John Eastman seems like an especially odious character, one of the villains-- although a clownish one-- of Trump's coup attempt. Yesterday it came out that he had e-mailed Giuliani asking to "be on the pardon list" after the sacking of the Capitol. He was certainly in the spotlight yesterday, one of the Trump toadies willing to give Trump the feedback he wanted-- that there was a way for him not to go down in history as a one-term president and as a LOSER. He was the one who cooked up the preposterous idea that the vice president had the authority to reject legitimate electors and either send the election back to state legislatures or just determine who won the election. It was nonsense but Trump ate it up, while Pence-- and Team Normal-- refused to have anything to do with it, something that nearly got Pence murdered.
Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, testified that even Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff acknowledged that Eastman's proposal was illegal. Luttig, for whom Eastman once clerked, absolutely eviscerated Eastman's cockeyed interpretation of the 12th Amendment and couldn'tahve been more disdainful of the advice Eastman gave Trump.
In a column for The Atlantic today, Tom Nichols, looked at a couple of the small mediocre men Trump surrounded himself with. One was Eastman, "the former Clarence Thomas clerk, unsuccessful congressional candidate, and former dean of the law school at Chapman University in California who immersed himself in the kookiness of Trump World and ended up having to resign his teaching post days after speaking at the January 6 rally. His 'departure closes this challenging chapter for Chapman,' the school said, and then noted that no one would be suing anyone. As a recently retired professor myself, I can tell you this is not usually the preferred exit from the faculty."
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that emails obtained by the January 6 committee revealed that Eastman-- who was in close contact with Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni-- claimed to know that there was a “heated” fight inside the Supreme Court about election cases. He stated this in an email with another pro-Trump lawyer who said the odds of the Court acting would increase if they thought there was a danger of public “chaos.”
Greatness called; if it took intimidating the nation’s highest court with civil disorder, well, eggs must be broken, and all that.
Clark and Eastman were among the brigade of mediocrities who saw in Trump a kind of patron saint of the Third String, the outsider who would sweep away the elites who controlled Washington and replace them with a new elite-- namely, themselves. No more working in cubicles, hustling for grants, or sucking up for gigs with minor campaigns. The former White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham was among the most honest of the lot when she wrote in her memoir how Trump was her ticket to D.C., and that she couldn’t just walk away: “I was a single mom with no trust fund. If I had quit earlier, where would I have gone?”
The big, room-filling figures like Trump or Steve Bannon or Rudy Giuliani are, of course, dangerous even if they are also pathetic. (As The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes once put it, “A clown with a flamethrower still has a flamethrower.”) But these showboaters were doing their damage in full view of the public. A constitutional democracy, in a way, is built to withstand such frontal assaults because we have a safety net in the web of laws and norms that are observed by civil servants and ordinary citizens.
But democracy is in severe danger when that net is cut, thread by thread, by a gray, resentful Third String that believes that greatness, unjustly denied for so long, is finally within reach.