illustration above: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Getty
WN: I can only add: I have two close relatives who belong to that cast of Deplorables highlighted below. That is agonizingly incredible!. . . Sigh. . .
The following is excerpted from “The Useful Idiot: How Donald Trump Killed the Republican Party with Racism, the Rest of Us with Coronavirus, And Why We Aren’t Done With Him Yet,” by S.V. Dáte.
The president of the United States tried to stage a coup to remain in power.
Yes, seeing that in print is a bit jarring, to say the least. Yet that is, in fact, precisely what happened.
The president of the United States, after losing reelection by 7 million votes, riled up his cult-like followers for months with lies about massive voter fraud, culminating with a “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House urging them to march on the Capitol just as Congress set about to formally certify Joe Biden as the winner.
The plan was as simple as it was outrageous: His violent thugs would intimidate his own vice president into violating the Constitution and rejecting tens of millions of legitimate votes in states Biden had won, preventing him from reaching the required 270 electoral votes and throwing the election to the House of Representatives, where Donald Trump would win under the one-vote-per-state rule.
Getting lost in the photos and videos of the carnage that afternoon is a clear-eyed reckoning of what, precisely, Trump and his enablers in Congress, along with the Republican Party and the significant segment of voters who backed Trump’s post-election efforts to delegitimize his clear loss, would have brought us had they somehow succeeded.
If Trump had managed to coerce Pence and Congress into giving him another four years, does anyone truly believe that that would have been the end of it? After seeing how easy it was to scare the “pro-democracy establishment” with his terrorist mob, why would he not repeat it in 2024? Or just dispense with elections altogether, given how prone they are to being “rigged”?
Americans need to be honest about what nearly happened and why. Trump has never in his life cared about democracy, as was pretty clear when he first started running for the presidency back in 2015. That so many of our fellow citizens did not seem to care about that, and would to this day prefer a Trump autocracy to a constitutional republic, is more than a little worrisome.
The days of relying on the Republican Party as a first line of defense against such a person winning the nomination are over. A functioning national party never would have permitted such an obvious fraud from taking part in its presidential primaries, let alone winning. And so Congress will have to step in and impose the laws that make another Trump more difficult.
One easy fix would be to require candidates who open a presidential campaign to file three or five or 10 years of tax returns with the Federal Election Commission. Trump never would have run had he been required to disclose even a few years of his returns because they would have shattered the creation myth that he had spent decades embellishing.
Another simple one would be to move Hatch Act enforcement outside of the purview of the president himself. Trump’s former adviser Kellyanne Conway was found to have repeatedly violated the law that forbids campaigning on taxpayer time or on federal property. The Office of Special Counsel recommended that Trump fire her. Conway literally laughed at that, telling the White House press corps to let her know when the jail sentence would start. Trump, naturally, did not fire her.
If an independent ethics office were in charge of enforcing the sanctions and were permitted to impose four- and five-figure fines, maybe future presidents would be less likely to use the White House and “official” travel for campaign rallies, as Trump frequently did throughout his term, and on a near-daily basis in his final year, with the willing assistance of his top staff.
Trump is a prodigious liar, true, but he is so bad at it that it is obvious he is a prodigious liar. What does it say about someone who, knowing this, voted for him not once, but twice? What does it say about someone who did not vote for him in 2016 but who, after watching a white grievance presidency for a full term in office, nevertheless wound up deciding: Yes, he has done a great job and deserves four more years.
A significant slice of the Republican Party primary voting base is still angry about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A significant slice of the Republican Party primary voting base, based on its members’ vocal support of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election he lost, appears quite keen to give away democracy entirely if that seems the best way of hanging on to “their” country.
I honestly don’t know how the party rids itself of these people, but it must. This is not merely an argument over marginal tax rates or the appropriate amount of government regulation. The sanctity of elections is a foundational, nonnegotiable principle in a constitutional republic. Trump showed that he absolutely did not accept that principle, and tens of millions of Americans were eager to follow his lead.
Add this to Republicans’ decades-old propaganda war against non-sycophantic news media, and the result was absurdly uncritical coverage of a man who had made a career of self-promotion by lying and manipulating the New York City tabloids.Once in office, Trump was able to abuse the deference afforded a president’s words and actions, even when they were quite clearly not presidential. The worst of this was his endless lying on nearly every topic under the sun. News organizations did not know how to deal with a serially dishonest president. This was the case with many longtime White House reporters but seemed especially true of younger journalists with no experience covering a normal administration or, in some cases, covering anything at all, apart from a political campaign or two.
The fundamental question is whether the Republican Party even wants to reform itself, or whether it has gone completely over to the idea that winning is everything, even if that means ending American democracy.
It took years for many outlets to acknowledge the plain, simple, obvious truth that Trump lied all the time, about everything. This wasn’t a matter of opinion. It was as uncomplicated and clear and indisputable as the color of the tie he was wearing. Yet for three and a half years, it was not presented that way. His dishonesty, his corruption, his childishness were described as his “shambolic leadership style,” or his “unorthodox approach to government,” rather than the insanity they actually represented.
It took years for them to appreciate that, no, in this instance, what they saw was all there was. Trump truly was as ignorant and petulant as he seemed, in addition to being perpetually dishonest. And in those years before it finally became accepted practice to describe Trump’s lies as “lies” in print and on the air, in that period where they were still being called misstatements or “Trumpian hyperbole” or some such, he was able to spread them far and wide until they took root and created an alternate reality.This culminated in a phenomenally dishonest reelection campaign, which somehow got increasingly more dishonest as the election drew closer. Trump’s rallies became hour-and-a-half grievance sessions filled with lies about how the Russia investigation was a hoax, how he was unfairly impeached, how his opponents were overhyping the pandemic in order to hurt the economy and thus his reelection campaign, how he was nearly finished building his wall along the Mexican border, how his trade deals were tremendous achievements, and on and on and on and on. It got to be where the only factual statements he would make at his events were the names of the states they were being held in and the names of other Republican candidates for office joining him there.
Trump is a prodigious liar, true, but he is so bad at it that it is obvious he is a prodigious liar. What does it say about someone who, knowing this, voted for him not once, but twice?
Because lying, as it turns out, works.
…Which brings us to the really scary part: Trump’s clear preference for unbridled power did not seem to make him an unacceptable choice for vast swaths of America. Despite a completely botched response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite out-in-the-open corruption and exhausting dishonesty, some 45% of Americans still approved of his performance in the Oval Office, and a slightly higher percentage of them actually cast their ballots for him.
His dishonesty, his corruption, his childishness were described as his “shambolic leadership style,” or his “unorthodox approach to government,” rather than the insanity they actually represented.
That, perhaps, is the most bewildering, and, frankly, the most unnerving piece of data about our country to emerge since the escalator ride.
After five full years of Trump in our lives, with four of those as the country’s chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces, 74 million Americans decided that, yes, what our country needed was four more years of this.
Copyright © by S.V. Dáte. Published by Sounion Books February 2021. Excerpted by permission.
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