Earlier I said that the domestic attack on our country-- the coup attempt-- has to be dealt with. I didn't get into the "how." I started by celebrating the letter Ted Lieu and Mondaire Jones sent to the NY Bar disciplinary committee chairman asking that Giuliani be disbarred. It is clear that Giuliani incited a riot, rebelled against America and participated in an insurrection, and was part of a seditious conspiracy. Losing his law license seems a little... lenient, no? If it's a first step, fine. But the last step has to be into a prison cell or onto a gallows. And, obviously this isn't just about Rudy Giuliani.
The first e-mail I opened today came from an old friend from my teenage days. She wrote just two lines: "I see massive armed insurrection and bloodshed at legislative offices all over the country in the near future. Very very very bad." I'm not sure how massive that insurrection she sees will be. At our very liberal college-- as the war in Vietnam raged and an internal battle against institutionalized racism exploded around us-- I noticed that the student body was more or less divided in 3: those who were fighting for equality and peace, conservatives who were fighting to defend the status quo (including racism and the war against the Vietnamese people) and, those who just wanted to be left alone and not made to look at any of that... just study for their engineering exam. I was the freshman class fresident and was involved with campus elective politics the entire time I was there. I never lost an election-- and I never pussy-footed around the issues. Some of my friends said I was too hard core and wouldn't appeal to the engineers and that not everyone liked the idea of voting for someone who got tossed into jail for supposedly helping organize the first big draft card burning demonstration in NYC. And yet, my last election-- senior year-- was for one of the at-large Senate seats and I got more votes than anyone got for any office that year. And the engineers knew exactly who I was.
Did you know that's what happened during the American Revolution too? About a third of the population of the 13 colonies, the Patriots, were willing to fight for our independence. Another third, the conservatives or loyalists, were on the side of the British, and the final third just wanted to be left alone. It always seems to be that way.
I've come to the conclusion this week that fighting for a largely symbolic impeachment for Trump-- and perhaps expulsion from Congress for Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Mo Brooks-- are, like Giuliani's disbarment-- first steps that need to lead elsewhere.
Trump has been trying to reinstitute the use of firing squads. For those among us who favor capital punishment-- as I do, as long as there's no racial or class prejudice in the system-- I can think of no better use of Trump's firing squads than for seditionists and insurrectionists. Schwarzenegger talked about Kristallnacht in the video above. That was the end of 1938, way too late to stop Hitler, who should have been executed after the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Wednesday was Trump's failed attempt at a Beer Hall Putsch. He failed; he should still be executed.
I mean I was glad to see Judd Legum's report this morning that three major corporations say that they will stop contributing to Republican members of Congress who encouraged the rioters. Bluer Cross/Blue Shield, Marriott International and Commerce Bank are help finance Republicans more than Democrats-- and all three said the 147 Republicans who helped foment the coup attempt are now off their donation lists. Nice... but not exactly nice enough.
As Vox reported last week, the insurrection was going on not just in DC, but in state capitols all over the country. In Arizona, the Trumpists brought a guillotine. Some were peaceful demonstrations; others were violent and very dangerous. John Pavlovitz described the Trumpist insurrection this way today:
This was an empty insurrection.
It was a hollow treason.
It was a deadly, costly nothing revolution.
OK... and. And the perpetrators must be dealt with appropriately. Losing their law licenses is... like I said, a first step. This morning, Jim VandeHei (Axios) had his own idea about 3 Americas, asserting that the country, "torn apart by insurrection and mass misinformation, is witnessing a political and social realignment unfold in real time: We’re splitting into three Americas... breaking into blue America, red America, and Trump America-- all with distinct politics, social networks and media channels. The existential question for Republicans, and perhaps for America, is whether Trump America-- animated by the likes of Newsmax + Rush Limbaugh + Tucker Carlson + Parler (or whatever replaces it)-- eclipses the traditional Red America in power in the coming years. Parts of Trump America, canceled by Twitter and so many others, are severing their ties to the realities of the other Americas, and basically going underground. There will be less awareness and perhaps scrutiny of what's being said and done... The Republican Party is splitting into two, starting with the relatively small Never Trumpers breaking off in 2016 and joined four years later by a new slice of establishment Republicans repulsed by President Trump's post-election actions... Now, more than ever, is the time to read and reflect: Our nation is rethinking politics, free speech, the definition of truth and the price of lies. This moment-- and our decisions-- will be studied by our kid's grandkids."
Tim Snyder is a historian who studies fascism. He wrote a definitive essay for the NY Times Magazine this morning. "[T]he responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences. Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome."
Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump-- like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia-- is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.
Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo...
Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term “fake news” echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse (“lying press”); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as “enemies of the people.” Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to American newspapers what the Great Depression did to German ones. The Nazis thought that they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.
Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.
...In November 2020, reaching millions of lonely minds through social media, Trump told a lie that was dangerously ambitious: that he had won an election that in fact he had lost. This lie was big in every pertinent respect: not as big as “Jews run the world,” but big enough. The significance of the matter at hand was great: the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The level of mendacity was profound. The claim was not only wrong, but it was also made in bad faith, amid unreliable sources. It challenged not just evidence but logic: Just how could (and why would) an election have been rigged against a Republican president but not against Republican senators and representatives? Trump had to speak, absurdly, of a “Rigged (for President) Election.”
The force of a big lie resides in its demand that many other things must be believed or disbelieved. To make sense of a world in which the 2020 presidential election was stolen requires distrust not only of reporters and of experts but also of local, state and federal government institutions, from poll workers to elected officials, Homeland Security and all the way to the Supreme Court. It brings with it, of necessity, a conspiracy theory: Imagine all the people who must have been in on such a plot and all the people who would have had to work on the cover-up.
...Trump never prepared a decisive blow. He lacked the support of the military, some of whose leaders he had alienated. (No true fascist would have made the mistake he did there, which was to openly love foreign dictators; supporters convinced that the enemy was at home might not mind, but those sworn to protect from enemies abroad did.) Trump’s secret police force, the men carrying out snatch operations in Portland, was violent but also small and ludicrous. Social media proved to be a blunt weapon: Trump could announce his intentions on Twitter, and white supremacists could plan their invasion of the Capitol on Facebook or Gab. But the president, for all his lawsuits and entreaties and threats to public officials, could not engineer a situation that ended with the right people doing the wrong thing. Trump could make some voters believe that he had won the 2020 election, but he was unable to bring institutions along with his big lie. And he could bring his supporters to Washington and send them on a rampage in the Capitol, but none appeared to have any very clear idea of how this was to work or what their presence would accomplish. It is hard to think of a comparable insurrectionary moment, when a building of great significance was seized, that involved so much milling around.
...On Jan. 7, Trump called for a peaceful transition of power, implicitly conceding that his putsch had failed. Even then, though, he repeated and even amplified his electoral fiction: It was now a sacred cause for which people had sacrificed. Trump’s imagined stab in the back will live on chiefly thanks to its endorsement by members of Congress. In November and December 2020, Republicans repeated it, giving it a life it would not otherwise have had. In retrospect, it now seems as though the last shaky compromise between the gamers and the breakers was the idea that Trump should have every chance to prove that wrong had been done to him. That position implicitly endorsed the big lie for Trump supporters who were inclined to believe it. It failed to restrain Trump, whose big lie only grew bigger.
...Trump is, for now, the martyr in chief, the high priest of the big lie. He is the leader of the breakers, at least in the minds of his supporters. By now, the gamers do not want Trump around. Discredited in his last weeks, he is useless; shorn of the obligations of the presidency, he will become embarrassing again, much as he was in 2015. Unable to provide cover for their gamesmanship, he will be irrelevant to their daily purposes. But the breakers have an even stronger reason to see Trump disappear: It is impossible to inherit from someone who is still around. Seizing Trump’s big lie might appear to be a gesture of support. In fact it expresses a wish for his political death. Transforming the myth from one about Trump to one about the nation will be easier when he is out of the way.
As Cruz and Hawley may learn, to tell the big lie is to be owned by it. Just because you have sold your soul does not mean that you have driven a hard bargain. Hawley shies from no level of hypocrisy; the son of a banker, educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School, he denounces elites. Insofar as Cruz was thought to have a principle, it was that of states’ rights, which Trump’s calls to action brazenly violated. A joint statement Cruz issued about the senators’ challenge to the vote nicely captured the post-truth aspect of the whole: It never alleged that there was fraud, only that there were allegations of fraud. Allegations of allegations, allegations all the way down.
The big lie requires commitment. When Republican gamers do not exhibit enough of that, Republican breakers call them “RINOs”: Republicans in name only. This term once suggested a lack of ideological commitment. It now means an unwillingness to throw away an election. The gamers, in response, close ranks around the Constitution and speak of principles and traditions. The breakers must all know (with the possible exception of the Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville) that they are participating in a sham, but they will have an audience of tens of millions who do not.
If Trump remains present in American political life, he will surely repeat his big lie incessantly. Hawley and Cruz and the other breakers share responsibility for where this leads. Cruz and Hawley seem to be running for president. Yet what does it mean to be a candidate for office and denounce voting? If you claim that the other side has cheated, and your supporters believe you, they will expect you to cheat yourself. By defending Trump’s big lie on Jan. 6, they set a precedent: A Republican presidential candidate who loses an election should be appointed anyway by Congress. Republicans in the future, at least breaker candidates for president, will presumably have a Plan A, to win and win, and a Plan B, to lose and win. No fraud is necessary; only allegations that there are allegations of fraud. Truth is to be replaced by spectacle, facts by faith.
Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts, is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics. For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.
Informed observers inside and outside government agree that right-wing white supremacism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Gun sales in 2020 hit an astonishing high. History shows that political violence follows when prominent leaders of major political parties openly embrace paranoia.
Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.
When that violence comes, the breakers will have to react. If they embrace it, they become the fascist faction. The Republican Party will be divided, at least for a time. One can of course imagine a dismal reunification: A breaker candidate loses a narrow presidential election in November 2024 and cries fraud, the Republicans win both houses of Congress and rioters in the street, educated by four years of the big lie, demand what they see as justice. Would the gamers stand on principle if those were the circumstances of Jan. 6, 2025?
To be sure, this moment is also a chance. It is possible that a divided Republican Party might better serve American democracy; that the gamers, separated from the breakers, might start to think of policy as a way to win elections. It is very likely that the Biden-Harris administration will have an easier first few months than expected; perhaps obstructionism will give way, at least among a few Republicans and for a short time, to a moment of self-questioning. Politicians who want Trumpism to end have a simple way forward: Tell the truth about the election.
America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to facts as a public good. The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibility. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.
At New York Magazine, Frank Rich wrote that the only response to the carnage caused by the siege of the United States capitol building on January 6 is to banish Trump and his traitorous collaborators from civil society. Seems like weak tea for the leader of the folks described by Jeff Sharlet in Vanity Fair a few days ago. "The events most people watched on CNN today," he wrote "were viral, replicated outside statehouses in Topeka and Spokane and Salem and Harrisburg. In Lansing, Michigan, outside the state house protesters erected a giant cross. They did not need to set it aflame to make its Christian nationalism plain. Meanwhile, on the National Mall, insurrectionists-- there’s no other word for this act-- erected gallows. A cross and a gallows. The cross and the gallows, of course, are symbols, each rich with layers and layers of meaning, nuance, and contradiction. But if we recognize in their juxtaposition the way they cancel each other out, we start to see the bland essence of fascism’s appeal. That it loathes life is as obvious as its affection for skulls; but it denies death as well, by considering it so glibly. Executing politicians? Lulz. For whom does the insurrectionists’ noose hang? For whom does it not? MAGA’s roll call of traitors grows daily, from QAnon’s 'cabal' to most of the Democratic Party to an ever-expanding circle of 'RINOs.' Mitt Romney, sure, but on Tuesday even Tom Cotton himself was added to the hangman’s to-do. I just checked Parler-- the second post I saw declares, 'firing squad for Pence and Rosenstein,' the former deputy attorney general. Of course, it’s all just talk, or 'just theater,' as so many pundits have declared at each step of Trump’s long con and now his short coup. Until it isn’t."
"In the final days of his presidency," wrote L.A. Times reporter David Savage, "Donald Trump may have exposed himself to a criminal prosecution after he leaves the White House." You think? "Legal experts," he continued, "say only a criminal prosecution could hold Trump fully accountable for his actions. Though the Democratic-led House is moving toward a possible second impeachment this week, chances of a Senate conviction of Trump-- which would bar him from running for office again-- remain unclear and would almost certainly occur only after he left office. 'The facts currently known warrant a criminal investigation of the president and others who were involved in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol,' said Mary B. McCord, a former Justice Department official and Georgetown University law professor. 'Whether charges should be brought will depend on the results of that investigation and considerations of prosecutorial discretion, but accountability is important in the face of such grievous and dangerous abuses of power and privilege.'"
Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said that America has "a long history, developed most recently from the aftermath of the Nixon administration, of keeping politics separate from federal law enforcement and not using the power of the federal government to investigate and punish one’s political opponents. That norm needs to be taken seriously. But Trump’s lawlessness is so blatant, and so threatening to our constitutional democracy, that letting him escape accountability could be even worse for the country."
Yep. Impeach Trump. And execute him or-- if you can't handle capital punishment-- there's always "Bombers Row" at the Super-max facility in Florence, Colorado.