Devin Nunes is serious, and seriously sinister
On Friday, America witnessed the second stage of public hearings in the House investigation into impeachable offenses by the president. The witness was Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine. She was pushed out by the Trump administration.
I’ll digest her testimony later. For now, I’m going to focus on the opening statement by Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee. I won’t bore you by decoding it bit by bit, but I do want to raise awareness of a larger theme: what he’s doing is fascism.
I don’t mean to dismiss Nunes by using the F-word. To the contrary, I’m using that word to draw attention squarely to his statements and deeds, and to the stakes we are facing. Too few of us fully appreciate the stakes, I suspect, even otherwise brilliant reporters and pundits paying close attention to the ins and outs of the investigation.
Too few fully appreciate the stakes because of the nature of Nunes’ behavior. From the perspective of someone deeply informed about the known facts of the Trump-Ukraine scandal, Nunes probably sounds, well, you know, crazy. I can imagine reporters and editors not having the foggiest idea of what he’s saying, and deciding to just not include some of his crazy out of respect for him and the need for getting on with the job.
But the crazy should get as much, or nearly as much, focus as the facts of the case against this president. The crazy tells us how committed many of the Republicans are to liberal democracy, which is to say little apparent commitment. Some might say the crazy suggests the Republicans don’t take these proceedings seriously. I think it’s the reverse. They are meeting a serious challenge with something injurious and sinister.
What something? This: The president is the victim of an international conspiracy to undermine the 2016 presidential election in favor of his political enemies. It was the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who attacked our sovereignty. It was the Democrats, not Trump’s campaign staff (i.e., Paul Manafort), who conspired with foreign spies to defraud the United States and sabotage the will of the people. They tried once and failed, and now they’re trying again, this time to “overthrow the president,” Nunes said. This isn’t the literal word of his opening statement, just the spirit. As Jonathan Bernstein said this morning, Nunes is “100% committed to loony conspiracy theories.”
This conspiracy theory has its roots in the Kremlin, you will be shocked to learn. It is, moreover, the “false narrative” that compelled Army Lt. Col. Alex Vindman to come forward and testify. He feared, rightly, it threatened to subsume the findings of the special counsel’s report as well as imperil national security and US interests abroad.
This conspiracy theory, furthermore, was in the whistleblower complaint. It cited a series of interviews and columns in The Hill featuring Yuriy Lutsenko, a former top prosecutor in Ukraine. Lutsenko said unnamed “officials” had evidence of Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election in collaboration with the Democratic National Committee. He said Barack Obama blocked Ukrainian prosecutors from delivering “evidence” about the election to America. He said Joe Biden pressured Ukraine’s former president to fire a prosecutor investigating an energy firm his son worked for.
This conspiracy theory, in fact, can be traced to Rudy Giuliani, who’s in connection with Ukrainian mobsters turning Russian lies about 2016 into reality. (Lev Parnas put The Hill’s John Solomon in touch with Lutsenko by way of Solomon’s attorneys, Victoria Ann Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who are frequent guests on Fox News.) This conspiracy theory, finally, has purchase at the highest levels of American power. It doesn’t have to be true for powerful people to force it into being “the truth.”
To put all this another way, most normal people tend to believe that truth is power. But that’s not how fascist politics works. In fascism, power is “truth.” If this president is not impeached, it will be in part because Trump and the Republicans successfully created a fake reality wholly antithetical to the goal and practice of liberal democracy.
This is why calling it a “conspiracy theory” and leaving it at that isn’t enough. Even if Trump is removed, some Republicans will not be chastened. They will instead point to his downfall as evidence of what they’ve been saying all along—that the president is a victim of an international conspiracy. And they will use that “truth” as the basis for whatever future moves they make, and that future could be worse than Donald Trump.
The way to begin combating the crazy is paying attention to it, however crazy-making that might feel. We can’t dismiss it. Indeed, dismissing it works in favor of fascist politics. What Devin Nunes is doing is serious. It is injurious. It is sinister.
Too few people fully appreciate that.