A Man And A Mob
Our Constitutional crisis is due to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump alone.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” - former veep Mike Pence.
There is a tendency, and I understand it, to view the crisis of democratic legitimacy in this country as multi-determined. The rank failure of elites this century, the intellectual barrenness of the pre-Trump GOP, the ever-further radicalization of the left, along with the cultural impacts of mass immigration and free trade, all count as contributing factors. You can tell the story in many different ways, with varying emphases, and assignations of blame.
But this complexity misses something important — the contingent importance of individuals in human history. And the truth is: we would not be where we are now without Donald Trump, and Donald Trump alone. He is unique in American history, a president who told us in advance he would never accept any election result that showed him losing, and then proved it. He tried to overturn the transfer of power to his successor by threats and violence. No president in history has ever done such a thing — betrayed and violated the core of our republic — from Washington’s extraordinary example onwards. The stain of Trump is as unique as it is indelible.
Without Trump, January 6 would never have happened. It was his idea, and his alone. No one in his closest inner circle believed he had won the election on November 3. They all knew that the Trump presidency was “the rotten carcass of a boat, not rigg’d, / Nor tackle, sail, nor mast.” None of them would have attempted to keep it afloat.
And, thanks to the January 6 Committee, we now know this for certain. Mike Pence, his vice president, didn’t believe Trump had won, let alone by a landslide — for which he was targeted to be hanged by the mob Trump gathered. (A new detail: Trump — after the violence had already broken out — incited the mob against Pence directly, and they surged to get within 40 feet of him.)
His daughter Ivanka and Jared Kushner also didn’t believe Trump had won — and we now know they planned to move to Miami only 24 hours after Trump declared he had been robbed. Trump’s beloved Hope Hicks didn’t believe he’d won. His campaign manager Bill Stepien didn’t either, and in a lovely understatement said he “didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional.” Even Kellyanne “alternative facts” Conway didn’t think he’d won.
Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, didn’t think he’d won either, and told him so: “I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit. And I didn’t want to be a part of it.” Here’s how Trump responded to his top cop telling the truth: “This is killing me. You must have said this because you hate Trump, you hate Trump.” For Trump, there is no objective reality; no actual facts to be considered. There is only his subjective reality, where non-facts are asserted with the intensity of a madman.
Who did believe that Trump had won? A shit-faced Rudy Giuliani on election night; the fruitcake conspiracist Sidney Powell; QAnon nutter Lin Wood, who wanted the vice president to face a firing squad for doing his job; and another deranged flunky, Peter Navarro. Then there was the disgraceful John Eastman, who crafted a legal strategy that he knew was unconstitutional, illegal and could lead to riots. “Garbage in, garbage out,” was how Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, described the clique and their plots.
The cockamamie scheme these oddballs constructed aimed at bullying Republican state legislators to provide alternative electors who would back Trump in the Electoral College, despite the votes in their states, and to coerce Mike Pence to refuse to certify the election on January 6, so they’d have time to overturn the results. (A freelancer to the fiasco, Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence, pressed 29 legislators in Arizona to change their slate of electors.)
This required harassment of GOP officials in the states to simply “find” more votes for Trump. At this point, it’s only Trump, his new inner circle of nut-cases, Fox News, and mobs around the country. Nothing was ruled out. At one point, they considered seizing voting machines and calling out the military. Trump tweeted threats to individual office-holders to get them to bend the knee. Here is an account by one, a Republican commissioner in Philly, who looked into Giuliani’s claim that 8,000 dead people had voted in his city, found none, and said so:
[P]rior to that [tweet from Trump], the threats were pretty general in nature. Corrupt election officials in Philadelphia are going to get what’s coming to them. You’re what the second amendment is for. You’re walking into the lion’s den. All sorts of things like that.
After the President tweeted at me by name, calling me out the way that he did, the threats became much more specific, much more graphic, and included not just me by name but included members of my family by name, their ages, our address, pictures of our home. Just every bit of detail that you could imagine.
That’s Trump leveraging violence against election officials for defending the integrity of the vote. No surprise then that he repeated this strategy against his own “pussy” vice president and the Congress itself — egging on a mob he had summoned to ransack the Capitol building to stop the certification (“it’s going to be wild!”), and refusing repeatedly to intervene throughout the day to stop the violence, even as others begged him to. The night before the mayhem, Trump had left the White House door open — highly unusual for him. And this was winter in Washington. According to Costa and Woodward, when Trump was asked to shut it by shivering staffers, he responded: “I want to hear my people. Listen. They have courage. Listen.”
He was emphatically told he’d lost the election. He was told what he was trying to do was illegal and unconstitutional, days before he directed the mob. But he didn’t care and did it anyway. Eastman for his part knew he was committing a crime against the Constitution, a crime which might have set off rioting in the streets, which is why (we now know) he sought a preemptive pardon for his malfeasance. How’s that for an admission of guilt? But he didn’t care and did it anyway.
There are simply no precedents in history for this kind of assault on the core principles of the American republic. None. And there is no precedent for a president, having been exposed as a fantasist, to carry on, insisting that his fever dream remains reality, attacking the very legitimacy of our democracy, day after day. The idea that he could run again — or again become president — could only be entertained by those who wish to end the American experiment.
Peruse the 12-page letter Trump put out in response to the hearings. It is the work of someone with no grip on reality, absurd lie after lie after lie, barely literate, the kind of thing you’d think was written by a lunatic if you received it in the mail. Any other president would have conceded on election night. Others with a real case (unlike Trump’s) — Nixon in 1960, Gore in 2000 — knew what their duty was. They cared more about the republic than themselves — a concept simply outside Trump’s cognition. In four years, he never acted as a president. He only ever acted as Trump.
In the bitter end, he was just a man with a mob. Not a Republican. Not a politician. Not a president. Not a member of any political party but his own cult. A mindless, raging, bullying thug. The hearings have methodically and calmly revealed this, masterfully led by a Republican, Liz Cheney, through testimony supplied by Republican after Republican witness.
And yet just this week, Trump acolytes repeating his lies won primaries in Nevada and South Carolina. Republican election officials in some states have said they will decide the results of future elections — and not the voters. Steve Bannon has encouraged a wave of new candidates in positions overseeing elections to foment chaos. The crisis Trump — and Trump alone — has created is not over. Biden’s legacy — an abandonment of his mandate for moderation, soaring inflation, an imminent recession, yet another new war, and woker-than-woke extremism — has only deepened it.
So it’s up to Republicans to save us. In the words of Michael Luttig, “as a political matter of fact only the party that instigated this war over our democracy can bring an end to that war.” And here I just want to appeal to any conservatives or Republicans who might read this. You know I’m not a flaming liberal. You know I agree with many of you on the threat from the far left. So hear me out: The party of Lincoln cannot coexist with the cult of Trump. What Trump did to the republic has nothing whatsoever to do with conservatism. It’s the antithesis of conservatism, a revolutionary act to create a constitutional crisis, an assault on tradition, an attack on America itself. You may soon have a chance to run the country again. Don’t throw that away for the sake of a man who cares about nothing but himself.
I’m not of the view that the hearings will change nothing. If they shift the views of even a small group of Republicans, and help draw those voters to a new candidate without Trump’s poisonous legacy, there is some hope. Maybe John Ellis’s Gold Watch strategy — praising Trump to the skies for changing the GOP’s policies but suggesting someone else (like DeSantis) to adopt them, is viable. It certainly seems more so than any current Democratic candidate winning the persuadables.
But this is also true. As long as the Republican Party considers Trump a potential candidate for a second term, that party is a direct threat to everything America stands for. Until they reject and move past him, they are nothing more than an adjunct to that mob on that day. And to the lunatic who commanded it.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my reaction to Biden’s new executive order on “conversion therapy” when it comes to trans kids; my discussion with David Goodhart on how our capitalist society overvalues high IQ; many reader dissents on a variety of topics, including wokeness, Biden’s record, and the Bell Curve; a half-dozen notable quotes from the news; 15 links to a range of Substacks we enjoyed this week; an Yglesias Award for Ann Coulter; a Hathos Alert for the self-important Jason Stanley; a musical mashup of Survivor and Merle Haggard; a very English view from a reader’s window; and, last but not least, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a happy subscriber:
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I’ve been an on-again, off-again subscriber for years. Like many others, I don’t always agree with you but always find you reasonable. I hope you’re enjoying P-Town.
Have you had time to listen to Bill Maher’s new podcast, “Club Random”? I really enjoy hearing more from Bill on other, non-political subjects. I hope to hear from you on there sometime soon.
I’m heading back to “Real Time” next Friday. Until then:
Bowie had some inflammation in her lower back last week — the price of having only three legs — and it rattled me. Got some meds from Wellfleet’s wonderful vet service. Staggeringly, Provincetown no longer has a single vet. So many dogs and cats and so many lesbians. It’s a real mystery to me why that spot hasn’t yet been taken.
Dissents Of The Week: Has Wokeness Finally Waned?
A reader argues that my column on the vide-shift against wokeness belies my broader campaign against it:
So, you’re finally waking up to the fact that the woke nonsense is going away everywhere, but your reasoning is still incorrect. This hollow movement was always a tiny percentage of people who peddled such nonsense. They were able to get press traction for a minute, but nothing to deserve any long-term fear. It was always smoke and mirrors, but I guess you do need windmills to fill the pages of your Substack.
Contrary to what you said in your conversation with Kirchick, wasn’t it Tennessee Williams who commented on JFK’s ass, not Gore Vidal? Vidal, who was present, then said that Tennessee can’t cruise the next president, and Tennessee rebutted (as it were) that the American public would never elect Kennedy because he’s far too attractive.
In my defense, I was speaking and slightly garbled the story. Our reader’s correction checks out. Money quote:
At one point, while Jack was shooting, [Tennessee] muttered in my ear, ‘Get that ass!’ [Vidal] said, ‘Bird, you can’t cruise our next president.’ The bird chuckled ominously: ‘They’ll never elect those two. They are much too attractive for the American people.’ Later, I told Jack that the Bird had commented favorably on his ass. He beamed. ‘Now, that’s very exciting,’ he said.”
What Is Conversion Therapy?
This week, alphabet-people interest groups greeted a new executive order by Joe Biden with glee. “My order will use the full force of the federal government to prevent inhumane practices of conversion therapy,” the president said.
Most of us have long understood “conversion therapy” to be the attempt to cure people of homosexuality. It has indeed been thoroughly discredited. (For a thorough examination of “reparative therapy,” see the second chapter of Love Undetectable.) But with the woke, you always have to be super-careful about language. This ban is about “conversion therapy” for trans kids as well.
And what could that “conversion therapy” be?
(Read the rest of that post here)
New On The Dishcast: David Goodhart
Goodhart is a British journalist. In 1995 he founded Prospect, the center-left political magazine, where he served as editor for 15 years, and then became the director of Demos, the cross-party think tank. His book The Road to Somewhere coined the terms “Anywheres” and “Somewheres” to help us understand populism in the contemporary West. We also discuss his latest book, Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century. It’s about our society’s over-valuation of cognitive skills, and disparagement of others.
New transcript just dropped: Fiona Hill on Russia, Trump, and the American Dream. You probably recall that she was one of Trump’s advisors on the National Security Council and testified against him during impeachment. Here’s a money quote from Fiona relevant to this week’s hearings:
He’s not a conservative. He’s somebody who will play in any direction that he thinks will be beneficial for himself. […] Remember the awful episode that I had to live through — and everybody else had to watch — in Helsinki, when he takes Putin’s word over the intelligence community’s. And he said, the telling phrase is: “I have Vladimir Putin next to me. And he’s been very strong and powerful.” Because Putin epitomizes for him what a leader is. He’s got autocrat envy as well. Trump believed that he ought to also be completely in charge as president, stay on as long as he liked. That’s why we had on January 6th the attempt to subvert the electoral process.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as inflation, rape in women’s prisons, AI, and college-debt cancellation. Below is one example, followed by a few Substacks new to the scene:
Jacob Siegel has a must-read on the “the ‘yawning’ habit of sophisticated liberals.”
You can also browse all the Substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.