(Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are just two-and-a-half days left in the Trump presidency. Really.
G. K. Chesterton never met Jacob Anthony Chansley (better known as the QAnon shaman), but he would surely have recognized the type. He would also have recognized Matt Gaetz, Lou Dobbs, Lindsey Graham, and the vast host of minions who trail in their wake.
Chesterton is widely believed to have observed that “When Man ceases to worship God, he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” Unfortunately, the quotation is probably apocryphal.
But, with apologies to the Great Man, Chesterton’s epigram can be adapted to our own absurd moment: When a Man decides to believe in Trump, he does not just believe in the man, he believes everything.
He will believe that Donald Trump is “trying to heal” the nation (Graham); or that Mexico will pay for the wall. He will believe that voting machines changed votes; that the coronavirus would magically disappear; that Hunter Biden’s laptop held the Secret of the Ages. He will believe, as George Conway wrote, that “Giuliani was just tucking in his shirt.” He will entertain the idea that perhaps “Biden had Seal Team Six killed to cover up the faking of Osama bin Laden’s death.”
Consider this: the vast majority of Republicans — even now — believe Trump’s Big Lie about the presidential election.
The questions raised by the Trump campaign's legal team and echoed by GOP lawmakers and conservative media in the months since the election appear to have dented Republican confidence in the American election system generally. Fully 75% of Republicans say they have little confidence that US elections reflect the will of the people.
A new NBC poll finds that 74 percent of Republicans actually believe that Trump was the legitimate winner of the election. As Josh Jordan notes, “That equates to well over 50,000,000 voters that believe that the elections are illegitimate, which is the legacy of Trump.”
Trump, he writes, “has basically created a fundamentalist religion in America.”
It is a faith based on a lie; and, as JVL wrote last week, that lie — that Trump won the election — is at “the root of the entire conflict we are seeing."
That’s it. That’s everything.
And until this lie has been repudiated, there can be no progress, no healing, no unity
As we now know, the lie was premeditated, bald-faced, and easily refuted, but in the toxic world Trump has made in his image, it has penetrated deeply and will likely endure for decades.
Which brings us to the stark Republican choice.
Somewhat belatedly, Ben Sasse has decided it is time for the GOP to make the sort of stand he refused to take back in 2016. Writing in the Atlantic, Sasse notes that last week’s spasm of violence can’t be dismissed as “the work of “a few bad apples.”
“It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice,” he writes.
Once again, the GOP faces a time for choosing:
When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.
But Sasse is wrong. Republicans do not have to wait until Trump leaves office (in two and a half days). They have to make the choice now.
Perhaps they have already made it.
Early on the morning of January 7 — after the Capitol had been ravaged by violent insurrectionists — 138 House Republicans voted against accepting the electoral college votes of the state of Pennsylvania. Earlier, 121 GOP worthies had embraced the bogus claims that Arizona’s votes should be tossed. Both votes represented the majority of House GOP caucus.
More than a month earlier, Trump’s own loyal AG, Bill Barr, had told Trump that “the president's theories about a stolen election… were ‘bullshit’.” More than two months earlier, Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security had declared “we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too.”
Time and again courts — including Trump-appointed judges — rejected claims of fraud or irregularities. Republican legislatures refused to void the results; governors and secretaries of states had vouched for the results.
Just hours before the House vote, Trump’s loyal VP, Mike Pence, refused to overturn he election.
But, despite all that, the vast majority of House Republicans chose to embrace the Lie, and voted to reject the ballots.
A week later, 10 Republicans broke ranks to vote to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the attack. This marked an historically high number of votes to impeach a president of their own party.
But it was overshadowed by the fact that 197 Republicans — 93 percent of the House GOP — voted against impeaching their Orange Leader, despite experiencing his sedition at first hand.
If January 6 was the day that defined the state of American politics, those two votes arguably defined Republicanism circa 2021 — a party unable or unwilling to break the thrall of Trumpism.
They were the votes of a party incapable of choosing country over cult or truth over the Big Lie.
The third vote is likely to seal the matter. The Senate will hold a trial, hear the evidence, and render judgment. Because Trump will be gone, senators will not have to decide whether to oust him from office. Instead, they will have one last opportunity to hold him accountable.
They will have one last chance to stand with the Constitution and make it clear that not even Donald Trump is above the law; and that no president can commit an act of sedition without consequences.
Republicans will have one last chance to reject the Big Lie — or choose to remain in thrall to the defeated, disgraced, pariah ex-president whose character they have both ratified and embraced.
There will be no going back.
Bonus: Chesterton actually did write: “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”
Before you do anything else this morning, watch this new video from our Barry Rubin:
While Fuentes was proposing a movement to “take this country back by force,” a large contingent of Proud Boys marched by. Members from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California, and elsewhere were easy to identify. Most were dressed in the organization’s black-and-yellow colors. Some had “rwds”—Right-Wing Death Squad—hats and patches; others wore balaclavas, kilts, hockey masks, or batting helmets. One man was wearing a T-shirt with an image of South American dissidents being thrown out of a helicopter and the words “pinochet did nothing wrong!” Another T-shirt featured a Nazi eagle perched on a fasces, below the acronym “6mwe”—Six Million Wasn’t Enough—a reference to the number of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.
Many of the Proud Boys were drunk.
A man from Kentucky told the FBI that he and his cousin began marching toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 because “President Trump said to do so.” Chanting “Stop the steal,” the two men tramped through the building and snapped a photo of themselves with their middle fingers raised, according to court documents.
A video clip of another group of rioters mobbing the steps of the Capitol caught one man screaming at a police officer: “We were invited here! We were invited by the president of the United States!”
A retired firefighter from Pennsylvania who has been charged with throwing a fire extinguisher at police officers felt he was “instructed” to go to the Capitol by the president, a tipster told the FBI, according to court documents.
The accounts of people who said they were inspired by the president to take part in the melee inside the Capitol vividly show the impact of Trump’s months-long attack on the integrity of the 2020 election and his exhortations to supporters to “fight” the results.
Kyle Griffin @kylegriffin1WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense officials tell AP they fear possible inside attack at inauguration, will have National Guard troops vetted.
Here come the pardons:
Some needed context: Via Todd Weiler @ISDS_Guru
Excellent Grant quote in your morning newsletter. I liked it so much I just had to confirm its provenance.
Unfortunately, the original context for this quote isn’t ideal. Turns out Grant was focused on the promotion of universal primary school education. Today, we greet universal public-funded primary (and now also secondary) education as an enlightened idea. The problem is that, in Grant’s day, that effort was really more about entrenching a white protestant world view that would have been anathema to at least some founders.
Note how Grant says in the paragraph after your quotation: "Resolve that either the state or Nation, or both combined, shall support institutions of learning to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistically tenets..."
Here’s a link to an article about the speech, where more of the text can be found: https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1332&context=palimpsest…
At the time, “sectarian" was actually a dog whistle for anti-Catholicism. Turns out that, in late 19th Century America, Eastern elites were very concerned about so-called Catholic encroachment. Concerned that those receiving a Catholic education would owe primary allegiance to Rome rather than to the USA, they sought to use mandatory, universal public education as a means of deterring the feared “poisoning” of American minds by those evil Jesuits. …
But, still, it’s an awesome quote when placed in a new context!
1. The Legal Case for the Senate to Convict Trump
If there is a trial, Trump’s defenders will rely primarily on political arguments. They will argue that convicting Trump will further divide and inflame the country at a time when we should be seeking unity, not further division.
Put aside the grotesque level of hypocrisy in this plea. From a practical perspective, it is simply not true: There is absolutely no reason to believe that foregoing a Senate trial will lower the rhetoric or promote national unity in any way that matters. We know this because with or without a Senate trial, large numbers of elected Republicans have continued—and will continue—to claim that Joe Biden stole the election, that Donald Trump was the rightful winner, and that our federal government is illegitimate.
Until the majority of elected Republicans stop spreading this lie and admit that they have been lying about the election, then there will be no “unity.” Forgoing an impeachment trial isn’t going to pacify people who believe that Joe Biden’s presidency is the product of a putsch.
2. Contrasts in Courage
Ben Parker writes in today’s Bulwark: Days after all but ten GOP representatives showed their spinelessness by opposing impeachment, Russia’s opposition leader braves Putin’s wrath to return home.
Unfortunately for Gallagher, Roy, and the other craven House Republicans who wouldn’t risk re-election to stop a coup, one of the clearest examples of political courage of the century has been playing out 4,000 miles away. Aleksei Navalny, the de facto leader of the Russian opposition, nearly killed last summer in a poisoning attack, boarded a flight back to Russia. Most House Republicans cowered, refusing to hold Donald Trump accountable; Navalny went back home to confront the regime that tried to murder him.
Bonus: This also is what actual courage looks like:
Jason Miller @JasonMillerinDCAre you concerned you ended your career with that vote?" George Stephanopoulos asked. "I may very well have," Meijer said nonchalantly. “Freshman Congressman Peter Meijer Believes He May Have Committed 'Political Suicide' by Beth Baumann” https://t.co/hgR2BeoqJU
Matt Gaetz @mattgaetzLiz Cheney should not be the Chair of the Republican Conference.
Lindsey Graham @LindseyGrahamSCMy letter to Democratic Leader Schumer. The Senate should vote to dismiss the article of impeachment once it is received in the Senate. We will be delaying indefinitely, if not forever, the healing of this great Nation if we do otherwise. https://t.co/fjVcf7iVPf
1. MLK Jr.’s Words
The violent attack on the Capitol two weeks ago and today’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has me thinking about another vicious assault on a sacred building in a capitol city in America almost 60 years ago.
On May 21, 1961 in Montgomery, Alabama, a mob of almost 3,000 white supremacists surrounded the historic black First Baptist Church, which was, at the time, filled with around 1,500 black Montgomerians who were meeting to encourage the Freedom Riders who had been viciously beaten the day before (by another mob of a few hundred white people). Both mobs that bloody weekend were led by KKK members who were aligned in their cause with the local government in Montgomery and the state government in Alabama to keep the South racially segregated.
But violent mobs don’t appear out of nowhere. As Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Words create worlds.”
2. The American Abyss
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.