Trump still has no counter-narrative

Rather than tell his side of the story, Trump attacks anyone who wants to know what happened on January 6.

This week, the House Select Committee wrapped up its work with an 800-page final report that fleshed out with many details (supported by testimony and documents) the story it started telling in its first public hearing in June.

Before the 2020 election was even held, Donald Trump was plotting to retain power after losing:

  • He would encourage his voters to vote in person (rather than early or by mail) so that their votes (in many key states) would be counted first, giving him an early lead.
  • He would prematurely declare victory and promote the false belief that his eventual defeat was due to fraud. He would suborn government institutions (like the Justice Department) to give his big lie false credibility.
  • By pressuring Republican election officials, legislatures, and judges, he would try to prevent key states from certifying their results and appointing Biden electors to the Electoral College.
  • He would encourage local Republican Party organizations to assemble false slates of electors with forged certificates, and to send their votes for Trump to Congress as if they were legitimate electoral votes.
  • He would pressure Republican legislatures, Vice President Pence, and Republicans in Congress either to recognize his false electors, or to rule that states Biden won were “disputed” so the legitimate Biden electoral votes should not be counted.
  • He would assemble his violent supporters on January 6, and send them to the Capitol for the purpose of intimidating the Congress, disrupting its meeting, and preventing its certification of Biden’s victory.

I think this is a good time to re-emphasize a point I first made in July: Trump has never presented an alternate story in anything but the most general terms: He won the election and it was stolen from him. January 6 was a protest by patriotic Americans legitimately angered by a stolen election, perhaps egged on by an Antifa false-flag operation.

Trump has consistently fought against any attempt to flesh out that account with checkable details. Any stolen-election theory is as good as any other; he has never denied even the most outrageous ones. All his January 6 supporters were patriots; he has never denounced any of them. (In the video message where he finally asked the rioters to go home — after letting the riot play out for three hours, during which more than 100 Capitol police were injured — he said “We love you. You’re very special.“) No members or leaders of the Antifa false-flag operation have been identified. (Antifa itself may not even exist, at least not as a national organization capable of pulling off large-scale operations.)

It’s easy for both the media and members of the general public to miss the significance of this, or even to overlook it entirely. We are used to framing our political discussions in terms of two sides each trying to tell their own stories. (Climate change, for example, is either a looming catastrophe that requires radical reorganization of our economy, or a dubious projection of climate models whose “solutions” are far more expensive than what they would prevent. Racism is either a continuing structural problem in our society, or a historical artifact that was never central to America’s identity.)

But this political debate is different: On one side we have the January 6 Committee trying to tell a story as thoroughly as possible, and on the other we have Trump trying to prevent a story from being told at all.

Nothing illuminates that distinction better than a bit of gaslighting Trump posted to his Truth Social account about a week after the Committee’s first public hearing:

I have sooo many witnesses to everything good, but the highly partisan and one sided Unselect Committee of political hacks has not interest in hearing or seeing them. This Witch Hunt could all be ended quickly if they did!

Six months later, we still have no idea who these “sooo many witnesses” might be, or what they would say. We do know who they aren’t:

  • Steve Bannon, who is currently appealing his four-month prison sentence for defying the Committee’s subpoena.
  • Peter Navarro, whose trial for the same offense will start in January.
  • Mark Meadows, who has also defied a subpoena and been cited for contempt of Congress, but has not been indicted for it by the Department of Justice. So far, though, Meadows is losing his battle not to testify to the Fulton County grand jury that is investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 loss in Georgia.
  • Pat Cipollone, who eventually submitted to a subpoena, but invoked executive privilege to avoid discussing his conversations with Trump. (He did, however, corroborate “almost everything that we’ve learned from the prior hearings”.) Cipollone also lost his battle to avoid testifying to the Fulton County grand jury.
  • Michael Flynn, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, and Roger Stone, who did testify, but dodged questions by repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment. (Flynn even took the Fifth when Liz Cheney asked whether he believed in the peaceful transfer of power.)
  • Bill Barr, who testified that he told Trump his election-fraud claims were “bullshit“.
  • First daughter Ivanka Trump, who told the Committee that she believed Barr.
  • Barr’s successor Jeffrey Rosen and his second-in-command Richard Donoghue (both Trump appointees) who characterized some of the election-fraud claims as “pure insanity“. They blocked an effort to use the Justice Department to pressure the Georgia legislature only by threatening mass resignations across the Department.

So who, then?

Not Trump himself, who seems incapable of discussing any part of the January 6 story in terms of facts and evidence. Instead, he issues judgments (“partisan”, “one-sided”, his “perfect” phone call to Brad Raffensperger), calls names (“political hacks”, “Witch Hunt”), and makes claims (“the greatest fraud in the history of our country“). When his claims are debunked (as they always are if he includes enough detail to make them checkable), he neither accepts the evidence nor argues with it, but just makes new claims. (The Raffensperger phone call was a classic example. Raffensperger knew that there were no “suitcases of votes”? Never mind, dead people voted. No? Dominion voting machines flipped votes. On and on, culminating in a threat to prosecute Raffensperger. “You can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you.”)

Again and again, Trump has claimed that some bit of testimony was false. (He didn’t grab the steering wheel after the Secret Service refused to drive him to the Capitol on January 6. He didn’t throw food against the wall in the White House.) But he never follows up with an account of what did happen. (What did he think his crowd would do after he sent them to the Capitol? What was he doing during the three hours before he asked the rioters to go home? Did he know what was happening? Talk to anyone on the phone?) After Cassidy Hutchinson spoke to the Committee, anonymous sources told reporters that Secret Service agents were going to dispute her testimony — but they never came forward.

Trump’s “sooo many witnesses” never do. On one side, you have people (most of them Republicans or even Trump appointees) testifying under oath to details that support the Committee’s narrative. On the other, you have people refusing to testify, sometimes to the point of going to jail rather than be disloyal to Trump by telling the public what they know about him.

One final objection a Trump defender might make is that Trump’s witnesses don’t want to hand their testimony to this “one-sided” committee, which might edit it to Trump’s disadvantage. But that doesn’t explain why they don’t come forward at all.

Trump’s post says that with his witnesses’ testimony “This Witch Hunt could all be ended quickly”. So end it, then. The Committee doesn’t have a monopoly on public attention. For two years, the full apparatus of right-wing media has been ready to publicize Trump’s side of the story, if he would only tell one. Trump has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from his supporters, most of whom probably imagined it being used for precisely this purpose.

But Trump has no story to tell. Any account more specific than “They stole the election from me” would quickly fall apart, because it’s just not true. Any witness — including Trump himself — who added supporting detail to that story would risk perjury.

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  • donquixote99  On December 26, 2022 at 9:39 am

    The most perfect summation of the ‘law and facts’ situation I have seen. Would persuade anyone with an mind open to rational persuasion.

  • Roger  On December 26, 2022 at 10:29 am

    And yet, I know people who are unpersuadable on this issue. It occurs to me that orange has long promised “proof” of things he blathers about, going back to Obama’s “not-American” status in 2011. He never provided proof then or subsequently.

  • Ed Blanchard  On December 26, 2022 at 11:02 am

    I agree with donquixote99 on this one: a “most perfect summation…”. I will add that donald’s (use of the lowercase first name is intentional) continuing refusal to counter the hundreds of bits of facts is damning while being a classic symptom of his overall disease: narcissism. He will die loving himself above all others.

  • Sage DeRosier  On December 26, 2022 at 1:20 pm

    Donald was a supremely poor excuse for a president. I’m surprised nobody bothered to check underneath his bullshit “but her email” claims to wonder HOW such an inexperienced and unbalanced, emotionally immature child could have gotten elected to our highest office with a minority of greedy, fearful, ignorant celebrity whores voting for him. His dangerous media broadcast tantrums are typically mean, sensationalist claims with zero clear evidence to support his sour-grapes narrative. “Either I win or there’s been a plot to deny me my win” is CLEAR evidence of his weak, childish concrete thinking. And so much dodging of his finances… for YEARS!? Come ON! This is the price one pays to be a public servant with power: you gotta provide evidence that you’re competent and trustworthy. He avoided transparency because he is corrupt.

    Yet, the burden (time, financial, energetic, resource) of proof falls heavily, repeatedly on the UNsexy, almost boring democratic-run government (yet again!) to PROVE that Donny has been crying wolf. It seems a horrible waste of time and money spent on producing evidence and collecting data which are so SO precious to the “let’s not waste or pork-barrel spend” GOP. Yet, the GOP can say, “oh WE didn’t waste all this time and money… the Democrats did!”

    This pattern shows up again and again with a right wing-nut sensationalizing false and fear-mongering accusations or self-serving propaganda (Robber Barrons? Monopolies? McCarthyism, anyone?) which leads to a horrible circus of persecution, paranoia, and ruin for many innocent, already oppressed people before the Democrats have to come in and carefully, painstakingly untangle the right-wing mess.

    Republican schemes have usually been about using fear, control, and misinformation to emotionally manipulate and panic millions of ignorant voters into believing a false narrative. When in office, Rethugs line their pockets, pander to whoever pays the most, and financially choke the life force out of the very population they benevolently claim to represent. Rethug states contain majorities of poor, oppressed, ignorant people manipulated by a few wealthy resource hoarders and their hired thugs. Trump and his family are resource hoarders… and they use these corruptly-gotten resources just like mafia organizations do. Why aren’t we talking about this?! Rethugs (who own media conglomerates!) cry corruption and point fingers at Democrats. However, the history of numbers and statistics show time and again that THIS is the trick… point and yell loudly enough when accusing others and everyone is manipulated unto getting upset and spending poor taxpayer time and $ investigating the mostly innocent accused… while the corrupt accuser uses the opportunity and time to plot further, punch loopholes into laws that immunize them from constraints (like taxes), sock away ill-gotten gains in offshore accounts, and bury the proverbial bodies.

    When are we going to highlight the increasingly bold and dangerous horror show underbelly of the GOP beast that has been ruining millions of lives to support obscenely opulent wealth and ridiculous power for a psychopathic few for ever…?


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