Republicans began by resorting to coups and even violent insurrections to overturn the 2020 election. Having failed at that they are now glomming on to Joe Biden’s focus on national ‘unity’ to insist that Democrats overturn it on their behalf by agreeing to the absurd proposition that unity means forgetting the 2020 election even happened. Most of us intuitively know that is a bad faith gambit. But it’s worth articulating what national unity means and does not.
Donald Trump, former President and current GOP leader, governed by making war on the so-called ‘blue states’. Supporters got cash and assistance, opponents got punished. This was a through-line from the first days of Trump’s presidency and the scope and consequences became more open and grotesque during the COVID pandemic.
Unity means governing on behalf of all Americans, not treating half the country like enemies. In the nature of things Biden’s vision of what to prioritize will match the platform he ran on. There are myriad particulars but in general more social spending, more focus on equity and social justice, renewed commitment to confronting the climate crisis. That is what happens when you win an election. That’s democracy, not divisiveness.
The Biden White House and the Democratic Senate face numerous substantive decisions in the coming days and months. But certain decisions, more procedural than policy, will set the tone and ground rules today and in the months and years ahead. They are critical. And they will have a profound impact on the breadth and success of policy-making over the next two and four years.
You’ll be familiar with these ground rules decisions in concept even if the particulars are technical and occluded in administrative and parliamentary jargon. In short, will resurgent Democrats use their lawful powers to enact their policy agenda or get wrong-footed and derailed by bad faith arguments from Republicans about norms, fairness, unity and the like? Will they be gamed into chasing Republican buy-in, the possibility of which will always be snatched away after it has served its purpose of forcing Democrats to fritter away time they need to deliver on election promises?
This was the great failure of Barack Obama’s presidency, one he fully grasped only late in his second term and after Republicans had used it to wrest away control of Congress and the Courts.
Joe Biden set a tone yesterday evening to listen rather than speak, to speak through our silences. I will try to heed that as best I can with only some brief remarks as we rest at this threshold. Where do we go from here? What do we make of all this? A lesson for us to learn and absorb is resilience.
So many terrible things have happened over these four years, so many things were harrowing and unimaginable. Most became inevitable the moment the country took the fatal step of putting a sociopath at the helm of the state. We were here four years ago trying to imagine what would happen. Resilience and an ethic of optimism are not only good strategy. They are an ethical stance toward life and a way to survive whatever the world throws at us.
If you didn’t see the COVID memorial service this evening – part of Joe Biden’s larger inauguration program – you really should. It is remarkable, simply remarkable that we are almost a year into this horrible epidemic and this is the first national memorial or commemorative service honoring, remembering the dead.
It is a remarkable and a devastating commentary. I did not quite grasp this absence until I saw it. We’ve fought so much over this epic calamity. We’ve seen so much deflection, blame-shifting and lies. Biden’s comments, remarkably brief, were a reminder that much of what we need is in silence, remembering and memorializing this catastrophic loss. We are now at more than 400,000 Americans dead, roughly the total number of fatalities over almost four years of World War II.
The brief program included two songs: Amazing Grace and Hallelujah.
This quiet, devastating and hopeful memorial reminded me of the remarkable and wholly improbable journey of this song, Hallelujah, into something like a canonical song of memorial or pathos in American culture. That this should be so is actually quite odd, not least because it is not at all clear what the song, in its totality, is even about. And a number of things the song is quite clearly about … well, they are not what you’d expect in a song now treated as appropriate, uplifting and fitting for all occasions and audiences.
Mainstream or memorial versions commonly expurgate the song’s erotic imagery. But it can’t all be ironed out. This energy, rumbling rough under the simplified lyrics, gives a power and ballast even to the more sanitized versions. In any case the mixing and matching of lyrics is possible because Leonard Cohen wrote numerous different lyrics for the song. You can mix and match them and create your own version.
Mitch McConnell’s remarks today about Trump’s role in the insurrection on their face make it pretty clear he believes Trump’s guilty of impeachable offenses which merit removal from office and a ban on serving again in the future. Whether he would vote that way is another question. I think there’s basically no way he does not if he’s not certain of at least 17 other Republican senators ready to join him.
But there’s one thing that’s worth noting about this impending trial.
As we come to the end of this tragic saga, I realized that not many know or perhaps remember that there is an entirely separate scandal aside from the emoluments and self-dealing tied to Trump’s DC hotel. Long before he became President Trump scammed his way into the lease itself. He got the contract with a bogus bid and stalking horse financing. As soon as he won the contract, the stalking horse financing disappeared, as did the partners he promised to bring into the project. He then turned around and used the lease itself as collateral to get new financing from DeutscheBank. This was all basically known at the time. But it was when Trump was making his bones on the right as top birther. The GSA didn’t want to provoke a political fight with him (this was under Obama, remember) by voiding the deal.
I explained some of the details in this February 2018 post.
We are now in the final 52 hours of the Trump presidency – I just checked. We will be trying to digest for years just what happened over the last three weeks. But in the simplest sense it’s been an 10 or 11 week temper tantrum by a failed, lawless President who couldn’t face defeat and had one of the country’s two political parties enabling his tantrum right up through January 6th.
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.
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.
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.