Trump’s Bonfire of the Dignities

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A slew of headlines greeted Donald Trump’s return to Capitol Hill yesterday. “Triumphant return” in the words of AP and others, Trump’s “flex” in the words of Axios. Others less generously, including TPM, heralded Trump’s “return to the scene of the crime.” And with Trump, characteristically, there are many crimes to choose from, not just January 6th, his greatest crime, but the fact that this was his first big get together since being convicted of 34 felonies and earning his new first name: “Convicted Felon.” What all seemed to agree on is that it was a “Unity Rally.” But I think there was both more and less to it than that.

First, it was some mix of surprisng and revealing how little of the first round of press coverage noted the very Pyongyang-on-Capitol Hill vibe of these events, right down to the set piece press opportunities with grown men and women from the Senate manically clapping like seals as Trump walks into the room, interviews where they express their hopes that Trump will come and lead them again. Our friend Aaron Rupar really seemed to have his eyes open for this, and he captured it in this video.

Perhaps these public performances of dignity loss are so expected at this point that people take them as a given. But I think there’s a bit more to it than that. Most people haven’t seen this stuff in years. And it’s actually much more fulsome and intense than it used to be. Trump’s mix of courtroom defeats and convictions keeps upping the ante for the level of sycophancy required in his and their minds to offset them. It’s the most obvious way that occurs to them to counter those reverses. Not only does it not hurt him, they clap even louder each felony he’s convicted of.

And Trump doesn’t look good. He turned 78 today. But I don’t think it’s age. He looks different since his conviction: disheveled, sweaty, even more rambling than before.

The unity also seems creakier than advertised. I don’t mean there’s disunity precisely. But the whole spectacle didn’t signal a great deal of confidence, certainly less confidence than you’d expect from the Democratic mood which over the spring has often oscillated between pessimistic and doomed. The presidential race remains genuinely uncertain. Congress is likely a bigger driver. The Senate map is so bad for Democrats this year that the idea of maintaining control of the Senate should be absurd. But it’s not. There’s now a legitimate chance Democrats could do it, especially if President Biden is reelected, allowing control in a 50-50 Senate. I’m not saying this is likely. But it seems much more possible than it did only a few months ago. Republicans prospects in the House are worse.

The maniacal hand clapping doesn’t change any of that. My read is that this is an appropriately huffing and wheezy, perhaps a bit florid and sweaty, show of unity to try to buck and fluff Trump up after his felony convictions which they realize were not in fact a good thing.

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