I. Destructive Lies
Last week, after laying out the seditious conspiracy charges, I left off with the question: So what the heck is going on with the Republican Party?
Really, the question is this: How far will the Republican Party go in downplaying and defending the Jan. 6 insurrection?
I suspect they will dig in, and it will be up to the voters in November to give the Republicans a drubbing. (If you’re worried about the election, there are things you can do now to help. Start by signing up here.)
As more information comes out about Trump’s crimes and the part he played in inciting the insurrection, the Republican Party has two options: Continue embracing Trump and minimizing and downplaying the insurrection (radicalizing the party even more) or reject Trump, denounce the insurrection, and move away from the edge.
It’s easy to see why I’m not optimistic about what the party will do. Take, for example, Sen. Lindsay Graham’s comments from last week. He said he won’t support Sen. Mitch McConnell for GOP leader unless he has a “working relationship” with Trump.
“Working relationship with Trump,” of course, means “repeat his lies.”
That’s Trump’s role. He signals the lies and the entire right-wing falls in line. One of Trump’s recent lies is that the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is illegitimate. He made this (bogus) argument in his executive privilege lawsuit. The court rejected the argument, but that doesn’t matter to the Republicans. Trump signaled the lie, and now the Republican leadership is repeating it. For example, we now see that particular lie repeated in recent lawsuits challenging select committee subpoenas.
Michael Cohen, in his testimony before Congress and in his book, Disloyal, explained how Trump signals the lie people are supposed to tell. “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” Cohen said. “That’s not how he operates.”
How does he operate? In his testimony before Congress, Cohen offered this example: During the 2016 campaign, while Cohen was negotiating with Russia on Trump’s behalf (to build Trump Tower Moscow), Trump often asked how the negotiations were going. Other times Trump looked Cohen in the eye and said, “There’s no business in Russia.” Then Trump went out and told the American people that he had no business dealinges in Russia. Cohen thus understood that “Trump has no business dealings in Russia” was the lie he was supposed to tell.
Andrew McCabe told a similar story. After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Trump summoned McCabe to a meeting and offered a “gleeful” description of what happened with the firing of Comey. McCabe understood that he was supposed to adopt the lie. When he refused, Trump set out to destroy him.
And this example from Preet Bharara: Shortly after Trump took office, Trump personally reached out to him. “It was odd,” Bharara said, “because as a general matter, Presidents don’t speak directly to United States attorneys. You know the number of times President Obama called me? Zero.”
The calls were particularly awkward because Bharara was prosecuting Russian money laundering and mob crimes in Trump’s own neighborhood of Manhattan. Bharara accepted a few of Trump’s phone calls. Bharara suspected nobody knew the president was calling him.
He felt uncomfortable. The next time Trump called, he refused the call. He was fired 20 hours later.
A cherished theory on social media is that Lindsay Graham is compromised or blackmailed. The theory misses the point. It’s also a kind of projection. People who aren’t of the right-wing mindset can’t imagine any other reason a person would go from telling the truth and criticizing Trump to kissing his ring and repeating his lies.
They’re not compromised. They fall in line. It’s what they do. Any kompromat comes from their willingness to go along with the lies. For example, had McCabe taken he bait and lied for Trump, he would have been compromised. Trump would have had him.
Robert Paxton, author of Anatomy of Fascism, explains: They fall in lockstep. They even like their own “uniform,” or identifying piece of clothing. MAGA hats, anyone? Authoritarians like to line up behind an authority. That’s one of their advantages. Non-authoritarians tend to splinter.
They don’t lie because they’re compromised. They’re compromised because they’re willing to lie.
Another problem with the blackmail theory is that it assumes that facts matter to these people, or that anyone in the Fox bubbles cares about crimes. Any party that minimizes an insurrection and defends insurrectionists isn’t going to get upset over crimes. I mean, what secret crime can Graham have committed that would matter in the least to the Republicans? They believe what they’re told to believe.
People like Graham are scared of Trump but not because they are afraid he will reveal their secrets.
They’re scared he’ll ruin their careers or unleash a violent mob on them.
After I said all of this on Twitter, someone repeated the idea that the Republican Party repeats Russian propaganda because Russia has kompromat on them:
See how hard it is to give up the idea that the Republican leadership falls in line behind autocratic ideals because they’re blackmailed? Maybe they repeat Russian talking points because they like what Putin stands for (white Christian nationalism).
They’re not blackmailed. That’s who they are.
Trump’s lawsuits serve the purpose of signaling the lies people are supposed to tell and that’s why it doesn’t matter if he loses in court. He lost all those election fraud lawsuits, but the lie lives on. The idea is that if you repeat the lie often enough, people think it’s true. Remember “Her emails!” It works.
Cohen said he was amazed by Trump’s ability to lie to a person’s face. It’s a neat trick. You can reject science, be unable to control a virus, and be unable to build anything, but if you control the narrative, people think you can do all three.
And that’s what Trump does. He can’t control anything real. As a business person, he couldn’t add value. He couldn’t build anything. As president, he was helpless in the face of a virus he couldn’t control. But he shamelessly tells compelling lies. If he can’t control anything real, at least he can control the narrative. He can tell the story he wants everyone to believe.
And if enough people repeat the lie and pretend that it’s true, that’s good enough for Trump. He can’t control reality so he creates his own reality.
And why do they so eagerly repeat Trump’s lies? They know that the lies destroy and they want to destroy. They want to dismantle (or destroy) the federal government put in place since the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement.
They also tolerate lawbreaking because breaking certain kinds of laws is destructive.
That’s why they don’t care if Trump lies and cheats.
Last month Letitia James, New York Attorney General, filed a motion to compel Trump, Jr., and Ivanka to comply with her earlier subpoenas. The AG motion to compel is a response to the lawsuit the Trumps filed in December accusing James of conducting an unconstitutional witch hunt. The Trumps also raised a Fifth Amendment defense on the grounds that New York prosecutors are conducting a parallel investigation, so they have reason to think anything they say can be used against them in a criminal matter.
I can’t see this argument working. Even if they have a Fifth Amendment defense, they have to show up and testify and refuse to answer particular questions that may incriminate them. And there’s no reason not to produce the documents James wants.
To rebut the accusation that the investigation is politically motivated, James laid out a stunning sampling of evidence of brazen lying and cheating directly involving Trump, Jr., and Ivanka.
James, in outlining the Trump crimes, mostly avoids the F word (Fraud. What did you think?) but she alludes to tax fraud, bank fraud, and other garden varieties (“other documents”) here:
They have evidence of the lies, and will “make a final determination” about who was responsible for the lies. They’ve been interviewing people responsible for preparing the fraudulent documents. People lower in the organization either “can’t recall” or are pointing their fingers upward. People toward the top are asserting their Fifth Amendment right to silence:
“Your honor, there was a crime, but my client didn’t do it” doesn’t work as well when you can’t remember anything.
The petition explains why the testimony of Trump, Jr., and Ivanka are necessary. For example, we learn this about Ivanka:
To take a few examples of the kind of fraud outlined in the AG’s verified petition, a property owned by the Trumps (Silver Springs) was assessed in 2006 at $30 million. Here are values “stated” by the Trump’s on bank documents:
The Trump’s also claimed value for nonexisting mansions. Crazy, right? (Does that work for everyone? My garage will be worth $1 million after I fix it up and sell it, so it’s now worth $1 million dollars. Hey! I’m a millionaire!)
To sum up the verified petition: The Trumps are liars and cheaters.
This should matter. Donald Trump came to power on two lies: “I’m a successful businessman,” positioning him as a strongman and winner, and birtherism, signaling that he was a white supremacist tapping into white grievance.
Back when I was naive (2015) I thought it would matter if Trump’s base had to grapple with the fact that he wasn’t successful: He inherited wealth and then cheated and swindled.
Now I’m afraid lie #2, birtherism, matters more.
It’s also clear that brazen lying and cheating are part of Trump’s appeal. Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, explains the thinking:
In short: Lying and cheating helps our team win, so yay lies. Yay cheating.
Lies destroy. It’s just easier to destroy the rule of law than to preserve it. It’s easier to dismantle a government than to use government to improve the lives of the people, particularly when another party is trying to dismantle the government. That’s why Republicans have the easier task.
The lies and the insurrection serve the same purpose: Dismantle the federal government (the administrative or “deep state”) that former Confederates and reactionaries view as illegitimate.
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