Trump's latest salvo against Mike Pence confirms what the GOP has become

Trump's latest salvo against Mike Pence confirms what the GOP has become
(Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence walk along the Colonnade of the White House prior to a coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Monday, March 30, 2020, in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Despite weeks of worrying that Attorney General Merrick Garland didn't have the guts, the good news finally came down: Former Donald Trump advisor and current fascist propagandist Steve Bannon is under indictment for refusing to honor a subpoena to testify before Congress. Additionally, the announcement appears to have empowered the January 6 commission to enforce its other subpoenas. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., says Congress will "move quickly" to do the same to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, who is similarly refusing to answer questions about his role in Trump's efforts to invalidate the 2020 election and the violent insurrection on the Capitol that ensued.

Both Bannon and Meadows are clearly at the center of what is very much looking like an insurrectionist conspiracy helmed by Trump. As journalist Lindsay Beyerstein explained on Twitter, January 6 appears to be "an inside game and an outside game," with the former focused on pressuring then-Vice President Mike "Pence steal the election procedurally" and the latter on using the violent mob "to terrorize potentially recalcitrant GOP reps into going along with the theft." New reporting shows the extent to which Meadows was orchestrating the pressure campaign against Pence. Bannon was also in the thick of it and is on tape telling his podcast listeners on Jan. 5 to "strap in" because "we're pulling the trigger on something" and "we're on the point of attack tomorrow."

Meadows and Bannon have always been prime examples of who wannabe fascist dictators like Trump depend on: the lickspittle and the aggro desk warrior, respectively. What really matters now is how the Republican Party responds to efforts to expose the role that Trump's aides and allies played in the coup and the Capitol riot. And that reaction tells us all we need to know about who the GOP is now, and how far they've gone down the fascism rabbit hole.

"Republicans are rallying around former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon," Amy Wang of the Washington Post reports, and "warning Democrats that they will go after Biden's aides for unspecified reasons if they take back the House majority in next year's midterm elections."

The threat that Republicans will have a bunch of B.S. hearings to float right-wing conspiracy theories when they retake the House is meaningless, as they were going to do that no matter what. But it is relevant that they are defending Bannon, a human pile of chewed-up gum who barely even pretends not to see himself as the 21st century Joseph Goebbels. Republicans are no longer interested in upholding the pretense of support for peace and democracy. Embracing Bannon is embracing the ideology of violent fascism that led to the Capitol riot in the first place.

Outside of D.C., we see further evidence in this in the reaction to the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three people, killing two, after picking up an illegally obtained AR-15 and going, totally uninvited and under the guise of "security," to harass demonstrators at a Black Lives Matter protest.

In the euphemistic parlance of the mainstream media, this trial has "divided" Americans. "In Rittenhouse case, Americans see what they want to see," reads a typical headline at the Associated Press, noting in the text that "he's personified America's polarization."

That's one way to put it. Another is to point out that Rittenhouse had no reason to even be at the protest, and would have been better off respecting the right of all Americans to protest and staying home, rather than trying to menace them with a gun. The rallying around Rittenhouse, as Ryan Busse of Giffords told the AP, is likely "empowering more actors like him who think it's glamorous to go kill somebody with a rifle." Historian John Baick linked the Rittenhouse advocacy to "military groups across the country, anti-mask protests, school board protests" — that is to say, a move among the GOP towards the view that violence and chaos is an acceptable response to political disagreement.

Indeed, the celebration of Rittenhouse's violence has been accompanied by Republicans in statehouses passing laws to make it easier to get away with killing left-wing protesters. As Jess Bidgood of the Boston Globe reported last month, "there have been scores of people hit, dozens of injuries, at least three deaths" due to right-wingers mowing down protesters with their cars. But rather than prosecute such people, "Oklahoma and 15 other states have considered bills protecting drivers," and in many cases, they've passed them.

The love for Rittenhouse — or similarly, the way Capitol insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt has been turned into a Trumpian martyr — is not an anomalous event. It's a sign of a systematic shift across Republican America, in both the halls of power and at ordinary dinner tables, to the view that co-existence with liberal Americans is no longer possible. Conservatives continue to believe, despite the recent Virginia gubernatorial win, that they and their ideas cannot compete in free and fair elections. And so violence to crush the left is becoming an ever more acceptable answer in GOP circles.

Late last week, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl released audio of an interview in which Trump argues that it was "common sense" for his supporters who stormed the Capitol to be chanting "hang Mike Pence." It was justified, Trump suggested, because "the people were very angry" and the "vote is fraudulent." (The vote was not, in fact, fraudulent, and this is just a racist conspiracy theory like Trump's other favorite racist conspiracy theory, that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen.) It's clear that Trump continues to believe, as he did on January 6, that Pence both had the right and the obligation to simply declare the 2020 election null and void, even though there's simply no legal or factual basis for the claim. And he sees violence in the name of trying to force this vision as justified and, in his words, "common sense."

But, of course, Republican leaders aren't abandoning Trump over this. Instead, they bat away questions about whether or not such endorsements of political violence are a good idea. There's absolutely no evidence this is slowing down Trump's momentum for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, which he has all but locked up nearly two and a half years before voting even starts.

In their 2021 year out memo released Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote, "The moment Washington Republicans felt their grip on power loosen, they unleashed a full assault on American democracy, culminating in a murderous assault on the Capitol and the introduction of anti-voter legislation across the country."

This is not an exaggeration. If anything, it's an understatement, if only because Democrats continue to sidestep the F-word. Understandably so — way too many Americans are still strapped to the "it can't happen here" mentality, and check out mentally the second the word "fascism" is in play. But it's all there in the GOP.

Republicans embrace violence to get their way. They promote a white nationalist definition of the national character. They display an eagerness to censor dissenting views, through violence or book-burning. And share a belief that the law is not about justice, but enshrining the power of a right-wing minority over everyone else. Theirs is an absolutist view of power and a rejection of democracy. Perhaps calling it by its name doesn't help move the needle of public opinion or get voters to wake up any faster. But Trumpism is just fascism, and Trumpism is what the GOP is about these days.

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