Back in 2018, Trump had one of his most dramatic bromance breakups yet.
If you recall, it was back when excerpts of Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury” were trickling out. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted in the book calling the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donnie Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer “treasonous.” Trump dumped him immediately and in brutal fashion.
I strongly recommend you read Josh Kovesnky’s account of why the US government’s vaunted intelligence capabilities were caught utterly flatfooted by the events of January 6th despite that fact that one needed no greater intelligence asset than a Twitter account or at most one on Parler to know what could be coming.
A key cause of the failure is that no one wanted to raise an alarm about a security threat from the President’s own supporters. Indeed, no one really wanted to be caught investigating it.
This is both a shocking abdication of responsibility and entirely unsurprising given what’s happened to basically anyone in the federal security bureaucracy who’s gotten crosswise with the President. But we can’t understand this development without understanding or simply remembering that this is our fourth or fifth round of this cycle: the institutional Republican party rushing forward to claim that any effort to combat far right terrorism or organized political violence amounts to a crackdown on conservatives or bias against the GOP.
Trump was formally impeached for the second time yesterday afternoon.
But the process began in real time while the Capitol was being mobbed by his supporters last week.
I find it noteworthy that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has – from a purely cynical point of view – navigated the politics of the last few weeks with more deftness than either Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley.
After the Raffensperger call was released but before the Georgia defeats and the Capitol insurrection Cotton announced that he would not be part of challenging the electoral college results. Now he is, unsurprisingly, saying he won’t convict Trump in a new impeachment trial. But note that he isn’t defending Trump on the merits. He is saying that it is constitutionally inappropriate to hold an impeachment trial of a President after he leaves office. There’s some plausible logic to that. But it’s mainly just a canny dodge. He’s not defending Trump in any bright line way (no figure prints on the horrors of the last weeks) but also avoiding any vote or position that would make him toxic to Trump-supporting Republicans.
TPM Reader DW is watching the impeachment debate: “While we’re treated to this feast of false equivalency from Republicans, it’s worth remembering that the only officers killed during BLM protests last summer were shot by a right-wing extremist engaging in a false flag attack.”
As you can see, the tempo of events is moving rapidly now. Donald Trump not finishing his term of office now seems like a real possibility, as astonishing as that may seem. A number of developments are coming together, like converging waves that build on each other.
There are two things I think we should be thinking about as developments which led to this quickening.
TPM Reader SC: “This is a Republican Benghazi, except that not only does the Republican Party get to be the cavalry that didn’t show up they get to be the terrorists, too. Very efficient.”
President Trump used his first public appearance in front of reporters since a mob of his supporters breached the Capitol last week, resulting in the deaths of five people, to test out whether his old defenses still carried any water.
There is a simple chain of events that even news outlets doing the best work are still tiptoeing around. After President Trump gave his speech to the insurrectionists on Wednesday he returned to the White House and excitedly watched the storming of the Capitol on TV. As members of Congress were besieged and then retreated to a secure undisclosed location, Trump received numerous pleas from members of Congress to send reinforcements or call on his supporters to disperse. He refused because he liked what he was seeing.
In his first truly public comments since the events of last Wednesday (setting aside pre-taped video clips released by the White House), President Trump railed against impeachment and threatened more violence from his supporters if he is indeed impeached (for inciting violence).
Trump threatens more violence if he's impeached. Impeachment "causing tremendous anger, tremendous danger." pic.twitter.com/Jk6gskCJ4v
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) January 12, 2021
One of the most chilling, disgraceful episodes of the events of last Wednesday came in the ‘undisclosed, secure location’ members of Congress were taken to after they were evacuated from the House and Senate Chambers. This is by definition, a relatively small space crowded with large numbers of people. It’s designed for terror attacks, not COVID mitigation. While there, numerous Republican members still refused to don masks. Indeed, especially seniors from the Democratic caucus, repeatedly begged them to put on masks. They refused and in cases even mocked the requests. Now two members, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D), 55, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D), 75 and a cancer survivor, have both tested positive for COVID. They received positive test results on Monday, five days after the insurrection, which is the average time to become symptomatic for COVID.
Here’s video. The blonde women in this scene is Rep. Marjorie Greene, the new Qanon-supporting member from Georgia.
We can’t know for certain that these members were infected during the siege. But it seems highly, highly likely. It’s also quite likely we’ll see more infections in the coming days.
Thanks to Tom Brokaw, we’ve been more than a little oversaturated in the veneration of the World War II generation. But the dwindling surviving members of that cohort have endured one helluva roller coaster from fighting fascism abroad to what happened on Wednesday.
TPM Reader WK checks in:
First, thanks, as ever, for yr excellent coverage and insight.
Also wanted to comment briefly on the current state of things.
My husband and I have just returned from one of our frequent visits with his 93 yo mother and her 95 yo sister who live in a retirement community in our Pennsylvania town.
It is the last full week of the Trump presidency and if last week was any indication of how long this week will feel, we should be prepared for another interminable one.
A month ago I made a point that I and others have been making in various ways and in various contexts for years, but with renewed urgency. After Trump Democrats must exercise great discipline not to operate within or engage with the bad faith arguments of Republicans who remain unwilling to come to grips with or take accountability for what they’ve done to the country. Today we see, predictably, the same pattern: it has taken Republicans only three or four days to resolve that they are the primary victims of the events of the last week. We’ve skipped ahead from the “stolen election” lie to claims Republicans are the new Jews being trained off to concentration camps because their months-old pet social network Parler became too radioactive for the hosting service it ran on.
One thought I keep returning to: if there were a functioning federal government we’d be seeing regular press conferences updating the public on on-going arrests, health status of the injured, progress of the investigation. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a single one. Nothing from DOJ, FBI, Capitol Police, the Pentagon. Normally you might expect such information to be channeled through press conferences at the White House. But, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s not clear or perhaps too clear which side the White House is on.
The US is in the midst of the gravest crisis of executive authority in its almost 250 year history. We may later learn that some of these reports are incomplete or even erroneous. But based on reliable reporting, the Vice President is considering or at least “not ruling out” removing the President from office, pursuant to the 25th Amendment. The Speaker of the House has conferred with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about protecting the country’s nuclear arsenal from the President. (Just as importantly she announced this publicly, with the tacit silence of the country’s top general.) The House is moving rapidly toward impeaching the President and while it still seems unlikely it is now by no means impossible that the Senate will vote to remove him from office. Over just the first days of January President Trump has committed a number of acts which are reasonably viewed as statutory felonies – solicitation of election fraud, obstruction of justice, incitement to riot, et al.
“Of all things, don’t throw me in the briar patch,” Brer Rabbit implores Brer Wolf, but Brer Wolf, wanting to do away with his nemesis, tosses him in the briar patch, from which Brer Rabbit, who was born and bred in the briar patch, emerges, laughing at the fox. The fox is Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats; Trump is the rabbit; and the briar patch is impeachment. Read More
TPM Reader SS responds to my puzzling over the festooned, over-the-top, costumed insurrection:
Thanks for all your commentary and coverage on TPM, I’m a longtime reader (etc etc) — you guys do just vital, crucial work.
On your question today: “One of the elements of the Trump era I struggle with the most is how to explain to future generations that the threat to democracy arrived in a such a tawdry, low brow, gaudy and comical way. You can’t separate the genuine threat to democracy from the reality TV theatrics. The Capitol Police officer taking a fire extinguisher to the head and the horned fur cap are part of the same surreal tableau.”
This is all the aesthetics of dogwhistle politics. I’ve written about this in academic circles, but basically (as Josh has noted many times), dogwhistling relies on deniability “we’re not really racist, we’re not really fascist, we’re just reasonable people making reasonable political claims in time-honored ways.” There has to be some mechanism of concealment, or there’s no deniability.
Events are moving so rapidly that commentary becomes dated almost immediately. So I want to step back a bit to see the events of the last week from a more distant perspective, particularly the interrelationship between three critical events. It is how I think history will likely eventually see them.
President Trump’s coup plot reached a high water mark at the end of last week when Republicans in Congress rushed to join efforts to contest the lawful electoral college vote which made Joe Biden the next President of the United States. It was at this point when first Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and then Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) rushed forward to become the leaders of the coup on Capitol Hill as a way to burnish their Trumpite presidential resumes.
TPM Reader AM on the WSJ op-ed:
Longtime subscriber, religious listener to your podcast. I’m writing because I just can’t get over that WSJ op-ed. You acknowledged that it was influential and has a pernicious role in the society, but I can’t get over the latter adjective describing it. I don’t think enough time was spent on it.
If Donald Trump had posted his latest video yesterday it would have bought him a lot of credit, unfortunately. The fact that he released it this evening is a measure of just how tenuous his position has become. Two events from just the last couple hours demonstrate why. We now learn that a Capitol Police officer was beaten to death by his insurrectionist supporters. And now The Wall Street Journal editorial page, even in advance of that news, has called for him to resign or be impeached.
We’re seeing a growing number of reports which suggest that top members of the President’s administration are simply avoiding the President or ignoring him. It’s possible the President is in such a mental state that he’s not giving anyone any orders or that he’s already given ones that have been refused. (Again, trying to piece together the pieces of evidence about mobilizing the National Guard yesterday.) The President only has to watch television right now to know that there’s a growing likelihood he’ll face criminal charges for the events of the last 48 hours, let alone things which may have happened over the last four years. That certainly terrifies this President. Yet he has 13 more days with the vast powers of the President to act out on what he is likely experiencing as an existential threat and a consuming rage against those who believes have betrayed him. This is to put it mildly a highly dangerous and unstable situation.
TPM Reader JB, a former Hill staffer, is 100% right. A serious threat to the Capitol would never have been left to the Capitol Police. The failure is almost certainly rooted in the fact that federal law enforcement and the military were reluctant to plan for a threat from the President’s own supporters.
To your correspondent BK’s comments today I have to add the point that a serious threat to the Capitol — which yesterday’s riot certainly was — would never have been left to the Capitol Police alone had it been foreseen.
We often forget that we don’t only arrest and prosecute people to exact individual punishment or to protect public safety. Arrest and prosecution is also how society communicates to itself the parameters of acceptable behavior. Yesterday was many things. But a critical part of it was the result of years and decades of treating violent right-wing extremism as a sort of wingnut performance art, crazy but essentially harmless and to be indulged. Think of the original Bundy clan standoff and the later Malheur standoff. An insurrectionist told a Capitol Police officer yesterday “You didn’t take it back, we gave it back,” as he walked out of the Capitol.
You saw them. They were strutting and proud. They gave their names to reporters. They posed for pictures.
Yielding the floor to TPM Reader BK:
I am a longtime reader and Prime Member and I consider your work to be invaluable. To put it in fast food industry terms I am a heavy user, checking your site literally dozens of times a day and night.
Like many Americans, I watched the events in Washington DC unfolding just a couple of miles from my home where we were under curfew.
However, unlike the breathless TV pundits, my reaction wasn’t one of “shock,” or “disbelief.” No, my reaction: I was enraged at what I watched. But none of this was shocking or unreal: it was entirely and utterly predictable.
I’ll write more on that at another time, but this morning I want to address one particular aspect of this story that very few want to talk about: race and white privilege.
And frankly, as much as I adore TPM, in my opinion, this is one area where you have a blind spot, or a lack on interest. I am not sure why, but it is one area where TPM is just like every other new organization/talking head on TV. There is simply no way to cover Trump, his mob, and what happened yesterday without talking about the racism flowing through our society and the racism that has been mainstreamed into our media.