Tag Archives: insurrection

The Stench from the Bench

The Washington Post reported recently that Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch would join Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, and Trump’s White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in speaking to the Federalist Society. They did and the media, as reported, was excluded. https://wapo.st/3 Jua6Dz  Even rev.com, the repository of many political speeches, could not acquire a transcript.

 I have it on pure speculation, good enough in a Trumpworld, that in a rare act of dexterity, Mike Pence got off his knees and stood erect at the podium during his portion of the show. One wonders how he was received given his shocking one-time decision to comply with the Constitution and the law in connection with Trump’s ongoing attempt to overturn the 2020 election by whatever means will work for him, including violence against the police.

A related question is hanging regarding DeSantis who swings between sycophantic adoration of Trump and hints that he may run against Trump in 2024. McEnany has no such problem. She’s not running for anything but the money. Her connection with the truth is so remote she could satisfy her obligations by just sending a copy of Big Little Lies to sit on the podium during Pence’s talk.

This wasn’t Gorsuch’s first such speech. He did a victory lap at the Federalist Society in November 2017 just after his confirmation to the Supreme Court. https://politi.co/3LySkRt Not surprisingly, perhaps, the only other Justice present then was Justice Alito who has spoken to the Federalists multiple times. In Gorsuch’s 2017 speech, he,

vowed to continue to expound the group’s favored judicial philosophies from his new post. “Originalism has regained its place and textualism has triumphed and neither is going anywhere on my watch,” the justice vowed.

Very interestingly, neither the Supreme Court nor the Federalist Society would say whether Gorsuch was paid to appear and, if so, by whom. Why, I wonder, would they not answer that simple question if he were not going to be paid? Refusing to answer in this context is analogous to pleading the 5th Amendment.

To be fair, it is reported that “liberal justices” are also “often guests of progressive organizations such as the American Constitution Society.” Despite all of that, or because of it, the justices are making public statements defending the high court’s impartiality and integrity. Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his book that,

“Political groups may favor a particular appointment but once appointed a judge naturally decides a case in the way that he or she believes the law demands. It is a judge’s sworn duty to be impartial, and all of us take that oath seriously.”

Well, maybe not “all of us.” The sordid conduct of some Justices has now reached the nadir of ethical practice. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, has defended the court’s “independence” during a lecture at the University of Notre Dame, but failed to mention that his wife, Ginni Thomas, is an avowed right-wing sycophant and Trump lover. She has been widely reported to have played a role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, has argued far and wide that the 2020 election was stolen, and on and on. And now, we have reports that Ms. Thomas texted multiple times with Mark Meadows, then serving as Chief of Staff to Trump, that Meadows should do everything in his power to overturn the election.

As you likely recall, Thomas was the sole dissenting vote in the case about whether Trump had to turn over documents to the January 6 Select Committee. In Thomas’s participation in that case, there was no mention of his wife’s activities and no apparent concern about the grotesque conflict of interest, or appearance thereof. He apparently thinks he has no disclosure obligations, no recusal obligations regarding participation in cases in which his spouse is actively and aggressively interested.

Something is rotten here – ‘here’ meaning ‘right here,’ not Denmark – and the stench, has only gotten worse in recent days.

Lest we forget, judicial “ethics” also did not stop conservative icon Antonin Scalia from taking trips paid for by … someone not him. Indeed, according to New York Times reporting, Justice Scalia took more than,

258 subsidized trips … from 2004 to 2014. Justice Scalia went on at least 23 privately funded trips in 2014 alone to places like Hawaii, Ireland and Switzerland, giving speeches, participating in moot court events or teaching classes. A few weeks before his death, he was in Singapore and Hong Kong. [https://nyti.ms/3Dk8fPE]

A private individual provided Scalia with a free room at his ranch even though he had business before the Supreme Court. Again, according to the Times,

legal experts said they saw nothing wrong with Mr. Scalia’s accepting a free room at Mr. Poindexter’s lodge. While the Ethics in Government Act, adopted after Watergate, requires high-level federal employees, including judges, to fill out disclosure reports for reimbursements worth more than $335, the visit to the ranch might not have required a formal disclosure, because accommodations provided by a private individual are exempt under current rules.

WHAT????

All my years in private practice I fretted over conflicts of interest issues and Supreme Court justices can accept luxury hotel accommodations if they’re provided by “private individuals?!?!” No wonder “Supreme Court members took 1,009 paid trips between 2004 and 2014.” According to my calculations, that averages to 11 trips per year per Justice. And these are not trips to Bridgeport.

The destinations often are luxurious, including the Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic, where Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was listed as a speaker for an event last February, or Zurich, where Justice Scalia traveled at least three times on privately funded trips.

In 2011, a liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, questioned whether Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas should have disqualified themselves from participating in the landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because they had attended a political retreat in Palm Springs, Calif., sponsored by the conservative financier Charles G. Koch. Mr. Koch funds groups that could benefit from the ruling. The disclosure report filed by Justice Thomas made no mention of the retreat. It said only that he had taken a trip, funded by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, to Palm Springs to give a speech.

Over roughly a decade, Justice Scalia took 21 trips sponsored by the Federalist Society, to places like Park City, Utah; Napa, Calif.; and Bozeman, Mont. The Federalist Society also paid for trips by Justice Alito during that period, but not for any liberal justices, the disclosure reports show.

The disclosure reports, such as they are, reportedly “show that the majority of the privately funded trips — by far — are sponsored by universities.” Maybe, but it’s a fair bet that on those trips, the Justices don’t stay in dorm rooms. Are we to believe the suggestion that universities paid to send Justices to Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Switzerland? I also note that universities are sometimes litigants or amicus curiae (friend of the court) in cases of major importance.

The cited Times story about all this was published almost exactly five years ago. At that time legislation was pending in Congress to “require the Supreme Court to create a formal ethics system, beyond the Ethics in Government Act, like the one that governs actions of all other federal judges. That system is known as the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.” It should say “United States Judges Other Than Supreme Court Justices” because it apparently does not apply to them in any meaningful way – each of them decides for himself whether his conduct raises ethical concerns.

Chief Justice Roberts has argued that the Supreme Court, even though it generally abides by this judicial ethics code, is not obligated to do so. It restricts how much judges can be paid for private travel, and limits other activities outside the court, such as allowing private organizations to use “the prestige of judicial office” for fund-raising purposes.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, said that society could benefit when justices — who are paid about $250,000 a year, far less than they would earn in private practice — leave Washington to speak about how the court works.

“Society could benefit.” Perhaps, if that’s what the Justices always spoke about to other judges, law students and the like. Somehow, I doubt that’s what Scalia was talking about in Zurich.

Self-policing is a nice concept but fails in practice a good deal of the time. And since the Supreme Court is the top of the third branch of government, enshrined in the Constitution and the final word on the constitutionality of state and federal laws, self-policing seems a particularly inapt way of assuring fair, neutral decision-making.

The sitting Chief Justice has defended the current approach by arguing that the Justices “consult the code for lower-court judges in assessing their own ethical obligations.”  They may “consult” but are not bound to follow.” Extraordinary.

The “both sides-ing” of the ethical issues involving speeches and political leanings by Justices cannot be allowed to obscure the fundamental obligation of judicial neutrality embodied in the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct [bolding is mine] set out below, along with the corresponding Code of Conduct for United States Judges.

ABA: CANON 1
A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Judges’ Code: Canon 1

A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary.

 ABA: CANON 2 
A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

Judges’ Code: Canon 2

A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all Activities

ABA: CANON 3
A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

Judges’ Code: Canon 3

A Judge Should Perform the Duties of the Office Fairly, Impartially and Diligently

ABA: CANON 4
A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

Judges’ Code: Canon 4

A Judge May Engage in Extrajudicial Activities that are Consistent with the Obligations of Judicial Office

 Judges’ Code: Canon 5

A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity

The Judges’ Code is accompanied by a lengthy commentary on each section that only a lawyer can appreciate. Suffice to say that, in substance, the ABA Code and the Judges’ Code are essentially the same.

A commission appointed by President Biden to consider some of these issues stated in its report that “this voluntary system may not be the best approach to conflicts of interest that may affect the public’s perception of the court. “It is not obvious why the court is best served by an exemption from what so many consider best practice,” the report said. Indeed, a masterpiece of understatement.

Ironically, I suggest without a hint of irony, Justice Alito who often speaks at the Federalist Society’s meetings, had this to say at its November 2020 convention:

Judges dedicated to the rule of law have a clear duty. They cannot compromise principle or rationalize any departure from what they are obligated to do. And I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not do that in the years ahead. When we look back at the history of the American judiciary, we can see many judges who were fearless in their dedication to principle …. [https://bit.ly/3uEG2iE]

Many, but not all, it seems. Furthering the irony, Justice Alito’s very next words were, “and one who is especially dear to the Federalist Society springs immediately to mind I’m referring to Justice Antonin Scalia.” To quote the infamous Mr. Barry, I am not making this up. I will have much more to say about J. Alito’s extraordinary speech in a future post.

Most of the comments I have read about this issue constitute the highest [lowest?] form of tiptoeing by the graveyard. The stench of politics wafting from the High Court is gag-inducing. The pussyfooting by Democrats only makes it worse: “Justice Thomas’s participation in cases involving the 2020 election and the January 6th attack is exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements.” https://wapo.st/3DqCQLB “Exceedingly difficult?” Really?

This is the same Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni, whose text messages to Mark Meadows, Chief of Staff to Trump urged Meadows and Trump to “stand firm” in pursuing legal strategies to overturn the election she claimed was stolen from Trump. In keeping with the circus-of-the-obvious that Washington has become, Democrats in Congress were shocked, yes, I say, shocked, and even “outraged” to learn of these messages. https://wapo.st/35r6N1C

Now some experts see problems with this sordid example of non-self-regulation:

Legal ethicists, even some who in the past have been sympathetic to the notion that justices’ spouses are entitled to their own political activities, said the revelations presented a serious problem for the Supreme Court.

“The public is going to be deeply concerned whether a justice can be fair when his wife has been such an active participant in questioning the outcome of the election,” said Steven Lubet, a professor and judicial ethics expert at Northwestern University law school.

Louis J. Virelli III, a Stetson University law professor who wrote “Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution,” said that “this situation is problematic” considering the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of Trump’s supporters. “It is so stark.” [https://wapo.st/3LtMno4]

Not surprisingly to anyone with a functioning mind, “Congressional Republicans came to Clarence Thomas’s defense.” Names: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, leading House shrieker, Jim Jordan. Icons of ethical conduct, every one. Some of them, McConnell in particular, it is said, oppose Thomas even recusing from January 6 cases. We should not be surprised since the last Republican known to believe in democratic principles appears to have died some time ago.

Experts in judicial ethics seem to be falling all over themselves to avoid speaking the dreaded words: RESIGN. The lawyerly hair splitting is disturbing because this is not a problem curable by disclosure or recusal in this case or that. The High Court may well end up deciding multiple cases arising from the January 6 attack and the conspiracies that led up to and followed it.

Even if recusal, the step short of resignation, were adopted by Thomas for those cases, the Court would be deprived of one voice and one vote in an already small group of decision-makers. The burdens on other Justice would increase and the possibility of tie-votes on crucial constitutional issues would increase. Ginni Thomas’s own words proof how tone-deaf and substance-indifferent she and her husband are: ““Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.” Sure.

Just imagine:

“How was your day, honey?”

“Fine. Just the usual run-of-the-mill insurrection cases, you know, the attempts to overthrow the government. But you know we can’t talk about that, right?”

“Of course not, so let me tell you what I did today….”

More rules and self-enforcing principles of recusal do not serve the interests of the United States, which should be the only focus here. The interests and feelings of Justice Thomas and his wife are irrelevant. They brought this problem on themselves, and the country should not bear further the costs of their conduct. Thomas has already shown himself to be indifferent, at best, to the high ethically duty that should be the watchword of every Justice on the Court. Resignation is the only appropriate remedy, and it should be forthwith, before more interference with the Court’s business and more impairment of its already wounded reputation occur.

Good, Bad, Ugly and … Bad

My last post at, or as close as my reflexes allowed, the stroke of midnight, when last year became this year, was a record of brevity. Nevertheless, last year had some moments and I am sharing them now. Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly, and some are just plain bad. The narrative will help sort them out, but you will, as always, be the judge.

Looking ahead, and backward as well (2021 will not go away that easily), we have much to look forward to, even as many of us crave the justice that so far has failed to materialize regarding, among many other things, the attempt by Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s attempt was supported by, and likely planned by, many Republicans in Congress who remain in their positions, enjoying the extraordinary privileges and comforts accorded to nationally elected representatives of the people. The same is true of members of Trump’s Cabinet who, from some compelling indications, were complicit and indeed actively engaged in the coup attempt.

Those of us who retain our rational faculties even after the Trump presidency and a year of non-stop Republican-led terror and fantasizing are not going to be satisfied with letting bygones be. As the clock ticks down toward the 2022 mid-term elections, and many experts predict a traditional outcome in which the “out” party resumes control of Congress, the omens for the future of our democratic republic appear dark indeed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We outnumber them – our future is in our own hands, not theirs, unless our indifference lets them have the victory they do not deserve.

With that in mind, and given the dual personality of this post, here are some of the planned topics you can look forward to in 2022:

Fahrenheit 2021 – the crypt has opened and the book-burners walk among us

Life Under Republican Rule – do you want leaders who believe in magic?

States – What Good Are They? – how states promote tribalism

Anti-Vaxxers Must Take No Medications – if they read the labels ….

Books, Truth and Elections – truth is not infinitely malleable

Voice Bots – how to remove the human element from humanity

The Fear Equation – what is everyone so afraid of?

Communicating with the Voter – ya think?

Cliches of the Day – substituting slogans for thought

… and others in a seemingly infinite list. Meanwhile, back at the launchpad, here are some things to ponder and, hopefully, enjoy in a perverse 2022 kind of way.

Cloudy skies as seen from the roof:

In the Yikes Department, these cars were, according to reports, parked on leaves that had been deposited in the curb and a hot catalytic converter did its thing. I don’t know whether that’s really what happened, but Yikes.

On Christmas Day, we visited the National Mall to get some fresh air and see what was going on. Generally, it was a normal-looking day, as these photos show. Many visited the military memorials.

Some walked along the Reflecting Pool.

One person visited with himself. We’re pretty sure he enjoyed the experience.

A few days later we drove into the Virginia countryside to introduce my stepdaughter to the wonders of Hill High Orchard and pie place extraordinaire, about which I have previously written. The plan was to eat lunch outside at a restaurant in Bluemont, VA. When we arrived, however, we saw these “signs” hanging from a building on the property:

We returned to the car and went elsewhere. We will NEVER eat at a place owned by people who believe Trump won the election. Not now, NOT EVER.

Which brings us to Meme Time. Someone wise once said that a picture was worth a thousand words. I think that’s mostly true. These memes/photos were copied from tweets and Facebook posts. Where they originated, I have no idea but kudos to the people who created them. They speak volumes about the challenges we face. There is no doubt the country has made many mistakes. In that sense it is “normal.” But we also aspire to higher ideals, and it is those that we say “define America.” So, with a smile on our faces, let us confront our ghosts and move ahead as a people dedicated to the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident ….

 

 

The Cat is Out of the Bag

When it was revealed that General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had intervened in anticipation that Trump might use the military to keep himself in office, strong backlash was heard from some in the military, present and former. They appeared to believe that it was wrong for Milley to move independently of the president who was his commander-in-chief, regardless of his fears that Trump might act to subvert the election with military force or start a nuclear conflict and declare martial law.

That position was, I thought at the time, unbelievably short-sighted and mindless. Accepting that chain-of-command is important, I thought, and still believe, that General Milley is an American hero for seeing a fundamental danger to the country and acting to prevent it.

Now come three other generals (retired) arguing that “The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.” https://wapo.st/3e8J6vH “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

I am too, and so should you be. We are facing the most serious threat to our democracy since the Civil War.

The case made by the generals is compelling:

  • Many of the insurrectionist mob on January 6 were veterans or, even more remarkable, active-duty military;
  • The commander of the Oklahoma National Guard refused to compel COVID vaccination of his Guard members because the Governor of the state said he should not follow the President’s directive;
  • “The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines … is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed;”
  • The real possibility exists that state Guard units will follow their political preferences if their candidate loses the next election;
  • Access to state arms repositories might be loosened to aid insurrectionists prepared to do battle;
  • Often ignored, the distraction of a violent domestic conflict over the election with a divided military would make the U.S. vulnerable to attack by international enemies;
  • We have passed the stage of mere strong political disagreement and must urgently prepare for worst-case scenarios, by, among other things, holding the leaders of January 6 to full accountability for their actions;

The generals who have spoken out about the danger have made several compelling proposals for preventive measures:

  • An immediate civics review for all uniformed and civilian military regarding the Constitution they have sworn to uphold and on the subject of election integrity, the laws of war and how to deal with illegal orders;
  • Re-inform members about the “unity of command,” so there is no question about who is in command;
  • “identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers” and “propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command.”
  • war-game the next potential post-election coup attempt to identify weak spots, debrief the findings and act to prevent breakdowns in the military and in connected civilian agencies.

A major step in support of this pro-democracy agenda involves the military and Department of Justice acting aggressively and urgently to hold accountable those who participated in and/or led and/or conspired to induce the attack on the Capitol. Regardless of what led people to involve themselves in what was a blatantly and unquestionably unlawful assault on the government, minds are not going to be changed any time soon.

The remedy for now is to make clear that the penalties for such conduct will be administered severely and promptly. Military who participated should be expelled from the service. They have no excuse for violating their oaths of loyalty to the Constitution. Similarly, the January 6 House Select Committee must adopt a sense of urgency and work continuously until its mission is completed.

Simultaneously, the Department of Justice must, with equal urgency, complete its investigations and indict the leaders in Congress and the former White House (and associated advisors) and elsewhere who participated in, conspired to incite or aided-and-abetted the January 6 assault. It should not take a week or more to hold in contempt individuals who refuse to comply with subpoenas or who falsely claim the Fifth Amendment while simultaneously proclaiming their innocence and make false accusations about the process.

Among the other obvious dangers here is that these investigations will drag on, the TrumpPublican Party will regain full control of the Congress (not dependent on the cooperation of people like putative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin) and activity to investigate and hold accountable will be halted. If that happens, you can kiss our democratic republic goodbye, perhaps for good. The authoritarian goals of the TrumpPublicans are to entrench their power permanently. Democracy is at stake. Time is running out. Politics as usual is not good enough. If we do not act in the face of the threat, we will deserve what we get.

The Fourth Reich — It’s Them or Us

Disclosure: Much of this post depends on information from the Bob Woodward- Robert Costa book, Peril. Woodward and I were friends in college and have had sporadic contact since then. I still consider him a friend, though we do not communicate regularly. Back in the day, a national magazine (not to be named) briefly suspected I might be Deep Throat. As everyone now knows, I was not Deep Throat. I never was.

This post is also inspired both by the column in the Washington Post by Margaret Sullivan [https://wapo.st/3v4LeMv] that asks the question why the “news” has largely ignored or downplayed the revelation that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer (and thus, legally, Trump himself), produced an outline for the steps to overturn the 2020 election and replace the real winner, Joe Biden, with Donald Trump.

The third inspiration is a line in Steven Pinker’s new book, Rationality:

Many facts, of course, are hurtful: the racial history of the United States, global warming, a cancer diagnosis, Donald Trump. Yet they are facts for all that, and we must know them, the better to deal with them.

So we must.

Since I began thinking deeply about this, we have also learned that Trump’s Department of Justice deliberately sat on its hands and did not brief Congress or others in the administration about what it apparently understood could be a day of violence against the government. https://bit.ly/3npJLON

We have also become aware that,

Republican leaders loyal to Trump are vying to control election administrations in key states in ways that could drastically distort the outcome of the presidential race in 2024. With the former president hinting strongly that he may stand again, his followers are busily manoeuvring themselves into critical positions of control across the US – from which they could launch a far more sophisticated attempt at an electoral coup than Trump’s effort to hang on to power in 2020.

… in recent months Trump has emerged as an unashamed champion of the insurrectionists, calling them “great people” and a “loving crowd”, and lamenting that they are now being “persecuted so unfairly”.

A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe the myth that Trump won. More chilling still, almost a third of Republicans agree with the contention that American patriots may have to resort to violence “in order to save our country”. [https://bit.ly/3ckbwlq]

As Donald Trump Jr has asserted, the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump. He owns it. His army of sycophants are as loyal to him as ever. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, his people believe the 2020 election was stolen, just as Trump continues to claim.

This is so despite Trump’s admitted bungling of the response to COVID that added significantly to the death toll, his incessant grifting and lying and treasonous acts of disloyalty to the United States, and, of course, his many “ordinary” crimes, such as giving secrets to Russia, extorting the president of Ukraine and a multitude of documented obstructions of justice, among many others. Evidence of cultish blindness to Trumpism is everywhere – mainstream media, Fox Propaganda, Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn and more.

Even with all that, the Eastman memo, unearthed in Woodward and Costa’s book, is shocking. As explained by Sullivan,

Written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman — a serious Establishment Type with Federalist Society cred and a law school deanship under his belt — it offered Mike Pence, then in his final days as vice president, a detailed plan to declare the 2020 election invalid and give the presidency to Trump.

In other words, how to run a coup to overturn the election in six easy steps.

Yet, Sullivan reports, the mainstream media largely ignored it at first. She rightly asks why this was not the multi-alarm firestorm – a presidential advisor casually informing him of the steps needed to undermine the outcome of a national election and claim the presidency that he had clearly lost.

The answer, it turns out, is as disturbing as the memo itself.

As reported by Sullivan, network executives thought the story unworthy because it was “crazy” and unsurprising. In effect, Trump has so normalized the idea of overthrowing the election that evidence of actual work to do so is not important enough to report. Another didn’t address it because “There’s no indication that Pence considered it seriously.” Others responded that there was much other news that seemed more important. What would be more important than an attempt to overthrow the government?

The normalization of the Trump-Republican attempt to subvert the Constitution and reinstall Trump as president, and de facto dictator, is being enabled by publications as venerable as the Wall Street Journal. The Journal published a letter from Trump on October 27. It did so without comment or any attempt to address the truth or falsity of his claims. The grotesque problems with the letter and the Journal’s decision to publish it are addressed in detail by Philip Bump in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GTiYCg

The obvious and logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion is that WSJ supports Trump’s claims of election fraud and his belief that he was denied re-election by widespread vote fraud. Thus, the Wall Street Journal joins the campaign to undermine American democracy and replace it with a Republican autocracy led by Trump and his family.

At the same time, Trump is desperately fighting to prevent the release to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection/coup attempt of a large trove of documents that would reveal his role, and that of his key enablers, in the attack on the Capitol. https://nyti.ms/3wgXYAc His claims of executive privilege have been rejected by President Biden, but Trump maintains he can assert the privilege even though no longer in office. Trump’s claim of privilege fails on multiple grounds, not least of which is that most of the documents sought have nothing to do with this execution of the job of president – they are related to his personal political objective to remain in office despite the electoral outcome.

Thus, Trump continues to maintain his thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud while resisting efforts to uncover facts that might expose his role in trying to overthrow the federal government.

What else does the Woodward/Costa book contribute to our understanding of all this? A lot.

  • The chair of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, after plenty of chances to observe Trump’s thinking and behavior as president, agreed with Speaker Pelosi’s observation that Trump was “crazy” and had been “crazy for a long time.” Peril at xxii. Colin Powell, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs described Trump as a “f*cking maniac.” Peril at 106.
  • Pelosi characterized the Oval Office under Trump as an “insane snake pit.”Peril at xxiii.
  • Referring to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, and under pressure from then-Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump refused to criticize the marchers because “These people love me. These are my people. I can’t backstab the people who support me.” Peril at 8.
  • Trump was often unaware of his own actions. He did not know that the money for the border wall in the early 2018 spending bill was an amount he had approved. He finally agreed to sign the bill to prevent a government shutdown. Marc Short, Trump’s legislative advisor told Ryan this chaos was typical of “every day around here.” Peril at 9. Bill Barr, who was committed to run the Justice Department in Trump’s best interest to promote his re-election thought Trump’s big problem was his “pigheadedness and his blindness.” Peril at 71.
  • Trump failed to grasp the nature of the threat posed by COVID-19 and refused to accept information that conflicted with his view. Peril at 82.
  • Trump rejected advice of Gen. Milley and other senior advisors to rename military bases from Confederate traitors to Medal of Honor winners. Peril at 108-109.
  • Even as the U.S. pandemic continued to escalate (approaching 4.9 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths), Trump insisted that it was “disappearing. It’s going to disappear.” Peril at 113.
  • Trump tweeted that the “deep state” was interfering with the development of vaccines. When his own appointed head of the FDA tried to explain the process, Trump changed the subject. “the president had no idea how the FDA operated and had made no effort to find out.” Peril at 113-115.
  • Aware of his failing election campaign, Trump primed his followers for the possibility of defeat by repeatedly claiming that the only way he could lose was a rigged election. Peril at 131.
  • As soon as Trump’s defeat was reported, he announced from the White House that the election was a “fraud on the American public.” Peril at 133.
  • Even Michael Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal sycophants, told Gen. Milley that “The crazies are taking over,” referring to Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell, the key players on Trump’s legal defense team. Peril at 150.
  • On November 10, following Trump’s firing of the Secretary of Defense, Gina Haspel, the CIA Director, presciently predicted, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Peril at 152.
  • Mark Meadows made repeated efforts to install a Trump super-loyalist into a leadership position at the FBI and, stymied by Barr, later at the CIA, stymied by Haspel. Peril at 154-156.
  • Trump acknowledged that Giuliani was “crazy” but claimed that “sane lawyers” would not represent him in attacking the election. Peril at 164. Trump’s AG Barr referred to Trump’s legal team as a “bunch of clowns.” Peril at 170. See also Peril at 180.
  • Trump’s team of incompetents had no plan to efficiently distribute COVID vaccines. Peril at 187.
  • Steve Bannon advised Trump to focus on January 6, the day the Electoral College votes would be certified by Congress, the last step to elect Joe Biden as President:

We’re going to bury Biden on January 6 …. If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden’s victory on January 6 … it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again. “We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib… [Peril at 207-208]

  • Trump directly threatened VP Pence if he refused to reject the Biden Electoral votes and hand the election to Trump. Peril at 229-230.

The above references are just a small taste of the astonishing revelations in Peril. Most of the rational people in the White House at the time of the election and its aftermath appeared to believe that Trump was mentally unstable, incapable of and uninterested in the complexities of governing and focused only on retaining power. There was palpable fear, even among some Republican leaders, that Trump was so unhinged and desperate that he might start a war or try to use the military to retain power. His distraction likely played a role in the continued spread of COVID and  his administration’s failure to respond appropriately.

These concerns, which continue in the wake of the January 6 insurrection that Trump inspired and encouraged, raise the gravest questions about the capacity of the American democratic republic, and the Constitution on which it is based, to survive the presidency of an incompetent psychopath like Trump.

Thus far, the only action against the insurrectionists has been to arrest just over 700 of the perpetrators out of what appeared to be several thousand involved in the assault. No charges have been leveled against anyone in Congress or the Trump administration in relation to the attempted coup. Trump continues to claim in every available forum, without any factual basis and in the face of more than 60 defeats in legal proceedings, that the election was stolen. His supporters in Congress continue to obstruct President Biden’s efforts to end the pandemic and restore the economic health of the country.

Republicans around the country continue to alter election rules, gerrymander districts and prepare to overturn the results of any election defeats they may experience in 2022 and 2024. The Doomsday Clock on American democracy is ticking down and, as far as can be told, more than a year after Joe Biden’s election, no meaningful actions to hold the real leaders of the January 6 coup attempt accountable has been made.

Watch this video, produced by Don Winslow Films, listing 19 critical questions central to the January 6 insurrection, that remain unaddressed as far as anyone can tell.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2cG1PIhLIA

We are told we must be patient, that building a solid criminal case against a former president requires time. To a lesser extent the same “principle” is offered regarding the members of Congress who actively promoted the insurrection and have worked very hard to sustain a ludicrous phantasmagorical version of what occurred on January 6.

I understand the need for careful preparation, but in a little over a month we will have reached the one-year anniversary of the attack on Congress. I ask what evidence of conspiracy, perjury, sedition and obstruction of justice, to mention just a few of Trump and team’s major crimes, is missing? Has a grand jury been impaneled?

As Don Winslow’s video compellingly asks, why have so many key witnesses not been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee and placed under oath? What kind of investigation is this? Are we going to get another version of the Mueller Report that says we can’t find enough evidence to indict but neither do we exonerate? How could such a conclusion be reached without a full investigation? Mueller failed to fully investigate, as revealed in Andrew Weissmann’s book, discussed at length in an earlier post in this blog, “Lawless White House” – the Mueller Report – “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …” https://bit.ly/32GUDA1

Trump is infamous for using legal processes to stall and delay investigations and actions against his multi-various criminal activities and civil offenses. If the government takes much longer, there will be no chance for meaningful action while Republicans scheme to undermine the democratic process whose survival is central to a full accounting from Trump and his enablers. I am encouraged, not much but more than zero, by the fact that the Biden administration has not announced that it is closing any investigations but that is not sufficient.

Winter for American democracy is theatening and once it is here, there may be no chance for a renewal.

 

 

 

Twilight Time?

It is a desultory day in Washington, overcast and gray, with predictions of potentially catastrophic storms, flash floods and tornados, almost none of which are likely to happen. They are predicted every time a “storm” passes through. We persist. But the weather threatens to postpone the baseball game on which I have been counting to distract from all the other negatives – being alone on Saturday night, the air outside so heavy that it is hard to breathe (earlier the heat index was 111, now a refreshing 92), Chinese leftovers from last night for dinner (wasn’t great then, likely less so now), and so on.

And then there is the blow to my already dwindling hopes for our country. No doubt I am under the stultifying influence of having, foolishly I admit, undertaken to argue with a bunch of “business people” on LinkedIn, which has, sadly, become yet another forum for right-wing hysteria. At times the people involved have been vicious, but what is most dispiriting is that they, as classical Trump acolytes, simply cannot accept what I believe to be reality. One example: they reject the reality of the January 6 assault on the Capitol. One of them flat-out called it “all lies.” The videos are just “fake news” to them, further evidence that the “left” has stolen from them their rightful leader whom some still appear to believe will be “restored” in August. They think the violence following George Floyd’s murder is no different than the insurrection at the Capitol.

I have been seeking to understand that type of thinking for some time. For a while I was impressed by George Lakoff’s Moral Politics, that argues the core issue is different understandings of proper family life and hierarchies of morality and social order. And there are others that, at one time or another, seemed to be on to something.

Then, today, I finished Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy, subtitled The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. I didn’t much care for most of it; too much personal style and mostly about Europe, Poland in particular, but … near the end, I am afraid to think she nailed it. The book mainly lays out the ways in which authoritarian ideas emerge and irreparable divisions develop in societies that were seemingly oriented toward, if not in fact, functioning democracies. The stories are compelling if remote from my experience.

But the ultimate conclusion is something else again: it’s as if the explanation was staring us in the face, was so obvious, and the same time so frightening, that we didn’t see it.

Applebaum notes that Trump’s inaugural speech signaled the beginning of the revelation in its early and repeated references to the decline of America and its values, what he called the “American carnage.” He posited a state of fundamental conflict between the government and the people, and between the United States and the rest of the world. Trump’s solution: “America First.”

Applebaum tellingly analyzes Trump:

To the millenarianism of the far right and the revolutionary nihilism of the far left he adds the deep cynicism of someone who has spent years running unsavory business schemes around the world. Trump has no knowledge of the American story and so cannot have any faith in it. He has no understanding of or sympathy for the language of the founders, so he cannot be inspired by it. Since he doesn’t believe American democracy is good, he has no interest in an America that aspires to be a model among nations.  [Twilight at 154]

Applebaum then observes that Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric translates directly to a form of moral equivalence. The essence of that equivalence is that all countries, certainly all governments, are corrupt in equal measure. If all are corrupt, then “whatever it takes to win is okay.” [Twilight at 155] This, she notes,

is the argument that anti-American extremists, the groups on the far-right and far-left fringes of society, have always made. American ideals are false, American institutions are fraudulent, American behavior abroad is evil, and the language of the American project – equality, opportunity, justice – is nothing but empty slogans. The real reality, in this conspiratorial view, is that of secretive businessmen, or perhaps “deep state” bureaucrats, who manipulate the voters into going along with their plans, using the cheesy language of Thomas Jefferson as a cover story. Whatever it takes to overthrow these evil schemers is justified….

This form of moral equivalence – the belief that democracy is no different, at base, from autocracy – is a familiar argument, and one long used by authoritarians….

… this is what Trump has proven: beneath the surface of the American consensus, the belief in our founding fathers and the faith in our ideals, there lies another America, Trump’s America – one that sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship. This America feels no attachment to other democracies … The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair. [Twilight at 155-158]

This explanation flies in the face of much of the rhetoric of the Republican Party, including Trump’s most ardent acolytes who speak passionately, but falsely, after freedom and “the American way of life.” The relentless drumbeat of USA, USA and the flags and all the rest obscure the real message.

Applebaum’s book has many other insights to commend it for reading by anyone interested in the question whether we are in the twilight of democracy, but for me, she has encapsulated in the above quotes the true explanation of the Trump phenomenon. It comes down to the simple proposition that Trump and those who support him do not believe in the democratic principles on which the country was founded.

Some time back I had speculated that Trump’s election in 2016 led him to believe that he had somehow been granted ownership of the country, that he was owner and CEO of the United States vested, as he saw it, with unlimited power (“I can do whatever I want”). He is another dictator in the making, another Viktor Orbán (Hungary), another Vladimir Putin wannabe. Those men aren’t interested in democracy – they just want to rule. That is Trump as well, and the Republican Party now belongs to him, just as Don Jr. proclaimed a while back.

These people do not recognize the fundamental legitimacy of the legal and traditional arrangements that have been the foundation for our democracy since the Constitution was ratified. Think back to Trump’s statements and behavior. Trump does not believe in democracy. That is why Trump saw no real problem in proclaiming, against all the evidence, that the election was stolen and why he saw no problem in directing a mob of true believers to attack the Capitol on January 6.

This is not about policy disputes over immigration policy or tax philosophy or deficit spending. It is about the essential principles that must be respected if a democratic republic is to function. Thinking of this as just another, though perhaps more serious, dispute about political philosophy, fatally overlooks the reality that the Republican Party no longer operates under the rules and principles of a free democracy.

Democratic politicians who think that Trump is just a temporary phenomenon who can be dealt with by traditional political means are making a potentially fatal mistake. The danger of further attacks on the national government is very real. All elements of the government, including particularly law enforcement and the military, must be prepared to respond as necessary to put down any such assaults. The next time must be the last or surely we will lose our republic, just as Ben Franklin warned. It is past time for the government to demand accountability for the many crimes committed by Trump and his henchmen while in office. This is necessary to make clear that there will be no repeat.

 

What Do You Call a Collection of Traitors & Cowards?

There is a gaggle of geese (also a press gaggle and, generically, any group)… a coven of witches, pride of lions (definitely not lions), herd of giraffes (also cattle) … getting warmer.

Not that important, I suppose, to have a name for the mob of people who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the election of Joe Biden and replace him with the dictator Donald Trump. I was inspired to think about this when I found this site https://bit.ly/3xRc2QA which the FBI’s display of 1,175 photos of people they are still seeking to arrest for their role in the January 6 insurrection (a very few since arrested). The list bears this note:

If you have any information on the individuals pictured above, please call 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. Please reference the photo number, including the AFO or AOM if applicable, when calling or submitting information online.

Aside from the outrageous nature of the attack itself, the shocking thing about these photos is that many of them are very clear, full face shots that could be identified readily by any number of friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers or customers. Still, however, these people are at large. I’m sure most people who read this blog will not know any of these charmers, but just in case, I am writing this post in the hope that readers will review the photos and report anyone they know.

I understand the idea that “ratting out” someone is frowned upon, even by upstanding people of strong religious and patriotic values. But these people were trying to overthrow the democracy on which your freedoms depend. Don’t think for a moment that if they had succeeded in installing Trump for a second term, despite his election loss, everything would just have continued as before. Recall that Trump himself spoke on multiple occasions about a third term, to rousing applause from his rally acolytes. It was no joke then and certainly no joke after January 6. So, please review the photos and see if you recognize anyone. If you do, report them to the FBI.

And don’t miss the list of arrest announcements at the bottom of the pages of photos. Each is linked to a press release with details of the person’s involvement in the January 6 attack. Makes interesting reading.

While I’m on this subject, I want to make a few comments about some of the “defenses” that I have heard made by January 6 defendants who have been arrested.

One is the “pure of heart” defense, which goes something like, “I was there because I truly believed what Trump had said and I thought I was patriotically defending my country…blah, blah.” Nonsense, you don’t get passing grades in school even if you convince yourself that Martians ate your homework. Belief is a choice you make and every person who claims they believed Trump had access to information that would have shown he was lying about the election. No defense.

Then there is the “I didn’t know it was illegal” defense, based on the idea that the Capitol is a “public building” and therefore the public has the right to go there any time and under any circumstances the public chooses. No, actually, untrue and any person with a functioning mind would know, from personal experience and casual observation, that “public” buildings are normally guarded now-a-days and access is strictly controlled. Moreover, and it pains me to have to add this, there were Capitol police on site who were obviously indicating that access to the building was not open, and no normal person would think it’s just fine to ignore their presence and their resistance to entry.

Finally, there is the “I just got caught up in the crowd” argument. Well, that could possibly be true for a few of the people who walked to the Capitol from Trump’s incendiary speech, but … once there, it should have been clear, again to anyone with a functioning mind, that the crowd had turned into a violent mob and that it was better to skedaddle than to just go along to get along. This “defense” is nonsense and, in my view, even if factually accurate in a handful of cases, it is no excuse. It reads a lot like “yeah, I knew my friends were going to rob the store, but I drove the get-away car anyway because, you know, they were my friends.”

Rant over. Please look at the FBI photos and see your fellow Americans at play. If you recognize anyone, turn him/her in to the FBI. You will feel better for it.

 

Trump, Seriously

It is tempting to treat Donald Trump as a sick joke at this point. He sits in Trumplandia, aka Mar-a-Lago, spewing lies about the 2020 election and lashing out as his enemies, perceived or otherwise. He is apparently planning to hold more “rallies,” that many view as simply another way for Trump to scam his political base.

Twitter is ablaze with mocking commentary about Trump, his family who can’t resist tweeting about all the outrages against them, his political allies in the Republican Party who, terrified that Trump’s supporters will turn on them, are willing to sell the country down the drain to avoid his anger. Hundreds of the people he inspired, indeed directed, to attack the Capitol on January 6 are facing serious prison time, loss of jobs, financial ruin, loss of respect and more.

And, according to multiple reported sources, Trump is asking whether he is, as many of his supporters have declared, going to be restored to the presidency in August or perhaps later. The apparent basis for this is the collection of so-called “election audits” being conducted by a rag-tag bunch of Republicans in Arizona and other closely contested states.

As ludicrous as all this is, and as tempting as it is to believe that the left-leaning side of Twitter is justified in mocking all of it, there remains a serious undercurrent of concern that Trump’s followers will, once again, attempt to disrupt the government through a violent insurrection. A group of 100 scholars of history/democracy has signed a letter expressing their belief that anti-government sentiment inspired by Trump should not be simply dismissed. They and many other serious observers have drawn the parallels from history elsewhere as evidence that the threat of undoing the American republic and its democratic ideals is real.

Recall that, despite his gross mishandling of the pandemic, among many other failures, 74 million Americans voted to give Trump a second term. Those people were, for whatever reasons, unimpressed with Trump’s admission that he downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, undeterred by his overt racism, misogyny, criminality and indifference to the plight of so many – approaching now 600,000 dead from COVID-19. There is little reason to believe that the majority of those 74 million people feel any differently today. Many, apparently, would readily yield their democratic freedoms, such as the right to vote, in exchange for restoring Trump to power by whatever means necessary.

I restate these concerns because the threat is, in my judgment and that of many serious thinkers with far greater credentials than mine, very real.

An easy case can be made that Trump’s delusions of grandeur, his belief in so many unbelievable things (for example only, the idea that the “ election audits” can somehow put him back in power) are evidence of mental decline, perhaps severe mental illness, held up by his rage and inability to accept that, finally, he was defeated in a way that cannot be overcome by lawsuits, threats, bribes or anything … anything short of violence, that is. Violence is the one tool left for Trump, and there may well be large numbers of Americans prepared to engage in it if he tells them to do it. No different than many of the so-call Third World countries that Americans often ridicule as “not us.”

I am not, obviously I hope, suggesting there is a high probability that Trump will attempt to retake power through violence. On the other hand, we have already seen in the events of January 6 that he is not beyond doing it. His most ardent followers are easily misled. The stories of his increasing anger and irrationality from apparently reliable inside sources should, therefore, be taken seriously. I hope, and believe, that the current President is doing so but is just not giving oxygen to the idea that Trump is a real threat.

So, we can continue to have our fun on Twitter and Facebook by mocking Trump’s delusions, but everyone dedicated to Benjamin Franklin’s prescient declaration, “a republic, if you can keep it,” should remain alert and focused. Hopefully, the Department of Justice will, as it is intended to do, act aggressively against the members of the January 6 mob and show the world that we take our democracy seriously here. Any who would be its enemies, foreign or domestic, will be dealt with fairly but with severity appropriate to the nature of the challenge. It’s our republic and, yes, we mean to keep it.

The Law-Respecting, Country-Loving People Who Attacked the Capitol

The FBI has put out another call for public help in “identifying individuals who made unlawful entry into the U.S. Capitol building and committed various other alleged criminal violations, such as destruction of property, assaulting law enforcement personnel, targeting members of the media for assault, and other unlawful conduct, on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.” https://bit.ly/3c10cLE The videos are extremely violent and difficult to watch, but if you think you can identify someone in that mob, you should suck it up and watch them.

These are the same people that Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin described this way:

I knew those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.

Johnson is now so offended that Americans objected to his blatant gaslighting about the January 6 insurrection that attempted to overturn the 2020 election that he has started a campaign to cast doubt on the events that have been thoroughly exposed through video taken by the proud, law-abiding, country-loving members of the mob.

He has posted a long list of tweets in which he purports to pose questions about January 6, suggesting that (1) the Capitol invaders were not armed (many were and he knows it), (2) the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick somehow had nothing to do with the attack (he knows otherwise even though the precise cause of death has not been determined), (3) the damage was minimal (videos show otherwise and he knows it; in any case, even minimal damage would not be an excuse), (4) details of the violence are unknown (videos show it clearly, as he knows), (5) the exact extent to which the police were outnumbered and inadequately equipped (disclosed in detail already and he knows it).

His tweet list ends with “Still so many unanswered questions about January 6.”

Even for a Republican sycophant of such Trumpian commitment as Ron Johnson, this degree of gaslighting and what-about-ism is Herculean-level.

The blowback was, of course, fierce, in part because Johnson’s statements compared how he says he would have felt if the crowd had been composed of antifa and Black Lives Matter adherents. Many people took the comparison to be racist. Many people – everyone who’s not a racist understood Johnson’s racism.

Not satisfied with gold medal gaslighting, Johnson published a Commentary in the Wall Street Journal on March 15, claiming that “the left” had “twisted what I said.” The “left,” Johnson claimed, manipulated his words to deflect attention from the riots that broke out around the country in protest of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, suggesting that they are equivalent to or worse than what happened in Washington on January 6. He posted videos that appear to show almost entirely young white people engaged in violent assaults on other white people and on buildings in Portland and elsewhere.

If you think those attacks, which I condemn unequivocally, are the same as the attempt to overturn the election for the office of President of the United States, you should stop reading now. The problems in Portland and elsewhere were indeed terrible and caused much damage to people who did not deserve it. Of course, there remain open questions about the role of police in stimulating those events and who was perpetrating most of the violence [studies indicate police actions were responsible for much of the violence; see, e.g., https://bit.ly/3r4FMWs] but set that aside for now. Those events were clearly inspired by the murder of George Floyd, and the many murders of unarmed Black and Brown people before him, by police. The rioting was not constructive, but it was emotionally reactive to undeniable events that the entire world saw and to which hundreds of thousands of people reacted in horror. We are fortunate, as someone observed, that Black people only want equal treatment by the law and by white people.

On the other hand the “evidence” of election fraud that animated the Capitol attack was entirely fictional. Even Trump’s own Department of Justice found no evidence of election-changing fraud and many of his devotees in Republican leadership agreed. But not all. The point is that the “excuse” for the Capitol attack is a complete fabrication, sold  by Trump and bought hook-line-and-sinker by the mob that Senator Johnson continues to extol.

I reject categorically Senator Johnson’s version of Make America Great Again. His list of grievances reads just like the Donald Trump playbook. Why wouldn’t it? Johnson is trying to appeal to the same white supremacist, racist segment of the population that, driven by ignorance and fear, devoted itself to Donald Trump and was primed and ready to accept whatever fantasy of grievance he manufactured for them.

Note, for example, how Johnson’s Wall Street Journal piece tries to minimize the January 6 attack: “Only about 800 people illegally entered the Capitol. Still fewer engaged in violent acts.” He justifies his resistance to “the left” on the grounds that they implied that all of the attackers were ““armed insurrectionists” determined to overthrow the government.”

If that was not their purpose, why were they there? What is the basis for the “only 800” entered the Capitol?

Johnson argues that the “rioters who burned Kenosha weren’t of any one ethnicity; they were united by their radical leftism” that he claims they also share with a “taste for violence.” Johnson is apparently unaware, or cynically indifferent, to the use of such claims as grounds for discrimination against Black people since long before the Civil War.

Then, in a bizarre act of twisted logic, Johnson attributes the boarding up of windows in major cities as based on fear of Biden’s supporters if he lost the election. The exact opposite is actually true, but Johnson wastes no time with evidence as he pivots quickly to a classic Trump-style attack on the media, whining about the  “censorship of conservative perspectives in today’s cancel culture” being  “antithetical to freedom.”

Here then is the nub: Republicans, led by people like Senators Johnson, Hawley, Cruz, Graham and others, claim that the phantasmagorical beliefs of Americans who have accepted the demonstrably false claims of election fraud as true are entitled to equal consideration. validation and acceptance simply because so many people believe them. But that is not how thinking and reasoning works. It is not the job of the media to simply accept massive gaslighting about important matters like elections just because a large number of people believe it.

If we accepted Ron Johnson’s concept of truth, i.e., a lot of people believe something, how would we deal with some of the most popular conspiracy theories among the general population. An Insider poll, https://bit.ly/3s2l6zJ, found that the two most popular conspiracy theories, each believed by 20% of respondents, were that extraterrestrials have come to earth, and an advanced technological society existed prior to the modern era. If the poll’s results are extrapolated to represent all of America, approximately 50 million adults would believe that aliens have made landfall on our planet. Another poll, reported in Scientific American, indicates that only 66 percent of millennials are clear that Earth is round (meaning a sphere, actually) and not flat. https://bit.ly/3sb9hY5 According to Ron Johnson, that would, by itself, validate those beliefs.

Meanwhile, also on Planet Earth, a dozen Republicans in Congress found multiple excuses to vote against the award of Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police and D.C. police who defended them on January 6. https://wapo.st/316G9oR One such “excuse” was the reference to “insurrectionists” in the resolution. One said that the reference to “temple of our American democracy” in the resolution was “a little too sacrilegious for me.” Apparently that Congressman has never heard of Temple University. Other excuses were that the resolution was “politically convenient” for House Speaker Pelosi and was a “politically charged publicity stunt.” This from the party of law and order. While claiming to applaud the Capitol Police, the Republicans’ primary interest was in preventing adoption of a resolution that condemned the attack on the Capitol for what it plainly was.

With one exception (Massie), these twelve Republicans were among those who voted to overturn the election results on January 6. See Congressional Hall of Dishonor—Updated at https://bit.ly/3sby4uN

In short, these Republicans, with the silent approval of their party colleagues, will stop at nothing, even disrespecting the police who defended them, to gaslight the country about what happened on January 6. At the head of the pack is Senator Ron Johnson. Wisconsin, surely you can do better than this.

Republican Titanic – “I don’t see no stinkin’ iceberg”

Republican senators had an advantage over the Titanic command – the attack on the Capitol occurred in broad daylight and was captured on video by hundreds of gleeful participants. The attack, we now know, was planned by some participants in advance. The mob was summoned to Washington by Donald Trump, then the president of the United States, and directed to walk to the Capitol to stop the counting of Electoral College votes that would, at long last, end any hope Trump had of retaining power. It all happened in public view – Trump’s call to action, hours of hand-to-hand fighting with police, the mob hunting for members of Congress (particularly for Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence—“Hang Mike Pence,” they yelled) and ransacking the hallowed ground of American democracy. Calls for help went unanswered.

The desecration did not end on January 6. After reviewing the undeniable evidence, only seven Republican senators (Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Toomey) had the courage, moral conviction, instinct for survival, call it what you will, to vote to convict Trump of the incitement to violence the entire world had witnessed. The other Republicans were fine with what happened, so much so that many of them literally ignored the proceedings in the Senate trial.

The media reported that Trump was “acquitted,” and while it’s a fine point, this was not an acquittal but just a failure to reach a super-majority for “guilty.” The total vote for “guilty” was 57, well past a simple majority and a historic first. In substance, Trump was found “guilty but not guilty.” In a supreme irony, the failure to achieve a two-thirds majority spared Trump by virtue of the very Constitution that he spat upon throughout his presidency.

Before the vote occurred, I was penning a blog post entitled “Senator Ted Cruz – Sophist in Wonderland,” addressing an op-ed Cruz wrote for, who else, Fox News. https://fxn.ws/2ZfvsQ0 The op-ed is remarkable for many reasons, but what stood out for me was the surprising conclusion that the Senate did indeed have jurisdiction to conduct a trial of a former president for in-office conduct. That conclusion, however, is followed by ““I believe the Senate should decline to exercise jurisdiction-and so I voted to dismiss this impeachment on jurisdictional grounds.” [boldface & italics mine] Thus, Cruz would have you believe that the Senate had jurisdiction but also did not have jurisdiction.

This style of reasoning is typical of the Republicans who have accepted Donald Trump as their liege lord. In their eyes, he can do no wrong. In the rare case where they admit he was wrong about something, they still support him. Absolute in their views about many things, so-called Republican “conservatives” apply total relativism for Trump’s conduct – relative to Satan himself. (Trump’s not so bad compared to the Beast himself, so what’s the problem?) Trump’s hallucinatory view of reality as totally malleable – essentially, “it is what I say it is” – is the Alice in Wonderland world the Republican Party has adopted as its operative principle. Beyond that, it has no principles. Power is all.

That much has been clear for the entirety of Trump’s presidency, at the very least since KellyAnne Conway uttered the infamous line about “alternative facts” two days after Trump’s inauguration. The January 6 insurrection that, reduced to its essence, was an attempt to overthrow the government by a sitting president, at least provided clarity about where the Republican Party stands.

Senators like Rand Paul can still appear on television and with a straight face argue that there are “two sides to everything.” But only someone with no moral foundation would say that. Even a craven individual like Mitch McConnell has admitted there is no evidence that the election was stolen from Trump. But, like Cruz, McConnell, moments after voting against the Senate majority, agreed that Trump had incited the violence for which McConnell had just voted he could not be held accountable. In Trumpland, reality really is whatever Trump says it is.

Now comes former Professor Alan Dershowitz in Newsweek, to offer cover for Republicans looking for a seemingly intellectually plausible basis to argue that Trump’s “incitement” was really protected speech under the First Amendment. https://bit.ly/3pnLWzY  [Disclosure: Dershowitz taught my 1L criminal law class at Harvard]

Dershowitz argues there is no difference between what Trump did and the actions of Representative Jamie Raskin’s father (Marcus Raskin) and others who, in the 1960’s, encouraged young men to resist the draft and endorsed  “the burning of draft cards, break-ins at draft boards and other unlawful actions to obstruct the war effort.” According to Dershowitz,

the defense was that the First Amendment protected Marcus’ advocacy of resistance to the draft, even if such resistance then took a form of unlawful actions by others….The jury acquitted Marcus, and the court of appeals reversed the convictions of the other defendants. They were all saved by a broad reading of the First Amendment.

While it’s remotely possible that my limited access to research has failed to find some relevant authorities, I am at loss to understand what Dershowitz is saying. The Court of Appeals case he refers to must be United States v Spock, 416 F.2d 165 (1st Cir. 1969). This was the appeal from the trial that acquitted Marcus of conspiracy but found the other four members of the “Spock Five” guilty. Contrary to the implication of Dershowitz’s description, the Court of Appeals in Spock did not reverse the convictions of the other four due to a “broad reading of the First Amendment.”

A couple of quotes from the opinion suffice to frame what was really going on:

The defendants here are not charged … with expressions of sympathy and moral support, but with conspiring to counsel, aid and abet Selective Service registrants to disobey various duties imposed by the Selective Service Act….

What we do determine is that the First Amendment does not, per se, require acquittal.

The central question addressed by the opinion was,

Whether … the evidence was sufficient to take the defendants to the jury.

There was, of course, an obvious and complex relationship between the First Amendment protections of speech and the adequacy of the evidence of illegal intent. The Court’s opinion expressly recognized the problem, but it also set out three different ways in which a speaker critical of the government could be found to have unlawfully conspired to violate the law, notwithstanding the First Amendment: (1) prior or subsequent “unambiguous statements;” (2) “subsequent commission of the very illegal act contemplated by the agreement;” or (3) “subsequent legal act if that act is ‘clearly undertaken for the specific purpose of rendering effective the later illegal activity which is advocated.”

The opinion, moreover, did not discuss Marcus Raskin at all because he was acquitted at trial. There is no way to know what the basis for a jury’s decision is, so Dershowitz cannot plausibly claim that Raskin was saved by a “broad reading of the First Amendment.”

The Court of Appeals did reverse the guilty findings of the other four defendants, as Dershowitz said. The Court reversed the trial court’s guilty finding for Spock because the evidence against him did not establish the “necessary intent to adhere to its [the charged conspiracy’s] illegal aspects.” Further, “Spock’s actions lacked the clear character necessary to imply specific intent under the First Amendment standard.”

While it’s certainly  true that the Court was applying the principle of strictest interpretation of law required by the First Amendment, as to which there was nothing surprising given the history of decisions regarding controversial speech, the actual decision as to Spock was based on evidentiary failures.

As to defendant Michael Ferber, at the time a draft-age student, the Court said,

the evidence did not warrant a finding that through other statements or conduct he joined the larger conspiracy for which the other defendants were prosecuted.

Rev. Coffin and Andrew Goodman had a different outcome entirely, but it was determined not by the First Amendment but by what the Court of Appeals determined, rather easily, was a fundamental error by the trial judge in posing questions to the jury designed to elicit “specific findings” of separate elements of the crimes charged, if they had reached a guilty verdict. That approach, condemned rather universally by precedent, ran afoul of the independence accorded to juries under American law. Juries, in other words, are free in criminal cases to do what they will; the Court of Appeals wrote:

To ask the jury special questions might be said to infringe on its power to deliberate free from legal fetters; on its power to arrive at a general verdict without having to support it by reasons or by a report of its deliberations; and on its power to follow or not to follow the instructions of the court. Moreover, any abridgement or modification of this institution would partly restrict its historic function, that of tempering rules of law by common sense brought to bear upon the facts of a specific case…

Uppermost … is the principle that the jury, as the conscience of the community, must be permitted to look at more than logic…. If it were otherwise there would be no more reason why a verdict should not be directed against a defendant in a criminal case than in a civil one. The constitutional guarantees of due process and trial by jury require that a criminal defendant be afforded the full protection of a jury unfettered, directly or indirectly….

Here, whereas, as we have pointed out, some defendants could be found to have exceeded the bounds of free speech, the issue was peculiarly one to which a community standard or conscience was, in the jury’s discretion, to be applied.

The Court thus reversed the trial court as to Coffin and Goodman and ordered new trials, leaving open the possibility that a properly instructed jury could convict them.

Thereafter, the government dropped the charges, ending the case.

Undeterred by those realities, Dershowitz goes on to expand his view of Trump’s innocence with this:

Several years later, Marcus [Raskin] was once again protected by a broad reading of the First Amendment, when he served as an intermediary between Daniel Ellsberg, who unlawfully stole the Pentagon Papers, and The New York Times, which published them despite their being classified. But for the First Amendment, Marcus would have been charged with conspiracy to publish classified material.

Unlike Dershowitz, I don’t claim to know what would have happened if there had been no First Amendment precedents, but I do know that the referenced case, New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), involved the government’s attempt to stop publication of stolen classified documents. It dealt with “prior restraint” of the press and is remotely, if at all, relevant to the fate of Marcus Raskin.

Dershowitz then engages in a clever application of “whataboutism,” not to mention historical speculation and revisionism:

If Jamie Raskin’s current view of the First Amendment had prevailed back in the day, his father would likely have been convicted of two felonies. If President Trump incited his followers to commit unlawful conduct, so did Marcus.

In an all-too-familiar trope, Dershowitz goes on with this:

I would have thought that Jamie Raskin—in light of his history as a constitutional law professor, his family history under the First Amendment and his own protests against the 2016 election—would be leading the charge to protect the First Amendment. But no! He is leading the charge to compromise President Trump’s free speech rights—and thus the rights of all Americans to express controversial, even wrongheaded and provocative, views.

The English translation is “I thought someone as smart as you would not hold such crazy and disreputable views.” I really hate to see that, perhaps because it’s been used against me by people holding Trump-ish views. If someone disagrees about something, explain yourself, but don’t do the “how could someone as smart as you be so dumb” routine, especially following an incomplete, and arguably inaccurate recital of historical facts about which the author should know better (he claims to have been involved in the defense of the Spock case).

Returning to what Dershowitz labels as the desire of various people and groups to create a “Trump exception” to the First Amendment, Trump’s speech on January 6 does not stand alone. Indeed, in the Spock case, the Court of Appeals addressed in some detail not only the words spoken but other conduct that indicated participation (or not) in the charged conspiracy.

Trump actively invited his supporters to come to Washington on January 6 to “stop the steal,” a false claim that the election had been stolen from him. His public statements, through Twitter and otherwise, painted a false picture of what had happened. More than 60 court cases had heard his claims and rejected them. Some of his staunchest allies, including the Republican Majority Leader and his former Attorney General, had publicly acknowledged that the claim of stolen election was false.

Trump could say what he wanted, but there is no plausibility to the argument that he actually believed what he was saying to the mob. He lied repeatedly to them. Why? The only plausible reason was to stir them up, to play upon their anger and fear. He was supported in this by his attorney (who called for “trial by combat,” a statement Trump did not reject), and his sons addressing the mob that assembled at the “rally” in Washington.

It should be obvious, but speaking at a Trump rally is not like karaoke night at a bar where anyone who wants to perform can take the mic. Trump approved everything. He explicitly stated that the mob was going to walk down to the Capitol and that he would be with them, a crucially important element in the incitement component of the speech. That is a fact that his Republican supplicants would like to overlook but Trump’s assurance that he would accompany the mob to the Capitol is conclusive of his intent to direct them. Even before he finished talking, a large contingent of supporters headed for the Capitol Building, apparently led by the Proud Boys. Trump continued egging on the others who soon followed.

Thus, Trump’s call for action went well beyond merely voicing objection to government action. He explicitly directed the mob to go to the Capitol, leading them to believe he would be going with them. That Trump lied about going with them is irrelevant to the question whether his speech was simply a complaint about the government or a specific incitement to specific violent action that was foreseeable because it was called for by his choice of words, his continuing to lie about the election and by his subsequent failure to take action to resist the assault on the Capitol.

Indeed, the fact that no steps were taken by the Secret Service to move Trump to a secure location in the face of a brutal physical attack by thousands on the Capitol that lasted for several hours of hand-to-hand combat is itself strong evidence that Trump had directed the attack and intended for it to occur. He was perfectly content to sit back and watch his handiwork play out. Statements from White House sources, not credibly rebutted by evidence of contrary action, indicate that Trump was pleased with the violence and could not understand why others on White House staff were not equally moved by it.

A finding in those circumstances that Trump incited the attack on the Capitol does not create a “Trump exception” to the First Amendment. Dershowitz flatly states that the First Amendment recognizes no exception for actions by the president, but his assertion begs the question. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution.

Dershowitz’s argument that Trump could not violate the law because he was “protesting the actions of other  branches of government” also fails to address the key issue: was the “protest” an active incitement to violence that the president sought to inspire and that he effectively directed to occur? Was he merely complaining out loud about what he thought, however absurdly, was a bad election? Or, was he effectively leading (from behind, but still leading) a physical attack to stop a constitutionally-mandated action from sealing his electoral fate?

In World War II, General Eisenhower did not physically assault the beaches at Normandy, but he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. No person of reason would say that Eisenhower did not lead and direct the attack. Dershowitz’s categorical claim that Trump’s words were protected by the First Amendment would, if true, immunize any person, including a president, from organizing and directing from a distance a violent attempt to overthrow the government and capture or retain power. Whatever the First Amendment means, it doesn’t mean that. If it did, the framers would have created the seed from which the defeat of the democratic republic they risked so much to create could be easily destroyed. Dershowitz’s snarky attack on Jamie Raskin aside, that facile exercise in “whataboutism” is simply implausible.

Returning then to the metaphor I used at the outset of this post, if the democratic republic we know as the United States is going to survive, and we know that democracy is rare in world politics, the Republican Party must now face a reckoning unlike anything in its history. If the republic is fortunate, the GOP has doomed itself by aligning with a wannabe-dictator. An overwhelming majority of Americans who believe in the principle of rule by the people through a neutral system of laws will emerge from the horrors of January 6 with a stronger commitment to assure that such outrages are not repeated.

An agenda to achieve that end should include strong criminal prosecutions not only of the perpetrators of violence at the Capitol but of the leader. The spinelessness of the Republican senators who voted “not guilty” in the second impeachment should motivate true patriots to demand complete justice accomplished through the justice system without political involvement.

In addition to the offenses arising from January 6, we must not forget that the Mueller Report documented no fewer than ten instances of blatant obstruction of justice by Donald Trump. Those cases must be prosecuted so that no future president thinks he or she can follow Trump’s approach to governance with impunity. Don’t forget that Trump claimed Article II of the Constitution authorized him to “do whatever I want.”

As part of that process, but separate from it, the Department of Justice should reconsider its policy position that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. The “Republican gap” – you can’t indict while in office and you can’t try impeachments after leaving — must be closed definitively.

The federal government also needs to re-examine the states’ voter suppression tactics, which are rampant in the wake of the 2020 election. While I remain profoundly suspicious that Republican-dominated state governments will give good-faith and fair consideration to voter -expanding processes, a brief attempt should be made to find mutually-acceptable policies, to be ingrained in federal and state laws, that will put a permanent stop to the meddling that occurred in 2020 and long before. Nothing is more important to the survival of democracy than assuring that the will of the people is effectuated through elections at every level of government. The Biden administration should add this to its long list of priorities.

Finally, Americans who are committed to the continuation of government of, by and for the people must wake up, sign up, get informed and vote in every election. Failure to attend to the democratic opportunity will result in its being eliminated. We saw this in 2016 and almost again in 2020.

As for the Republican Titanic Party, Americans who believe in the principles once held by the GOP now must find a new political home. The GOP has been taken over by conspiracy theorists and violent extremists. They believe America can survive as an independent country even as it returns to an imaginary yesteryear in which a huge percentage of the population is treated like property, the country’s best opportunities are reserved for white people and we ignore issues like climate change and the need for international relationships based on shared interest and peace. They often espouse principles that would destroy the separation of church and state, a bedrock element of American freedom and independence.

Those Americans who, for better or worse, still genuinely believe that a country in the 21st century can prosper only with smaller government, less regulation of virulent capitalism and the other central tenets of traditional conservative values must find a new political home. If they choose to remain with the GOP, they are going to be swamped by Trumpers who have captured the machinery of its state parties (witness the multiple censures of Republicans who dared go against Trump during the election and after the January 6 attack). The old GOP is a dead duck, a backward-looking myth-based hallucination. Donald Trump, Jr. said it straight out on January 6: the GOP is now Trump’s party.

I hope that genuine conservatives will reconsider whether a modern 21st century country can prosper, or even survive, if it relies on Trump’s values. I hope they will join the Democratic Party in a future that accepts reality and welcomes change (which is inevitable), is inclusive (more interesting people in a diverse population) and works extra hard to ensure that its children are raised as independent thinkers (not replicas of their parents) who are more prepared to face the daunting challenges of 21st century life, open to new experiences, new people and hope. If those people come over, the old GOP will lose a huge element of its power and become a marginalized collection of white supremacists, misogynists and extremists with little to no influence on American political life going forward.

“Hang Mike Pence” – Politics as Usual?

If you’ve had the stomach to watch the videos shown to the U.S. Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, you saw and heard this chant from the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6. This was the threat to the Vice President instigated by the President. The evidence is overwhelming. Trump inspired and directed the mob of crazed right-wing insurrectionists and conspiracy-believers to attack the Capitol to stop the counting of Electoral College votes so that he could declare himself the winner of the election he so clearly lost. I am no fan of Mike Pence as a politician or person but “Hang Mike Pence” and “Pence is a traitor” for refusing to follow Trump’s expressed direction to throw the election to him are simply, unequivocally, irrefutably wrong and unacceptable.

Political pundits of all stripes predict that the Republicans in the Senate, as Lindsey Graham and others have declared, will vote to acquit Trump despite the evidence, just as they did in his first impeachment for trying to strong-arm a foreign president to damage his expected election opponent. I am not going to waste space reciting the evidence against Trump or addressing the preposterous defenses that his hapless counsel have presented. No, my question today relates to a different aspect of  this situation.

The question is simple enough: after the Republicans again prevent a guilty verdict, will the remaining Senators and Congresspeople just return to “politics as usual,” as they normally do after sometimes bruising political conflicts? Do they just go back to normal arguing, debating, schmoozing, dining together, attending meetings together and all the rest … as if this latest offense to truth and the Constitutional order were just another political difference of opinion?

Because it indisputably wasn’t just another difference of opinion. Based on the evidence, the mob sent by Trump was intent upon doing harm to not only the person second in succession to the presidency but also to members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, third in the line of succession.  The mob engaged the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police in a pitched battle for hours. The mob threw fists, threw fire extinguishers, beat police with hockey sticks and metal poles, hit police with bear spray and much more. For hours. Once inside the Capitol building, they ransacked offices while hunting for the prime targets of Trump’s and their anger. They desecrated the Capitol building not just with their presence but with their violence as they hunted for the fleeing members of Congress.

Those facts are not in dispute. The mob was fortunate in some ways that the police, for whatever reasons, did not fire on them. Imagine for just one moment what that scene would have looked like. Dead insurrectionists piling up in front of dead police (many of the mob were armed and almost certainly would have returned fire in close quarters with the defending police force). The worst that will happen to the mob now is that some of them will be convicted of multiple federal crimes, will be sentenced to prison terms, will lose their jobs and their families, and on and on. All for what? Some, of course, will be lionized by the Republican right-wing as heroes, a dubious honor already conferred on the woman who was shot trying to force her way into the House chamber. The others will disappear into well-earned obscurity.

Left behind will be the politicians, one group of which will have turned their backs on their colleagues to seek the favor of the mob back home that, while perhaps sharing the views of the January 6 attackers, stayed put and retains the right to vote in the next election. Left behind will be the politicians on the “other side of the aisle,” the mystical dividing line between the parties in the House and Senate chambers, most of whom are Democrats. A few will be Republicans who understood their higher duty and acted honorably, for which they are being vilified by Republican party leaders around the country. Left behind will be the Democrats holding slim majority power in both chambers and, of course, the White House. Left behind to deal with the carnage wrought by Trump’s violent and deranged army. Left behind also will be the Black Capitol Police officers who, well before January 6, had good reason to wonder if all their white colleagues really had their backs in a fight. See, for example, https://bit.ly/3u0aEds reporting on the long history of racism and other issues in the Capitol Police, largely ignored by Congress.

As those politicians who miraculously survived the mob assault return to their normal legislative work after the acquittal vote, how will they treat the senators who were perfectly content to have the mob kill them for doing their constitutional duty and for refusing to adopt the lies Donald Trump continued to promote about the election. How does one sit across from another politician with whom you have not just a profound disagreement about governance policies but who has basically said: “I am fine with your being murdered by a mob of Trump supporters because your life means nothing compared to keeping Trump, and myself, in power.?”

We’ve seen one hint, from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She responded to Ted Cruz’s tweet purporting to agree with her regarding the dispute over stock market activity/manipulation with this:

I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign. [Tweet, Jan. 28]

AOC is well-known for speaking her mind and this is a situation that calls for bold and clear responses. Going along to get along just won’t do anymore.

The question Democrats and a handful of honorable Republicans will have to face is how to deal with the reality that, looking at the evidence, that the Trump-acquitting Republicans no longer see their opposing representatives as other than enemies in the truest sense of that word. This is not a case of just another political fight where afterward everyone hoists a drink to celebrate messy but glorious democracy and moves on to the next dispute. A line has been crossed and there is no going back from here. The Republican Party has forfeited its legitimacy as an American political institution and there must be consequences.

What those consequences are, I am not competent to describe, but the members of Congress who have prosecuted the case against Trump will have to deal with it. There is no going back; no return to politics as usual. The American public, the majority that still believes in the American concept of democracy, will have to face it as well. We cannot just go back to the Before Times, like nothing much happened, like this was just a bad episode in the march toward truth, justice and the American way. A large contingent of Republican senators didn’t even bother to show their faces today, on the last day of the prosecution presentation. Their disdain for the process, for the American way of political life, is blatant and undeniable.

In light of all of this, the challenge is overwhelming to contemplate, especially when added to the racial divisions that have afflicted the country for all these hundreds of years and that boiled over in the wake of the latest spate of killings of unarmed Black people by police. The mythical “idea of America” has been brutally exposed for its essential unreality and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s a truth from which we cannot escape until we have faced the demon and vanquished it.