Tag Archives: democracy

How the Trump Grift Works


Trump’s lawsuit against Hillary’s vast conspiracy was dismissed, and the Durham investigation is winding down without proving much of anything. But in their day, these two Trump-will-be-vindicated hoaxes kept the money flowing in.

When I was growing up fundamentalist, Jesus’ second coming was always imminent. Any day now, the Heavens would open and there He would be, declaring an end to secular history and beginning a period of judgment that would separate the believers from the unbelievers. On that day, the doubters would be proven wrong and there would be “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. The righteous, on the other hand, would “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”.

And in the meantime, you should keep sending in your money.

You can’t fully understand Trumpism without holding that picture in mind. Whatever evidence of Trump’s criminality the “fake news media” might present, and whatever testimony the 1-6 committee gets from Trump’s own people, the real Truth is going to be revealed any day now. His persecutors will be routed, and their sinister plots will be revealed.

In the meantime, keep sending Trump your money.

Like Jesus’ second coming, Trump’s final vindication can be predicted again and again — and those predictions can fail again and again — without undermining the basic narrative that it’s coming any day now. [1] Just scrap the old details for new ones and you’re good to go. Did Trump leave the presidency without invoking Q-Anon’s “storm”? Did none of his 82 post-election lawsuits prove fraud, even when he got them heard by judges he appointed? No problem: Those fantasies kept the money rolling in until new fantasies could be ginned up.

Recently, two other major Trump-vindication vehicles have gone bust: the Hillary conspiracy lawsuit and the Durham investigation. Each was a big deal in its day, but, you know, life moves on. The suit got dismissed and the investigation is closing up shop without finding any of the crimes Trump promised.

But never mind, they kept the money flowing.

The great Clinton conspiracy. It sounds weird to say this, but one of the most amusing things I read these last two weeks was Judge Donald Middlebrooks’ dismissal of Trump’s sprawling lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, and everybody else the Former Guy has ever blamed for investigating his collusion with Russia.

Middlebrooks’ opinion reads like a professor grading the work of a particularly disappointing first-year law student. The judge keeps backing up to explain fundamental things the student (i.e., Trump’s lawyers) should have read in the textbook (i.e., landmark precedents).

A complaint filed in federal court must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Each claim must be stated in numbered paragraphs, and each numbered paragraph limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is 193 pages in length, with 819 numbered paragraphs. It contains 14 counts, names 31 defendants, 10 “John Does” described as fictitious and unknown persons, and 10 “ABC Corporations” identified as fictitious and unknown entities. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is neither short nor plain, and it certainly does not establish that Plaintiff is entitled to any relief.

More troubling, the claims presented in the Amended Complaint are not warranted under existing law. …

At this stage, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept as true all the plaintiff’s factual allegations. However, pleadings that “are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”

The rest of the ruling is a series of that’s-not-what-the-law-says, the-reference-in-your-footnote-doesn’t-support-the-point-you’re-making, and so on, culminating in the judge’s refusal to let Trump’s lawyers amend their complaint a second time:

It’s not that I find the Amended Complaint “inadequate in any respect”; it is inadequate in nearly every respect. … At its core, the problem with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is that Plaintiff is not attempting to seek redress for any legal harm; instead, he is seeking to flaunt a 200-page political manifesto outlining his grievances against those who have opposed him, and this Court is not the appropriate forum.

I’m reminded of the scene in The Paper Chase where Professor Kingsfield says to a student, “Here is a dime. Call your mother and tell her there is serious doubt about you becoming a lawyer.”

The inescapable conclusion of Judge Middlebrooks’ critique is that no competent lawyer ever intended this complaint to be the basis for a serious lawsuit. Rather, the only credible purposes would have been to get headlines for filing the suit, and to fund-raise off of those headlines.

In short, the anti-Hillary suit was part of the continuing grift against Trump’s own followers: Neither Hillary nor any of the other defendants was ever going to pay Trump damages, but the prospect of the vast Trump-persecuting conspiracy finally being exposed would induce the MAGA cultists to keep their wallets open.

What Trump wanted out of the Durham investigation. That’s Obama on the far left. https://www.conservativedailynews.com/2019/10/bull-durham-grrr-graphics-ben-garrison-cartoon/

Durham. When Trump accuses his opponents of doing something, it’s only a matter of time before he does the same thing himself (if he hasn’t already). In his mind, the Mueller investigation was an expensive taxpayer-sponsored witch hunt against him. So of course he had to have his own expensive taxpayer-sponsored witch hunt.

When Bill Barr announced this investigation in 2019, conservatives were expecting the grand finale to the Mueller story, the counter-attack that would uncover all the illegal machinations the FBI and others had done to try to nail Trump. As recently as February, Trump was still promising that Durham was finding evidence of “the crime of the century” and “treason at the highest level”. He was “coming up with things far bigger than anybody thought possible”.

Durham may go down as a great hero in this country that will be talked about for years.

But that was all part of the grift. Trump was reacting with such glee to a court filing related to Durham’s indictment of Michael Sussman, a minor figure accused of a minor crime that Durham could not prove. (The jury acquitted Sussman after only six hours of deliberation.) No “crime of the century” involving high-profile conspirators like President Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Now the Durham investigation appears to be shutting down, having lasted longer and cost more than the Mueller probe it was supposed to be investigating. It also has accomplished far less: Mueller proved that Russia did help the 2016 Trump campaign, and that it committed crimes to do so. Mueller didn’t come up with enough evidence to indict the Trump campaign itself in the conspiracy, though he did trace a suspiciously large number of links between Trump’s people and Putin’s. The investigation dead-ended at Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, both of whom were convicted of felonies, but got pardons from Trump, presumably as a reward for their silence.

Durham has one case left: against Igor Danchenko, who is accused of lying to the FBI about the information in the Steele dossier, which Trump wants to claim was the sole source of the Trump/Russia investigation. (It wasn’t. It wasn’t even the primary source.) Again, somebody may have lied about something that, in the end, didn’t really matter. Or maybe not: Durham’s standards appear to be far lower than Mueller’s, so his Danchenko case may be no more convincing than the one against Sussman.

But while Durham’s long-running investigation may look like a flop from a legal point of view, Atlantic’s David Graham explains that it did what it was supposed to do:

Even if Durham approached the probe with earnest sincerity, the real reason he was appointed is that Donald Trump’s political con requires the promise of total vindication right around the corner. For a time, Durham provided that hope for Trump backers. But now, as Trump moves on to other ploys, the Durham probe has served its purpose, even though it has produced no major convictions or epiphanies.

The grift goes on. So now is Trump’s Save America PAC going to apologize for raising money under false pretenses and send it all back? Don’t be silly. The Great Orange Conman has indeed “moved on to other ploys”. Now that investigations on numerous fronts threaten to expose his crimes, he needs your money more than ever.

Don’t ask what he did with the quarter-billion-plus he’s already collected, or why such a fabulously wealthy man needs your money at all. [2] The Forces of Evil are still at work, conspiring to find the top-secret documents Trump stole, expose his fraudulent business practices, and piece together his conspiracy to steal the presidency. So it’s time for all red-blooded Americans to step up, forget all the times Trump has lied in the past about conspiracies against him, and send in their money. (Also, stand by to riot again if he’s indicted.)

Objectively, things may keep looking worse and worse for Trump, but that’s how this story is supposed to go: the worse, the better. Signs of the End Times just lead to the Great Judgment.

Any minute now, the trumpet will blow, and the sky will be full of angels.

[1] I am reminded of one of the great opening paragraphs of any autobiography ever. In Knee Deep in Paradise, TV actress Brett Butler wrote:

I spent the first twenty years of my life waiting for two men I was reasonably certain would never come back – my daddy and Jesus Christ. I don’t wait for them anymore. My dad, anyway. And at least with Jesus I didn’t spend all that time thinking he was gone because of something I did.

[2] Again, there’s a religious parallel. As Captain Kirk once asked: “What does God need with a starship?

“Fascist” is a description, not an insult.


After two years of claiming Joe Biden is senile (and deceptively editing videos to prove it), falsely claiming that his presidency is illegitimate, and pretending that “Let’s Go Brandon” and “FJB” are clever things to display on t-shirts, flags, trucks etc.; after declaring that liberals in general are groomers, pro-pedophile, communists, libtards, and baby-killers — MAGA Republicans are now deeply offended that the President has begun hitting back.

How dare he!

Biden’s counter-attack started on August 25, when he described “extreme MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascist“. It continued in a prime-time speech Thursday night from Independence Hall in Philadelphia:

MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards, backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love. They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fanned the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.

They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger at the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots. And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.

If you doubted a single word of that, Trump proved Biden’s point Thursday by promising — if he should ever become president again — to “look very, very favorably about full pardons”, with a “full apology”, no less, for his Brownshirts, the rioters he drew to Washington and incited to attack the Capitol on January 6.

Apparently, Trump supporters should be free to beat up police and intimidate Congress. The law should not apply to political violence, if that violence works to Trump’s advantage.


But in spite of the obvious truth in Biden’s remarks, the pro-fascist voices shrieked in horror: Biden had “insulted” “half the people living in this country“, i.e. everyone who voted for Trump. (Who aren’t “half the country”, by the way. That’s why he lost.)

But two points: (1) Not all of those 74 million Trump votes came from “MAGA Republicans” or even Trump supporters; they just liked him better than Biden. And probably most of those voters did not expect Trump to try to hang onto power by inciting violence after he lost; they might not have voted for him if they had.

Immediately after January 6, lots of Republicans felt that way — not just Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, but also Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and many others. But then elected officials saw which way the wind was blowing within the GOP, and most of them weathervaned back into the MAGA fold. They aren’t Trumpists, they’re just opportunists and cowards.

So Biden carefully targeted his criticism:

Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.

But the MAGA folks ignored that part of the speech and continued to insist that Trump voters ARE Trump; you can’t attack him without attacking them. Which also proves Biden’s point: Telling the masses to identify with the Leader, to see his pains as their pains and his enemies as their enemies, is one of the traits of fascism.

Which brings up the second point: (2) Biden (and me and a lot of other liberals) are not using “fascism” as an insult. It is descriptive term that means something — and that meaning clearly applies to Trump and his personality cult.

In 2015, I felt obligated to write an article describing what I meant by “fascism” before I started using the word. I boiled it down to these key characteristics:

[Fascism is] a dysfunctional attempt of people who feel humiliated and powerless to restore their pride by:

styling themselves as the only true and faithful heirs of their nation’s glorious (and possibly mythical) past,

identifying with a charismatic leader whose success will become their success,

helping that leader achieve power by whatever means necessary, including violence,

under his leadership, purifying the nation by restoring its traditional and characteristic virtues (again, through violence if necessary),

reawakening and reclaiming the nation’s past glory (by war, if necessary),

all of which leads to the main point: humiliating the internal and external enemies they blame for their own humiliation.

Again, I haven’t changed that definition (not even the italics) since 2015. Trump and his movement have spent the last 7 years proving me right about them, from the demonization of Muslims to the intentional cruelty of his border policy to the mob violence of January 6.

And what unites Trump’s mob? Identification with one of the groups that might feel aggrieved by the slipping of its former dominance. If the core of your identity is to be White, male, Christian, rural, or heterosexual, and you feel wronged by a society that no longer honors you as you feel you deserve (or sufficiently punishes people who are different from you), then you are a “real American” who needs to bask in the gold-plated glow of Trump’s reflected greatness, and needs his strength to strike back at those who have looked down on you.

As I said in 2015, fascism appears mercurial because it’s not “political” in any ordinary sense; it has no characteristic ideology or economic program, just friends and enemies. Fascism is a phenomenon of social psychology. It’s about dominance and grievance and humiliation and projecting images of strength, not potential solutions to the problems of Americans’ real lives.

The GOP’s decision not to write a platform in 2020 was textbook fascism: Our policy is Trump. Today, the way a candidate gets Trump’s endorsement and the backing of his cult is not to champion a set of ideals or policies, it’s to champion Trump himself, and his made-up grievances about the 2020 election and the FBI’s “invasion” of Mar-a-Lago.

Imagine a candidate who pledged to advance all of the Trump administration policies, but said that Biden had been legitimately elected and the January 6 riot was wrong. Could that candidate get Trump’s endorsement? I think not.

Trump doesn’t have policies, he has grievances. If you also feel aggrieved, he wants you to identify your grievances with his, and to vicariously experience satisfaction when he is victorious again and achieves a humiliating revenge against his enemies.

That’s what fascism is all about.


What’s the point of punishing Trump?


Or Alex Jones? Or Deshaun Watson?

The Info-warrior. Friday, a Texas jury assessed $45.2 million in punitive damages against Alex Jones, on top of the $4.1 million it previously ordered him to pay in ordinary damages. The $49.3 million total would go to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. On his widely viewed program Info Wars, Jones repeatedly claimed that the massacre was a hoax designed to give the government an excuse to confiscate guns, that Heslin and Lewis were “crisis actors”, and that their son never existed.

Because a large number of Jones’ fans actually believe the dark fantasies he spins, Heslin and Lewis have not only seen their grief exploited for someone else’s gain, but they’ve been harassed and even in physical danger for the last nine years.

As the linked article makes clear, the total amount Jones ends up paying could go either up or down. He might appeal to get this judgement reduced, but he also faces additional cases brought by other victims of his malicious lies. Or he might wriggle out of accountability by abusing the bankruptcy laws.

Like a lot of people, I take satisfaction from the prospect of Jones paying millions of dollars. I don’t throw the word evil around lightly, but Alex Jones qualifies. He has amassed a huge fortune by slandering people who have already suffered something worse than most of us can imagine. This is purely predatory behavior, and there is no excuse for it.

The quarterback. Last Monday, another punishment was announced (pending appeal): NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games. Watson was the target of lawsuits by 24 female massage therapists. Despite playing for a team (the Houston Texans) that had its own massage therapists, Watson arranged private appointments with more than sixty women, 24 of whom claim he tried to pressure them into sexual acts.

Watson sat out all last season (with pay) while the Texans watched the progress of the cases against him and tried to decide what to do with him. (He had demanded a trade before the scandals broke, but his value was hard to determine until the criminal probes concluded.) Ultimately, Watson was not indicted and he has settled all but one of the suits. The Texans then traded him to the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to a five-year $230 million contract. The contract was structured to have a large signing bonus, but a small first-year salary. As a result, he’ll lose only $345K if he misses the six games.

Like a lot of people, I had the exact opposite reaction to this announcement: Really? That’s all? I don’t know what I thought justice would be, but this isn’t it. If the decision stands, Watson will be back on the field for the Browns’ game against Baltimore on October 23. He should barely notice the lack of $345K, and it will be as if nothing ever happened. Come February, his accusers might be watching him in the Super Bowl. [1]

The former president. Meanwhile, the mills of justice grind very slowly in the case of Donald Trump. The House January 6 Committee has put together a compelling case that he did the single worst thing any American president has ever done to the country: He lost an election and tried to stay in power anyway. The January 6 attack on the Capitol was the culmination of a much larger anti-democracy plot, which he set in motion and tried to benefit from.

If he had succeeded, the republic set up by the Founders would effectively have fallen. After ignoring the Constitution and overruling the voters in 2020, why would he ever give up power? And if he should happen to die or retire, why should any future president give up power?

Whether Trump will face any consequences for these actions is still up in the air. Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republican senators refused to hold Trump accountable in his second impeachment trial. A Georgia prosecutor is investigating the former president’s attempts to reverse that state’s 2020 election, and the Department of Justice finally appears to be going up the chain from the January 6 rioters to the plotters whose will they were carrying out.

Will any of that lead to indictments? Convictions? Jail time? It’s still not clear.

The point of punishment. I’m discussing these three men together — Jones, Watson, Trump — because their cases raise a common theme: What is punishment for? How much is enough? Thinking about Jones and Watson, I believe, can give us insight into what we should want for Trump.

As I said above, it’s satisfying to see bad men punished. That’s a very human response. Particularly when evil-doers appear to prosper, it’s easy to convince yourself that anything bad that might happen to them is justified and even good. [2]

At the same time, I believe that the propensity to glory in revenge (whether personal, vicarious, or rooted in some abstract sense of justice) is not humanity’s best feature. At some point we need to let the Past pass, so that we can move ahead unencumbered.

But when is that? When can we say “OK, enough”? [3]

Nixon. Before we think about that, I want to consider one more example: Richard Nixon. President Ford pardoned Nixon about a month after he resigned, and as a result Nixon was never held fully accountable for his crimes. He never went to prison. He never even had to stand trial, so no once-and-for-all judgement about his actions was ever recorded.

At the time (I turned 18 shortly after the pardon, so I got to vote against Ford in 1976), I thought Nixon got off too easily. OK, he had to leave power, but most of us never have much power. If being returned to the ranks of ordinary citizens counts as “punishment”, then presidents really are above the rest of us in a way that I think the Founders never intended.

But as I look back now, I’m willing to cut Ford a little more slack. Even without a trial or prison, Nixon became a cautionary tale in American politics. For decades afterwards, a stain of illegitimacy hovered over everything he did. No American politician wanted to hear his or her actions compared to Nixon’s. His name went unmentioned at Republican conventions. Post-Nixon presidents couldn’t justify their actions by citing Nixon as a precedent.

In retrospect, I think that was a good outcome.

What I want for Trump, Jones, and Watson. What I want for each of them is not some specific punishment. What I want is an outcome that makes them cautionary tales for anyone in a position to offend in similar ways.

I want current and future sports stars to consider their possible actions and think “I don’t want to become another Deshaun Watson.” I want current and future conspiracy-theory entertainers to think, “That might gain me some viewers, but it’s a little too much like Alex Jones.”

And most of all, I want a stain of illegitimacy to fall across everything Donald Trump ever did. I want the adjective “Trumpian” to become a pejorative label that every major American politician tries to deflect, just as no one wanted to be “Nixonian” for the rest of the 20th century. I want the advisors and assistants in all future administrations to consider what happened to Trump’s people and think about what they might be risking.

What kind of punishments would do that?

It’s tempting to see the Nixon example as proof that punishment isn’t necessary at all. But Nixon was a very different case: By the time he left office, his party had already turned against him. He was never again a force in American politics.

By contrast, Trump is actively trying to return to power, and remains a cult figure whose members regard him as a hero.

He won’t go quietly into the Past, so he has to be brought down. I don’t see how that happens without mug shots, a trial, and an orange jumpsuit. The evidence against him needs to be presented in a court where he is not in control, with the result (I hope) that a jury unanimously convicts him of crimes. He needs to go to jail.

His trial and sentencing will be traumatic for the country, but his own actions and lack of remorse make it necessary. There needs to be an outcome whose reality he can’t deny. His followers may continue to claim, against all evidence, that he won the 2020 election. But if he’s in jail they can’t claim that a jury acquitted him.

How much jail time? Revenge says “He tried to overthrow my country’s Constitution and sent his mob to attack my Capitol.” The rest of his life would not be long enough to satisfy my desire for Revenge.

But that’s not an urge I want to indulge. So: how long? Long enough for the country to move on, and for the Republican Party to find new leaders. A four-year political cycle needs to come and go without any expectation that he might participate.

So that’s what I want: four years.

[1] For comparison, Tom Brady served a four-game suspension at the conclusion of the Deflategate saga. The Patriots managed a 3-1 record while he was gone. After he returned, the team continued on to the Super Bowl, where Brady led a historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons and was named MVP. That game is considered one of the highlights of his career.

[2] I believe this is where the myth of Hell comes from. For many people, the vision of bliss in Heaven would be incomplete without the knowledge that the people who abused them in life are suffering endless torment. My own beliefs about God or the afterlife are uncertain, and waver sometimes from day to day. But one thing I’m certain I don’t believe is that a loving God condemns anyone to eternal suffering.

[3] My detailed analysis is in a sermon I gave in 1999, “Forgiveness“. I stand by it.

Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story


Before you complain about the 1-6 hearings being “one-sided”, you might want to ask Trump what his side of the story is.

As the January 6 Committee wraps up its public hearings until September, it’s time to assess what we’ve learned and where we are. Using primarily testimony from people inside Trump’s orbit (and occasionally inside his family), the Committee has put together a compelling narrative of how the January 6 riot happened. The key points are:

  • Trump lost the election.
  • His own experts, in his campaign as well as his appointees in the government, knew that his claims of widespread election fraud were false, and told him so on numerous occasions. This was not a matter of debate among administration officials. Every official in a position to investigate came to the same conclusion.
  • Trump tried everything he could think of to stay in power in spite of the voters. At every level, he tried to influence and intimidate Republican officials to change the results in his favor.
  • He pressured Justice Department leaders to lie about the conclusions of their investigations and back his false claims of election fraud.
  • He promoted a series of dubious legal theories, ranging from the unlikely to the absurd, that would give various intermediate entities (state legislatures, Congress, the Vice President) the authority to reverse the will of the voters and keep him in power. Again, the experts within his own administration unanimously told him that these theories had no merit.
  • He encouraged Republicans in seven states to assemble false slates of electors, and to submit fake electoral-vote totals to Congress. He then pressured Vice President Pence to count those phony votes, or to illegally refuse to count the votes of legitimate electors because their slate was “disputed”.
  • When it became clear that key departments within his administration — Justice, Homeland Security, Defense — would not abuse their powers to cooperate with his schemes, he called for a massive rally on January 6, promising it would be “wild”.
  • On January 6 itself, Trump knew that some members of his audience were armed when he told them to go to the Capitol.
  • Although a march to the Capitol was not announced in advance (even in drafts of Trump’s speech), right-wing militia groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys knew it was coming. Before Trump started speaking, they were already preparing to breach the Capitol’s defenses and spearhead the mob Trump would send their way.
  • He intended to go to the Capitol himself, with his armed Secret Service detail, but the Secret Service refused to take him there. Instead, they returned him to the White House.
  • For three hours as the attack unfolded, he sat in the Oval Office dining room watching Fox News. The official White House records from that period are blank — no phone records, no photographs. During that time, virtually his entire staff pleaded for him to do something to stop the riot. But he made no effort to interfere with the attack, either by asking the mob to go home, or by mobilizing federal resources to aid the Capitol Police. Such orders, when they finally came, were given by Vice President Pence.
  • He knew that the mob was already angry with the vice president when he tweeted “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution”. He never called Pence to make sure he was safe. Meanwhile, members of Pence’s Secret Service detail were sending messages to their families in case they died.
  • Although the White House call record for those three hours is blank, President Trump was calling Republican congressmen, urging them to continue the work of the mob by delaying further the counting of electoral votes.
  • Only when the tide had already turned, and law enforcement was beginning to regain control of the situation, did Trump ask the rioters to go home. In that video message, he repeated the false stolen-election claims that had inflamed the mob, and told the rioters “We love you. You’re very special.”

If Trump supporters are forced to comment on this narrative, they nearly always say, “That’s just the Democrats’ version. The hearings don’t present Trump’s side of the story.”

I’ve heard various responses to this point, all of which are true as far as they go:

But there is a more fundamental answer that I seldom hear: Trump doesn’t have a side of the story to tell.

I know that sounds crazy: We’re often told that every story has at least two sides. But Trump has had every opportunity to tell his side of the story, and he has offered us nothing. If he wants to get his version out, he has immediate access to the vast resources of right-wing media, including Fox News, which I’m sure would love to be running shadow hearings orchestrated by his followers.

But in the last year and a half, Trump and his loyalists have made literally no positive contribution to the public record of the Capitol riot. From the beginning, Trump’s position has been consistent: No one should talk about January 6. No one should investigate it. No one should testify about it. (Josh Marshall comments on what Jim Jordan et al might have added to the hearings: “The point is to find out what happened … not to have a public presentation of findings along with another group making fart sounds and jeering and generally trying to throw the presentation or testimony off track.”)

Such comments on the hearings as Trump and his people have made are entirely negative: This event never happened, that witness shouldn’t be trusted, this testimony is hearsay, and so on.

But what did happen, Mr. Trump?


Well, that’s not entirely true: TrumpWorld does occasionally offer some transparent gaslighting about January 6, like when Trump described the mob that injured 150 police officers as “loving“, or Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde compared the Capitol invasion to “a normal tourist visit“, or the Republican National Committee characterized mob violence as “legitimate political discourse“.

But if any of the points in the Committee’s narrative are false, it shouldn’t be hard to assemble an alternative narrative and flesh it out with evidence. Did some investigator inside Trump’s Departments of Justice or Homeland Security (and not just amateur yahoos like Sidney Powell and the My Pillow guy) find evidence of the kind of widespread fraud that could have turned the election? (And not just a handful of people submitting false ballots, many of them for Trump?) Was there a faction — or even one person — inside DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel or the White House Counsel’s office who supported Trump’s Pence-can-decide-what-votes-to-count theory? Can Trump tell us about any call he made to send help to the Capitol Police, and get the person he called to back him up? What’s the innocent explanation of how the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys knew ahead of time that a mob was coming to storm the Capitol?

Tell us about it. That would constitute another side of the story.

Or Trump could discuss his intentions. When he told the mob that he would go with them to the Capitol, did he mean it? Where exactly was he planning to go? What was he planning to do when he got there? Why didn’t he tell his supporters to go home sooner?

Other Trumpists could also tell us interesting facts, if they were so inclined. We know Roger Stone spent a lot of time with right-wing militia leaders prior to January 6. Maybe he could tell his side of that story (rather than pleading the Fifth in response to every question). Steve Bannon seems to have been tipped off about the riot. (“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said on his January 5 podcast. “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen.”) I’d love to discover how he knew, but he’d rather go to jail than talk about 1-6 under oath.

Mike Flynn retweeted a call for then-president Trump to declare martial law and hold a new election, and called for similar actions himself in public speeches. Other Trump officials have testified that Flynn wanted Trump to order the military to seize voting machines. Maybe he could tell us what he had in mind, rather than pleading the Fifth to a basic civics question like “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?”

Those accounts could turn into another side of the story. But it’s not the 1-6 Committee that’s preventing you from hearing such a narrative. It’s Trump.

So if you’re still a Trump supporter in spite of the evidence accumulated and presented by the Committee so far, your problem isn’t that Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney are suppressing Trump’s side of the story.

Your problem is that Trump doesn’t have a side.

Inside the White House on 1-6


Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony Tuesday damaged both Trump’s image and his legal position.

The top assistant to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, whose desk was just steps away from the Oval Office, testified to the 1-6 Committee Tuesday [video transcript]. She made an impressive witness and told a compelling story.

In my mind (and I suspect in Liz Cheney’s as well), these hearings serve two parallel purposes:

  1. assembling evidence that will force the Justice Department’s hand and get Trump indicted,
  2. breaking his hold on the Republican Party so that he will never return to power.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony served both. Which purpose you find most important determined which part of her testimony you focused on.

Personally, I want to see Trump in jail, because I think that’s necessary to deter future fascist presidents from arranging their promotion to Führer. So I focused on the legally significant claims:

  • Trump had been warned before January 6 about the potential for violence.
  • When he told his rally crowd to march on the Capitol, he knew they had weapons.
  • He tried to stop the Secret Service from taking those weapons away.
  • Only the Secret Service prevented Trump from going to the Capitol with the mob.
  • He didn’t want to tell the mob to leave the Capitol, because (in Meadows’ words) “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

We’re still guessing what Trump planned to do if he got to the Capitol, but Hutchinson testified “I know that there was a conversation about him going into the House chamber at one point.” She said that on January 2 Rudy Giuliani told her about plans for the 6th: “The President’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s — he’s going to be with the members. He’s going to be with the Senators.”

Breaking into the Capitol at the head of an armed mob to prevent Congress finalizing the election he lost — that sounds like something from the final days of the Roman Republic.

But if you’re mainly focused on GOP politics, probably the most significant aspect of Hutchinson’s testimony was how humiliating it was for Trump. In a dispassionate voice, she told about incidents when Trump behaved like a bratty toddler.


She described helping the White House valet clean ketchup off the wall of the Oval Office dining nook, after Trump had thrown his lunch at the wall. (He was upset because Bill Barr had told the public that his election-fraud claims were false.) She said that it was not the only time Trump had broken White House dishes during a fit of anger.

Putting this in presidential perspective: Remember what a scandal it was when Obama put his feet up on the Resolute Desk? “This arrogant, immature & self-centered man has no sense of honor, or of simple decency,” declared OutragedPatriots.com.

Imagine if our first Black president had broken White House china in a temper tantrum and left ketchup stains on the walls!

And then there was Hutchinson’s second-hand account of Trump trying to force the Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol.


And when [Secret Service Agent] Bobby [Engel] had relayed to him we’re not, we don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing, the president had a very strong, a very angry response to that.

Tony [Ornato] described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of “I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now” to which Bobby responded, “Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.” The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, “Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.”

Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. — when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

Trump has always been more concerned about his image than about the law, so TrumpWorld responded to this account rather than the parts of Hutchinson’s testimony that were more legally damaging.

An anonymous source countered Hutchinson’s testimony-under-oath by claiming that “Two Secret Service agents are prepared to testify before Congress that then-President Donald Trump did not lunge at a steering wheel or assault them.” This is a very specific denial that I could imagine as part of testimony that supported 99% of what Hutchinson claimed. (“It was more of a reach than a lunge, and I wouldn’t describe that as an assault.”)

CNN then found other anonymous Secret Service agents who backed up Hutchinson’s account. Whether the incident happened exactly as she described it or not, it is clear that Hutchinson did not make the story up. It was circulating in the White House, as she said. She never claimed to be in the car, witnessing the tantrum herself.

We’ll see if any of this additional testimony actually happens. After all, Trump and his people have a long history of promising proof that never appears. Hutchinson made her statements under oath, and that has to give them more credibility than anonymous sources describing what somebody else might be willing to say.

In addition, I find it striking that no one from TrumpWorld stepped up to dispute the legally damaging parts of Hutchinson’s testimony. It’s scary that a guy who can’t be trusted with the White House china had the nuclear codes, but breaking dishes isn’t illegal.

Here’s a point that the I don’t think is getting enough stress in the public conversation: This is not a debate between two versions of what happened on January 6. The committee is presenting a narrative of what happened, and Trump’s people are refusing to discuss the matter — not just refusing to testify under oath, but refusing to comment at all. Trump complains about the hearings being “one-sided”, but he has chosen not to present a side.

If he had the confidence and courage to go under oath, as Hillary Clinton did during the Benghazi hearings, Trump (or Mark Meadows or Rudy Giuliani) could tell the committee (and the country) an alternate story, if he has one.

But even short of testimony, Fox News would readily give Trump all the air time he wants, with none of that annoying cross-examination or fact checks or follow-up questions or risk of perjury. He could explain why he didn’t believe his own experts when they told him that his fraud claims were false, and that Mike Pence had no power to reject electoral votes certified by the states. He could tell us which of his many debunked fraud claims he still believes, what the fake electors were for, what he intended the crowd to do when they got to the Capitol, when he first learned that violence had broken out, what he was thinking when he attacked Vice President Pence in a tweet (and in particular, did he know at the time that the crowd was already calling for Pence to be hung?), why he waited so long to ask the rioters to go home, and so on.

But he won’t do any that. His “side of the story” never gets any more detailed than saying that he did nothing wrong.

He refuses to go on the record in any form (and certainly not under oath) because he knows that he can’t defend any detailed account in which he did nothing wrong.

He knows he’s guilty.

All of which raises the question: Will it make any difference? Will the Justice Department indict Trump? Or anybody inside the White House who wasn’t physically present at the Capitol Insurrection? Lawrence Tribe says yes. Jeffrey Toobin urges DoJ not to. Jack Goldsmith says it’s a tough decision.

The 1-6 hearings begin


[This article is being written before and possibly during the second hearing, which started at 10 a.m. I will cover that material, together with Wednesday’s and Thursday’s hearings, next week. As I’ve repeated many times, this is not a breaking-news blog.]

The committee kicked off its public hearings Thursday night [video transcript]. Remembering Bob Mueller’s testimony to Congress about his investigation, I had worried that these hearings would be dull and legalistic, or that they would rehash details that, however damning they might be, had already been widely discussed by people who were open to knowing what happened. Worst of all would have been one of those talkfests where each committee member gets five minutes to audition for national attention.

I should have had more faith. The other committee members were content to let Chair Bennie Thompson and leading Republican member Liz Cheney carry the ball, and they carried it well, particularly Cheney.

The first hour of the hearing consisted of Thompson and Cheney laying out the story that the rest of the evidence will nail down, backing up their claims with short videos of testimony that the public had not seen before — mostly from people in Trump’s inner circle: Bill Barr, Jason Miller, and even Ivanka. In the second hour the committee heard from live witnesses: Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards (who was injured battling rioters at the barricades) and documentary film-maker Nick Quested (who spent the day following Proud Boys leader Henry Tarrio).

The key points in the Committee’s narrative are:

  • Trump knew that he had lost the election, and that his claims of fraud were baseless. Trump campaign advisor Jason Miller testified that (as the votes were still being counted) the campaign’s data analyst told Trump that he would not win. Trump lawyer Alex Cannon investigated the election-fraud claims, and already in November had reported to Mark Meadows that “we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states”. To which Meadows replied: “So there’s no there there.” Attorney General Bill Barr said he told the President within weeks of the election that his charges of fraud were “bullshit”, and in particular that his claims about Dominion voting machines were “complete nonsense”. Ivanka was shown testifying that she believed Barr.
  • The attack on the Capitol was planned and organized. This wasn’t a protest that spontaneously spun out of control. In response to Trump’s tweet that 1-6 would “be wild”, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers made plans to storm the Capitol. Before Trump even began his speech, about 200 Proud Boys had left his rally to scout the Capitol’s defenses. After Trump sent the crowd in their direction, they spearheaded breaching the barriers and leading the mob into the Capitol. (A key question going forward: Were these Trumpist militias just intuiting what their leader wanted, or does some figure — Roger Stone, say — connect them more directly with the White House’s plans?)
  • The rioters engaged in a bloody battle against law enforcement. If the videos of the attack didn’t make this obvious enough, Officer Edwards’ testimony brought the point home: “I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. You know, I — I was catching people as they fell. I — you know, I was — it was carnage. It was chaos. I — I can’t — I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that, as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle. You know, I — I’m trained to detain, you know, a couple of subjects and — and handle — you know, handle a crowd, but I — I’m not combat trained. And that day, it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat, hours of dealing with things that were way beyond any — any law enforcement officer has ever trained for.” This contrasts with Trump’s characterization of the mob as “loving” and Rep. Andrew Clyde’s comparing the rioters to tourists.
  • The riot was part of a larger plan to reverse the voters’ decision and return Trump to office for a second term. Cheney quoted conservative Judge Michael Luttig: “If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.” Trump pressured the Justice Department to spread his lies about election fraud. (“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen,” Trump told DoJ officials.) He pressured state election officials to commit fraud. (Cheney: “You will hear additional details about President Trump’s call to Georgia officials urging them to ‘find’ 11,780 votes – votes that did not exist, and his efforts to get states to rescind certified electoral slates without factual basis and contrary to law. You will hear new details about the Trump campaign and other Trump associates’ efforts to instruct Republican officials in multiple states to create intentionally false electoral slates, and transmit those slates to Congress, to the Vice President, and the National Archives, falsely certifying that Trump won states he actually lost.”) He pressured Vice President Pence to refuse to count electoral votes certified by the states, based on a theory he had been told was illegal.
  • Trump cheered the violence and refused to take action to stop it. Cheney: “Not only did President Trump refuse to tell the mob to leave the Capitol, he placed no call to any element of the U.S. government to instruct that the Capitol be defended.” General Milley testified that orders to get soldiers to the Capitol came from Vice President Pence, not from Trump. When told that the rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, Trump said Pence “deserves” it. (The source of that quote — which Trump denies — has still not been revealed.)
  • At least a few Republican members of Congress were complicit. This was the evening’s most tantalizing and least-fleshed-out point. Cheney floated this: “Representative Scott Perry, who is also involved in trying to get Clark appointed as Attorney General, has refused to testify here. As you will see, Representative Perry contacted the White House in the weeks after January 6th to seek a Presidential pardon. Multiple other Republican Congressmen also sought Presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.”

Conservative counter-programming. Almost as interesting as the hearing itself was how Trump and his minions dealt with it.


Fox News went to great lengths to shield their audience from any of the information the committee presented. The network not only refused to air the hearings, but went without commercial breaks for two whole hours, so that none of their viewers would be tempted to check out one of the news channels that was actually covering the news. Comedian Stephen Colbert nailed this:

Do you understand what that means? Fox News is willing to lose money to keep their viewers from flipping over and accidentally learning information. … But I’m not surprised. That’s the first rule of any cult: Never leave the compound.

Robert Reich estimates the lost revenue at around $400K. Chris Hayes describes the next level of technical detail: How Fox made sure none of the videos of Trumpist violence would make it through to their viewers, even as a picture-in-picture with Tucker Carlson talking over it.

Truth Social, Trump’s Twitter-clone, reportedly has been banning users who try to discuss the Committee’s evidence, making a mockery of the free-speech rhetoric it was founded on. This also should not be surprising: Reciprocity is not a fascist value. Fundamentally, fascism is an us-and-them worldview, where the fascists themselves have God-given rights, but their enemies do not.

Trump himself lashed out, calling the hearings a “witch hunt” and the committee members “hacks”. He attacked Bill Barr as “weak”, and said that Ivanka had “checked out” of looking at election claims. (Unaddressed question: Why shouldn’t Trump’s other supporters check out too?) He repeated his long-debunked claims of “an Election that was Rigged and Stolen”, and praised the January 6th rioters as representing “the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again”.

Direct criticism. If the don’t-look-behind-the-curtain defense failed, the next line was to smear the proceedings as “propaganda” or a “show trial” or “kangaroo court”, without addressing any of the evidence presented.

The Lawfare blog will be doing next-day podcasts where people call in questions about the hearings. The final question in Friday’s podcast was whether this criticism has merit. Host Benjamin Wittes answered this himself, and made a few key points:

  • First, the committee is not a court at all, in that no ruling will be made and no punishment will be assessed. So accusing it of being a kangaroo court conducting a show trial is a category error.
  • Beyond that is the question of whether the hearings are presenting accurate information, and as far as we can tell at this point, it is.
  • Finally, and harder to judge, is whether the committee is ignoring or omitting information that would argue against the points the committee is making. Wittes is not aware of any such information.

It’s worth pointing out that if any of the quoted witnesses feel that their testimony has been misrepresented, nothing stops them from saying so. Ivanka still has her Twitter account, for example, but hasn’t posted since May 30. Bill Barr and Mark Milley would have no trouble getting attention if they had comments to make.

Finally, it should go without saying that if what you are presenting is true, you have no responsibility to “balance” it by presenting lies. So Trump’s complaint that the Committee “refuses to talk of the Election Fraud and Irregularities that took place on a massive scale” has no merit. The evidence says not only that Trump’s claims about the election are false, but that they are conscious lies. He has known from the beginning that they are false.

Political impact. About 20 million Americans watched the hearings live, not counting those who watched it later online. Millions more have seen highlights or have heard summaries presented by journalists, comedians, or their friends. A few key facts have probably penetrated MAGA’s darkest sanctums: Not even Ivanka believes Trump’s stolen-election bullshit.

It remains to be seen whether the hearings will fade or pick up momentum. Today’s hearing undoubtedly will get a smaller audience, simply because it’s in the morning rather than prime time. But we’ll see what kind of buzz it generates.

The most effective Republican talking point against the hearings is not that the Committee’s case isn’t true, but that 1-6 is ancient history, and that Americans are much more worried about immediate issues like inflation (which the GOP has presented no plan for stopping).

The right answer to the put-the-insurrection-behind-us talking point is: You first. As long as top Republicans are still promoting the Big Lie, running for office based on it, and trying to get people in position to mount a better coup next time, 1-6 isn’t behind us. As long as Trump is the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, and 99% of the GOP’s elected officials are afraid to criticize him, 1-6 isn’t behind us.

Democrats have offered Republicans many opportunities to put 1-6 behind them: They could have voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment, and made him ineligible for future political office. They could have supported a bipartisan commission to investigate 1-6 and rallied behind its conclusions. They could still denounce Trump’s insurrection, denounce the Big Lie, and denounce Trump for continuing to promote it.

In short: They could take their party back from the fascist demagogue who has dominated it these last six years.

But they won’t unless public opinion forces them. That’s why these hearings are necessary.


Rumblings. The path of least resistance going forward is for the GOP to do to Trump what they did to their last failed president, George W. Bush. Bush left office in 2009, and by the 2010 election Tea Party candidates were running away from him almost as hard as they were running against Obama. In the early days of the Iraq invasion they had seen Bush as the next face on Mount Rushmore, but by 2010 the Tea Party line was that he had never really been a conservative.

Current Republicans could do something similar to Trump: claim that they are “constitutional conservatives” as opposed to the guy who tried to overthrow the Constitution after he lost the election. If they do, then the midterm elections can be about inflation or critical race theory or immigration or transgender-kids-in-your-daughter’s-locker-room or Biden’s-gonna-take-your-guns or pretty much whatever they want. If they don’t, then Trump and the Democrats will conspire to make the midterms about Trump, which is one of the few ways Republicans can blow this election.

Some conservatives grasp this logic. Fox News may be lining up behind Trump, but the rest of the Murdoch media empire is not so sure. The Wall Street Journal recognizes the basic facts of the Committee’s case, and only defends Trump against criminal liability.

The President spread falsehoods about the election. He invited supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, tweeting on Dec. 19 that it ‘will be wild!’ He riled up the crowd and urged it to march on the Capitol. After violence began, he dawdled instead of sending help. Mr. Trump bears responsibility for the mayhem. But inspiring followers to march is not the same as leading a criminal conspiracy.

Murdoch’s New York Post takes a more purely partisan angle. It shrugs off the broader threat to democracy, but wants to jettison Trump’s 2020 claims so that Republicans can focus on more effective issues and less tainted candidates.

Trump has become a prisoner of his own ego. He can’t admit his tweeting and narcissism turned off millions. He won’t stop insisting that 2020 was “stolen” even though he’s offered no proof that it’s true. … Trump can’t look past 2020. Let him remain there. Look forward! The 2024 field is rich.

Elected Republicans could follow that lead. They could choose to jump off the Trump Titanic before it sinks. But will they?

A reluctant defense of Bill Cassidy

No, he didn’t say that Black women’s deaths don’t count.

Here’s a pattern I complain about a lot: Some prominent Democrat says something that the conservative media paraphrases in a hostile way, making the statement sound much more ridiculous or offensive than it really was. That paraphrase then gets treated as if it were the actual quote, and a game of telephone proceeds from there, with each paraphrase more offensive (and further from reality) than the previous one.

Deplorables. That’s what happened, for example, when Hillary Clinton used the phrase “basket of deplorables” to describe the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” forces that had united under the Trump banner in 2016. Conservative media quickly turned that into a declaration that Trump supporters were deplorable in and of themselves, without reference to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or Islamophobia.

The distortion started with the first news stories. The Washington Standard’s headline read: “Hillary Clinton: ‘Trump Supporters’ are a ‘Basket of Deplorables’

At a fundraiser on Friday, Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lashed out at her opponent GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters. She called those supporting Trump a “basket of deplorables.”

The article included a Trump spokesman’s response:

What’s truly deplorable isn’t just that Hillary Clinton made an inexcusable mistake in front of wealthy donors and reporters happened to be around to catch it, it’s that Clinton revealed just how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America.

By now it’s a universal belief among Trumpists: Hillary called them deplorable, for no reason at all. What’s more, Hillary was just saying the quiet part out loud; Democrats in general look down on “the hard-working men and women of America”.

Inventing the internet. Something similar happened in 1999 when Al Gore replied to a question from Wolf Blitzer about what separated him from his primary rival Bill Bradley:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

Before long, that quote morphed into Gore saying “I invented the internet.

Snopes summarized the context:

The vice president was not claiming that he “invented” the Internet in the sense of having thought up, designed, or implemented it, but rather asserting that he was one of the visionaries responsible for helping to bring it into being by fostering its development in an economic and legislative sense.

The claim that Gore was actually trying to take credit for the “invention” of the Internet was plainly just derisive political posturing that arose out of a close presidential campaign. If, for example, Dwight Eisenhower had said in the mid-1960s that he, while president, “took the initiative in creating the Interstate Highway System,” he would not have been the subject of dozens and dozens of editorials lampooning him for claiming he “invented” the concept of highways or implying that he personally went out and dug ditches across the country to help build the roadway. Everyone would have understood that Eisenhower meant he was a driving force behind the legislation that created the highway system, and this was the very same concept Al Gore was expressing about himself with interview remarks about the Internet.

But this also has become an article of faith on the Right: Gore made an absurd claim that undermines claims he has made on other issues, like climate change.

Democracy. Those are two of the most prominent examples, but lesser ones pop up on a regular basis. In the 2020 campaign, Fox played telephone with a Biden quote until eventually Lou Dobbs did this with it:

Joe Biden says the police are “the enemy.” Those are his words, “the enemy.”

But that was a paraphrase of a paraphrase, not “his words”. Conservatives have also spread doctored videos of Biden to either distort his views or make him look senile.

I hate stuff like that, not just because it treats public figures unfairly, but because it undermines democracy. The archetypal vision of democracy is of the public having a conversation that eventually arrives at some combination of compromise and consensus. Once such a conversation has established a public will, elected representatives can carry out that will.

But that whole vision comes apart if the public conversation centers on things that never happened, or devolves into flame wars started by insults that were never said.

That happens a lot these days, and for the most part I blame the Right. Some large part of their rhetoric is about “open borders”, when in fact we don’t have open borders and no Democrat is proposing that we should. Or about a mythical “stolen election”. Or public schools “grooming” children for pedophiles, or teaching White children to be ashamed of their race, when there is little reason to believe anyone is doing that.

Wouldn’t it be great if political campaigns could revolve around things that are real, rather than issues that have been invented to raise anger?

But if that’s what we want, we have to model it. In some arenas turnabout is fair play. But here, their abuse of democracy shouldn’t give us license to abuse it too. Personally, I’d like to save democracy, not win the ground where its corpse lies.

And that brings me to Bill Cassidy.

What did he say? Maybe you’ve seen the headlines: “Maternal death rate isn’t as bad if you don’t count Black women, GOP senator says” in Business Insider, “Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy: Our Maternal Death Rates Are Only Bad If You Count Black Women” in Vanity Fair, and many others. This weekend my social-media feed was full of comments from people who took those articles’ hostile paraphrases as quotes and reacted from there.

But did he actually say those things? You don’t have to take anybody’s word for it; the whole virtual interview is on YouTube. It’s just under half an hour, but the abortion/maternal-health portion is in the first nine-and-a-half minutes.

It’s important to set the stage: Senator Cassidy, a doctor himself, is being interviewed by Politico reporter Sarah Owermohle under the auspices of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. This is not a campaign rally or other political event. Both Cassidy and Owermohle appear to be in their homes, but the virtual site of the conversation is Harvard.

Owermohle begins by asking about the leaked Supreme Court opinion reversing Roe, and Cassidy minimizes its impact, as if the 15-week ban at the center of the Dobbs case is the end of the story: Abortion will still be available up to that point, women will still be able to go to liberal states to get abortions, and abortion drugs will be available through the mail.

So fundamentally, the first month or two, not much would change, except for the location of where the abortion would take place.

Now, Cassidy surely knows that far stricter bans are being passed in states like Oklahoma and Tennessee, and that they will undoubtedly stand if Justice Alito’s opinion prevails. So he’s being disingenuous, but I have to admit that this is well within the bounds of normal political spin.

Owermohle then asks if Cassidy would support a federal ban on abortion, and Cassidy dodges. He says something that would argue against it:

I’m a federalist, and I think that states should be allowed to make decisions by the tenets of democracy.

But he doesn’t actually say he wouldn’t vote for a federal ban. Similarly, he argues that a national abortion ban would never get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster, but says nothing about the pressure Republicans would be under to scrap the filibuster if they had a majority. So this response is slippery, but again, within the normal bounds of American politics.

Owermohle asks about next steps for the pro-life movement after Roe is overturned, probably looking for Cassidy to say something about birth control, but instead Cassidy shifts the discussion to maternal health.

I truly think we need to support the mom when the child is in utero, and to support the mom afterwards, to give her everything she needs so that she can feel comfortable bringing the baby to term [and either giving the child up for adoption or raising it herself], to support that continuum of life from within the womb to without the womb.

To her credit, Owermohle doesn’t take Cassidy’s expression of concern for pregnant women at face value, and asks a polite but challenging follow-up. She notes that Louisiana “ranks very high on maternal deaths” and asks what needs to be done to improve that.

This is the section that leads to the headlines.

[In] Louisiana, about a third of our population is African American. African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as would otherwise appear.

Remember, Cassidy is a doctor who thinks he’s talking to the Harvard School of Public Health, so he is assuming a sophisticated audience. In that context, he’s not arguing to ignore the deaths of Black women, he’s reframing the problem: The right question, he is claiming, isn’t why so many new mothers die in Louisiana, it’s why so many new African American mothers die nationwide. That interpretation is clear if you continue the quote:

I say that not to minimize the issue, but to focus the issue as to where it [sh]ould be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality.

Does he leave “whatever reason” as an unfathomable mystery, say “Sucks to be them”, and move on? No. He talks about remedies.

Now, there’s different things we can do about that. I have something called the Connected MOMS Act.

The target of this act is a pregnant woman dependent on public transit who lives 20 miles or more from her doctor. “So you’d like a better way to monitor her than asking her to come to the doctor’s office every two weeks.” The plan calls for remote blood-pressure monitoring and a few other innovations that could spot complications from a distance.

We also have the maternal health improvements grant, which again is to promote studies of this issue as well as to look at potential remedies, if you will, if there’s racial bias that is discovered in how health care is delivered.

So we’ve got a couple things that we’re floating out there trying to take care of this issue, because it is an issue for us in Louisiana as well as for folks nationwide.

I want to point out how far out on a limb he has gone, from the point of view of the far-right Republican base: Cassidy is allowing the possibility that studies could show racial bias in health care. I think it’s obvious that such bias exists and that honest studies will find it, but the Republican base voter doesn’t want to hear that. If such a possibility were raised in a school textbook, it would be “critical race theory”.

So is Cassidy saying: “Don’t bother to count Black women”? No, he’s not. I haven’t read the two pieces of legislation he’s talking about, so it’s possible they don’t do as much as he says. Or maybe the bills include other objectionable provisions that make their passage impossible or counterproductive. I can’t judge that. But at the very least he is paying lip service to the idea that Black lives do matter.

And that’s the exact opposite of what he’s being accused of.

White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory


Republicans used to unite around the interests of the rich. Now they unite around a conspiracy theory that has repeatedly inspired mass shootings.

This weekend, we learned all over again that ideas have consequences. When people believe terrible ideas, they do terrible things.

The idea this time is White Replacement Theory: A conspiracy of Jews and liberals is trying to “replace” Whites as the dominant race in America and Europe by bringing in as many non-white immigrants as possible, by encouraging Black people to breed quickly, by diluting the white race through interbreeding, and by depressing white birth rates. The ultimate goal is the extinction of the white race, an outcome also known as white genocide. [1]

If someone really believed such a theory, what might they do? We found out Saturday:

18-year-old Payton Gendron parked his car in front of the entrance to a Tops Supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Exiting the car wearing metal armor and holding an assault rifle, he shot and killed a female employee in front of the store, and a man packing groceries into the trunk of his car. After entering the store, he murdered the store’s guard, and by the end of his killing spree, he had shot 13 people, killing 10 of them.

Eleven of the people he shot were Black, and two were white. As the manifesto he left behind makes clear, this was fully intentional. The first listed goal in his manifesto was to “kill as many blacks as possible”.

Gendron lives in rural New York state, but (according to the manifesto he posted online) drove three hours to find a zip code with a large black population. So he wasn’t seeking revenge against particular Black people that he blamed for his real or imagined problems. He was striking a blow for the white race.

Surely now people will see … Sunday, Pete Buttigieg tweeted:

It should not be hard, especially today, for every elected official and media personality in America—left, right, and center—to unequivocally condemn white nationalism, “replacement theory,” and all that comes with it.

That might seem like a small thing to ask. After all, the Buffalo shooting feels like the kind of horrifying crime that should scare everybody straight. Sure, a news-channel entertainer like Tucker Carlson might pimp WRT to juice his ratings, a politician like Donald Trump might motivate his base by hyperbolically describing immigration as an “invasion“, and countless ignorant folks on social media might pass on these ideas to justify the racism they’ve carried all their lives. But Payton Gendron has shown us that this isn’t a game. When crazy ideas are thrown around loosely, crazy people latch onto them and do terrible things. Surely everyone will realize that now, and everything will change.

That feeling should last for at least another day or two. Enjoy it.

Because we’ve been here before, and nothing changed. We were here when Dylann Roof, 21, killed nine Black Christians during a Bible study class at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston (a city he also picked because of the large number of Black people living there). And when Patrick Crusius, also 21, drove from his Dallas suburb to a WalMart in El Paso, where he tried to shoot as many Mexicans as possible; he ended up murdering 23 people of various races and nationalities and injuring 23 more. John Earnest,19, hoped to kill as many Jews as possible in Poway, California, but he wasn’t very good at it; he only murdered one and wounded three others before his gun jammed. Robert Bowers, in his 40s, also went after Jews, killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Those were all White Replacement Theory massacres. We know because the killers were only too happy to explain their actions. Posting a manifesto has become a standard part of a WRT massacre.

There have been WRT massacres in other countries as well. In New Zealand Brenton Tarrant attacked two mosques, killing 51 people. In Norway Anders Breivik’s murder spree was at the youth camp of Norway’s Labor Party; he killed 77 people in all, most of them White teens who were growing up liberal.


If conservative promoters of WRT were going to be scared straight, it would have happened by now. It might have happened after Charlottesville, when only Heather Heyer died, but the nation saw the spectacle of violent white supremacists marching down the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.

Remember? Then-president Trump responded by telling us that there were very fine people on both sides.

Nudges and dog whistles. Elected Republicans and Fox News hosts never explicitly tell anyone to go kill Blacks or Hispanics or Jews. But they do regularly say things that, if taken seriously, would logically result in race massacres. Why, for example, did Patrick Crusius take military weaponry to the biggest city on the US/Mexican border? Because he believed his country was being “invaded” by Mexicans, just as President Trump was saying.

When an army of foreigners invades your country, what can a heroic young man do other than go to the border and kill them? That’s what Ukrainians are doing now, and we all praise them for it.

The nudges these young men get from high-profile Republicans rarely mention race explicitly, but the meaning is not hard to decode.

In just the past year, Republican luminaries like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman, and Elise Stefanik, the center-right New York congresswoman turned Trump acolyte (and third-ranking House Republican), have echoed replacement theory. Appearing on Fox, Mr. Gingrich declared that leftists were attempting to “drown” out “classic Americans.”

Would it surprise you to discover that some interpret “classic Americans” as “White people”?

Similarly, Tucker Carlson seldom talks about white and black in antagonistic terms. Instead, he looks into the camera and says “you” and “them”, leaving those terms open for his almost-entirely-white audience to interpret as they see fit. [2] But occasionally he almost comes right out with it.

He was more explicit in a video posted on Fox News’s YouTube account in September. Carlson said President Biden was encouraging immigration “to change the racial mix of the country, … to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”

His Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham

told viewers in 2018 that Democrats “want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.” During a monologue on her program last year, she called immigration an “insurrection [that] seeks to overthrow everything we love about America by defaming it, silencing it, and even prosecuting it.

In her ads, Rep. Stefanik repeats the “insurrection” theme.

Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.

She is no doubt aware that false conspiracy theories on the internet claim millions of illegal immigrants are already voting. By describing a path to citizenship (which doesn’t yet exist and would take years to walk) as an “INSURRECTION”, she justifies violence, like the violent attempt to keep President Trump in power after the voters rejected him in 2020.

Again, what would a heroic young White man logically do if he bought what Stefanik is selling? Someone is plotting an “insurrection” to “overthrow” his people. Is registering to vote or sending in $20 really an adequate response to that challenge?

The underground root system. Coincidentally, I was already planning to write something about WRT before Saturday, because this week it had shown up in an odd place: the Senate debate over codifying abortion rights through legislation. Republican Senator Steve Daines from Montana made a somewhat curious argument against that bill:

Why do we have laws in place that protect the eggs of a sea turtle or the eggs of eagles? Because when you destroy an egg, you’re killing a pre-born baby sea turtle or a pre-born baby eagle. Yet when it comes to a pre-born human baby rather than a sea turtle, that baby will be stripped of all protections in all 50 states under the Democrats’ bill we will be voting on tomorrow.

Most of the commenters on my social media feeds were mystified: What do sea turtles and eagles have to do with anything? Daines seemed to be talking in wild non sequiturs — unless you could fill in his unstated connection.

White replacement is the Rosetta Stone here: If laws protect sea turtle eggs and eagle eggs (I haven’t checked whether Daines was making that up), it’s because those species are endangered. You know what else is endangered? The white race, because White women are failing to reproduce at replacement rate. That is, in fact, why American women’s rights need to be taken away: because they’re not doing their primary job. They’re aborting their fetuses rather than producing the healthy White babies the race needs to avoid extinction.

Abortion isn’t the only issue with a hidden connection to WRT, as Gendron spelled out in his manifesto.

Gendron also argues that Jews are behind the movement for transgender inclusivity, supposedly sponsoring transgender summer camps for “Scandinavian style whites”.

Likewise, accepting same-sex relationships lowers the birth rate of Gingrich’s “classic Americans”. And then there’s the demoralizing effect of critical race theory.

The section ends by blaming Jews for creating “infighting” between people and races. The example Gendron’s manifesto provides is that “Jews are spreading ideas such as Critical Race Theory and white shame/guilt to brainwash Whites into hating themselves and their people”.

From the outside, the issues that motivate the MAGA wing of the GOP seem like an incoherent mess. But white replacement is an underground root system that connects them all.

What’s more, WRT explains the intensity of the MAGA movement, which otherwise is also a mystery. How can a bland figure like Joe Biden incite the kind of hatred and panic we’ve seen? Why would the prospect of a Biden administration be so scary that people styling themselves as “patriots” would invade the Capitol and threaten to hang the vice president rather than permit an orderly transfer of power?

And no matter how many revelations come out about the crimes of the Trump administration and the threat to democracy it posed, why are only a handful of Republicans ready to make a clean break with him?

Because the perceived alternative is racial extinction. Otherwise it makes no sense.

Historically, American political parties have gone into the wilderness for a period of time after a disastrous administration. That’s where the GOP should be post-Trump, but it is being held together by white anxiety about the demographic trends. WRT channels that anxiety into positions on issues and energy for campaigns. And that’s why Republicans can’t walk away from it, even though it regularly and predictably leads to race massacres.

[1] I refuse to go down the rabbit hole of arguing that this is false. I’ll leave that to Farhad Manjoo and Chris Hayes. I will point out one thing: No matter how lily-white you may appear to be today, chances are your people met exactly the same kind of suspicion and hostility when they came to America. My people, the Germans, started arriving in large numbers in the 1700s, and Ben Franklin worried that we were so different we would never assimilate into the Pennsylvania colony. Hence the origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e., “Deutsch”).

[2] More than a year ago, Charles Blow pointed out something Carlson skips over:

[R]evealingly, he is admitting that Republicans do not and will not appeal to new citizens who are immigrants.

There’s no racial essence that predestines groups of people to vote a certain way. Black voters, for example, were loyal Republicans until FDR started to win them over in the 1930s. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower still got nearly 40% of the Black vote, compared to the 8% Trump got in 2016.

If Republicans would abandon race-baiting and try to win over immigrants of all races and ethnicities, they might succeed. Demography is not destiny.

MAGA 2.0


What if Trump isn’t the worst of our problems?

To many Americans, what’s been going on in Florida lately must seem so bizarre as to be almost comic. It’s gotten increasingly difficult to tell real headlines from stories in The Onion.

The witchhunt against critical race theory has gotten so out of hand that math textbooks are being banned. Public-school teachers who tell their students about the mere existence of same-sex marriages or people who transition from one gender to another (facts that may be necessary to understand other students in the classroom or their families) are not just breaking the law, they are said to be grooming the students for abuse by pedophiles. And if you object to that law, you too are probably grooming kids for pedophiles.

When the Disney Corporation came out (too late) against the law, the DeSantis administration punished it by getting the legislature to reverse the company’s completely unrelated tax advantage — a move which might be illegal, but otherwise will put two Florida counties on the hook for a billion dollars of debt.

When was the last time a Republican governor declared war on a corporation that employs 75,000 of his constituents?

If you think DeSantis’ actions don’t fit any American model of political behavior, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely unprecedented. As Zack Beauchamp observed in Vox, the model is Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” in Hungary. And it may be the next step in the evolution of Trumpism.

The difference between Orbánism and traditional conservatism. The central message of traditional American conservatism is that government needs to get out of the way so that the private sector can create prosperity. So: low taxes, limited regulation, limited government services for the people. What working people miss in public goods (like parks, public education, healthcare, and economic security) supposedly will be more than balanced by all the good-paying jobs that will trickle down from unfettered capitalism.

That rhetoric was never fully embodied in conservative policy, which was fine with government intervention that subsidized oil exploration, the defense industry, and other big-corporate interests. But in spite of occasional inconsistencies, it was a reliable first guess at how conservatives would view an issue.

Traditional conservatives nodded in the direction of the culture war, but their hearts were never in it. Instead, they made cynical use of social/cultural issues to win elections, so that they could assemble enough power to push their small-government economic agenda, as Thomas Frank described in What’s the Matter With Kansas? in 2004.

The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.

Orbánism, by contrast, uses social/cultural issues as a way to increase government power and entrench the Orbán regime’s hold on that power. Beauchamp explains:

Orbán’s political model has frequently employed a demagogic two-step: Stand up a feared or marginalized group as an enemy then use the supposed need to combat this group’s influence to justify punitive policies that also happen to expand his regime’s power. Targets have included Muslim immigrants, Jewish financier George Soros, and most recently LGBTQ Hungarians.

Whoever the current scapegoat is, the ultimate enemy is always the same: the “cultural elite”.

Broadly speaking, both Orbán and DeSantis characterize themselves as standing for ordinary citizens against a corrupt and immoral left-wing cosmopolitan elite. These factions are so powerful, in their telling, that aggressive steps must be taken to defeat their influence and defend traditional values. University professors, the LGBTQ community, “woke” corporations, undocumented immigrants, opposition political parties — these are not merely rivals or constituents in a democratic political system, but threats to a traditional way of life.

In such an existential struggle, the old norms of tolerance and limited government need to be adjusted, tailored to a world where the left controls the commanding heights of culture. Since the left can’t be beaten in that realm, government must be seized and wielded in service of a right-wing cultural agenda.

The difference between Orbánism and Trumpism. At its root, Trumpism has always been a personality cult. If that wasn’t already obvious in 2016, it certainly had became so by 2020, when the Republican Convention refused to update its platform, replacing it instead with a resolution whose only substantive point was

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda

In other words: The Republican Party stands for whatever President Trump chooses to announce. The party’s position on healthcare, education, foreign policy, immigration, and everything else is whatever Trump says it is.

Since Trump lost the 2020 election and tried (unsuccessfully) to stay in power anyway, Trumpworld has gotten even more culty: Where you stand in MAGA-land depends not on your support or opposition to any political philosophy or policy proposal, but what you say about Trump. Liz Cheney has been tossed out of the Wyoming Republican Party because she denies that Biden stole the election and holds Trump responsible for the 1-6 coup attempt. Marjorie Taylor Greene is at the center of the movement, because she has never breathed a word against the Orange One. If Brad Raffensperger had “found” the 11,780 votes Trump needed to win Georgia, he’d have Mar-a-Lago’s full support. But he didn’t, so Trump is campaigning against him.

Trump has become associated with both social conservatism and traditional conservatism, but the relationship is almost entirely opportunistic: Trump says things to his crowds, and if they respond he uses the line again. In the course of the 2016 campaign, these applause lines evolved into slogans, like “Build a Wall”. After he took office, underlings were tasked with turning those slogans into policies. The policies often seemed half-baked because they were: Candidate Trump never had any idea how he would implement his applause lines.

But in hindsight we often overlook all the times when candidate Trump floated liberal ideas, like when he told 60 Minutes that his healthcare plan would cover everybody and “the government’s gonna pay for it”. Or when he said his tax plan would raise taxes on the rich. If his stadium crowds had responded to those proposals the way they responded to building a wall or banning Muslims, he would happily have stolen Bernie’s agenda, and underlings would have been tasked with turning those slogans into programs.

The point was never policy. It was big, beautiful crowds cheering for Trump.

He got elected as a Republican, so he staffed his administration with Republicans and leaned on Republicans in Congress to create legislative victories for him. That was as far as his governing vision went. Paul Ryan already had a tax plan — one that handed trillions of dollars to corporations and the very rich — so that got passed. No two Republicans in Congress had the same vision of how to replace ObamaCare, so nothing happened.

Trump ended up appealing to the same kind of voters Orbán targeted — the racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamaphobes Hillary Clinton labeled a “basket of deplorables” — so Trumpism started converging towards Orbánism. But it never completely got there, because ultimately Trumpism could only be about Trump. Beauchamp explains:

During his presidency, many observers on both sides of the aisle compared Trump to the Hungarian autocrat — and not without some justification. But after a 2018 visit to Hungary, I concluded that Trump was not competent or disciplined enough to implement Orbán-style authoritarianism in America on his own. The real worry, I argued, was a GOP that took on features of Orbán’s Fidesz party.

In the end, Trump is Trumpism’s biggest weakness: It’s the personality cult of a man with an unappealing personality. No wonder over 80 million Americans turned out to vote against him in 2020.

The law as a weapon. One point of convergence between Trump and Orbán is the use of boogeymen: Trump’s invading migrant caravans, for example. But it’s never been in Trump’s character to go full apocalyptic: There are villains in the world, but none of them are a match for Trump. His worldview is ultimately too episodic to support a death-struggle against the Apocalypse. Every day is a new story in which he defeats his enemies. He wins today, he won yesterday, he’ll win tomorrow. Anybody who tells you he’s not winning is peddling fake news.

Orbánism is much darker. Satanic forces threaten our entire way of life, and only a government much stronger than the current one can stand against it. Norms of civility and fair play can’t be allowed to stop us from defending society from the existential threat.

What’s hardest to grasp from a traditional American point of view is that the law, whatever it says, is just a weapon to use in the apocalyptic struggle. It does not embody ideals or principles of any kind. It’s nothing more than a stick you can use to club your enemies.

Trump sometimes used laws this way, but denied he was doing it — illustrating the adage that hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Title 42 is a good example: A 1944 public health law allows the government to keep asylum-seeking immigrants from entering the country during a public-health emergency.

We know, of course, what Trump thought about the Covid pandemic: He repeatedly and consistently played down the idea that it was an emergency requiring drastic action, and encouraged his followers to behave as if nothing unusual were happening. When state governors took emergency anti-Covid actions, Trump tweeted things like “Liberate Michigan” while armed protesters surrounded the state capitol and conspirators plotted to kidnap Governor Whitmer.

But he wanted to shut down immigration, and Title 42 was a law that allowed him to do it. So for that purpose, and that purpose only, the Covid pandemic was an emergency.

In the Orbán model, by contrast, there is no need for hypocrisy or denial. Society is in a death struggle, so you pick up whatever weapon happens to be lying around and use it without apology.

That’s what DeSantis is doing against Disney. There is no cover story that lays out a connection between the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the Don’t Say Gay law. Nor does DeSantis claim that his sudden interest in Disney’s tax status is coincidental. Disney has sided with the pedophiles threatening to destroy American society, so it must be punished. (And other corporations must be warned what can happen if they step out of line.)

It’s not about ideology or the spirit of the laws; it’s about clubbing your enemies.

It’s worth pointing out that a government powerful enough to keep corporations in line by threatening reprisals is precisely the nightmare scenario of traditional conservatives. It is almost certainly illegal to use state power this way. But will courts packed with conservative judges say so? And if they do now, what if a President DeSantis gets to appoint even more judges?

That’s how events played out in Hungary. Here’s Beauchamp again:

This use of regulatory power to punish political opponents is right out of Orbán’s playbook. In 2015, Lajos Simicska — an extremely wealthy Hungarian businessman and longtime Orbán ally — turned on his patron, using a vulgar term to describe the prime minister.

In retaliation, the government cut its advertising in Simicska’s media outlets and shifted contracts away from his construction companies. After Fidesz’s 2018 election, Simicska sold his corporate holdings (mostly to pro-government figures). He moved to an isolated village in western Hungary; his last remaining business interest was an agricultural firm owned by his wife.

Technically, that was all probably illegal under Hungarian law too. But by then, the judiciary was under control.

The broader movement. DeSantis’ move to Orbánism did not come from nowhere. The Hungarian model has been widely praised and publicized in conservative circles for some time now. Tucker Carlson has broadcast his show from Hungary. Later this month, CPAC will hold a meeting in Budapest, with Viktor Orbán as its featured speaker.

This week, the New York Times has been running a series on Tucker Carlson and his message. Part 3 focuses on just how dark and apocalyptic that message has become.

Night after night, the host of the most-watched show in prime-time cable news uses a simple narrative to instill fear in his viewers: “They” want to control and then destroy “you”.

A key part of the Carlson worldview is “replacement theory”, that Democrats want to import a new electorate that can be counted on to outvote the previous White majority. He also uses the “grooming” smear to legitimize violence:

I don’t understand where then men are. Like, where are the dads? Some teacher’s pushing sex values on your third grader. Why don’t you go in there and thrash the teacher? This is an agent of the government pushing someone else’s values on your kid about sex. Where’s the pushback?

Moving on? Already, we are seeing stories about how the Republican Party is “moving on” from Trump. That buzz might gain momentum if Trump-endorsed candidates underperform in the upcoming GOP primaries, or if the January 6 Committee’s public hearings in June capture public attention. As the 2024 presidential cycle begins, Democrats, moderates, and traditional conservatives alike may be tempted to sigh with relief if some alternative to Trump emerges.

But we need to be careful not to relax too quickly. Most likely, the Trump alternative will not be some Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney-like traditional conservative, or represent a Lisa Murkowski or John Kasich-ish move back towards the political center. The alternative could be DeSantis himself, or some other MAGA 2.0 figure. We’ll need to pay attention to the darkness of the rhetoric and the commitment to the rule of law. If people believe what this candidate is saying about the threats to our way of life, what will they be willing to do to win? Or do to their enemies after they win?

Merrick Garland Starts Getting Serious


The misdemeanor part of his January 6 investigation seems to be over.
But will he get all the way to the top?

In a speech on January 5, Merrick Garland described his strategy for investigating the insurrection. Lawfare summarized it:

Seemingly in response to criticism that mostly smaller fry defendants have been charged to date while those behind the planning of the insurrection have not, Garland described the department’s approach as consistent with “well-worn prosecutorial practices.” Large investigations, he explained, start with the more junior people and the more easily proved cases. The public at first sees short sentences (or no jail time at all) handed out, and an absence of the more notorious figures being charged. Garland strongly implied that more significant actions are coming down the pike. Junior people flip on more senior people. And perpetrators who were not directly involved in violence but played planning or other behind-the-scenes roles must be reached with more time-consuming and complex investigations.

This week, we began to see what he was talking about.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and 10 others with seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6 attacks on the US Capitol. That charge — the most serious yet to come out of the investigation — is one of several in the indictment unsealed Thursday, which alleges Rhodes and his co-defendants brought small arms to the Washington, DC, area; engaged in combat training to prepare for the attacks; and made plans to stage quick-reaction forces to support insurrectionists.

… The new indictments are a significant step up from previous charges in the case, which range in seriousness from disorderly conduct to obstructing an official proceeding before Congress, and have so far resulted in sentences up to 41 months in prison. In comparison, seditious conspiracy carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

The new indictment lays out a plan that goes far beyond the mob.

While certain Oath Keepers members and affiliates inside of Washington, D.C., breached the Capitol grounds and building, others remained stationed just outside the city in [quick-reaction force] teams. The QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transport arms into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.

So the plan was to overwhelm the Capitol with numbers, then bring in the guns to hold it.

The obvious question is whether the people plotting Trump’s January 6 strategy (the so-called “Green Bay sweep“) knew about this or were complicit in its planning. GB Sweep plotter Peter Navarro claims not, but his plan seems to have had a big hole in it, which an armed militia occupying the Capitol might have filled: A Capitol occupation might have pushed the election certification past Inauguration Day, opening up a huge can of worms could justify authoritarian action.

And Roger Stone is connected to both groups. Maybe that’s why he pleaded the Fifth rather than tell the January 6 committee what he knows.


All of which leads to this week’s second development: Electoral College fraud.

When I first ran across the Eastman memo, the game plan for Trump’s attempt to steal the election he lost by seven million votes, this part made me scratch my head:

When [Vice President Pence] gets to Arizona [in the state-by-state electoral vote count], he announces that he has multiple slates of electors, and so is going to defer decision on that until finishing the other States. … At the end, 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.

Multiple slates of electors? Where did that come from? There have been rare cases in American history where rival slates of electors were named by rival sources of certifying authority. In 1876, for example, Florida’s Republican-dominated Board of Canvassers declared Rutherford B. Hayes the winner and certified his electors. And then the newly elected Democratic governor appointed a new Board of Canvassers that certified Tilden’s electors. So both sets submitted their credentials to Congress.

But the Electoral Count Act of 1887 was supposed to straighten all that out. Each state prepares a certificate of ascertainment signed by the governor (an example is to the right), listing the state’s electors. I could imagine a state legislature deciding that the ECA was unconstitutional and submitting a rival slate, or a state’s supreme court declaring that the governor’s signature was illegal in some way, but I hadn’t heard of anything like that happening. So: what “multiple slates of electors”?

Now we know. In seven states that Trump lost, his defeated candidates for the Electoral College signed fraudulent documents declaring themselves to be “duly elected and qualified Electors”. The fake certificates are all similar, suggesting that somebody — Mark Meadows? — distributed a template. And they didn’t do this just for personal satisfaction. They sent the fake certificates to the National Archives and to Congress as if they were real.

Given how much trouble ordinary Americans would be in if we, say, printed our own drivers licenses, I have to wonder if this forgery is illegal. George Conway, Kellyanne’s lawyer husband, tweeted:

Anyone who prepared or submitted, or aided, abetted or conspired in the preparation or submission of, false electoral-vote certificates, would presumably be guilty of a host of federal and state criminal offenses. False electoral certificates ought to be easy pickings for prosecutors.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel agrees:

Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense, and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense.

Since this is a multi-state election fraud case, she thinks the federal Department of Justice should take the lead, and has referred the matter to them. (To their credit, Fox News reported this story. It’s enlightening to read the comments as Fox viewers try hard not to understand what Fox has just explained to them. I’m reminded of what Oliver Wendell Holmes said about a closed mind: It’s “like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.”)

So that ball is in Merrick Garland’s court too. He hasn’t said what he intends to do with it.

The fake electors themselves clearly know they’re in trouble. (They should ask Michael Cohen what happens to people who go along with Trump’s schemes.) Arizona State Representative Jake Hoffman was asked by a local reporter what authority he was acting under, and (after Hoffman dodged that question) how he knew to show up for the fake ceremony where Trump’s fraudulent electors cast their ballots. Hoffman said the reporter should ask the state party chair. The follow-up questions “Do you not know how you arrived at the place? Do you really not know how you got a call?” led Hoffman to walk away.

So this where we are: We finally know that Garland intends to move beyond the pawns in Trump’s mob. Now he’s at the knight-and-bishop level. But will he get all the way to the King? Does he plan to? So far there’s no sign of that.