Last night, Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein reported that Trump and the Department of Justice were fighting over who the special master should be. You think? Trump wants someone who will stall the case until after the midterms. The DOJ wants someone to decide on all the issues by later this afternoon. All this Trump stuff is so much easier to process if you just have in the back of your mind that Trump was not a legitimate president— just a bum placed the White House by Russia and a cabal of right-wing billionaires. He should be in prison now fighting for life imprisonment instead of a firing squad. Instead he’s fighting to prevent the government from investigating the top secret documents he stole from the government and has likely been selling to America’s enemies.
Writing for the New Yorker today, Susan Glasser, examined how Trump manages to get away with all the outrages. She wrote that among his “many political weapons, his ability to brazen his way through scandals that would derail other politicians has long been perhaps his strongest asset. His signature move is to displace talk of one mind-blowing violation by committing yet another mind-blowing violation— a habit that has now produced numerous investigations of him and once again led the former President to dominate our daily discourse. It’s easy to forget about the last controversy because, with Trump, you’re always onto the next one. Even now, nearly two years after he left office, this familiar debilitating dynamic applies. There are currently multiple serious, ongoing inquiries into Trump and his associated entities, ranging from investigations of the former President’s business to his role in fomenting the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Trump has so many legal problems that he is employing no fewer than nineteen lawyers to represent him, Politico found— a full law firm’s worth of legal D-listers.
Though Trump himself has never yet faced a full reckoning in the many, many probes that have shadowed his careers in business and politics, the twists and turns of the investigations have already spun off endless dramas and subplots— insuring more distraction from the underlying offenses themselves. Consider the arrest and arraignment, also on Thursday, of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and, in recent years, one of his most inflammatory public propagandists. In one of the many outrages of Trump’s final hours in office, Bannon was a late addition to the list of dozens of Presidential pardons that Trump handed out to assorted crooked associates and politicians, before leaving on January 20, 2021. Trump pardoned Bannon despite the fact that Bannon had been charged by federal authorities for bilking’s Trump own supporters who donated to a nonprofit— co-run by Bannon— thinking the money would fund Trump’s border wall. Bannon now faces New York state felony charges that flow from the same reputed scam; the new case is possible despite the pardon because Bannon was pardoned by Trump before he actually stood trial on the initial federal charges. Bannon, don’t forget, figured in another Trump spinoff legal drama during the summer, when a federal jury convicted him of two charges of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating January 6th. He is supposed to be sentenced in October on those charges.
Bannon, whose incendiary public rhetoric included warning on the eve of January 6th that “all hell is going to break loose” at the Capitol, claimed this week that he was being targeted because his pro-Trump podcast, War Room, was too powerful. “I am never going to stop fighting,” he vowed. “They will have to kill me first.” Like Trump, he believes in what might be called the fog-machine approach to political misinformation: the more reckless statements that you pump out, the less you face censure for any one of them. After the 2020 election, Bannon famously called on his podcast for “heads on pikes.” In the episode before his arraignment, he insisted darkly that the FBI director Christopher Wray, who approved the Mar-a-Lago search, and Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr, who has defended the search and has publicly contradicted Trump’s false election claims, would soon face their “time in the barrel.”
As always, Trump himself has figured out how to capitalize on the investigations, a formula he perfected over years of railing against whatever “witch hunt” was being waged against him at a particular moment. At a political rally last weekend, in Pennsylvania, he called President Biden an “enemy of the state” and the Justice Department and FBI investigators “vicious monsters.”
…Trump may not now, and may not ever, face the legal reckoning that so many of his critics have craved for so long. If nothing else, he remains an expert at running out the clock. It’s worth remembering, however, that Trump’s record suggests a political comeuppance is possible— even if the spectacle of him being hauled away in handcuffs is still hard to imagine. He is already, after all, the first incumbent President since Herbert Hoover to lose the White House, Senate, and House in just four years. If Democrats manage to defy history and hold one or both houses of Congress this November, you can bet the fear of the former President’s return will be a major factor. That’s why both the forty-fifth and the forty-sixth Presidents want the upcoming elections to be all about Trump, Trump, Trump.
“America is broken,” wrote John Pavlovitz this morning. “[L]et’s be clear about something: Donald Trump didn’t break it. He didn’t create anything. Not the unmasked racism so proudly parading itself down crowded main streets, in school board meetings, and on neighborhood message boards; not the antagonistic, gun-loving bravado still opposing sensible safeguards designed to protect our most vulnerable; not the white-washed nationalistic fervor screaming its start-spangled supremacy into the ether; not the strident, anti-Science, conspiratorial arrogance refusing to take any measures to preserve life from an insidious virus, not the homophobic, misogynist religion being weaponized against women and the LGBTQ in church pulpits and supreme court rulings. He is not the genesis of these things, or of hate crimes, book bannings, mass shootings, vaccine opposition, or violent insurrections. Donald Trump did not invent any of these present national cancers. What he did, was normalize them.”
You can’t put someone on trial for that— not for removing “the social stigma of bigotry by wielding it openly and with a kind of perverse joy.” That’n not against the law. Neither is continually appealing to the lowest and the worst of humanity until it all became commonplace. Nor is railing against the educated and the qualified until ignorance became a badge of honor. How about giving people license to celebrate the profound ugliness they’d once concealed for the sake of decorum? Showing gracious hospitality to the darkness residing in the recesses of human hearts. Letting people reveal themselves? Nope, all perfectly evil, vile, debilitating… and legal.
If society is going to protect itself from “this solitary, morally-bankrupt serial grifter [who] has become a kind of moral x-ray machine for hundreds of millions of us,” it’s going to be by charging him for the specifics of his criminal life— “mishandling” the stolen documents, for example, not for the moral shortcomings in our country he has exposed and nurtured.
Pavlovitz reminded his readers that “since so many placed their very identity with him from the beginning, for years now they have applauded every bit of moral filth he’s generated, defended each reckless and dangerous act, doubled-down on every abuse of office and every betrayal of country, ratified high crimes against the very nation they claim to want to save. They have chosen him over former political heroes, historically-revered journalists, once-beloved members of his own party, over any dissenting voice of reason or goodness— and in doing so, they have exposed their own hearts… Even after he is gone, we who remain are going to exist in an America that is grievously broken, perhaps permanently so. And as terrible as that reality is to contend with, it is still better than living in the numbed sedation of ignorance and denial that came before him; a veneer of politeness belying a terrible truth. That truth is out now. We know who we are. We have no illusions. We have all declared our allegiances and chosen our hills. Every facade has been torn down, every phony trapping of religiosity or patriotism stripped away. Now, there is only the sickening, unvarnished truth of who we are as a nation, and staring at it in the raking daylight is the only chance we have to confront and repair it. In his craven lust for power, his absence of morality or character, his complete disregard for human life, his stratospheric narcissism, his full rejection of the law— Donald Trump has not broken America but revealed our brokenness.”