Behold the ironic end of Mike Pence, worthy of a Greek tragedy, or at least an O. Henry story.
After four years of non-stop, hard-to-watch, servile obsequiousness toward Donald Trump — a moneygrubbing sexual predator and pathological liar who embodies the diametrical opposite of the Christian faith that Pence claims to revere — Mike found out just how much goodwill that bootlicking earned him.
Less than zero, as Elvis would say.
From the very beginning, Pence had calculated that pleasing Trump and the MAGA base was his ticket to the Republican nomination in 2024. But Donald Trump is not exactly known for his loyalty. In fact, he has a lifelong habit of savagely turning on business associates, wives, employees, and even friends (if he can be said to have any) in the blink of a heavy-lidded Adderall-addled eye.
Even so, I doubt Pence thought his reward for his groveling servitude would be to wind up hunkered down with his family behind hastily barricaded doors in the US Capitol after Trump sent a bloodthirsty mob to murder him.
Can there be a more fitting image of what it means to serve Donald Trump?
Pence’s humiliating fate is emblematic of the entire GOP and the bleached-boned corpse of the conservative movement, thanks to its prostration at the feet of this cretin.
Grab ’Em by the Pussy, You Pussy
Reports of Trump irrationally trying to strongarm Pence to overturning the election through his entirely ceremonial role in counting the Electoral College ballots were astonishing, even by the sewer-deep standards of Donald Trump. Trump not only attacked Pence on Twitter, but apparently berated him to his face and on the phone. Repeatedly.
Speaking to MSNBC’s Alex Witt, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg reported that Trump and Pence had a lunch that turned into a seven hour meeting in which Pence explained that he could not legally overturn the election (did he need to explain that?), prompting Trump to scream at him, in Nunberg’s paraphrasing: “I saved you. I made you! How dare you do this to me!” (Which sounds like what the lead singer of every disintegrating rock group says to his bandmates two-thirds of the way through every episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music.”)
Unlike past media appearances, Nunberg did not appear to be drunk when he recounted this.
According to the Washington Post, on the morning of January 6, before the joint session of Congress convened, Trump made one last effort to sway Pence in a phone call:
“You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Mr. Trump told him, according to two people briefed on the conversation, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”
To be clear, Mike Pence is anything but a patriot. He is a pussy, but not in the way Trump thinks.
(Sorry for the sexist slang. It’s gonna take a long time before patriarchal but deeply ingrained and very useful shorthand like “pussy” and “balls” are eradicated. And it won’t be by Donald Trump, whom his spokesman recently called “the most masculine person to ever hold the White House.” )
In any event, Donald seemed rather displeased when Mike chose the “non-patriot” route. We know now that Trump didn’t even bother to call his own Vice President while he was in lockdown from assailants who wanted to hang him. Instead, while people with nooses were hunting Pence like a dog, Trump tweeted:
Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!
Nor did Trump call Pence or his family afterward to see if they were OK, let alone to talk to him about such mundane matters as how to quell the riot. (Because he didn’t want to quell it. Because he started it, and reportedly enjoyed watching it.)
Trump never did call Pence. Some six days went by before the two men met in person, in what was said to be a cordial encounter where the matter of one of them having ordered a rabid mob to murder the other never came up. Even now Pence has declined to invoke the 25th Amendment against this man who has baldly demonstrated the tremendous threat he poses to the republic, not to mention to Pence’s own mortal well-being.
And thus Pence’s self-abnegation continues.
Here’s longtime GOP consultant turned Never Trumper Stuart Stevens, quoted in the WaPo:
Mike Pence threw aside everything he said he believed in — everything — I mean, here is a guy who railed against adultery on his radio show, and then teams up with Donald Trump and of course it was going to end this way. He has no future in the Republican Party. When the base of the party is not booing you, but chanting hang you, that’s a bad sign.
I would add only that Pence has no future outside the Republican Party either, as one moment of doing the right thing is not going to make us forget about the rest of Mike’s political career. You don’t get kudos just for doing your job and not participating in the overthrow of the US government. Nor does that erase his vile legacy not only in the Trump administration but throughout his public life.
In Jacobin, Liza Featherstone writes:
Wednesday was a fitting coda to Mike Pence’s disgraceful career: hiding from armed fascists and feigning shock at the authoritarian antics of the clown he’s been faithfully serving for four years like a well-trained dog….
Mike Pence has spent his life enabling the rise of the far right and these remarkably unappealing chickens have now come home to roost, as Malcolm X would have noted.
Pence may have tried to look like the adult in the room Wednesday, but the debacle was entirely his own fault. He may find these rioting chuds distasteful, but he’s not much better than they are and has been helping out their cause for years. Even if he does end up using the 25th Amendment to prevent Trump from serving the remaining days of his term, it will be too little, too late, and won’t make him any less complicit in Trump’s latest assault on democracy.
So Pence’s cowardice and ambition have delivered him not to the cusp of the presidency but to pariahhood. He is a man without a constituency, destined to be permanently loathed by both left and right alike — by the former for his long subservience to Trump and abetting of his crimes, and by the latter for not taking that subservience even further.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
So farewell Mike Pence. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass.
Bad Bad Boy
When Donald Trump first ascended to the presidency, sneering Republicans assured us — assured us! — that he was going to be oh-so presidential, and that fears of proto-fascism were “liberal hysteria. The idea that Trump would mount a violent coup to try to stay in power if defeated in 2020? Pshaw! He would never do such a thing!
There were jawdropping reports of Trump’s vile behavior surrounding the Capitol riot, above and beyond his guilt for starting it in the first place. His delight at the images he saw on TV. His refusal to listen to aides pleading with him to call for calm. His continuing attempts to pressure lawmakers into overturning the election results even as the insurrection was unfolding, calling Alabama’s newly elected Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, among others, to slow down the EC vote count.
We also learned the “we love you…you’re very special” video was the LEAST incendiary of three takes that were filmed, with Trump ad-libbing in all three. Trump reportedly also thought his second videotaped speech — the one on Wednesday night, furiously backpedaling and disavowing violence once the scope of the disaster was clear — made him look “weak.” Goddam, what is wrong with this guy?
When he finally did speak to the press in person, Trump was fully on brand. The New York Times reports:
President Trump on Tuesday showed no contrition or regret for instigating the mob that stormed the Capitol and threatened the lives of members of Congress and his vice president, saying that his remarks to a rally beforehand were “totally appropriate” and that the effort by Congress to impeach and convict him was “causing tremendous anger.”
That’s right — another Zelinskyy-style “perfect call.”
“People thought what I said was totally appropriate,” Mr. Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, en route to Alamo, Texas, where he was set to visit the border wall. Instead, Mr. Trump claimed that racial justice protests over the summer were “the real problem.”
I’ll say one thing for the man: he’s consistent.
But Trump is in trouble. After weeks of breathless reports of how he was going to rule the Republican Party for all eternity despite losing the election, in the space of a few days he has become close to radioactive — and “Margaritaville”-style, it’s his own damn fault.
His red wall is breaking in Congress, if only a little, but that’s significant in La Cosa Nostra. Even Bill Belichik turned on him (insert “Patriot” joke here), which is almost enough to make me forgive him for the fawning letter he wrote Trump on the eve of the 2016 election.
Word of major corporations cutting off the cash to GOP members who fomented the insurrection is also cheering. Surely that was a prime mover behind Mitch McConnell’s decision to cut Trump off at the knees, especially after Don pretty much singlehandedly cost him his job as Majority Leader.
Mitch McConnell has no principles whatsoever, but he is the savviest operator out there, and he don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. So if he is truly turning on Trump, it must be because he thinks Trump is toast — a good sign. But a again, as with Pence, let’s not praise the man for what is not at all a matter of integrity but — as always — of cynical opportunism. It’s just that it accidentally is helping the side of goodness and light for once.
When corporate America turned off the money tap, Mitch and the GOP suddenly saw the light. Will wonders never cease?
Blame It On the Reign
Make no mistake: Donald Trump’s weeks of spewing the noxious lie that the election had been “stolen” from him — months in fact, as he laid the groundwork for that claim — were the fuel that fed this fire.
I hadn’t listened to Trump’s actual speech at the Ellipse until last night. If you haven’t done so, do yourself a favor and check out some excerpts at least: it’s like something out of a dystopian popcorn thriller (or A Face in the Crowd), and it makes undeniably clear how firmly Trump bears the blame for inciting that siege of the Capitol and subsequent invasion. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr. and others also spoke at the “Stop the Steal,” rally all of them in fiery, militaristic terms about the need for the crowd to “fight for Trump.” In fact, Gosar, a dentist by trade, might give Rudy a run for his money as the movement’s bull goose loony, a COVID-denying birther whose own brother told Lawrence O’Donnell that he is mentally unhinged and ought to be expelled from Congress.
“What’s the downside for humoring him?” one anonymous Republican lawmaker famously in the early days after November 3rd, referring to Trump’s baseless, futile-from-the-start attempt to challenge the results of the election.
I guess we got our answer 64 days later.
Of course, many of those Republicans did a lot more than just humor Trump. They amplified that incendiary lie of a stolen election, over and over, until they had a critical mass of deluded and self-deluding right wing citizens prepared to mount a putsch.
The 139 House Republicans and eight GOP Senators who cynically voted to challenge Joe Biden’s victory actively helped incite this riot almost as much as Gosar & Company. This was no symbolic protest; it was a cynical ploy to play to the fanatic MAGA base. Except that that MAGA base went full Frankenstein and rampaged murderously out of control, and the ensuing tragedy — and disgrace — is on the heads of those Republicans.
To state the obvious: actions have consequences, and an action like ginning up a mob to kill people and try to overthrow the US government ought to have pretty serious consequences indeed, doncha think? Can we stop to remember that Al Franken was forced to resign from the Senate over some sexually risqué photos, for which he apologized, while Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley helped foment a violent rebellion and we’re having a debate over whether they deserve any punishment at all?
Spies Like Us
Just yelling “fraud” in a crowded democracy is criminal enough, but there is reason to believe that the culpability is even deeper and more concrete. If Trump and his deadenders are in freefall now, it only promises to get worse as more and more details of the attempted self-coup come out.
The extent to which Republican members of Congress actively helped the insurrectionists remains to be investigated, but there are credible reports that on January 5 some led unauthorized “tours” of the Capitol, currently closed to the public due to COVID, that functioned as reconnaissance missions for the invaders, many of whom had suspiciously good grasp of the geography of that notoriously confusing building when they breached it the following day.
As I wrote in a recent post, we also have to operate under the assumption that hostile foreign intelligence agents were mixed in with the insurrectionists who attacked the US Capitol. It’s impossible that there were not. What they were after, what they did while inside, and what they left behind, will require rigorous investigation and countermeasures.
Now let’s go into Cloud Cuckooland for a thought experiment.
What if there was not only foreign penetration of the Capitol, but actual, pre-arranged coordination between that foreign power and the Trump administration to their mutual benefit? (Which country is immaterial to this exercise, but let’s just say, for the sake of imagination, that it was a cold weather Eurasian country prone to furry hats, ice hockey players, and mail order brides.) That would be a crime of treason and a scandal to dwarf even the atrocities we’ve seen this far in this monstrous administration.
To be clear: I am not suggesting that there is any evidence that this happened. As I say, this is but a thought experiment. But does anyone doubt for a second that if a foreign power — even a hostile one — reached out to Trump offering help in overturning the election — even a violent assault on Congress — he would turn it down?
Of course he would not turn it down.
Objection! Calls for speculation.
Does it though?
During the Mueller probe Trump said very plainly to ABC’s George Stephanpoulous that if a foreign power called him offering help defeating his presidential opponent, “There isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, (and said) ‘we have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
In fact, the Russians did exactly that — to Don Jr., Manafort, and Kushner in June 2016, and Team Trump did in fact eagerly take that meeting, in Trump Tower no less.
Is it much of a leap from accepting that kind of help — which is to say, intelligence sharing — to accepting physical, paramilitary help in storming the Capitol? Or are we saying that Trump has so much integrity that that’s where he’d draw the line?
(Pause for squirming and Rodney Dangerfield collar tug.)
And notwithstanding the current low-level mutiny against the Donald, how would Republicans react to that, should such revelations emerge? The way they’ve reacted to all of Trump’s outrages, I presume:
a) Claim it never happened, and that it could never happen. Don’t be ridiculous!
b) Assert that if it were to happen, they’d be outraged and take swift action to have Trump removed from office.
c) Suddenly decide, when presented with irrefutable evidence that it did happen, that it’s not so bad.
d) Quickly pivot to passionately defend the idea that whatever Trump did was actually the right thing, and great and honorable, and he should be praised for it, and PS Democrats are the evil ones destroying our country.
e) Accept doggie treat from Donald.
Nothing to See Here, Folks
We see that very dynamic at play in the reaction to last week’s news. For those of you who don’t want to subject yourselves to the Fox Nation spin on it (and I don’t blame you), I’ll do it for you.
Prominent right wing pundits like the odious Victor Davis Hanson are snidely dismissing the severity of the Capitol insurrection, comparing it to the protests over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, along with the usual specious analogy to BLM marches.
You remember the Kavanaugh hearings, right? When 10,000 violent insurrectionists screaming for blood broke into the Supreme Court attempting to lynch federal officials, smashing windows, shitting on the floors, beating journalists, and murdering at least two police officers in the process? What — you don’t remember that? Snowflake.
Less noxious but still disturbing, Caitlin Flanagan recently had a piece in The Atlantic devoted to snickering about how comedic these insurrectionists were.
I get it. There was plenty of Iannucci-grade absurdity to behold. Even the nicknames for the mob are funny: Y’all Qaeda. Vanilla ISIS. The Coup Clutz Clan. It’s shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of these mouthbreathing bozos
It’s also true that amid fears of hardcore Blackwater types mixed in with the yahoos, it now turns out that “Zip Tie Guy” — the professional-looking insurrectionist in the balaclava and body armor, carrying zipties, whose photo graced my blog last week — isn’t some ex-Delta doorkicker, let alone a Russian GRU infiltrator. He’s a cosplaying wannabe who came to the revolution with his mommy.
But wannabes can still be dangerous.
In focusing only on the pathetic aspect of the would-be insurrection and not on the terrifying sight of a homicidal mob that wanted to install a despot, Flanagan’s was incredibly irresponsible journalism. Yeah, Viking Guy is a joke, but five people DIED…and it could have been a lot worse. Check the video of the mob that captured and brutally beat to death a member of the DC Metropolitan Police, with flagpoles flying the Stars & Stripes among the murder weapons. (A bit on the nose, don’t you think?)
And what correction did The Atlantic subsequently append to her piece? Only that “This article previously mischaracterized the plot of Back to the Future.”
The ghastliness of the right wing media machine is bad enough. It doesn’t help when the legitimate media continues to engage in the same kind of dismissiveness of the threat that helped Trump beat Hillary in 2016.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Thankfully, the Democratic leadership takes things a little more seriously than some of the press.
If I’d told you at the beginning of last week that in the last eight days of his presidency Donald Trump would be impeached for an unprecedented second time, you would have laughed. But it is a fitting and proper response to a sitting US president who incites a violent insurrection to try to hold onto power. If that’s not impeachable conduct, what is?
Might this second impeachment backfire and help Trump a little bit, in stoking his followers’ resentment, letting him play the victim, and feeding the canard that this is all just left-wing Trump Derangement Syndrome? It might, a little, given how gullible a third of the country is. The same was true of the first impeachment. But principle demands it be carried out regardless, just like the first time around. Then as now, the long term effects of failing to do so would be far far worse.
In arguing against impeachment, Republicans have the gall to claim that it would “divide the country.” Yeah, like that time I told a federal judge that convicting me of that armed robbery I committed would only divide America further at a time when it desperately needs unity.
It’s rich to be preached to about unity by the party that slavishly enabled the most divisive, hatemongering American president in history, and also tried to shitcan the votes of 150 million citizens last week.
But we all know by now that the Republican Party has no shame. At one point during yesterday’s impeachment hearings in the House, the Washington Post ran a headline reading, “Trump allies argue that Congress should focus on combatting the coronavirus.”
I’ll just let that one sit there.
Given that this was the counterattack being mounted on his behalf, it’s easy to believe the report that Trump himself wanted to go down to the House floor and act as his own defense counsel, and had to be dissuaded from so doing by means of a tranquilizer dart fired from a blow gun wielded by Pat Cipollone.
Even now the GOP is clinging to its oh-so-last-year mantra that this impeachment is nothing but partisan rage from the Democratic side, and that fears of the damage Trump has wreaked — and continues to wreak — are wildly overstated. On the floor of the House yesterday Jim Jordan even talked condescendingly about how of course “there will be a peaceful transfer of power next week,” as if scolding Chicken Little.
That’s kind of like Giuliani’s claim that there were no terrorist attacks on Bush’s watch.
News flash, Jimbo: the peaceful transfer of power has already been disrupted. Maybe you missed it while pulling your lookout shift at the showers at the Ohio State wrestling gym.
Beneath and Bequeath
So here we are, facing the end of this atrocious presidency in the most fitting way possible.
When Trump was elected, one of the great fears — along with the risk of his designs on a presidency-for-life — was that he would drag the United States into a catastrophic war. Given his bellicosity, his stupidity, and his impulsivity, and notwithstanding the neo-isolationist bullshit, it seemed almost inevitable. It was perhaps the only pleasant surprise of the Trump era — amid endless terrible surprises — that he did not do so.
With his actions of last Wednesday, Donald Trump has at last dragged us into a war after all — a civil one. I guess it was the very last item on his to-do list. Thanks, Don!
We all knew that part of Trump’s legacy would be that a third of the country would believe that the Biden administration was illegitimate. Many even discussed the possibility of a pro-Trump, right wing domestic insurgency. But until it hit us last Wednesday, it was all very abstract and academic. No more. As I wrote last week, it remains to be seen if January 6th was an aberration or the cannonshots at Ft. Sumter of the 21st century. In the mean time, impeachment is the one of the first steps in a right and proper response.
For more essays, go to The King’s Necktie Archive.