Impeach Him... Again?
And a COVID relief bill that nobody likes.
Happy Monday. If it’s any consolation, the days start getting longer after today.
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 16 days until January 6, when Congress counts the Electoral College votes, and 30 days until the Inauguration of Joe Biden.
The story so far:
Despite overwhelming evidence that we were under massive cyberattack by the Russians, Donald Trump downplayed their role, suggesting that it may have been China instead, and (as an aside) raised the possibility that the attack could have involved the election. (It didn’t.)
Unfortunately, this was not close to the weirdest thing that happened over the weekend.
At a raucous White House meeting, Trump and his inner circle let their freak flags fly, entertaining one crazy idea after another to overturn the election.
Trump considered naming Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud (which was insane enough), but also discussed issuing an executive order to seize voting machines in several states. (Rudy Giuliani also made a remarkable phone call to suggest that the Department of Homeland Security seize voting machines — an idea shot down by Ken Cuccinelli).
And, reported the Times, recently pardoned felon Michael Flynn was also at the meeting.
During an appearance on the conservative Newsmax channel this week, Mr. Flynn pushed for Mr. Trump to impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election. At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea.
Wait. Back up.
The president asked about what? I had a question about this story:
Trump has since sort of denied this, and the usual suspects dismissed the coup talk as ‘Trump just being Trump.” Even the original story says that idea about deploying the military was “shot down.”
The increasingly isolated, paranoid president who refuses to concede, and continues to flood the zone with conspiracy theories, fabrications, and baseless allegations, is asking about the possibility of imposing martial law?
And that’s in paragraph 6?
As Max Boot notes, “Never before in U.S. history has there been a record of a president discussing a military coup to stay in office. Is there any doubt that if Trump could find any active-duty generals willing to carry out this plot against America, he would give it the go-ahead? In this instance, all that is preserving the Constitution is the military’s fidelity to the rule of law.”
So, yes, this seemed like kind of a BFD. The very fact that Flynn was in the room was a red flag. This was the suggestion that won Flynn an invitation to the White House meeting:
''[Trump] could immediately on his order seize every single one of these machines around the country on his order. He could also order, within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election in each of those states. It’s not unprecedented,'' Flynn added.
Trump was interested. And that seems to be part of a pattern of behavior that is rattling even his most cynically loyal aides. Jonathan Swan reported over the weekend:
Senior Trump administration officials are increasingly alarmed that President Trump might unleash — and abuse — the power of government in an effort to overturn the clear result of the election.
Why it matters: These officials tell me that Trump is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists and flirting with blatant abuses of power.
This seems understandable, since, as one Trump insider told Swan, when Trump is "retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail, and spends his time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is no big deal, it’s impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends."
"People who are concerned and nervous aren’t the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe," a rattled aide told Swan. "These are people who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history."
Maggie Haberman is hearing the same thing:
If only they had been warned.
None of this should come as a surprise. Some of us said, even before he became president, that Donald Trump’s Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering him, was his psychology—his disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies. It was the main reason, though hardly the only reason, I refused to vote for him in 2016 or in 2020, despite having worked in the three previous Republican administrations. Nothing that Trump has done over the past four years has caused me to rethink my assessment, and a great deal has happened to confirm it.
Meanwhile, the taste for martial law and a little sedition continues to spread throughout the MAGAverse.
It is unclear whether Kelli Ward understands the historical reference here. But Roman law forbad generals from crossing the Rubicon River into Italy with an army. Julius Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon lead to a Civil War that made Caesar dictator.
And then there is Georgia attorney Lin Wood, echoing Flynn:
Why Minnesota? Probably because his biggest sugar daddy is the My Pillow Guy, who was chair of Trump’s campaign in the Gopher State.
So where does this leave us with 30 days to go in the Trump presidency? My colleague Tim Miller has a modest suggestion:
This is not a totally crazy idea. As David Frum notes:
The obvious objections are… well, obvious. Time is short, and nobody has an appetite for this with a just a few weeks to go. It’s also not clear that merely raising a question constitutes an impeachable offense.
We are clearly in dangerous waters, and no one can be sure what a president desperate to hold onto power and terrified of defeat might be capable of attempting. What actual checks remain?
We can hope for institutional resistance to any attempt to impose martial law. But if we have learned anything, it is that many of the checks on presidential power are, more or less, on an honor system. He has virtually unlimited pardon power; he has technical control of the DOJ; and he remains commander-in chief of the armed forces.
All of this is by way of saying that bad things can happen. And to remind ourselves that there are really only three decisive checks on a president run amok: (1) the 25th Amendment, (2) impeachment and removal, and (3) defeat at the ballot box.
Trump is (so far) undeterred by electoral defeat and, practically speaking, the 25th Amendment is a dead letter, because it relies on his own hand-picked toadies. Which leaves the alternative of impeachment, a process that is admittedly impractical.
But, what if…
What if Trump did try to declare martial law? Seize voting machines? Attempt to deploy the military? What stops him? Anything?
Indignant editorials? Outraged segments on cable tv? Firmly worded emails from Marco Rubio?
Or the threat that he might actually be removed from office and made ineligible for any future election?
Does this mean impeaching him again? Not necessarily. But, perhaps, an impeachment should be in the queue ready to go.
At a minimum, someone should be thinking about the ultimate Trumpsday scenario, and start drafting the articles that could be quickly acted upon (maybe with snap votes in both the House and Senate?).
The smart set has been telling us that we don’t have anything to worry about. The guardrails will hold, they assure us. There’s no time, they tell us.
But Trump is in the White House talking about coups. Maybe we need to have to the hammer ready to break glass in case of emergency.
I spent $900 Billion and all I got was this lousy bill. Let the griping commence.
An unexpected tax break in the deal was for corporate meal expenses lobbied for by the White House and strongly denounced by congressional Democrats, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Trump has for months talked about securing the deduction — derisively referred to as the “three-martini lunch” by critics — as a way to revive the restaurant industry badly battered by the pandemic. Critics say the measure, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will do little to help ailing restaurants but will reduce firms’ tax obligations.
Must read: Via the Wapo: “How Trump drove the lie that the election was stolen, undermining voter trust in the outcome.”
To preserve his hold on power, Trump has spent the weeks since Election Day promoting falsehoods about voting problems in Georgia and five other states, successfully persuading tens of millions of his supporters to believe a lie — that the election was stolen from him, and from them.
He has done so by harnessing the power of his position, using his pulpit at the White House and his Twitter feed to let loose a fusillade of conspiracy theories. His assault on the integrity of the election has gotten a hefty assist from pro-Trump media outfits and an assortment of state lawmakers and lawyers who gave oxygen to the debunked allegations — and a majority of congressional Republicans, who called on the Supreme Court to overturn the results in four states.
This lawsuit could be a problem. Via the NYT:
In an era of brazen political lies, Mr. Mugica has emerged as an unlikely figure with the power to put the genie back in the bottle. Last week, his lawyer sent scathing letters to the Fox News Channel, Newsmax and OAN demanding that they immediately, forcefully clear his company’s name — and that they retain documents for a planned defamation lawsuit. He has, legal experts say, an unusually strong case. And his new lawyer is J. Erik Connolly, who not coincidentally won the largest settlement in the history of American media defamation in 2017, at least $177 million, for a beef producer whose “lean finely textured beef” was described by ABC News as “pink slime.”
Now, Mr. Connolly’s target is a kind of red slime, the stream of preposterous lies coming from the White House and Republican officials around the country.
Which leads us to this piece in today’s Bulwark ——>
1. Lou Dobbs Debunks Himself
Mona Charen in this morning’s Bulwark:
Two news organizations issued corrections recently. One was the New York Times. The other was Fox Business. One concerned an honest mistake. At considerable embarrassment to itself, the Times admitted to having been scammed by the subject of one its podcast series. Fox Business did not admit to anything, but instead ran an interview that directly contradicted some—actually a small fraction—of the false, hysterical, and malevolent conspiracy theories about election fraud the network has been pushing.
If you were watching Lou Dobbs Tonight on December 18, you saw something jarring—a dose of reality. Dobbs, who hosts the top-rated “business” show on TV, (which is a commentary on the audience, but never mind) has been peddling outright disinformation for a very long time.
2. The Trade: Meet the New Red Dog Democrats
In the morning’s Bulwark, Tim Miller writes that the two parties have traded voters—whether the old political class likes it or not.
As is always the case, not everybody is happy with the trade.
The populist wing of the Democratic party, which carries disproportionate weight on Twitter dot com, loathes the Red Dogs. It has a weird obsession with extirpating from the party every person who has ever attended a brunch. Many Red Dogs like to go to brunch. So there’s some tension in the ranks there.
Some of the identitarian Democrats wish their coalition could succeed only with people of color and don’t want to invite new white women to the party. Many Red Dogs are white women, so there’s some tension there, as well.
Conversely, some of the Red Dogs don’t really feel at home yet with their new team and are still keeping the elephant broaches that they bought for the 2004 Republican National Convention, just in case.
The remaining Chamber of Commerce Republican types don’t really like their new teammates and are wishing they could get back to their “normal” Ryanomics ways after Trump magically disappears.
The malpractice singularity.
The future of conservatism.
And, meanwhile in the competition for dumbest congressman…
1. Opting for Silence
Tom Nichols argues that “Engaging With Trump’s Die-Hard Supporters Isn’t Productive.”
I don’t want to treat our fellow citizens with open contempt, or to confront and berate them. Rather, I am arguing for silence. The Trump loyalists who still cling to conspiracy theories and who remain part of a cult of personality should be deprived of the attention they seek, shunned for their antidemocratic lunacy, and then outvoted at the ballot box.
If we’ve learned one thing about “Trumpism,” it is that there is no such thing as “Trumpism.” No content anchors it; no program or policy comes from it. No motivating ideology stands behind it, unless we think of general grievance and a hatred of cultural and intellectual elites as an “idea.” And when views are incoherent and beliefs are rooted in fantasies, compromise is impossible. Further engagement is not only unwarranted, but it can also become counterproductive.
This is why I see no point in a “national conversation” or in “reaching out,” or other euphemisms for attempts to better understand the movement that formed around Trump. We already understand: Trump tapped into traditions of ethnic and regional grievances and social resentments that are present in every democracy and wedded them to bizarre theories and conspiracies.
2. A Warning from Voltaire
Walter Olson takes a deeper dive into Voltaire’s observation that: “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
The English version—note that it differs slightly in wording from most internet versions—conventionally appears as part of the following longer paragraph translating the above [italics added]:
Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is injust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.