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The Art of the Bluster
Trump in the Dock: The Lizard Brain in Full
It’s election day in Ohio, Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, which means that there is a restless herd of hot takes straining to be loosed on the world in about 12 hours. Brace yourself.
In the meantime, we get to ponder the bizarre scene that unfolded in a New York courtroom, where the former president of the United States strutted his hour (actually several hours) on the witness stand. In this case, Donald Trump’s rage testimony actually signified quite a lot.
Here was the former president under oath in a trial that threatens to unravel his empire of fraud. And it went about as you might expect: the belligerent vitriol, bravado, grievance, and insults; the filibustering, logic-rapes, tangents, boorishness, bullshit, and, of course, the lies. Trump seethed and exploded.
As always, he played the alpha victim.
Aaron Blake summarized some of the lowlights:
“I’m sure the judge will rule against me, because he always rules against me,” he said of New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron, who previously found Trump liable for fraud and has fined Trump twice for attacking his law clerk.
Trump told the judge he knew “nothing about me,” before referring to [Attorney General Letitia] James: “You believe this political hack back there.”
Trump ridiculed the prosecution’s case against him as being part of the purported “weaponization” of the government and courts.
He repeatedly tried to invoke defenses that the judge had already decided weren’t valid, including the “worthless clause” defense.
He called the trial “very unfair” and a “crazy trial.”
At one point, Judge Engoron pleaded with the ex-president’s lawyer: “I beseech you to control him if you can.”
But that’s the point. You can’t control him. And that was on full display yesterday As Stephen Collison writes today:
No mere lawyer could impose the kind of discipline that two-and-a-half centuries of constitutional checks and balances could not provide during Trump’s time in office or since. And after threatening to dismiss the ex-president from the witness stand, Engoron opted to let the Trump storm rage in the apparent hope that it would blow itself out — though history has shown it never does.
That’s what made the scene so riveting and revealing — an ex-president assaulting the process and institutions of accountability, turning the trial into a circus of bluster and exaggeration. Yesterday we got the whole show, the one we’ve been living through for the past eight years and a glimpse at our collective futures.
It was the Lizard Brain in Full. Writes Collison:
The ex-president’s day was a microcosm of a riotous life as a real estate magnate, New York City icon, showbiz reality star and demagogic political candidate and US president. He obstructed, exaggerated, spouted insults, brassily trampled courtroom protocol and substituted partisan narratives for the yes and no answers that the judge demanded. Yet Trump also expertly used the outraged stream of consciousness and linguistic dexterity that turns his interrogators in the law, or the media, in knots.
Naturally, he followed up his performance by fundraising off it, sending out an email to supporters proclaiming that “America has descended into utter tyranny” and that “right before our very eyes, our once beautiful Republic is being transformed into a Marxist tin-pot dictatorship where Crooked Joe’s regime has weaponized the legal system against not only a former president (your favorite, I might add), but against the very citizens he swore an oath to protect.”
But, as Kim Wehle explains in this morning’s Bulwark, all of the bluster shouldn’t distract from the fact that Trump was forced to make some rather stunning admissions about his involvement in the fraud that helped build his real estate empire.
How bad was it? Former prosecutor Andrew Weissman went ALL-CAPS:
Exit take: As Kim Wehle notes, Trump is going to lose this case. But yesterday’s testimony gave us a taste of how his criminal trials might go, if his attorneys are reckless enough to let him testify under oath again.
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On Monday’s podcast Will Saletan and I tried to break down the polls that are freaking out the Democrats. Plus: Chris Christie calls out the deplorables; George Stephanopoulos grills a weaselly Steve Scalise; Biden’s Gaza dilemma, and the Left’s support for Hamas.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube:
1. Aquilino Gonell, American Hero
Bill Lueders reviews “The Immigrant Sergeant Who Defended Democracy.”
But what makes Gonell’s story unique is that it is told by an immigrant—someone who chose to come to this country and become a citizen, and who felt personally responsible for defending the institutions of American democracy. He writes at one point: “As an immigrant, I took seriously my pledge to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against foreign and domestic threats. Even if that threat was the president . . . and the members of Congress who abetted him.”
2. When Hamas Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them
The Columbia faculty letter states that students merely wanted to “recontextualize” October 7 by placing it within the “larger context of the occupation of Palestine by Israel.” But there’s a different context neither the faculty nor the students want to face, encapsulated by a quotation at the beginning of the Hamas charter: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
This eliminationist mission statement is central to Hamas’s identity. A member of Hamas’s senior leadership and political wing, Ghazi Hamad, recently declared that the organization would launch “a second, a third, a fourth” attack à la October 7 until Israel is “annihilated.” He continued: “Israel has no place on our land,” by which he means not just Gaza but all the land currently constituting the territory of Israel.
“We must remove the country because it constitutes a security, military and political catastrophe.” These aren’t the words of an oppressed freedom fighter who’s “exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation.” They’re the words of a hateful theocrat who wants to obliterate the state of Israel.
Hamas doesn’t represent the “Palestinian struggle for freedom” which is “rooted in international law.” It represents the same genocidal obsession and paranoia that have motivated antisemitic atrocities throughout the generations.
3. Trump and the MAGA GOP Are National Security Risks
How many will learn in the trial Cannon is overseeing that later, as a private citizen, he allegedly showed what he called a “highly confidential” secret Iran attack plan to a writer and publisher at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey? That he allegedly disclosed highly sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines to an Australian billionaire at Mar-a-Lago (who then allegedly spread it to scores of others)? Will it finally sink in that Trump allegedly kept some 100 secret classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, including in a bathroom and on a stage, even after authorities asked for their return?
How many voters know that just last month, Trump boasted on the campaign trail about threatening to abandon NATO’s mutual protection commitment, even if Russia attacked a NATO member? He’s treating convicted January 6th rioters as patriotic heroes and talks repeatedly about pardons for all or most of them. He’s already shown he will pardon his cronies and allies. Does anyone seriously think Trump would allow himself to be tried on the documents charges, or any other federal case, as a second-term president living in the White House?
All those charges would go away. What wouldn’t go away: his loose lips, his dictator pals, and the singular, enormous danger he poses to national security.