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.
We’ll be picking apart the events of yesterday for the rest of our lives for meaning and understanding, but it’s imperative that we find out here and now what happened exactly and why. I know it seems simple: a mob breached the Capitol for a few hours. But the ticktock on the whole event is critical to understanding it, piecing together the colossal security failures, and sharpening the way we talk about these dreadful events.
One more point about the President and the decision to call in the National Guard. I’ve mentioned several times below that the chain of command simply went around the President. Mike Pence gave the order even though there’s really no legal basis for him doing so. Most of these reports suggest the President was just checked out, maybe not interested in talking to them.
CBS and only CBS is reporting that cabinet members are discussing invoking the 25th amendment to remove President Trump from office. I will believe it when I see it. But there have been a few hints over the last hours that the national security structure and some critical functions of government are operating separate from President Trump. The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs conferred with Mike Pence and the Democratic and Republican congressional leaders about bringing in the National Guard. Apparently there were no discussions with the President and Mike Pence eventually gave the order, even though there’s no basis I can think of on which Pence could give such an order.
Longtime TPM Reader DC:
A few thoughts on what we witnessed today from an institutional perspective.
For almost 20 years, I’ve taught a course called Res Publica: A History of Representative Government. It tries to pin down, historically and philosophically, the kinds of questions we should think about when we call our system of government a “republic” or a ‘democracy” or, most properly, a democratic republic.
We’re in a bit of a fog of war situation. But the statement from the acting Secretary of Defense said he had spoken to Pence and the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership about mobilizing the National Guard. But there was no mention of having talked to the President. Now the Times is reporting that it was Pence who gave the order for the deployment. Now, I guess great that he did that. But on what basis would the Vice President give that order? The Vice President isn’t commander-in-chief. Is the President still President? Is he somehow even in the White House seen to be commanding the the insurrectionists, not functioning as President? That sounds hyperbolic. But again, what’s the legal basis here?
This is the first time in going on 250 years of American history that the peaceful transfer of power and the constitutional processes to accomplish that have been disrupted by force. The first time. The Civil War was obviously a vastly graver breakdown of constitutional order. But the secessionists didn’t try to prevent Lincoln from being inaugurated. They just left. What we are seeing here has never happened before. Biden will still be inaugurated. The process that was underway will happen later today or tomorrow. But this has never happened before.
I probably don’t have to tell you to be excited about the results out of Georgia tonight where it seems highly likely that the the Democrats picked up both Senate seats and thus took control of the Senate. You don’t need me to tell you about the historic nature of Raphael Warnock’s victory. But the consequences of these victories is likely even greater than many realize.
We know from past experience that Republicans will try to repurpose their election fraud charade as the rationale for new voting restrictions. Many non-Republicans are looking at this ghastly carnival and simply being thankful that it will almost certainly fail in its goal of giving President Trump a second term in office. But this is a dangerous and misguided complacency. It’s one that will further endanger the country down the road, not only in additional voter suppression laws but in the danger of repeats and possibly successful repeats of what is happening now.
To put it simply, this will create a new reality in which this episode lives on not as a shameful, discrediting episode but as a grievance and rallying cry on the right with no counterforce opposing it. We absolutely have to avoid this.
How do you do that?
The damage inflicted by the pandemic and recession is well known: hundreds of thousands dead, millions out of work. The psychological damage has also been noted: the increase in anxiety and depression disorders, a rise in childhood suicides. But the pandemic may have also contributed to the craziness of our politics. Read More
Yesterday, TPM broke the news that the Atlanta-area U.S. attorney was leaving his post early. Byung Jin “BJay” Pak, of the Northern District of Georgia, had planned to leave on Inauguration Day, but instead was leaving immediately due to “unforeseen circumstances,” he told his staff yesterday.
Today, we learned who will replace him: Bobby Christine, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. TPM broke that story too.