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The Big Lie Is Just the Pretext
Plus: What if they gave a coup and nobody cared.
After the wreckage of Watergate, the conventional wisdom embraced the cliché that the coverup was worse than the crime. Actually, that’s still true. But we need to upgrade our hierarchy of horribles.
Politicians will always commit crimes, and some will try to engineer elaborate schemes of concealment. The sins of the powerful are with us always; their essential untrustworthiness was baked into our system of checks and balances.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison would have tweeted. “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
This, of course, is the tricky part, because it assumes that the institutional and political restraints would hold, and that the American people would want them to.
But what if they didn’t?
What if we had a coup and a coverup, and nobody (by which I mean the GOP) cared?
In 2022, the real danger isn’t just the crime or the coverup, it’s the acceptance.
We know that the nation can survive insurrections and even attempts at obstruction of justice. But can it survive a shrug?
Polls continue to show that the majority of Republican voters still believe the Big Lie, and support Trump.
So what happens if one of the nation’s two dominant political parties decides that it doesn’t care? And is rewarded by the voters for its cynicism and moral nihilism?
This seems like a good time to point out something else: The real threat to democracy is not the Big Lie. It’s something worse.
This is not to suggest that election denialism or conspiracy theories are not dangerous; they are, of course. But the House January 6th Committee has reminded us of something important: The whole Big Lie thing is ludicrous, risible, inane bullshit. It is an entire political belief system based on demented theories about Italian satellites, Venezuelan voting machines, and the hallucinations of Mike Lindell.
But that’s not the point.
You may have noticed how the various claims from Rudy/Dinesh/[Insert name of insane Republican] are ever-shifting. A bogus charge is made, it is debunked, and it is quickly replaced with the next fabrication, and so on. It’s an endless morphing chain of guano-soaked nonsense. But despite the parade of absurdities, no factual refutation ever seems to stick.
Why? Because the lies don’t matter. Only the outcome counts.
In other words, millions of Americans don’t necessarily believe something crazy and bogus. They believe something much worse.
The Big Lie is the pretext for the refusal to accept the peaceful transfer of power to political opponents who are seen as evil and dangerous.
Forget about the dropboxes, mules, and rigged voting machines; nobody really cares about the votes or the counting of votes. It’s not about that; it’s about winning — or to be more precise, defeating the enemy.
A subtext of right-wing politics now is that the other side simply cannot be allowed to win. They hate America, they hate God, and they will destroy everything you hold dear.
It’s the Flight 93 election forever. It’s Jan. 6th . . . forever.
So we get increasingly brazen attempts to rig elections, including the notion that gerrymandered majorities in state legislatures can overturn the popular vote.
And because the stakes are apocalyptic, we are hearing threats of secession and nullification, and seeing polls like this:
More than one quarter of US residents feel so estranged from their government that they feel it might “soon be necessary to take up arms” against it, a poll released on Thursday claimed.
And if you doubt that partisans would simply ignore the results of an election, I give you this tale from my home state: “Wisconsin Court Validates a Republican Strategy to Preserve Power.”
Obstruction of justice in plain sight
Via the NYT: “Trump Group Pays for Jan. 6 Lawyers, Raising Concerns of Witness Pressure.”
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump's political organization and his allies have paid for or promised to finance the legal fees of more than a dozen witnesses called in the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, raising legal and ethical questions about whether the former president may be influencing testimony with a direct bearing on him.
The arrangement drew new scrutiny this week after Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide in his White House, made an explosive appearance before the House panel, providing damning new details about Mr. Trump’s actions and statements on the day of the deadly riot.
She did so after firing a lawyer who had been recommended to her by two of Mr. Trump’s former aides and paid for by his political action committee, and hiring new counsel. Under the representation of the new lawyer, Jody Hunt, Ms. Hutchinson sat for a fourth interview with the committee in which she divulged more revelations and agreed to come forward publicly to testify to them.
1. The 11 Types of Republicans Who Enabled Donald Trump
They all had internalized what they thought were the lessons of the previous decade. The “political reality” meant that the base of voters in the Breitbart comment section must be appeased and managed. A groupthink emerged whereby this “reality” came to be treated as if it were delivered from on high. And the Truth mustn’t be reflected upon without the whole game being jeopardized.
When I dug deeper beneath this cozy conventional wisdom, what I found were real choices made by individuals who all fell back on a few phyla of rationalization that reveal why they did what they did.
They fit into different categories, some of which reflect universal, human failings replicated across industries and societies and ideologies. Others are unique to the creatures of Washington or the contaminated right-wing political ecosystem that sustained the Mango Monstrosity.
They all turned out to be much more powerful than I had anticipated.
I divide them into these buckets:
• Messiahs and Junior Messiahs
• LOL Nothing Matters Republicans
• Tribalist Trolls
• Little Mixes
• Peter Principle Disprovers
• Nerd Revengers
• The Inert Team Players
• The Compartmentalizers
• Cartel Cashers
Here’s a field guide, my taxonomy of enablers, so you can identify them in the wild.
2. Officials in Several States Say They Won’t Enforce Abortion Restrictions
Bill Lueders in this morning’s Bulwark writes that governors promising clemency and prosecutors vowing non-prosecution won’t keep abortion providers open in states with bans.
The day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made a public pledge to cut a break to anyone convicted of violating the state’s 1849 law banning abortion.
“I will provide clemency to any physician that is charged under that law,” Evers said during a rally preceding the state Democratic Party convention in La Crosse. During his convention speech, he said: “I don’t think that a law that was written before the Civil War, or before women secured the right to vote, should be used to dictate these intimate decisions on reproductive health.”
Wisconsin’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, has also said he will not use to resources of his office to prosecute abortion providers. So have the district attorneys for the state’s two largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane.
These statements naturally elicit a question: Is there any talk about using these pledges of protection to continue to offer abortion services?
“The quick answer to your question is no,” writes Lisa Boyce, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, in an email. She continues:
We appreciate the Governor’s support and commend AG Kaul’s stance on access to safe and legal abortion in WI. Unfortunately, the attorney general’s office does not handle most criminal prosecutions in the state. There are 71 county district attorneys who would be free to try and enforce the criminal statute against providers. There is also a 6-year statute of limitations on felonies in Wisconsin, which means even if someone doesn’t prosecute a provider now, a DA office would have 6 years to decide to prosecute.
2. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Defeating Trumpism
We should hope that Tuesday’s testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, along with the other evidence made public by the Jan. 6th Committee, will lead to criminal liability for—and prosecution of—everyone involved in planning and executing the Trumpist coup attempt—up to and including Trump himself.
But this is secondary business.
The primary business is not criminal but political. The Republican party which aided, abetted, and participated in this crisis must be held responsible by voters for its ongoing efforts to undermine constitutional democracy. It must be fought from top to bottom in the upcoming November election and in the one to follow in 2024.
And it must be defeated.
David Brooks asks an exceedingly good question: “Why on Earth Is Pelosi Supporting the Trumpists?”
The Democratic Party is behaving recklessly and unpatriotically. So far, Democrats have spent tens of millions to help Trumpist candidates in Republican primaries.
In Illinois alone, the Democratic Governors Association and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker spent at least $30 million to attack a Trumpist’s moderate gubernatorial opponent. In Pennsylvania, a Democratic campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads intended to help a Trumpist candidate win the G.O.P. gubernatorial primary. A political action committee affiliated with Nancy Pelosi worked to boost far-right Republican House candidates in California and Colorado.
They are doing it because they think far-right Trumpist candidates will be easier to beat in the general elections than more moderate candidates.
Because WTF could go wrong?