy has already done so many things that make him unfit to continue as a member of the New York Bar that, one would suppose, it hardly matters whether he does some more things that risk disbarment.
The great gamble of the Republican Party was that this coalition of respectability and riot could hold together, that the rage could be absorbed, exploited, and institutionalized. The GOP became a political lap-dance club: the lust for insurrection would be incited but not consummated. Implicit in this deal was a belief that the party and its professional politicians could still control entry into the arena of legitimate politics. Trump destroyed that smug self-assurance—though it might be more accurate to say that the antigovernment crowd used Trump to destroy the illusion on its behalf. …
The great crowd that chose Trump as its king is a restless and dynamic force. In the Tea Party years, it latched onto the rather unlikely cause of fiscal conservatism and the rights of billionaires. But ultimately it didn’t really care about balanced budgets, and perhaps not very much about health care—issues that evaporated midway through Trump’s presidency without any loss of enthusiasm among his supporters. It also turned out not to care all that much about the actual building of Trump’s wall or “draining the swamp.” Trump could fail to do the first and make a mockery of the second by flagrant corruption and self-dealing without diminishing the zeal of his fanbase. This is because the mob’s core demand is more fundamental. It wants the power to say who is real and who is not. …
It is not wrong to call the allegations of a rigged election … the “big lie” of Trumpism.
But it’s a lie that was already there. It is, in artistic terms, a readymade, a found object. It is, perhaps aptly, Trump’s version of the urinal that Marcel Duchamp renamed Fountain. He just put an existing notion of fraudulence on a pedestal and gave it a title: the Steal. But the object itself is both old and mass-produced. It is made by fusing the idea of an entitlement to privilege—which is being stolen from white Americans by traitors, Blacks, immigrants, and socialists—with the absolute distinction between real and unreal Americans. The concern is not, at heart, that there are bogus votes, but that there are bogus voters, that much of the US is inhabited by people who are, politically speaking, counterfeit citizens. Unlike us, they do not belong; they cannot be among the “we” who get to choose the king.
To begin at the beginning: (a) It is very hard to understand our present situation. (b) Prognosticating the present political situation into 2022 and 2024 is even harder. (c) In the recent past, Democratic leaders have often failed to understand what was driving the Republicans. And, in consequence, Democratic predictions of Republican behavior have often been wrong—often, 180 degrees wrong.
Very important points. Got ‘em. So, let’s move on from there.
Messrs. Brownstein and Sargent advance the thesis that it’s possible—given likely future Republican radicalization and given the oddities of our constitutional structure—that, going forward, a minority of 46 to 47 percent of the voters will be able to exercise effective dictatorship over the majority.
On that premise, they present some policy proposals and tactics to keep that from happening and to preserve democracy.
My Comments: A Return to Dystopianism?
I don’t want to comment on their policy proposals and political tactics. Those thoughts may well be sound. Nor do I want to summarize their reasoning. If you want to know their reasoning, you would do much better just to click the links and read for yourself.
Now, is it possible that the dystopian future they envision may come to pass? Yes, it is. In large part, because anything is possible.
But is it likely? I say no.
In the first place, because I don’t see a future Republican base of 46 to 47 percent of the country. I see a future Republican base of about 35 to 40 percent of the country. Yes, it’s true that, even without Trump in office and even without his tweets in their inboxes, the hard core of the Republican base is becoming crazier and crazier. But for every MAGA hatted person who agrees with Marjorie Taylor Greene that Jewish conspirators with space lasers caused California’s wildfires, there will be one or two previous Republican voters who will be appalled.
You might call it the ICK! factor.
And a closely related point: corporate America is turning decisively against the craziness. They may still love them some tax cuts, but not enough to secede from the coalition of the reality based.
And not enough to throw good money after bad, supporting unelectable characters like Shouty Shirt Gym Jordan. And, BTW, I think it’s no coincidence that Shouty Shirt Gym Jordan just announced that, no, he’s not going to try to succeed Rob Portman as senator from Ohio in 2022, I think the Republican big money crowd told Congressman Shouty Shirt to forget about it. Because the big money crowd didn’t get to be the big money crowd by constantly throwing good money after bad.
Like the QAnon folk and the Stolen Election crowd, I am on the lookout for evidence that supports my working hypothesis. Unlike them, I am also on the lookout for evidence that contradicts my working hypothesis.
In this case, my working hypothesis is that the Republican Party is breaking in two, and that what remains of it, in the short and medium term, will be a cultist remnant that cannot win elections in most places. As I just said, if I find some evidence to the contrary, I promise to report that contradictory evidence eo instante.
In the meantime, we have the case of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents the good people of Georgia’s Fourteenth Congressional District—up near Chattanooga, where about 85 percent of the people are White.
Rep. Greene thinks it would be a good idea to lynch President Obama and to shoot Speaker Pelosi. Or, at least, that’s what she says she thinks—and who are we to doubt her word?
Every day that passes from now until the Twelfth of Never, some empty-suited Republican congresspersons are going to be asked whether or not they agree with Rep. Greene’s program of political assassinations. And, if perchance they do not endorse that program, wouldn’t it be a good idea to shitcan her butt right out of Congress? Or at least to censure her in some way?
And every day, the empty-suited Republican congresspersons are going to temporize and weasel their way out of answering those questions.
And why will they do that, dear reader?
They will do that, first of all, because they are empty-suited weasels. And, second of all, because vast hordes of their voters also think it would be a good idea to assassinate leading Democrats. They wouldn’t do it themselves. But, if someone else did it, they surely to God would not cry in their beer.
As the gyre widens and widens, the institution known as the Republican Party will distill itself down to about one third of the population. From there, it will keep on distillin’. In all likelihood, 25 percent will be the lower bound.
They will hold a convention in 2024. They will probably nominate Donald Trump. Or, if he’s not up to running, it will be either Don Junior or Ivanka. Ain’t gonna be Cruz. Ain’t gonna be Hawley. Ain’t gonna be Tom Cotton. Ain’t gonna be Nikki Haley.
As for Messrs. Cotton, Cruz, and Hawley, and Ms. Haley, more fools they.
As someone said, this crowd wants the Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump.
The author maintains that the strategy has three components:
“Step 1: Obstruct the Biden agenda”
“Step 2: Suppress the vote” and
“Step 3: Motivate the GOP base by going full Trumpist”
and writes several paragraphs on each of the three topics, illustrating his thesis that the said tactic “could fail.” I will not comment further on his reasoning—please read his piece yourself, if you are interested—but will instead make some related points.
Who are these “Republicans” of Whom Mr. Waldman Speaks?
In essence, they are Mitch McConnell and his dozen closest friends. As distinguished from Republican donors or Republican Party officials or Republican voters in general.
What Does “Take Back Power” Mean in this Context?
It means “restore the old Republican coalition.” It means turning back the clock to those golden days of yesteryear, when plutocrat-supported candidates won elections, in many parts of the country, by dog whistling subtle racist messages for the Good Old Boys.
Are These Three Tactics, Considered Together, Best Described as a “Strategy”?
No, they are not. They are best described as a course of action dictated by desperation.
Will the Three-Part Plan Work Without Support from the Republican Business Donor Class?
I very much doubt it. Consider this. There will be Republican primaries for the Senate in 2022 in Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In each and every one of those states, the almost certain result of the primary will be the nomination of a candidate who is, number one, a lunatic; and number two, a guaranteed loser in a statewide race.
Will the Republican business donor class cheerfully get on those four bandwagons?
I think not.
It is important to call things by their right names. A course of conduct motivated by desperation is a course of conduct motivated by desperation, not the strategy of a reasonable person.
If a thing cannot be done, then that thing will not be done. If no one can put Humpty Dumpty back together again, then it follows that Mitch McConnell is not going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
These three folks start from the same premise I have adopted: you cannot begin to solve a problem—indeed, you cannot know whether a problem is solvable at all—until you understand the problem. And, by the way, “understanding” a problem is not the same as finding the one best noun that names the problem or the one best adjective that describes the problem.
I lack the energy today to try to comment on the three pundits’ analyses, but simply present them for your consideration and your reading pleasure.
I particularly like the multimedia presentation by Mr. Thompson. He writes,
When Mr. Biden’s inauguration played out as normal, participants were frustrated. By rejecting mainstream news, they embraced liars who fed them exactly what they wanted to hear.
“We know not to watch CNN. We know not to watch these people. But when we have people that we trust on the right, and we’re pushing that information out — because we don’t have many media sources, so the ones that come out, they need to be pretty damn good. And for them to take advantage of people’s hope? We cannot have that.”
If the Q movement had a slogan, it would be “Do your research.”The conspiracy is designed like a game. Discovering clues that clarify Q’s cryptic missives produces a eureka effect, which offers a hit of dopamine and improves memory retention. It’s the same satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle or finding the answer to a riddle.
Believers apply the same approach to everyday news: Find information that confirms any existing beliefs, then use it to augment their understanding of the conspiracy. Reject facts or information that counter the existing beliefs. It’s one of the reasons they struggle to recruit their family members, unless they’re persuaded to do research themselves.
I wondered what would happen in the days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Rather than re-evaluate their approach in the wake of Q’s failures, many doubled down. The problem wasn’t that the whole worldview was false, just that they had been led astray by inaccurate reports and misinterpretations. Their response was to improve their process. They would develop a list of sources, vet credentials, link to original material, and view unconfirmed information skeptically. They were, in a sense, inventing journalism.
Others made excuses. Theories spread that Q was actually part of a deep state plot to keep Mr. Trump’s supporters complacent. A few members tied Q’s strategy to a C.I.A. psychological operation. And if that was true, their prophets, like Q and Mr. Trump and major personalities in the community, weren’t everything they hoped they would be.
Forty-five Republican senators have voted for the proposition that the forthcoming trial of the God Emperor is unconstitutional because he has already left office. This would be a plausible conclusion, and maybe a correct conclusion, if the only consequence of conviction were removal from office. But that is not how it is. A second potential consequence of conviction is being barred from future federal office. So, the trial does not involve resolving a moot point. The 45 senators are wrong. I do not believe this is, in any way, a difficult question. On the contrary, In a world full of uncertainties, the error of the position taken by the 45 senators is the exception: it is just wrong.
My point is not to cast asparagus at the hypocrisy of these 45 senators. I try to write only of matters where I might, possibly, add some value. Enlarging upon the theme of Republican hypocrisy is not likely to add value to the marketplace of ideas.
But, hypocrisy aside, the development this afternoon nicely illustrates the trumped status of the Republican leadership. Jonathan Chait brilliantly captures the moment:
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial has not even begun, but it is already a foregone conclusion. All but five Republican Senators voted to dismiss the charges on the grounds that a former president could not be impeached.
The legal merits of this position are questionable at best: The Senate has historically impeached and convicted former officeholders, and even many conservative legal analysts agree that Trump’s departure does not rule out a trial. But what is perhaps most amazing about the Republican position is that they are the very party that refused to try him before he left.
A crucial argument made by Trump’s defense team — and repeated by his Republican allies — against his first impeachment trial last year was that it was too soon. Democrats, warned Trump’s lawyer, were “asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election … they’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in the election that’s occurring in approximately nine months.”
This logic was widely embraced by the Republican Senate. The Senate couldn’t remove Trump before the election. That’s what the election was supposed to decide.
After Trump attempted to undo the election result and secure a second term, ultimately whipping up a mob to storm the Capitol, Republicans grew briefly angry. The House quickly voted to impeach Trump for his incitement. But two days after the insurrection, McConnell announced that the Senate would not begin an impeachment trial for at least another 11 days.
To be sure, the Senate could have convened immediately to begin the trial. It refused to because Trump’s allies wouldn’t allow it. The Senate would need unanimous consent to start the trial, and, as the Washington Post noted, “with a cadre of Trump-allied senators in the Republican conference, that unanimous consent is highly unlikely.” McConnell has gotten unanimous consent before, but there is no evidence he even tried this time.
The perfect moment for a trial happened to fall when the Senate was on vacation. What are you gonna do?
And now that Trump has left office, it is sadly too late to hold a trial. And so Republicans will not have to take a stand on whether Trump’s efforts to cancel a presidential election through a combination of subterfuge and violence amounts to a high crime. Before the election, it was too soon to convict him. Then there was a brief lame-duck period when it was neither too soon nor too late, but Republicans decided not to convene. Then they came back, and it was too late.
The Republican Establishment has suppressed its initial feelings of revulsion toward Trump’s mob and calculated that trying to make a clean break with the aspiring authoritarian president would alienate conservative voters. And even many of the conservative intellectuals who initially declared Trump’s crimes to be impeachable have decided the timing is wrong.
“We’ve said Mr. Trump’s actions — and failure to act to stop the riot as it unfolded — were an impeachable offense and urged him to resign,” reasons The Wall StreetJournaleditorial page, “But now he is out of office and no longer the ‘imminent threat’ that House Democrats said justified their rushed impeachment.” Notice how after the first sentence concedes the severity of Trump’s offense, the second sentence both accuses Democrats of a “rushed” impeachment and insists it’s too late.
National Review editor Rich Lowry argues, somewhat more forthrightly, that the timing inherently ruled out any conviction. “The problem with impeachment was that it seemed inevitable that it would either be so rushed that it would dispense with every traditional process and therefore lack legitimacy or that it would stretch beyond Trump’s time in office with no chance to convict and therefore lack legitimacy … ” he argues, “There were no good options in terms of timing here, given that Trump’s most flagrant post-election offense came two weeks away from his scheduled exit from office.”
Nobody is defending the insurrection. It merely happens to have taken place during a wormhole in the calendar in which a president can violate the law with complete impunity. They would like very much to hold Trump accountable, but the founders designed the Presidential Crime Wormhole, and we must respect their wisdom.