What Were You Thinking?

Don't pretend you're surprised


Pardons, threats, chaos, and coups. Merry Freaking Christmas

Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 14 days until January 6, when Congress counts the Electoral College votes, and 28 days until the Inauguration of Joe Biden.

Near the end of the miniseries, Band of Brothers, the guys from Easy Company are shown riding in a convoy of trucks past a bedraggled column of German prisoners, some of whom are riding in carts drawn by horses.

Private David Webster is appalled by the scene and shouts at them:

Hey, you! That's right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That's right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin' Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives... For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

I woke up this morning thinking about him.

Admittedly, the parallels are hardly exact, but as I’m looking over the clusterfuck of American conservativism on this almost-Christmas Eve, I feel a kinship with Webster.

What were you thinking? You cowardly, ignorant, servile scum?

It’s not like you were not warned. Again and again.

It’s not as if it wasn’t obvious from the very beginning who Donald Trump was. You had to know it would come to something like this.

Now look at you. You have Trump.

You’ve dragged this country into this place: more than 323,000 dead Americans, a president plotting to steal an election, whispers of military coups, pardons for crooks and war criminals, a potential constitutional crisis, and a possible government shutdown. And, after four interminable years, a nation that is dumber, crueler, and more divided.

For what? What the fuck are we doing here?

Let me repeat this: none of this is new. As far back as August 2015, I wrote that Trump was “a cartoon version of every left-wing media stereotype of the reactionary, nativist, misogynist right.”

Back then there was still time to say no. Some of us desperately made the case that he was a disaster. In May 2016, on the last appearance I will ever make on Fox News, I said:

Donald Trump is a serial liar, a con man who mocks the disabled and women. He’s a narcissist and a bully, a man with no fixed principles who has the vocabulary of an emotionally insecure nine-year-old. So no, I don’t want to give him control of the IRS, the FBI, and the nuclear codes. That’s just me.

But you went along with it. You thought you could ride it out. You thought the tradeoffs were worth it. You thought you could Make America Great with this ignorant, petulant man-child.

One conservative commentator after another torched their reputations, if not their consciences, polishing the orange turds.

The anti-anti-Trumpers sat it out, or spent their time assuring us it wasn’t so bad and that the real threat was radical woke socialists like… Joe Biden. When they weren’t actually concocting elaborate defenses for Trump’s mendacity, they rationalized, or played an endless game of whataboutism.

Back in June, my colleague, Sarah Longwell asked the same question that’s nagging me today:

Did they really think that putting a man bereft of character, decency, and empathy in charge of the country wouldn’t make a difference?

Did they really think that dismissing each instance of his racism, bullying, fecklessness, megalomania, corruption, lies, and stupidity it wouldn’t have a cumulative effect?

From the day he came down the escalator, Trump promised to burn it all down. And now Conservatism Inc. is surprised the country is on fire?

What did they think was going to happen?

So don’t pretend you are really surprised. You may be appalled by what you are seeing, but nothing that is happening now — the reckless attacks on constitutional norms, the flood of lies and conspiracy theories, the bullying, insults, or chaos — is inconsistent in any way with what you have known for years.

But you truckled, wheedled, and hoped he’d eat you last.

And here we are, you miserable bastards.

We’ll keep sounding the alarm. As you know, we founded the Bulwark two years ago, with a commitment to tell you what we think. And we had a lot to say about where the conservative movement was headed. At times, I’ll be honest, it felt lonely. These have been difficult times and, unfortunately, things may actually be about to get worse.

So our mission is to continue to be a voice of sanity amid the farrago of nonsense that passes for political and cultural commentary these days.

If you have been following us, you know that we have assembled an amazing group of writers, editors, columnists, and artists. We would be very grateful if you would join us… or at least spread the word.

And seriously, Merry Christmas.

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Big day for crooked pols and war criminals.

If you checked out early last night, you missed Trump’s pardons of two corrupt former GOP congressmen (both Trump supporters) and some war criminals.

One of them, Nicholas Slatten, had been sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department had gone to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr. Slatten had been a contractor for the private company Blackwater and was sentenced for his role in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad — a massacre that left one of the most lasting stains of the war on the United States. Among those dead were two boys, 8 and 11.

Trump throws his own deal under the bus.

Imagine being a Republican senator who just voted for the COVID relief bill and omnibus.

In a video that weird even by Trumpian standards, the defeated president demanded that Congress send out $2,000 checks.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately called Trump’s bluff. Right now, it’s all show and kabuki theater… but no one knows what will actually happen now. Despite calling the bill a “disgrace” an calling for a bigger money-cannon, Trump did not actually threaten a veto.

As usual, Nicholas Grossman has a solid take:

What could go wrong here?

4D Chess. Politico doesn’t see how this is a wizard move for Trump.

IT’S DIFFICULT to see why the White House thinks it’s helpful to TRUMP to look as if he has no sway with the legislature.

IF HE DOES VETO, can Congress come back and override it? Maybe -- probably! So, again,it’s difficult to see why it’s helpful to have TRUMP choose to lose another fight with Congress.

IF TRUMP DOES VETO and Congress can’t override it, the Hill will just pass this again in January, and JOE BIDEN will get to take credit, and TRUMP will get none. 4D chess.

AND WHAT ABOUT GOP Sens. DAVID PERDUE and KELLY LOEFFLER, who have been touting the bill in Georgia? Where does this leave them?

Trump turns on the Senate GOP.

ICYMI: Trump lashed out at GOP Senator John Thune for suggesting that senators should do their constitutional duty and recognize the winner of the election.

Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party Update:

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Quick Hits

1. A Scary Thread from BK

ICYMI it yesterday, our colleague Bill Kristol is alarmed:

Here’s the whole thing:

It could, obviously, be kind of random--a date picked last week to allow Barr to get things in order, an accommodation of Barr's family schedule, etc. But it could also be that Barr very much wanted to get out before Dec. 24, and/or that Trump wanted him out by then.

One obvious possibility discussed in the White House: Trump has spoken about a bunch of pardons on Christmas Eve. Some of the names may have been too much for Barr--so they agreed on his departure on Dec. 23.

(Or the pardons will be a few days later, but the principle holds--Barr wanted out, or Trump wanted him out, first.) But it could be more than pardons. Yesterday Barr suggested there were several things he wouldn't do that Trump wanted him to do as ranging from appointing special counsels for Hunter Biden or election fraud, to giving a legal ok for seizing voting machines or for various types of Insurrection Act-type moves by the president. Can one be confident Barr's successor as AG, Jeffrey Rosen, will also say no?

I'm told not. I'm told the very ambitious Rosen has pushed on earlier occasions for carrying out Trump's will only to be stopped by Barr. And people who've worked with Rosen say they wouldn't be surprised to see him, as AG, hasten to try to do Trump's will.

In the past, Rosen has been allied with some in the White House counsel's office and others elsewhere in the White House who've been for going whole hog for Trump, as a friend put it. They've run up against resistance from Barr but also from WH Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The departure of Cipollone would be a signal, as one person put it, that "all bets are off."

I'm also reliably told senior military officials in the Pentagon are more, not less, alarmed than they were a few weeks ago when Mark Esper was fired. The new crew of Trump loyalists in the most senior civilian positions don't seem there only to burnish their resumes, as one person put it. They're trying to figure out, in coordination with people in the White House, "how to make things happen." The senior military obviously retain considerable clout, to say the least. But the discussions they're having among themselves are unprecedented-- .more sober and weighty than those of 1974 in the weeks before Nixon's resignation. And the difference is that Jim Schlesinger was then Secretary of Defense, committed to checking an unstable and desperate president, not to helping one.

All of these alarms, one hopes and trusts, will come to nothing, or at least to not too much. And the coup, in the end, will fail. But that something more than we've seen so far won't be tried--of that people aren't so confident.

The first thing to look for is what, if anything, happens on Dec. 24.


I’ll be talking with Bill about this on today’s Bulwark podcast. Check back later.

2. The Ghost of Conservatism Future

Richard North Patterson asks: What now?

Do the Never Trumpers strive to reconstitute the GOP as a responsible political party? Do they join a moderate Democratic party led by Joe Biden? Or do they try to help Biden succeed for the larger good of the country while ultimately hoping, someday and somehow, to provide a new home for principled conservatives?

A word about my perspective. Among my gifted and gutsy colleagues at The Bulwark, generally conservatives whose foundational loyalties lay with the Republican party, I’m a center-left Democrat who saw Trump as the continuation—not the cause—of a moral and intellectual decline wherein the GOP conflated “conservatism” with a Manichean white identity politics that demolishes fact, degrades political discourse, and promotes scorched-earth partisanship. So I’d be delighted to claim them as political coreligionists at this perilous national crossroads.

But my colleagues and their siblings on the center-right are not of one mind. What unites us is the desire to help our country rebuild a collective comity.

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Well, this is is awkward.

Pence panders.

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Deep Thoughts

A Hunger for Dictatorship

Scary stuff from NBC’s Ben Collins.

Some QAnon followers believe Trump is left with no choice but to declare martial law, a belief based in part on a series of wildly false news articles that have claimed that Trump is in a secret, ongoing land war with China in parts of the U.S.

A series of fake news articles, YouTube videos and tweets that went viral among QAnon acolytes last week led followers to believe Trump was conducting clandestine military operations on U.S. soil.

The rumors, which started on the website of the conspiracy theorist radio host Hal Turner, claimed China was quietly sending tanks into Maine through Canada. After a small earthquake shook Maine in early December, the rumor evolved to say the earthquakes were the result of an aerial assault by the Trump administration.

Maine’s National Guard said no such battle had taken place.

“The Maine National Guard has no knowledge of any such troop movement or military action, and would undoubtedly have been made aware through military or emergency management channels if such a significant event were to occur in the state of Maine,” Maj. Carl J. Lamb, the public affairs officer for the Maine National Guard, said. “In addition to constantly maintaining a ready force, our focus right now is assisting our fellow citizens by responding to requests from Maine Emergency Management Agency and Maine CDC in response to COVID-19.”