I’d planned a completely different, and incredibly insightful piece (you’ll just have to trust me there) on the outcome of the Georgia election, but by the time I was expecting to sit down and finish the post, well… Anyway, most likely no one would be surprised to find out that I was very, very angry. And very, very sad. And I had temporarily lost the ability to communicate coherently – or the will to even bother, if I’m honest. After all, my respect for the constitution, and our government is deeply held, and sincere. Even today, I feel like words fail me. I have several on a loop in my head: incitement, coup, insurrection, sedition, treason (no, not treason – no war, no treason), several obscenities also come to mind. But that does not a thoughtful post make. So, here I am, opining as best I can, and partially rehashing some old stuff, while I clear out my head, and probably my social media (and possibly IRL) friends list.
I’d wrapped up my December 13th post with this observation: “In any event, for the Trump voters in my life and me, I expect that once the dust settles, and Biden has been inaugurated, there will be a period of reckoning and reconciliation. I’d like to have more reconciliation, but I’m not optimistic. The last four years, and especially the last 40 days have shown me some things I’d prefer not have seen. I’m still working through it.“
I’m kinda done. And the inauguration is too far in the future. For the Trump voters in my life, and for anyone playing still “what about”, if you are somehow still reading, I want to be very clear that given the events at the US Capitol building on the 6th:
If an armed insurrection that has so far left five people dead, one of them an officer in the Capitol Police who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher by those domestic terrorists is not enough to convince you that Donald Trump is a danger to this country every day that he remains in the White House, then we probably have very little else to talk about. And if you harbor even the slightest notion that these were patriots, who believed that they were defending a sitting president from a stolen election, I completely give up. Yes, they were deluded, by the president, and others, into believing that sixty court cases were lost due to institutional corruption, that the absence of proof of election fraud was proof of election fraud, that Bill Barr was too “deep state” to be honest about election fraud, but patriots? Get serious, these groups have been marching around with Confederate battle flags, swastikas, firearms, and a bad attitude for many years – they have never shown any respect for the constitution, for the principles on which this country was founded, or for the rule of law. The fact that they carried confederate battle flags into the Capitol building should have made that clear.
The notion that the president was encouraging them was always just brushed aside by his supporters, including people I once thought differently of, and other self-proclaimed conservatives. After the ‘stand back & stand by’ line in the debates, Rick Santorum noted that Trump doesn’t like saying bad things about his supporters, but that was all – nothing to see here. And, as was the case this week, he always followed up his dangerous rhetoric a few days later with a short speech, written by an aide, that almost sounded like he wanted “normal” (he never apologizes or accepts responsibility, though). So it’s all good now, right? Except that, as always, he followed that up with more angry, hostile, uppercase tweets. Kinda diminishes the sincerity factor.
In mid-December when Trump promised that January 6th in DC was going to “be wild” – what did you think he meant? I know what the fringes of his base thought. And so did law enforcement – the groups were actively planning on Parler, 8chan, and other of their favorite social media sites, for more than a mere protest march. After the tossing of the lawsuit against Pence by the court, Rep. Louie Gohmert said “Basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and Black Lives Matter”. Oh, but he didn’t really mean it the way it sounded. This week, ahead of the Congressional session, Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat“. Yeah, of course that’s not what he meant, perhaps, but it’s what he said. WORDS matter. RHETORIC matters. And few people understand this better than Donald Trump and his closest advisors. You cannot justify, or apologize, any of this away because the intended targets of these messages heard exactly what these political snakes intended – the fact that those snakes failed to understand the extent of the inherent violence at the heart of that part of the base really isn’t an excuse, and is likely untrue. Gohmert is a moron, but somewhere in Rudy’s rapidly declining brain there must be a remnant of what “incitement” is – the man was once a decent federal prosecutor. He knew. And more importantly, Donald Trump, Jr, when speaking to the crowd earlier that morning, riled them with a warning to congress that “we’re coming for you”. I know he probably meant politically. Maybe. But again, what he might have meant isn’t relevant – this crowd ate that up – and they came to DC already primed to fight. The president, himself, while telling the terrorists to demonstrate peacefully at the Capitol, also encouraged them to make their presence known, and stated that they were “stronger and smarter”, and that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness”. He gave himself the cover of plausible deniability, but the crowd knew, or assumed they knew, what he meant. Then he went back to the White House to watch the carnage unfold on TV. He also criticized VP Mike Pence for not unilaterally declaring him the winner – which would have been blatantly unconstitutional – but that criticism was heard loud and clear by those at the rally. Some of them were searching for Pence while they were in the Capitol. (And given that other members of these same groups had been planning to kidnap, try and execute Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan for pandemic restrictions, I think it’s safe to say that the ones looking for Pence didn’t want to just say ‘hello’.)
Yet, this is exactly what you get when you spend months BEFORE the election calling it rigged, and then spend the two months following the election telling increasingly bizarre tales of how the election was stolen. To be honest, this was always obviously part grift – the fundraising done for battling the alleged fraud was massive. And very little of the money was to be spent on legal costs. We knew we were watching a narcissist who was very unused to hearing the word “no”. But, it seems I underestimated just how badly his mental state was deteriorating – after listening to his full call last weekend with Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, it became clear that Donald Trump believed what he was saying – at least part of the time. Which makes him twice as dangerous because he is clearly unstable. He needs to be removed from the White House. And he needs to be prosecuted. To borrow a line from Andy Borowitz: “That quaint practice we have of not prosecuting former presidents has outlived its usefulness“. We’ve never had a president that actively attempted to stage a coup before. And don’t kid yourselves, that’s exactly what this was. He’s bought into his own lie, and the shared delusions of the conspiracy theorists he surrounds himself with, and he appealed directly to the darker elements of his base for help.
Of course the sedition problem doesn’t start or stop there. The House members who voted not to accept the slate of electors chosen by certain swing states – including Arizona challenging their own (and therefore their own wins, if common sense had any meaning) share culpability, and should at least be blocked from any committee work. But the senate – good grief – there is not one senator that challenged the electors, or planned to pre-riot, that seriously believed there was fraud of such a scale that the results would change. This was a cynical play to Trump’s supporters to lay the foundations, financial and otherwise, for future runs. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri – who fundraised like crazy after announcing his intent to challenge certain states – and whose resignation has been called for by both main Missouri newspapers, should be censured by the bar association, and expelled by the senate. Ditto for Ted Cruz and his absurd play to have a 10-day commission investigate the election. And the senators that stuck with Cruz. Both Cruz and Hawley know their constitutional law – they both clerked for US Supreme Court justices after law school. I understand that they wanted to pretend they care about the 74 million people that voted for Trump. I really do get it. But if they were at all serious, they would have not made a last minute effort to disregard, however briefly, the 81 million that voted for Biden. All of those senators and house members are nearly as guilty of incitement at this point, as the president himself. What was the harm in humoring Trump, and his attempts to shred our institutional norms? This. The storming of the US Capitol in a seditious attempt to stop the legitimate work of government from taking place. We came dangerously close to seeing the end of our nearly 245-year old exercise in self-governance, and anyone who believes that the president will remain subdued for the remainder of his term is fooling themselves. And didn’t check Twitter this morning (hint – I’ve just heard he was banned again). As long as Donald Trump remains in office, he is a danger to our national security – because he does not accept the fact that he lost the election, and he has no intention of backing down from his claims of a “stolen” election.
There were other lessons to be learned from this, which I’ll talk about in subsequent posts over the coming weeks. The incoming administration has a Herculean task ahead of them: they not only have to bridge divides, and restore normalcy, but they also have to take a long hard look at the systemic failures that made what happened this week possible. The guardrails we had have either fallen or been damaged. The next autocrat who comes along may well succeed if our checks and balances aren’t more firmly reinforced. They rely on honor and integrity, and it seems that only the judiciary held onto theirs this time around. We may not be that lucky next time.
Sunset, June 7, 2019.
Explainer/disclaimer: I’m an equal opportunity offender, and a member of no political party (no primaries for me to vote in, alas). I grew up in an environment (and time), at home and at school, where reasoned debate and logic were respected, and expected. Objective facts still held meaning. Even in my Catholic elementary schools, logic won points over emotion, and sometimes, even faith, in debates (at a time before Roe v Wade, I took a pro legalized abortion stance in an 8th-grade debate – and won). Not that I would ever claim to be free of emotional appeals (that’s sometimes the only way to decide between equally valid views, and sometimes things just are – or should be – viewed compassionately rather than coldly). At times over the years, my moderate, socially-liberal-yet still-in-touch-with-my-conservative-upbringing, opinions and ideals have annoyed, and actually angered, friends and family on both sides of the spectrum – particularly those on the extremes. I don’t enjoy the hostile reactions – or family tensions, so I often looked for ways to state my case without causing those that disagreed too much offense. A tactic that failed an unsurprising amount of the time because we all tend toward defensiveness when our belief systems are challenged. I enjoy the dialogue, though, so I put my thoughts out there, regardless, with mixed results. After (still) dealing with cancer and its long-term repercussions, as a senior – a time when our perspectives and priorities often change, I find that I am no longer inclined to always be quite so constrained.