The Brutality Is the Point
And where does Paul Pelosi go to get his apology?
Trump’s low-energy campaign roll-out, a renewed debate about police reform, and Paul Pelosi waits for his apology.
We start this morning with a reminder: Brutality is an ideology, not just an impulse.
My latest piece looks at a consistent theme of the new Trump campaign:
In 2018, as President Donald Trump was separating children from their parents and mocking victims of sexual assault, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote, “The Cruelty is the Point.”
“We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era,” he wrote.
But cruelty is no longer enough. As he seeks a return to power in 2024, Trump has already pivoted to brutality, and there is nothing subtle about it.
For Trump, this is hardly a new theme. His enthusiasm for violence — including torture, extra-judicial murder and shooting both migrants and protesters — has been a consistent feature of his politics for years.
As Serwer noted, Trump has long cultivated cruelty as a political weapon. But he has not confined his cruelty to mere rhetoric.
Indeed, the “pro-life” former president makes no secret of his passion for actual violence — including the maiming, wounding, flesh-tearing, shooting and killing of human beings.
And this appetite for brutality will soon become a litmus test for right-wing politicians, including any of his GOP challengers.
Speaking to supporters at Mar-a-Lago in November, Trump threatened that, as president, he would send the military into American cities, even if local officials objected, and repeatedly stressed his eagerness for executing drug dealers and human traffickers after quick, summary trials.
Trump set up his pronouncement with feigned reluctance. “I don’t like to say this,” he protested. But obviously he loves it, repeating his proposals to kill drug dealers several times during the announcement.
“I don’t even know if the American public is ready for it. A lot of my people say, ‘Please don’t say that, sir. That’s not nice.’”
But Trump is not about nice. So during his announcement he recounted a conversation he claimed that he had with President Xi Jinping of China, when the Chinese strongman explained why his country had no drug problem: drug dealer trials that took two hours and ended in execution.
“By the end of the day you’re executed,” he related to an enthusiastic audience.
Trump is himself so enthusiastic about the executions that he put his own gruesome (and probably ahistorical) twist on the story.
“I don’t know if anybody wants to know this or if it’s too graphic,” he said, “but the bullet is sent to their families. You know that, right? Sent to their families. It’s pretty tough stuff. No games. So they have no drug problem whatsoever.”
Trump especially loves stories about bloody bullets….
You can read the rest at MSNBC Daily.
A perspicacious reader noted that “Sykes has written a piece about fascism that doesn’t use the word fascism.”
It’s a good point. The celebration of violence may be a personal kink for Trump, but it has a long ideological history.
The fascists of the 1930s, wrote Hannah Arendt, “elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”
For many of the faux-intellectuals of the era, “‘violence, power, cruelty were the supreme capacities.”
“Fascism,” as Jay Griffiths put it in a 2017 essay, “not only promotes violence but relishes it, viscerally so. It cherishes audacity, bravado and superbia, promotes charismatic leaders, demagogues and ‘strong men’, and seeks to flood or control the media.”
Griffiths quotes the Futurist manifesto of 1909, in which Filippo Marinetti, “the movement’s poster-boy,” articulated the passion for “fire, hatred and speed!” These, she writes, “are materials of the mind, too: the steel of cruelty, the gunmetal of hatred: ‘We want to exalt aggressive action, the racing foot, the fatal leap, the smack and the punch.’”
Where does Paul Pelosi Go…
…to get his apologies from these guys?
Over the weekend, we got another reality check, when officials released video footage of the attack on the 82-year-old husband of former speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The attacker then called into a local television station and essentially confessed.
"I want to apologize to everyone. I messed up. What I did was really bad. I'm so sorry I didn't get more of them. It's my own fault. No one else is to blame. I should have come better prepared," he says.
But — and I talked about this today on Morning Joe — we need to remember all of the folks on the right who peddled vicious falsehoods about the attack.
“Within hours of the brutal attack last month on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the speaker of the House, activists and media outlets on the right began circulating groundless claims — nearly all of them sinister, and many homophobic — casting doubt on what had happened,” the NYT reported last November.
There was this vicious troll:
Here was the former president’s oldest son:
On Monday morning, Trump Jr. doubled down, posting a South Park-inspired meme that regurgitated the same fact-free conspiracy theory that Elon Musk tweeted then deleted. “Dear fact-checkers, this has nothing at all to do with anything going on in the news and simply posting a cartoon of what appears to be an altered South Park scene,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, “Audience Laughs as Kari Lake Jokes About Pelosi Attack: ‘Apparently, Her House Doesn’t Have a Lot of Protection’.”
And Tucker Carlson continued to just ask questions.
Tucker Carlson used his monologue on Monday night to cast doubt on authorities’ version of events surrounding the attack on the husband of the speaker of the House.
However, while reading the charging documents against the suspect, the Fox News host omitted key details that contradicted his own monologue.
So, despite the horrific nature of the attack, it felt like a turning point: not merely the culmination of a rising tide of threats, but a new sort of normalization of political violence.
Lest we forget, the Times created a handy graphic:
Here are 21 of the elected officials, candidates and other prominent figures who spread misinformation or cast doubt on the attack.
In tweets, podcasts and TV appearances, these figures questioned whether the public was being told the full story of what happened and in some cases spread theories that were unfounded.
I’m going to be sitting down with Paul Ryan next month here in Milwaukee to talk about what’s happened, and where we are going.
If you’re in the area (or interested in coming to the Midwest in February), you can get tickets here.
Trump’s low-energy rollout:
In Axios, Josh Kraushaar covers Trump’s sleepy start to 2024
From party officials to state legislators, there wasn't a visible show of support for Trump's 2024 bid among rank-and-file New Hampshire Republicans in attendance.
*In contrast to the large rallies that propelled him in 2016 and 2020, the New Hampshire event — timed to the state party annual meeting — was held in a compact high school auditorium, with about 400 people in attendance….
Reality check: Trump's base of support has always been with ordinary Republican voters who don't participate in grassroots political events. Last year, Republican primary voters rejected candidates backed by popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu in favor of MAGA-oriented candidates.
The bottom line: Polls indicate Trump's support is soft in New Hampshire. The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he's unelectable in 2024.
But two years after the attack on the Capitol, a few months after Trump helped lead Republicans to an historically disappointing midterm election, and amid several investigations at the state and federal level that could lead to criminal charges against him — and the rise of at least a dozen potential serious challengers — Trump remains the most likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee….
There is a very déjà vu quality to the reporting. There are a million reasons that Trump shouldn’t still be standing and that his party should reject him and move on and find a new nominee for 2024. But he has a good chance of winning anyway if he can just clear a few hurdles in the primaries.
BONUS: The media is going to do this again, isn’t it?
1. Professionalize the Police
Smart stuff from Noah Smith on one of the most obvious areas of police reform.
Do we really think a police officer needs 2000 fewer hours of training than someone who cuts hair and paints nails? Do we really think Australia, with 3500 hours of police training and less than 1/4 our rate of police killings, is getting something deeply wrong? Is it not common sense that cops who haven’t been properly prepared for the violent and dangerous situations they encounter on a job might resort to escalation dominance and demonstrative displays of aggression because they just don’t know how else to react?
2. Why Not Abolish the Police Unions?
In recent years, police unions have been a political paradox: Democrats are historically and reflexively supportive of public employee unions. But while Republicans have been skeptical and aggressive in their approach to other public employee unions (especially teachers’ unions), they have carved out an exception for the police unions. When Wisconsin’s Scott Walker successfully pushed through legislation to geld public employee unions, he famously exempted police unions, and like other Republicans, was rewarded with their political support.
So both parties have looked the other way. What’s not clear is whether the latest controversies could reshuffle the political alignments. Could we end up abolishing police unions rather than the police themselves?
You can already see this brutality playing out with DeSantis. He's pushing to both expand the death penalty to other crimes, and to make it so death penalty cases no longer require a unanimous jury verdict.
If we don't reverse this trend asap, we're going to end up in a very dark place.
Trump's the sort of guy who loves violence so long as he's far removed from it. Like all weak men, he punches down and kisses up. The same can be said for his coke-addled failson and the likes of Charlie Kirk. Unfortunately, there's no mechanism for accountability for bad acts in the public square.