Shattering the Shared Illusion

In this screenshot taken from a Senate Television webcast, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in the Senate on January 23, 2020. (Ph... In this screenshot taken from a Senate Television webcast, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in the Senate on January 23, 2020. (Photo by Senate Television via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 25, 2020 12:42 p.m.
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I didn’t see any of yesterday’s final closing arguments live. I was at an NYPD precinct filling out police reports with a gaggle of middle schoolers. (Long story; everyone and everything is fine.) So I got home at about 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. to this flurry of puffed up outrage about heads on pikes. It took me a bit to get a handle on exactly what had happened and what the pretended outrage was even about. You probably knew all those details already, quite possibly before I did.

But let’s step back from the clamor and nonsense to understand this.

Clearly “heads on pikes” is a metaphor for anyone who crosses the President will be destroyed politically. Republican Senators have not only reacted with intensely feigned outrage. They’ve universally denied that such a thing ever happened. Sen. Susan Collins apparently shook her head and repeatedly said “Not true!” as Schiff was speaking, prompting him to say he hoped it wasn’t. So not only a shocking breach of decorum apparently just short of Schiff taking a dump at the Senate lectern but apparently saying something that is definitely not true.

But, c’mon … The GOP pols who have even slightly bucked Trump or criticized him have been to a man driven from office: Sanford, Flake, Corker. Justin Amash was purged from the party within days of endorsing impeachment. It’s quite likely he’ll now lose reelection but unlike the others he’s giving it a go.

Unlike so many other things Trump has done, there is no crime here. Trump owns and dominates the GOP. Once he turns against an elected official it’s not only that the money and apparatus of the party turn against that person, Republican voters do too. Cross Trump and you’re finished. This is not only obviously true but a point President Trump and the White House embrace to show the price of crossing him.

Every person in American politics knows this is true. They know it because they’ve seen it happen again and again. The President and his followers embrace it. So set aside the feigned outrage. The idea this isn’t true as a factual matter is comical. We all know this.

But clearly having Schiff say it – not on MSNBC but right in the Senate and right to the Republican senators’ faces – was intensely uncomfortable because it drops the charade that Republican Senators are doing some kind of disinterested consideration of the evidence. We all know that’s absurd.

So yes, all the feigned outrage. And yes, it’s the absurd outrage offramp that they’re looking for to try to make sense of ignoring the Everest of evidence against the President, the emblematic and foundational subject changing that is Trumpism. But I think Schiff really did get under their collective skins in an uncomfortable, undigestible way because this just explodes the charade, the shared illusion that all the Republican Senators aren’t owned and controlled by the President. Every elected official in the Republican party today exists at the sufferance of Donald Trump. That means having to go along with literally anything he does. Stating all that explicitly, as opposed to indulging the charade that the Republican Senators are doing any kind of serious review or consideration of the evidence was clearly upsetting. Especially to someone like Susan Collins or perhaps Lisa Murkowski since they are in the lead indulging that fiction.

It is perhaps worse considering what the whole heads on pikes thing was originally about. Obviously, someone can only put your head on a pike once you’re dead. So from one perspective whether your head is on your body or a pike after you’re dead once you’re dead doesn’t matter. The reason is does matter is because it’s a humiliation. You’re body is literally torn apart. Your head is torn off your body and stuck on a pike. It’s put up for everyone to see the price you paid for your disobedience. Again, the whole point is humiliation and a demonstration of power. This was of course as I said at the top symbolic. But someone talking about putting your head on a pike is a humiliation as metaphor as well. Obviously that just rankled them since, as I say, it drops the charade that the Republican Senators are really reviewing anything. They’re owned by the President. That’s not fun to hear out loud or to your face.

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