Trump's Pardon Dump Day

Plus: Deep Cleaning the GOP

Welcome to the Countdown Journal: There is one day left in the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Let’s start with a Tuesday morning palate cleanser.

When Donald Trump looks down for the last time from his helicopter over the White House lawn Wednesday, the wreckage of his presidency will be inescapable.

The showman with the dyed blond hair, fake tan and a knack for connecting with crowds took office four years ago, making the startling promise in his inaugural speech that he would end "American carnage."

But Trump, who promoted himself as a one-off “stable genius" able to do what no other president could, turned out to be the one leaving carnage.

From Marine One, 74-year-old Trump will witness a capital turned into an armed camp in the wake of the rampage by his supporters on January 6.

National Guard soldiers with automatic rifles stand watch across the city. Barrier complexes are more often seen in the likes of Baghdad block empty streets.

And… scene.

Since today is Pardon Dump Day, it seems a good time to remember that George Mason thought it was a bad idea for the chief executive to have such sweeping powers. The president, Mason argued:

“ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic. If he has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection? The case of treason ought, at least, to be excepted. This is a weighty objection with me.”

James Madison told him not to worry.

“There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.”

See if you can spot the flaw.



Sensing a pattern here:

New CNN poll:

Roughly two-thirds of respondents in a CNN poll conducted this month said they approve of Biden’s performance during the presidential transition. The vast majority of those surveyed, 70 percent, disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of the post-election period.

Deep Cleaning the GOP.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Trump is breaking things on his way out.

As the defeated, disgraced, and twice impeached ex-president heads to exile, his supporters seem intent on purging the GOP of its last vestiges of decency.

In Michigan, state Republicans are ousting the GOP member of the state Canvassing Board who stood up against intense pressure and voted to certify the state’s vote. "Time will tell that those who spread misinformation and tried to overturn the election were wrong, and they should be held responsible for the chaos and confusion they have caused," Aaron Van Langevelde said Monday.

Trump himself is pushing primary challenges for Republicans in South Dakota (against Senator John Thune) and Georgia (against Governor Brian Kemp).

In Wyoming, the local party voted to censure Rep. Liz Cheney for supporting Trump’s impeachment… and now seems to be toying with the idea of secession.

And Arizona’s GOP, chaired by Kelli Ward, seems intent on doubling down on its already overloaded portfolio of batshittery. Ward was an early adopter of tin foil hat conspiracy theories and has continued to push the state party deeper into the fever swamps.

“The craziness from the state Republican Party … it’s pretty embarrassing,” said Kirk Adams, a former Republican state House speaker and former chief of staff to Ducey. “We have been fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories and stolen election rhetoric and, really, QAnon theories from the state Republican Party since before the election, but certainly after.”

Arizona’s GOP is now moving ahead with plans to formally censure Governor Doug Ducey, along with former senator Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain, the widow of the late senator for their heresies against the Church of Trumpism.

It is likely to get worse. The NYT reports:

The far-right extremism is hardly new in Arizona. The state gave birth to anti-immigrant border militias, legislation that effectively legalized racial profiling, and is home to Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who pushed a hard-line message on immigration. But the kind of Trump fervor that has been on vivid display in the state since the November election has taken on momentum that even some conservatives in the state find alarming. 

Similar internecine fights are breaking out elsewhere, including in my own state of Wisconsin, where more than dozen state legislators joined the Sedition Caucus in calling for VP Mike Pence to overturn the presidential election.

“Unfortunately,” writes James Wigderson, the editor of Right Wisconsin, “they were hardly alone in wanting to undermine our democratic processes.”

Two Republican Congressmen from Wisconsin, Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald, actually voted to challenge the election results. But all of the Republican members of Congress from Wisconsin actually questioned the election results. We have also already detailed the actions of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

But there are others that either supported overturning the election results by undemocratic means or were at least enablers. Just a week before the assault on the Capitol, Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) said in his newsletter to constituents that he supported having the election overturned and Wisconsin's electors assigned by the legislature.

Backing all of this insanity are rightwing websites and talk radio voices, repeating the lie the election was "stolen" and often supporting the most undemocratic means of overturning the election results.

Wigderson has been a lonely anti-Trump conservative voice in the Badger State. But this week, he sent out out a plea for the GOP to come back to its senses. “It is going to be a long way back for the Republican Party to sanity,” he wrote.

To start that journey, it's going to need more voices speaking up and saying that the post-election behavior of the Republican Party was wrong, terribly wrong.

Maybe that will happen after the events of January 6. Or maybe it will take more violence by Trump supporters for Republicans to realize that it is their rhetoric, and not just the president's rhetoric, that fed that mob's fury. 

(Note: I should mention here that I was the founder of Right Wisconsin, and was its first editor. I turned the reins over to Wigderson in 2017… and could not be prouder of the work he has done with it. There, I’ve totally ruined his life now. )

Nota Bene: Via the Wapo.

Online misinformation about election fraud plunged 73 percent after several social media sites suspended President Trump and key allies last week, research firm Zignal Labs has found, underscoring the power of tech companies to limit the falsehoods poisoning public debate when they act aggressively.

Quick Hits

1. Trump’s Dereliction of Duty on Jan. 6 is Part of His Incitement to Insurrection

Bill Kristol and Jeffrey Tulis have today’s first must-read:

The House chose not to mention this explicitly in its article of impeachment. But the dereliction of duty on the afternoon of January 6 is further evidence of Trump’s guilt. It should be an important part of the case presented to the Senate.

After all, what does it say that the president watched the Capitol being stormed on television, was implored by members of Congress to intervene—and did nothing? Donald Trump chose not to do what any president would have done in the circumstances—to mobilize the federal government to secure the Capitol. And he chose not to speak to the mob—which consisted of his supporters—to tell them to leave until hours after the Capitol was breached.

This stunning dereliction of duty shows that the president understood the attack on the Capitol as the desired result of his prior actions. His dereliction of duty on the day of January 6 is a key part of the case for impeachment, for it refutes the predictable defense of the president—that he did not mean to incite. But the truth is that if he had not meant to incite, he would have reacted with horror, mobilized the federal government, and done his best to call off the mob immediately. He did none of these things.

2. Complicit in the Big Lie

Make sure you read Mona Charen in this morning’s Bulwark. She notes that Dominion Voting Systems is going to court to get an apology from the right-wing conspiracy mongers. Where does the country go for its apology?

The 20,000-plus National Guard soldiers in Washington, D.C., along with smaller forces arrayed in state capitals, may, God willing, get us through the inauguration without any further spasms of violence. But unless the propagandists of right wing media confess and correct the record—unless they forthrightly admit that they spread lies about the election being rigged—the fury they’ve incited among a huge swath of Americans will continue to endanger the lives of public officials and crack the foundations of this republic.

The lie they propagated is what propelled those deluded people to storm the Capitol. Of course the perpetrators of the violence are fully responsible for their decisions, and some of them were clearly mentally unbalanced or extremists or criminals of various stripes. But there were also thousands of otherwise normal people who were deceived into believing that their democracy had been fatally compromised, and millions who now harbor doubts about our system’s legitimacy. Three out of four Republicans believe that Trump was the legitimate victor of the election. They couldn’t have gotten this idea entirely from Facebook posts or YouTube videos (though those platforms bear responsibility too).

No, without the imprimatur of prestige conservative media like Fox and Limbaugh, and the support from official Republican party organs, and the complicity of Republican officeholders like Paxton, McCarthy, Hawley, Cruz, Steve Scalise, and Rick Scott, it’s doubtful that Trump’s big lie could have led where it did. The guilt is corporate.

3. Gresham’s Law of the Internet

In today’s Bulwark, Robert Tracinski points out that content moderation isn’t “censorship.” It’s what built the Internet.

Knowing the difference between this sort of thing and “censorship” or “surveillance”—knowing the difference between the actions of a private platform and those of government—is Classical Liberalism 101, and all the people on the right who are suddenly playing dumb about it should be ashamed of themselves.

The confused mess people are making of these concepts helps explain not only why Parler doesn’t have a leg to stand on in its disputes with Amazon and Google, but also why their forum was doomed to be a cesspool of racism, conspiracies, and incitement from its very conception.

Join now

Cheap Shots

Free pillows with every voting machine?

Pack your shit and go.

Ben Domenech update.

Join now

Deep Thoughts

Stoking the Flames

As the Trump presidency slouches to an end, I’ve been going back over some of the things I’ve written over the last five years. This piece, which I wrote in 2019 for America Magazine, seems relevant this week:

Despite some feeble attempts at rationalization, there was clarity to the president’s language and his larger intent. Mr. Trump was not merely using racist tropes; he was calling forth something dark and dangerous.

The president did not invent or create the racism, xenophobia and ugliness on display last week; they were all pre-existing conditions. But simply because something is latent does not mean it will metastasize into something malignant or fatal. Just because there is a hot glowing ember does not mean that it will explode into a raging conflagration.

In a healthy society, that burning ember may not ever be completely extinguished. But the mores, values and taboos of society would keep it controlled, isolated and small. Now Mr. Trump is stoking the fire.

Democracy is fragile because we are all an odd mix of prejudices, vices, virtues, bigotries and aspirations. We can be demons or angels. That’s why moral leadership matters; society can go either way. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either,” argued Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”

This is why what Mr. Trump is doing is so dangerous and destructive. Abraham Lincoln appealed to our “better angels.” The president has given us permission to indulge our fouler impulses….

Someday, we can expect to read lachrymose mea culpas from members of the G.O.P. who will confess that they regretted siding with Mr. Trump or remaining silent, and they will unburden their freighted consciences in memoirs and op-ed pieces.

They will assure us that their silence did not reflect who they really are. But it did because this was the moment when they had to make a choice.

Unfortunately, this is where the G.O.P.’s Faustian bargain has led: Their moral compromises and silence have become a habit. The small surrenders become larger ones until there is nothing left.