Will There Be a Reckoning….or a Repeat?

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Photo: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who once clerked for John Roberts, greeting pro-Trump insurrectionists outside the Capitol before they stormed the building. History will record that this raised fist salute also functioned as his farewell wave to his presidential ambitions. Credit: Francis Chung E&E News and Politico via AP Images.

This may get a little stream-of-consciousness. When you’re in the middle of a dystopian nightmare, disciplined E.B. White style prose becomes challenging.

Also, I’ve been microdosing.

(1000 mikes washed down with Henry McKenna straight from the bottle is still a microdose, right?)

So where to begin? How about with the emerging details of what the hell went on during four of the most appalling and surreal hours in American history.

The videos that have begun to emerge from inside the Trumpist mob that stormed the US Capitol paint a far more terrifying portrait than first appeared. Live TV footage on the day seemed weirdly casual, like a tailgate party, as many commentators remarked. But these new images — from freelance camerapeople and some even from the rioters themselves — show thousands of angry thugs bum-rushing the building, smashing windows and vandalizing property, screaming obscenities and threatening murder, physically attacking journalists and bizarrely placid Capitol Police officers (“Fuck the blue!” — so much for Blue Lives Matter), and even attempting to chase down fleeing members of Congress. Whom they were apparently bent on kidnapping and executing.

Overweight armchair revolutionaries engaged in cosplay suitable for a Raiders game dominated the early press coverage — “Vanilla Isis,” as BLM founder Alicia Garza dubbed it. But mixed amid these clowns were at least a handful of hardcore alt-right saboteurs in body armor and balaclavas, carrying zipties for hostage taking, as well as firearms and Molotov cocktails.

Ironic that, amid the anti-mask crowd, the most dangerous people may have been the ones keen to cover their faces.

These American brownshirts were proper terrorists, and they weren’t playing. We now know that they intended to take Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and perhaps other Congressional leaders hostage, and to lynch Pence (at a minimum) from a tree on the Capitol grounds, or on the homemade gallows that many saw on TV. That would have been a horrific image worthy of the worst Fourth World banana republic or Islamist hellscape, and we’re only now realizing how close we came.

(I guess even being the most reliable Trump lickspittle is not enough for these folks, is it Mike? Geez, you dutifully polish Trump’s nob daily for four years, but when you say “no” one time…..)

We also have to assume that there were undercover foreign intelligence agents co-mingled within the mob — it would be professional malpractice by our enemies if there were not. That means that the entire US Capitol building and its environs are compromised, and every square inch, every light fixture and computer and piece of electronic equipment has to be disinfected if not replaced, and the whole place swept for bugs (not to mention bombs). So that happened.

More stories and images are sure to come out in the ensuing days, and I doubt they’ll be any more heartwarming. One anonymous federal law enforcement official called it “the darkest day for the United States since 9/11.” But there have been many such days under Trump. This one, I fear, marks not a finale but an appetizer.

The shocking inability — or unwillingness, or at the very least ill-preparedness — of law enforcement to deal with this incursion remains a topic of heated debate, and will for some time I am sure. It’s clear that the Capitol Police were out of their depth; what’s less clear is who failed to anticipate the kind of security forces that would be needed, and why. The post-mortem (literal, in some ways) will go on for months and even years as we try to untangle this colossal failure.

As I wrote earlier this week, prudence in deploying the US military domestically is not the worst thing. (Nor abroad either, for that matter.) In fact, the mood within the Pentagon right now is pretty angry and resentful, I’m told. You didn’t want troops in the streets after criticism of last summer’s reaction to BLM protests? Well, you got your wish.

I am very sympathetic to that view. Troops in the streets adjudicating an election is a bad look for a democracy.

Unfortunately, the unintended result of that abundance of caution was the demonstration of a blatant double standard — even if it was only accidental — in which peaceful Black and progressive protestors are tear gassed, beaten, and brutalized by National Guard MP battalions, militarized riot cops up-armored for the streets of Fallujah, and Putin-style little green men in unmarked uniforms, while truly violent White right wing insurrectionists get handled with kid gloves and damn near shown a red carpet.

Not a great look for a democracy either. And what’s worse, it’s not at all clear that the double standard was accidental.

It’s true that, as ugly as Wednesday was, another Kent State or Tiananmen would have been worse, not only in terms of bloodshed but in that it would have allowed the radical right to take the moral high ground (much better than taking the Rotunda) and portray itself as valiant martyrs, painting law enforcement and the legitimate authorities as the villains. Even as it is, over in Fox Nation there’s risible bullshit about how this was really the work of antifa in disguise, irrationally sitting cheek by jowl with pride at what the alt-right did. That claim, of course, belongs with OJ’s hunt for the real killers, the Utah moon landing, and Mel Gibson’s views on the Holocaust.

But prudence in avoiding a bloodbath and debunking the deceitful right-wing narrative are not excuses for wanton dereliction of duty. Even taking into account the Pentagon’s understandable desire to stay out of domestic unrest, every knowledgeable professional in the security, law enforcement, and military communities surely understood the threat that this rally posed, or should have. Its organizers didn’t exactly practice airtight opsec: for weeks they had heavily advertised their intent to engage in mayhem. Hell, the alt-right has regularly demonstrated its eagerness to do so, from Charlottesville to Kenosha to Lansing. Radical right wing message boards and other forums were chockablock with details and plans for a violent uprising. As Prof. Jason Johnson noted on MSNBC, if there was this much chatter about fomenting violence on the Black Internet, the whole country would have been on lockdown.

Doubt it? We all saw the photos of National Guardsmen in full Darth Vader kit standing three deep on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last summer, as opposed to the kind and gentle boys in blue that the Trump goons were met by. (Not to malign the Capitol Police, one of whose brave members gave his life, killed after being smashed in the head with a fire extinguisher. But the disparity was stark.)

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) rightly asked why there were no undercover cops infiltrated into the mob, COINTELPRO style. There may have been, but if so, they didn’t seem to do much. It’s far more likely that members of the alt-right have infiltrated various police departments, as well as fire departments, first responders, and the military. (Rep. Bass also had a priceless tweet about the FBI’s after-the-fact hunt for the instigators.)

Compounding the injustice, Tom Hall of The Back Row Manifesto points out that it is a false equivalence from top to bottom to compare Trump’s goons to Black Lives Matter or its related movements. First off, BLM arises from a legitimate grievance, as George Floyd’s crushed windpipe attests. (See also: Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, and the whole history of the USA.) Trump’s mob stems from a vile lie spread by a demagogue.

Moreover, the BLM demonstrations that arose in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s state-sponsored murder were largely peaceful (sorry, Fox, but it’s true) and were met with disproportionate force by law enforcement. This week’s obscenity in the Capitol was a full-blown riot met with lollipops and candy canes. Brutal suppression of these right wing aggressors would have been WHOLLY appropriate, even if it still would have given up lots of ground on the propaganda front.

But there’s another fallacy at play in the idea that restraint was the driver of the limp response to this attack. There’s a huge gap between tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of a coup d’état (or even suppressing one) and the prudent and proper protection of the United States Capitol and the members of the US Congress during the discharge of their fundamental duties. At a minimum, there was an unforgivable cockup in communication and coordination. (The sheer complexity and confusion of overlapping — or non-overlappping — security agencies in the District of Columbia, with its weirdly unique status, was also part of the problem. Maybe look into fixing that, guys — with statehood, perhaps.) But it goes deeper than that still.

The argument I’ve heard from credible sources I know within the homeland security community is that the relevant authorities truly did not anticipate how serious the threat would be.

Per Prof. Johnson, that is a cruel joke, but it speaks to the systemic, subconscious, deeply ingrained racism in law enforcement across America. As Masha Gessen has written, it may well be true that the authorities genuinely did not see these Trump supporters — mostly conservative White dudes, like the mandarins of the law enforcement and community themselves — as a pressing danger. A bunch of Black protestors and left-leaning allies on the other hand? Call out the cavalry!

That they sincerely didn’t see these furious, armed, openly-violence-promoting White men as a threat is the very problem.

Over the past two days I’ve also spent some time reading interviews with some of these pro-Trump insurrectionists. Mostly they are incoherent and insane. But apropos of the law enforcement response, one thread stands out and strikes me, and that is their jeering, inflated sense of their own physical power as they brag about what they will do “next time.”

Now to be fair, they have reason to be arrogant after being treated so gently by law enforcement this week….and in Michigan when they tried to kidnap and murder the governor, and in Kenosha after Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people dead with an AR-15 and walked right past the cops who let him go, having earlier given him water and told him they appreciated what he and his pals were doing. And of course there have only a relative handful of arrests, ongoing investigations notwithstanding.

But the delusion of these racist fuckwads that they can scare us with what they might do “next time” is wildly misplaced.

So if any pro-Trump would-be rebels are reading this (if, in fact, you can read at all), let me offer you some friendly advice.

One of the main reasons the good and decent citizens of this nation are appalled by your behavior this past week, apart from its inherent criminality, is that you were treated with such unjustified gentleness. I can assure you, as a professional infantry soldier myself once upon a time, you will not fare well against proper law enforcement and security forces operating the way they are supposed to, let alone the US military, should you have any delusions of actual insurgency or civil war.

Consider yourself duly counseled.

So there is a lot to sort through in the fallout of this epic national security failure and bald demonstration of inherent racial bias. (But speaking of which, didn’t we just suffer “the worst intelligence failure since 9/11” with the Russian cyberattack that was revealed right before Christmastime? Jesus, we’re having a bad run. But this one was worse, because we did it to ourselves.)

Sadly, a 9/11-style commission playing who-shot-John will be the easy part. The hard part will be isolating and cutting out the cancer that engendered that failure in the first place, beginning with holding accountable those responsible.

Lacking a time machine, we can’t go back to the origin of the “paranoid style” and hatemongering racist demagoguery that is so baked into the American experiment. Instead, we will have to constrain ourselves to the current leaders of that movement.

Trump of course is the alpha monster in that category, and he must be dealt with like a Hell’s Angel on PCP armed with a flamethrower loose in a nursery school.

Trump’s lie about the theft of the election was the match that lit this fire, but his entire despicable political career is what built the pyre. Even though the effort is predestined to fail in the Senate, he richly deserves to be the first US president ever to be impeached twice. (For Trump, though, getting kicked off Twitter is worse.) “Some people ask: Why would you impeach and convict a president who has only a few days left in office?” wrote Bernie Sanders. “The answer: Precedent. It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the U.S. government.”

Failing that, there is the 25th Amendment, though that seems just as unlikely, given Pence’s cowardice. (Hey, turns out I do agree with Trump’s goons on that point, though for diametrically opposed reasons.) Jonathan Swan of Axios has reported that a de facto 25th Amendment is already in effect, in that senior members of the Trump administration are simply acting as if he is not the president for the remaining eleven days of his term. I suppose that’s a good thing, safety of the planet-wise, although it’s not how the US government is supposed to work. But the US government has not remotely been working the way it’s supposed to for the past four years.

In light of this leadership vacuum, former FBI counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggests that our enemies are right now calculating how to take advantage of this unique moment of American chaos, to include whether this is a rare opportunity to make aggressive moves that they otherwise could never make. Invasion of South Korea anyone? Crushing of dissent in Hong Kong? Annexation of the rest of Ukraine?

And what of Trump’s behavior during all this?

For an odious bully who has undeservedly gotten every possible privilege in life and escaped repercussions for even his most despicable acts, Donald has always been a remarkably unhappy motherfucker. I’ve never seen a genuine laugh come out of his mouth, and only forced grins, even when he ought to be on top of the world. Wednesday was in some ways the best day he’s had in years, and yet reports are that he couldn’t even enjoy that, spending most of the day in a rage, fuming at Mike Pence’s so-called betrayal and other perceived injustices he believes he has suffered.

The Washington Post reports that he was completely out of contact with his own VP — as well as Schumer, McConnell, and Pelosi — while the mayhem raged and they were locked down in a secure location, displaying no interest in trying to coordinate a response to the riot he started. Instead he sat in the White House and watched it on TV, “bemused” (that’s a direct quote) at what was happening and pleased that the mob was “literally fighting for him.” “But at the same time,” the Post reports, “he was turned off by what he considered the ‘low-class’ spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.”

Incredible. A psychopath who doesn’t even understand his own responsibility for unleashing that violence, not to mention an asshole who looks down on his own supporters. It’s no wonder that some of them have, at long last, begun turning on him.

Trump apparently could not be persuaded to call for calm, rebuking his advisors for even asking, and prefiguring Fox talking points by making specious comparisons to the BLM protests. Pathetically, aides were forced to try to sway him by posting messages on Twitter. (Now that won’t even work.) Speaking on condition of anonymity, one described him as “a total monster,” and compared him to mad King George III.

Worst movie of the year? Relax, Hillbilly Elegy — it might be the nauseating video of Don Jr. and Kim “The Best Is Yet To Come” Guilfoyle partying before Don Sr. spoke to the mob and kicked off this whole obscenity. Then there was Trump’s own hostage-style video in which he tried to do some damage control, released only after it became clear that he was in deep doo-doo, as George Bush would say. (And there was at least one weird cut in it. Paging Rose Mary Woods.) Reportedly he had to be bludgeoned into doing even that, and has since expressed regret about making the video at all.

In addition to prompting calls for his impeachment, resignation, or removal, Trump’s actions had some other immediate And self-destructive implications.

The odds that Pence will pardon him have now plummeted….but the odds that Trump will self-pardon — already high — have skyrocketed. If he even suspects that there is any risk he might be removed, he will move to pardon himself sooner rather than later, perhaps in the next few days. Ironically, for him to try this now, in the wake of his clear culpability for the events of this past week, will surely prompt a tremendous outcry. Not that that would ever deter him, nor affect the courts’ verdict on the attempt, but it will put this shameless ploy in an even more glaring context.

The talk of Trump’s chokehold on the GOP forever and ever amen, a near article of faith as recently as this past Tuesday, has also taken a severe hit.

Until this week, there was also debate about what kind of legal consequences Trump ought to face for his various sins, balancing the good of the country with the demands of justice, Nixon-like. Now that debate is over. The two are one and the same. A consensus has quickly emerged that Trump must be held accountable to the full extent of the law, and so must his followers, from Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows to the guy with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. More on that it a moment.

As my friend Bob Mastronardi quipped, “Am I alone finding irony that the aftermath of a Trump rally could be the final nail in his political coffin?”

That said, I remain wary of predictions that this is the GOP’s final break with Trump. We have all been Lucy-and-Charlie-Brown-with-the-football’ed too many times. But with this latest atrocity, Trump may have really done lethal damage to once-solid predictions of his post-presidential power. Once again he is his own worst enemy….which is no mean feat, given how much the rest of us hate him.

So let’s talk about the culpability of the rest of the fellow travelers on the Trump Train to hell.

As we’ve observed over and over, Trump did not hijack the Republican Party or the conservative movement, as some would have us believe: he is the natural result of the toxic politics in which it has been trafficking for decades. In that regard, Trump has many enablers who are also to blame, both for this specific crime and for the broader pattern that led up to it.

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser writes:

For four years, Trump has made war on the constitutional order, on the institutions of American democracy, and on anyone who stood in his way. Almost all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill let him do it. They aided and abetted him. They voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. They endorsed him for reëlection and even acceded to his request not to bother with a Republican Party platform. The Party’s ideology, henceforth, would be whatever Trump wanted it to be.

Republicans had accepted the “perfect” phone call with Ukraine, the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, the “love” letters with Kim Jong Un, the monetizing of the Presidency for Trump’s personal gain, the unseemly firings and policy diktats by tweet, the politicization of the Justice Department, and the menacing war against the journalistic “enemies of the people.”

Even after Trump decisively lost the election, Republicans across Washington went along with him as he spread lies and conspiracy theories, filed baseless lawsuits, and raged when judges threw them out, as they did again and again. When Trump called for a final reckless coup against the constitutional order, many were willing to follow him even to this legal, political, and moral dead end — cynical opportunists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, in the Senate, and a majority of House Republicans, including their leader, Kevin McCarthy, of California.

When it comes to this latest offense, no one bears more blame than Hawley.

The January 6 rally was long planned for the day that Congress, by law, was set to certify the results of the Electoral College, Trump’s last procedural chance to overturn the election before he is left with only martial law and other extremes. But that otherwise routine ceremony turned into something much more fraught when the callow and uber-ambitious Sen. Hawley announced that he was going to object to that certification for no good reason other than his desire to kick off his 2024 presidential campaign.

Even after witnessing the unspeakable events that unfolded earlier that day, Hawley pressed on with his pointless and reckless kabuki, and did not exactly cover himself with glory in his late night speech on the floor of the Senate. As former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted: “So Hawley helped to spark this incredible awful day in American democracy because he disagreed with mail-in voting in Pennsylvania? Really? Did I miss something or was that it?”

Hawley’s jawdroppingly dishonest and opportunistic behavior will live in infamy. So it’s fitting that a man so ambitious and pathologically willing to commit an act of such wanton immorality should experience such a steep fall.

Overnight Hawley became one of the most hated figures in American life. He lost his sweetheart book deal, his mentor (retired Missouri Senator John C. Danforth called championing him “the worst mistake I ever made in my life,”), and his future as a rising Republican star. His Senatorial career is in tatters and his presidential ambitions are dead as disco.

Josh-o predictably whinged about censorship, which is REALLY beginning to make me question the value of a fancy Ivy League education. To state the fucking obvious, Josh, as a free marketer, you might recall that censorship is a matter of governmental action, while Simon & Schuster is a private business, and free speech under the First Amendment does not entitle you to a fat book deal from a prestigious publisher.

But Hawley should face a lot harsher consequences than just that.

He should be censured, if not outright expelled from the Senate. If he had an ounce of decency, he would resign. (If he were a Japanese politician, someone would hand him a tanto.) His career in public life should be over, of course, consigning him to the dark corners of the right wing mediasphere, where he can always earn a well-feathered living and be celebrated by the other cretins. I’m not worried about Josh being able to feed his family.

But it’s not at all clear that any of that will happen. Josh Hawley may yet be a viable presidential candidate in 2024, even if it’s under the banner of a new far-right party, or the current Trump — er, Republican — Party, should it not conduct a thorough cleansing.

The real question is, can America heal sufficiently such that Josh Hawley for practical reasons can’t muster any significant support as a viable national politician?

As Glasser notes, Hawley is far from alone in his responsibility for this dog’s breakfast.

After Josh first announced his spotlight grabbing stunt, the reliably reptilian Ted Cruz all but tripped over himself trying to out-monster him, no doubt kicking himself that the junior douchebag from Missouri got there first. So another silver lining this week was that it might have been the end of Ted Cruz’s political career as well, or at least his already shaky presidential ambitions. Let’s hope so. These guys can never be allowed to go back to pretending that they are acceptable, garden variety pols who didn’t foment this atrocity and the damage it did to America, and America’s standing in the world, not to mention the loss of human life.

And there are many others. Watching DeVos, Chao, Mulvaney, Barr, Peggy Noonan, John Kelly, et al suddenly discover their consciences in the final twelve days of this hell voyage is a bitter joke. With the Cabinet officers in particular, it is more likely sheer cowardice in order to avoid a vote on the 25th Amendment. But they shouldn’t be mortified, Bonnie Kristian of The Week, they should be repentant.

“I’ve tried to be helpful,” a smug and grinning Lindsey Graham told his colleagues on the floor of the Senate, hoping to cover his ass as he attempts to extricate himself from Trumpworld now that it’s gone to shit. Thanks, Lindsey — I think we’ve had about all the “help” from you we can take.

Asked about a second impeachment, Graham waffled, saying he hoped the worst of Trump’s reign was now behind us, then offered that if Trump did something else really bad in the next twelve days, “all options would be on the table.”

Hear that, Donald? We’re serious this time. We’re giving you ONE MORE CHANCE.

(*Susan Collins nods somberly.)

Craven as these all-but-meaningless eleventh hour defections are, they may at least mark the long overdue beginning of the end of Trump’s reign of terror and this Salem-like period of mass hysteria. Maybe. But then I look up and see Lucy Van Pelt holding that football again.

All these people and many many others have a lot to answer for (looking at you, Hugh Hewitt), and we should demand that they do so. There can be no mass amnesia, no clemency, no forgive-and-forget. It would not be merciful to do so — it would be suicidal. We’ll be lucky to have survived the Trump era at all, with only the damage we’ve already suffered. If we don’t begin repairs, including holding the guilty to account, it will happen again.

Thus far, Trump’s enablers have mostly beaten the rap, which is infuriating in itself. The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells, a better gentleman than me, has the courtesy to call Trump’s rallygoers by their preferred name when he writes:

The Save America March featured Roger Stone, who had been convicted in federal court of witness tampering and lying to Congress in connection with the Mueller investigation; President Trump later pardoned him. The march also featured Rudy Giuliani, who had spent years directing Trump’s effort to bully the Ukrainian government into producing damaging information about Joe Biden’s son Hunter — the same effort that resulted in the President’s impeachment. Shortly before the invasion of the Capitol, Giuliani told a crowd near the White House that it was time for a “trial by combat.” He spent several years working to subvert the regular process of elections, got away with it, and now was at it again.

This is yet another aspect of the hypocrisy of which Tom Hall writes:

There is a double system in America now, one for you and me, and one for white nationalists. One for people of color and their allies, and one for Roger Stone and Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. Trumpists are cleared for criminal service of the fascist President’s will, and the rest of us get to eat shit as justice is leveraged as a political weapon.

All true. But the difference is, beginning January 20, a new set of folks are going to be meting out the punishment.

Can the GOP undergo the painful process of reforming itself? Does it have the moral courage to do so, or even the simple desire? The same questions apply to our nation as a whole.

It won’t be a easy task, and no one thinks it will. How deep and dark is the Trumpian death cult of personality? This dark: A recent poll shows that a majority of Republicans blame Joe Biden for the mob that stormed the Capitol.

The notion that MAGA Nation is just a bunch of harmless dumbasses now ought to be thoroughly discredited. Those pickup trucks flying oversized Trump flags blasting past on the LIE — already disgusting — suddenly seem a lot more menacing. And neither the hateful throng that desecrated the Capitol nor the poison that fed it will fade away without pushback from the rest of us. As Paul Krugman writes, “If you imagine that the people who stormed the Capitol will just go away once Biden is installed in the White House, you’re delusional.”

It’s time to stop appeasing the fascists among us…..there needs to be an accounting for whatever crimes took place during the past four years — and does anyone doubt that Trump allies and associates engaged in criminal acts? Don’t say that we should look forward, not back; accountability for past actions will be crucial if we want the future to be better.

Appeasement is what got us to where we are. It has to stop, now.

If there is no such reckoning, the events of this past Wednesday won’t be a low watermark. They will only be a prelude.

In fact, even with a reckoning, so much damage has been done to the soul of this country that we will surely have to deal with a violent White nationalist, radical right wing insurgency for some time to come. If we don’t face its toxic wellspring, January 6th may one day look like a walk in the park.

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For more essays, go to The King’s Necktie Archive.

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Writer, filmmaker, and veteran — blogging at The King’s Necktie @TheKingsNecktie

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