One Year Later

News is supposed to be “the first rough draft of History“, but in practice News and History interface badly. Events of historical significance may happen with a bang, but they often come into focus slowly, as more and more information gets revealed and synthesized into a larger picture. But News, as its name suggests, emphasizes each new detail as it comes out, typically at the expense of the larger picture.

Today, for example, we might find out the color of the car that ran us down, and that it was a 2018 model (and not the 2017, as some at first thought). Is that important in the larger scheme of things? Not really. But it’s new.

For the reader/viewer, the News is like watching the edits to a document flash across your screen without having the document itself open. Now more than ever, a journalist worries about boring those in the audience who already know everything except the new detail. And the unfortunate result is that the public often loses sight of History’s current draft: At this moment, what do we think really happened?

That’s what anniversaries are for. On the one hand, it’s entirely meaningless that Thursday was January 6 again. The Capitol insurrection was part of the four-year presidential cycle, so nothing similar was happening or threatening to happen on Thursday. But on the other hand, the calendar was inviting us to step out of the 24/7 news cycle review the larger narrative as we now know it.

Here’s how I tell that story: It begins with Trump.

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1008693/the-maestro

Plan B. In 2020, Donald Trump wanted the voters to re-elect him as president. But early on, he hatched a Plan B to stay in power in spite of the voters: If he lost, he would claim the election was rigged against him, and use all the powers of the presidency and of his personality cult to overturn the American people’s decision.

He began setting up Plan B well before the election, telling his supporters that the vote count would be full of fraud — which, of course, would all work against him. This was not a new idea for Trump, who never acknowledges his defeats. You may remember that a few weeks before the 2016 election he set up a similar claim:

Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve.

In 2016, even having the Electoral College appoint him president wasn’t good enough to satisfy his ego. He claimed fraud to explain why he had lost the popular vote by 2.9 million. [1]

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.

What you probably don’t remember, though, is that he also claimed fraud when Ted Cruz beat him in the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.

That’s Trump: He can never lose, he can only be cheated out of victory.

But what is mere immaturity in a six-year-old (“I didn’t lose. You cheated.”) and a character flaw in a private citizen becomes a threat to the Republic when it’s backed by the kind of power Trump wielded in 2020. So his crushing seven-million vote defeat at the polls led to a massive disinformation campaign, which he used to justify pushing on every weak spot in the electoral system in an attempt to reverse the clear decision of the voters.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/05/year-living-dangerously/

Disinformation. His fraud claims were endless, and from the beginning they were all bullshit. [2] Due to the the unprecedented number of early and mail-in votes occasioned by the Covid pandemic, the ballots took longer than usual to count. But there was never any legitimate reason to doubt the result when it finally came in: Biden won, Trump lost.

It’s time-consuming to go through the debunking of all of the bullshit claims, particularly if you want to believe Trump really won. [3] But at this point you don’t really have to get into the details, because the claims don’t even have the shape of truth: Authentic investigations get narrower as they hone in on what really happened, while bullshitters constantly jump from one dubious claim to the next: What about this? What about that? When Trump and his supporters claim fraud today, they spew the same litany of bogus claims they made from the beginning: overseas servers, hacked voting machines, mail-in ballot fraud, dead people voting, mysterious suitcases of ballots, and so on. All bullshit, all debunked many times.

What we never hear from Trump and his allies is a single coherent theory of who did what when, backed up by credible responses to the criticisms of that theory. After having more than a year to assemble such a theory and millions of dollars to fund investigations, that deficiency should make even the most adamant Trump partisans stop and think.

I don’t think Trump himself actually believes any of his fraud claims. [4] We now know that from the beginning, his own people were telling him they were false. Trump had to go to considerable effort to find advisors who would maintain the fantasy that he had really won. [5] Unfailingly loyal Trump supporters like Jared Kushner and Mike Pence may not have openly disputed the fraud claims, but they were noticeably absent from the Stop the Steal campaign.

The point of the claims wasn’t to establish truth, but to justify action.

Overturning the election. After it became clear that he had lost the election, Trump’s Plan B had two prongs:

  • Push on every vulnerable point in the system that leads from an election in November to an inauguration in January.
  • Stir up enough doubt to make it easier for Trump partisans within the system to yield to his pressure and harder to do their duty.

What Trump realized perhaps better than any defeated president before him was that elections do not certify themselves. At every level there are people who must sign off on the results: Yes, these are the totals we counted at my precinct. Yes, this the sum of all the vote reports we received from the precincts in our county. Yes, these are the statewide totals that determine which slate of electors represents our state. And finally, January 6, when Congress would total up the electoral votes and proclaim the winner of the 2020 election.

All those people are human, and so they can be pressured or bamboozled out of doing their legally-defined duty. In Michigan, for example, Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers were pressured not to certify. Then the focus shifted to the state board, where one Republican member folded to Trump, but the other, Aaron Van Langevelde, did not. Later he told his story.

In November, we were tasked with certifying the results of the presidential election in the midst of widespread public discontent and controversy. Misinformation about the election – and election law – was rampant and growing worse by the day.

As tensions escalated, some political leaders urged the Board to withhold certification based on unproven allegations of voter fraud, even though we had no legal authority to do so. The Board was essentially asked to disregard the oath of office, to abandon its longstanding ministerial (or administrative) role, and to ignore a clear legal duty, along with a hundred years of legal precedent. We were asked to take power we didn’t have. What would have been the cost if we had done so? Constitutional chaos and the loss of our integrity. Our institutions and the rule of law were being tested. And as tensions worsened, it was clear that my family and I were in danger.

Trump put pressure on Republican state officials to block certification and substitute their own preferences for the will of the voters. His most famous attempt to suborn election fraud was recorded by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. After badgering Raffensperger with wild false claims, Trump makes his ask:

All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we [need] because we won the state.

And he issues this threat:

But the ballots are corrupt. And you are going to find that they are — which is totally illegal, it is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk.

In other words, what if Trump does manage to stay in power? What might his Department of Justice do to Raffensperger?

Trump filed scores of bullshit lawsuits, hoping for favorable results from judges he had appointed. He did not get them. One Trump appointee, appellate court judge Matthew Brann, wrote:

Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.

Trump then pressured Republican-controlled state legislatures, pushing the dubious theory that legislatures can overrule the choices made by their voters. After meeting with Trump, the Michigan speaker of the House and Senate majority leader issued a statement:

The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes. We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and, as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election

His plan to pressure Georgia legislators corruptly involved the Department of Justice. Trump sycophant Jeffrey Clark composed a letter for Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to sign that would falsely tell Georgia officials that DoJ had

identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in many states, including the state of Georgia.

The letter went on to recommend — as if DoJ had any business making such a recommendation — that the legislature convene a special session to investigate the election and possibly name a new slate of electors.

Rosen refused to sign the letter, and Trump decided not to sack Rosen in favor of Clark after he was threatened with mass resignations at the Department of Justice.

In the end, none of these efforts succeeded in stopping the states Trump lost from naming electors, or stopped those electors from voting for Biden.

But someone still had to count those votes: Congress, on January 6, in a joint session chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

January 6. Three months before the election, with Trump trailing badly in the polls, I addressed the widespread Democratic worry that Trump would simply refuse to leave office.

Here’s something I have great faith in: If the joint session of Congress on January 6 recognizes that Joe Biden has received the majority of electoral votes, he will become president at noon on January 20 and the government will obey his orders. Where Donald Trump is at the time, and whatever he is claiming or tweeting, will be of no consequence.

If Trump’s tweets bring a bunch of right-wing militiamen into the streets with their AR-15s, they can cause a lot of bloodshed, but they can’t keep Trump in office. They are no match for the Army, whose Commander-in-Chief will be Joe Biden.

So if Trump wants to stay on as president, he has to screw the process up sooner; by January 6, it’s all in the bag

Congress and Pence, like Aaron Van Langevelde and Brad Raffensperger and everyone else in this long process that normally we hear nothing about, had a ministerial role to play on January 6. Their job was to count the electoral votes and announce a winner. They had no constitutional power to overrule the voters, the electors, or the states’ decision to appoint the electors. They all knew that.

Trump tried to claim otherwise. We have since heard reports from multiple sources about the pressure he put on Pence to overstep his legal powers. A memo by Trump advisor John Eastman outlines the plan:

At the end [of the session], he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. That means the total number of “electors appointed” – the language of the 12th Amendment — is 454. This reading of the 12th Amendment has also been advanced by Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (here). A “majority of the electors appointed” would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.

Alternate branches of the Eastman scenario involve Pence saying there is no majority of 270 and sending the election to the House, where the GOP controlled 26 of the 50 state delegations. Or perhaps the states could be asked to reconsider their electors, giving Trump another chance to lobby their legislatures.

Or perhaps the whole process could be sufficiently derailed that January 20 would come and go without Congress announcing a winner. Then we’d be off the constitutional track entirely, and what the Army decided to do might matter, as it does in so many third-world countries.

These are the plans Trump was referring to at the January 6 rally, where he said

John [Eastman] is one of the most brilliant lawyers in the country, and he looked at this and he said, “What an absolute disgrace that this can be happening to our Constitution.”

And he looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. … All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.

It’s worth considering what the success of the Eastman plan would have meant to the future of American democracy:

The legal merits of the argument don’t matter very much — Eastman’s interpretation is widely derided as crazy, but the key point is that even if he’s right, he would have identified a wormhole in the Constitution permitting the vice-president to override the election results. Since the vice-president’s interests are typically aligned with the president’s, this power would allow the president’s party to stay in office through an indefinite series of elections.

The mob. Trump advisor Peter Navarro now confesses that he plotted to overturn the election, but for one thing: He denies that mob violence was part of that plan.

It may not have been part of Navarro’s plan, but it clearly was part of Trump’s. His initial invitation to the event on December 19 promised it “will be wild!” Anyone following the social media discussion prior to January 6 knew that people were coming with violent intentions. A pro-Trump election protest in DC on December 12 now looks like a trial run: It led to violence by the Proud Boys, who were also involved on January 6.

If anyone involved in planning the January 6 rally and demonstration was worried about inciting violence, that concern barely shows up in Trump’s speech. His instruction to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” at the Capitol was hard to notice in the face of his 23 admonitions to “fight”.

We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

We now know that Trump was watching closely on TV as his followers fought police and broke down barriers to get into the Capitol. His former press secretary Stephanie Grisham (who was still Melania’s chief of staff on January 6) told CNN

All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, “look at all of the people fighting for me,” hitting rewind, watching it again — that’s what I know.

When Kevin McCarthy talked to Trump from inside the Capitol, asking the president to call off his supporters, Trump replied: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

“Fighting for me” involved setting up a gallows and chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, a sentiment that Trump has never criticized. In an interview in March, author and ABC White House reporter Jonathan Karl

reminded Trump that some of his supporters involved in the violent attack were calling for Pence to be killed.

“Well, the people were very angry,” Trump said.

“They said, ‘hang Mike Pence,’” Karl told Trump.

“It’s common sense, Jon. It’s common sense that you’re supposed to protect,” Trump said. “How can you, if you know a vote is fraudulent, right, how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress?”

The possibility that his mob might have found Pence and actually tried to hang him [6] seems never to have bothered Trump.

There are many horrible almosts from January 6, but one of the worst is that the mob might have found the boxes that contained the electoral votes.

Both Democrat and Republican members of the House of Representatives and Senate needed to read aloud the certificates inside the boxes that recorded each state’s electoral votes. Congress then needed to count those votes before Vice President Mike Pence could confirm President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the election.

One video shows how the Senate Parliamentarian’s office had been ransacked after extremists besieged the Capitol. Papers and files were strewn across furniture and the floor, possibly suggesting the mob had been searching for the boxes containing the votes needed to certify Biden’s win.

Copies existed, but loss of the originals would have been one more step off the constitutional track, and would have opened up new avenues for procedural delays and claims of illegitimacy.

As yet, the public has not seen a smoking gun, but the overwhelming weight of the evidence we do have says that Trump intended violence from the beginning. He had two goals for his mob: to delay Congress from certifying Biden’s win, and to intimidate Pence and others into going along with his unconstitutional plan to stay in power.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/06/over-barrel/

The past year. Initially, it looked like Trump had finally gone too far. Republicans had stuck by Trump through “grab them by the pussy“, through his “blame on both sides” defense of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, through his siding with Putin against his own intelligence services at Helsinki, through his Ukraine extortion scheme, and many other outrages that they surely didn’t believe they had signed up for when they nominated him in 2016.

But trying to stay in power after losing an election is the worst abuse of his office that any American president has ever committed. Gloating at Kevin McCarthy while a mob threatened even the Republican members of Congress — it was too much.

For a few days. Then the Party began to rally around him. McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring only 22 days later. Mitch McConnell made a tough-sounding denunciation of Trump on the Senate floor, but only after he had rallied the troops to defend him in his second impeachment trial. Lindsey Graham had announced in a January 6 speech that he was “done” with Trump, but he really wasn’t.

Instead, it’s the Republicans who defended democracy against Trump who are on the outs. Aaron Van Langevelde wasn’t renominated. Brad Raffensperger faces a tough primary. Liz Cheney was cast out of the Wyoming GOP.

The only problem today’s Republican Party has with Trump’s attempted coup was that it failed. Next time they’ll try to do better.

Perhaps the best measure of how far the Party has moved in the last year was Ted Cruz groveling to Tucker Carlson on Thursday. Cruz’ sin, for which he could not apologize abjectly enough to placate Carlson, was to call the January 6 rioters “terrorists”. They weren’t terrorists “by any definition”, Carlson claimed. To say they were is “a lie”.

How about this definition, Tucker?

The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property in order to coerce or intimidate a government or the civilian population in furtherance of political or social objectives.

That definition could be illustrated by this iconic photo.


[1] He appointed a commission to gather evidence of the 2016 fraud, but he disbanded it before it could issue a report admitting that it had found none.

[2] Bullshit sounds pejorative, but it is actually a well defined term.

When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

[3] Many of the claims have been debunked in detail by Republican election officials who were rooting for Trump to win: most recently in Arizona, but also in Michigan, Georgia, and elsewhere.

[4] Whether Trump believes anything at all is still an open question. David Roberts’ analysis from 2016 holds up pretty well.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

… It’s not that Trump is saying things he believes to be false. It’s that he doesn’t seem to have beliefs at all, not in the way people typically talk about beliefs — as mental constructs stable across time and context. Rather, his opinions dissolve and coalesce fluidly, as he’s talking, like oil on shallow water.

[5] That’s how you wind up with a legal team like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

[6] Or Nancy Pelosi or any other elected officials they went looking for.

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Comments

  • TRPChicago  On January 10, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Introduce doubts, insist on investigating, withhold approval formalities until results are clear, meanwhile … That will seem to be Trump’s plan.

    Linked with his publicly encouraging people to assemble and march on the Capitol to air their [his!] election grievances, it likely will be his defense to any kind of culpability for January 6, civil or criminal. No wonder Merrick Garland’s DoJ and the Select Committee will not be filing charges against Donald Trump without proof linking him directly to more nefarious conduct.

    And he will maintain his Big Lie in the face of no proof of election fraud (and even the contrary: proof of no fraud!) because, he will insist, he was operating on belief which was reasonable at the time.

    I’m wondering if Trump’s heightening demands for official governmental action given the lack of evidence was what induced AG Bill Barr to announce on December 14th his upcoming resignation.

  • Anonymous  On January 10, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    I detest Trump and believe that he has criminal responsibility for the insurrection. However, your essay is undercut by assuming the truth of statements by those seeking to rehabilitate their reputations after working in the Trump criminal enterprise formerly known as his presidency. Two examples: Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (Why do you think he was only “Acting”) claims that he stood up to Trump and that there would be “mass resignations” at the DOJ. What evidence is there? Jeffrey Rosen. Stephanie Grisham who I wouldn’t trust to tell me the color of the sky, says she knows where Trump was and what he was doing during the insurrection when there is no evidence that she was with Trump during that time.

  • Gina  On January 10, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    I have not seen anyone mention this, but I found it significant when Trump said during the Georgia call, something ominous like “If you don’t do this, the people will be very angry. You’ll see, on Jan 6 the people will be very angry.”

  • Susan  On January 10, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    What is deeply disturbing is that Trump represents the values of 74M people in this country. He unleashed the worst in our nature. Given the steep slide in civic responsibility, ongoing racial prejudice, as well as increase in selfishness and sanctimony, I worry if enough of us have the will to stop this rise in fascism.

  • painedumonde  On January 10, 2022 at 10:40 pm

    We are watching history being rewritten in real time in the Conservative Media Space…

    Carlson, Hannity, a sundry of internet claqueurs, conditioned elected officials, even some pilled Justices…

    Drawn from history:

    The greatest efforts made by the defeated insurgents since the close of the war have been to promulgate the idea that the cause of liberty, justice, humanity, equality…suffered violence and wrong when the effort for southern independence failed…whereby the crime of treason might be covered with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand in hand with the defenders of the government, thus wiping out with their own hands their own stains; a species of self-forgiveness amazing in its effrontery.

    ~General George Henry Thomas

    We damned ourselves then, we’re damned now.

  • Thomas Paine  On January 11, 2022 at 8:54 pm

    The most serious legacy/threat to our democracy from Trump’s Big Lie and the mob that backs it via the continued threats of violence being experienced in many localities against public officials with the integrity to insist on reality and truth is the widespread and successful efforts by states to make overturning the results of elections, and especially those at the federal level, not only possible, but almost inevitable.

    The lessons the autocrats of the minority Republican Party learned mirrors the lessons Hitler and his followers learned after their failed Beer Hall Putsch: taking over the government of the nation needs to have the patina of being legal, just as all the various tax-avoidance loopholes the wealthy use in the US have been made legal. In both cases, what’s done is, by any objective, decent standard, wrong in a variety ways. But, by making what’s done legal, all the opposition can do is either watch in frustration or take up arms against it.

    Anyone who doubts that if those who control today’s Republican Party have to choose between democracy and control, they’ll easily throw democracy overboard without a second thought are about to witness the proof of this. The groundwork has already been laid. The last Democratic POTUS is currently serving, and going forward, regardless of which candidate wins the popular vote of enough states to win the Electoral College, electors will be selected by gerrymandered Republican state legislatures in sufficient numbers to make that candidate POTUS. And it will all be legal, just as the Enabling Acts that made Hitler Germany’s dictator were.

Trackbacks

  • By Lies and Violence | The Weekly Sift on January 10, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    […] This week’s featured post is my review of what we now know about January 6, “One Year Later“. […]

  • By The Monday Morning Teaser | The Weekly Sift on January 17, 2022 at 8:03 am

    […] should have waited a week to sum up what we know about the Trump coup plot. Last week was the one-year anniversary of his mob invading the Capitol, but two significant new chunks of the […]

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