John Stoehr

A Republican caving to terrorists is a Republican working for terrorists

I don't hear it said enough. The 201 Republicans in the US House of Representatives who voted against impeaching Donald Trump might have done so out of fear. Ditto for the 142 Republicans who voted to overturn the election to install a tyrant. I don't mean they feared being primaried. That would be understandable. I mean they feared for their lives. I mean they were afraid Republican voters would find them and kill them.

If this is true, and the material evidence is mounting, then we must come to a grim conclusion. Domestic terrorists who sacked the US Capitol last week, intending to "capture and assassinate" lawmakers, according to federal prosecutors, have strong incentive to keep terrorizing elected Republicans, because in terrorizing them, they get elected Republicans to do whatever they want them to do—even commit treason. If this is true, then the question of whether some Republicans were involved in planning, organizing and executing the magattack, as seems the case, might be of secondary concern. Of primary concern may be the Republicans caving to terrorist demands.

The old presumption is you can trust them not to kill you. They're members of Congress! But given how the Republicans do as they're told, that presumption may be outdated.

Consider the impact on a republican democracy when the prime directive of one of the two major parties is fear—when fear overcomes even the bonds of family. Mike Pence was singled out for assassination. Insurgents raised a gallows. As they breached the building, they chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" About a minute after the vice president was hustled out of the Senate, "the pro-Trump mob arrived at the top of a nearby landing," per the Post. "The proximity of the Jan. 6 attackers to the vice president underscores the jeopardy that top government leaders faced during the siege."

The guerrillas singled out Pence, because Trump did. Yet Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, the vice president's own brother, refused to hold Trump accountable. "The president has made it clear he will support a peaceful transfer of power to President-Elect Joe Biden," Greg Pence said on Twitter. "It's time to move on and focus on what truly helps the American people: recovering from COVID-19 and restoring our economy." On the one hand, you could accuse Pence and the Republicans of being hypocritically more concerned about political division than political assassination. (He was among the 142 Republicans who voted to object to Joe Biden's victory.) On the other hand, however, you could say the Republicans are only concerned about assassination—and by accusing the Democrats of disunity, they're merely covering up fear of their own.

That 60 percent of the Republicans thought treason was easier than telling the truth—Trump lost—is the proper context for discussing a new question coming to the fore. Can the Democrats trust their GOP colleagues not to kill them? Some, especially the party's women of color, expressed doubts about three Republicans who carry guns openly or believe openly in the lie that the Democrats are comprised of pedophiles in league with the "Deep State." The old presumption is that, of course, you can trust them not to kill you. They're members of the United States Congress, for God's sake! But that presumption, given how the Republicans do as they're told, seems outdated.

Greg Pence and other Republicans say they stand against all political violence before putting special emphasis on the looting and rioting associated with last summer's Black Lives Matters demonstrations in protest of George Floyd's murder. While some are correct in saying that they are blurring moral distinctions, few have pointed out something important: that the Democrats never give in to the demands of those who act violently if only because the appearance of caving would inflame the Republicans, who are never accused of caving. It's probably time for the Democrats to change that.

It's true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy, because the elites of this country betrayed them and their values (the rewards of hard work, equal justice, equal opportunity, etc.). But it's also true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy because democracy gave freedom and power to people whom these Americans believe are unworthy of freedom and power. Many "real Americans" looked at the election of Barack Obama and thought the end had come, or was coming, and put everything they had into a candidate promising to punish so-called Americans who had it coming.

Months before last week's mutiny, it was clear that Donald Trump was the head of a loose network of vigilantes inside and outside law enforcement, I wrote last summer, that is prepared to use violence when democratic politics fails to yield the right result. This, I said, is an expression of confederate (i.e., fascist) elements in this country that are always already at work and prepared to burn down the status quo if it gets in the way. The status quo called for accepting the results of a free, fair and lawful election. But the status quo was unacceptable. The status quo was now the enemy. The result has been terrorized Republicans trying to overturn the election out of fear for their lives before refusing to punish a president who is poised to lead a paramilitary insurgency.

The onus, therefore, shouldn't be on the Democrats to show why they can't trust their colleagues. It's on the Republicans to show why they can continue to be trusted.

Why Republicans won't fight terrorism

Just when I thought respectable white people were pushing fascist politics back to the margins, where it belongs, Politico gives that poisonous smurf Ben Shapiro its marque platform to explain why "conservatives" believe, in light of Donald Trump's second and, and this time, bipartisan impeachment, that "members of the opposing political tribe want their destruction, not simply to punish Trump for his behavior."

I'm not going to respect Shapiro by rebutting his points. I'm only going to say that polite white society, if Politico is any indication, remains vulnerable to "koshering," and that as long as it remains so, we're all still in trouble. Shapiro is a bad-faith smear artist who makes fascism seem less lethal than it is by calling it "conservatism" or some other name, as if it were a legitimate school of thought in a democratic republic. In doing so, Politico is making room for fascist politics without appearing to. In doing so, Politico enables the gangrene to continue eating out the center of the body politic.

Dems seem to be ready to tell a story about the Republican Party that puts it in a light similar to Osama Bin Laden's.

By calling himself a "conservative," instead of what he truly is, Shapiro is able to elicit sympathy for members of the Republican Party who fear or suspect the Democratic program of being malicious. If Politico presented him correctly, as the backstabbing apparatchik that he is, you might not feel sympathy at all, because it would be clear that when Shapiro accuses the Democrats of trying to destroy the Republicans, he's projecting what he'd like to see happen to the Democrats or confessing what the GOP has already done. In fascism, everything revolves around the fascists. They are the object, the subject, the hero, the victim. This is why they're totalitarians of the right.

Having a worldview that's totalizing—that squeezes out all respect and deference for anything that can't or won't be dominated—means that Shapiro and the fascists will never concede to having any responsibility in human events. Even when everyone else, and I mean everyone else, sees with their own two eyes that the president really did incite a violent revolt against the US government, and a throng of armed insurgents really did try to murder members of the US Congress, fascists will simply deny it, and focus instead on their fetish. As Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York, said Wednesday: "Democrats just threw more fuel on the fire by ramming through score-settling, hastily drafted articles of impeachment just a week before the inauguration. I voted NO on this latest push that will only serve to divide our nation further."

Zeldin is among the 60 percent of Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the election. Like Shapiro accusing the Democrats of wanting to destroy the Republicans, Zeldin, in accusing the Democrats of being divisive, is confessing. What's divisive is not holding accountable a president who fomented an insurgency. What's divisive is protecting a president who fomented an insurgency after casting a vote to invalidate democracy. Like Shapiro, Zeldin is koshering. He's making fascism seem principled. He's making an attempt at political murder seem less political and less murderous.

Koshering only works, however, when there are people ready and willing to believe it. Specifically, if "members of the opposing political tribe" believe it. Truth be told, some Democrats probably did believe some of it before the magattack. Not so much now. The Democrats seem prepared to answer politics with politics, instead of moral appeals to reason. They seem to be ready to tell a story about the Republican Party that puts it in a light similar to Osama Bin Laden's. "On September 11, we came together against an enemy from without, but on Jan. 6, we were attacked by an enemy from within," said Rep. Sean Casten, Democrat of Illinois, during yesterday's impeachment debate. "We must come together today against that domestic threat to our constitution."

Unity, as seen from the point of view of Democrats targeted for murder, is not a matter of being for or against a humiliated one-term twice-impeached president. Unity is a matter of being for or against a common enemy, of being for or against the United States. The question then is why the Republicans have not joined the Democrats the way the Democrats joined a Republican president in the fight against international terrorism. The answer is clear. The Republicans are OK with domestic terrorism, and they are OK with domestic terrorism, because it's Republicans who are doing it. Over time, this will be obvious to everyone. No amount of koshering can change that.


House GOP can't quit Trump

Imagine you're a Republican in the House of Representatives. Imagine you have a choice to make today. You can side with a president who takes no responsibility for the attempted assassination, broadcast on live national television, of members of the United States Congress. Or you can side with everyone else. And I mean everyone: the Democrats, the news media, the US military, business leaders, Wall Street, the courts, civil society, and the 82 million-person multiracial coalition that elected Joe Biden.

Everyone else is saying, yes, what we witnessed was an attempted coup d'etat. What we witnessed was domestic terrorism, plain and simple. What we all saw was disloyalty, treachery, sedition, mutiny, treason—whatever word you want to use to describe the same thing. What we want is for Donald Trump, and everyone who abetted him, directly and indirectly, to face serious consequences. It was possible to talk about a politically divided country after the election last year. Is it still possible in light of the fact that everyone but Republican deadenders understands what must be done today?

The suggestion is that Mitch McConnell might welcome Trump's conviction in order to rid of him. Problem is, he can't.

Imagine being a Republican whose political lifeblood is attachments to the military. Imagine being squeezed between Trump saying his speech inciting the magattack was "totally appropriate" while all eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Gen. Mike Milley, said it was "a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process." Imagine being a Republican spreading the Big Lie—Trump won—while leaders of America's most respected institution say: "In accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief." Imagine you're a Republican finding yourself on the wrong side of the military. What's the point of calling yourself a Republican?

Big business, you could say, and you'd be right. But even there, there's trouble. Many corporate leaders were willing to look the other way while Trump's administration beat down on the politically weak, vulnerable and helpless. But inciting mutiny after losing a presidential election means corporate leaders can no longer look away. Indeed, they have incentive to take action. Tech firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump and his minions. Wall Street banks suspended donations to Republicans complicit in last week's mutiny. Importantly, leaders of traditional and conservative brands are now speaking out against the president. "I think the biggest mistake anybody is going to make is try and rationalize what happened last week, what the president did and what that crowd did," said Home Depot's CEO Ken Langone. "There should be no mitigation at all. It was horrible. It was wrong. I'm shocked."

Wait till it gets worse. On the one hand, these are conditions in which political parties break. Some leading Republicans, for instance Liz Cheney, are coming out strongly in favor of impeachment. Even Mitch McConnell is reportedly open to it. In a phone call with the top congressional Republican, Joe Biden asked if the Senate might operate on duel tracks in the weeks after inauguration: one for confirming his Cabinet and one for putting the former president on trial. McConnell did not say no. Indeed, he punted, saying that it's up to the Senate's parliamentarian. McConnell seems aware of the widening chasm between his party and everyone else. The suggestion is that he might welcome Trump's conviction as means of getting rid of him. Problem is, he can't.

Which brings me to the other hand, and why I'm asking you to imagine being a Republican. However much they are being jammed right now between loyalty to Trump and loyalty to the Constitution, fact is, 142 Republicans already decided. They voted last week to overturn the results of a lawful election, which is to say, they went on the record in favor of overruling the will of the majority and installing a dictator. That many Republicans, or close to it, can be expected to defend Trump today against one article of impeachment. That many Republicans can be expected to shrug at attempted political assassination. That many can be expected to look at the sea of Americans expecting them to honor their oaths of office and say you don't count.

A Fox anchor complained last week about American culture itself being "rigged against conservatives." He's got a point. Polite white society, informed by the news media, the military and the business community, is pushing fascist politics back to the margins, where it belongs. Meanwhile, representatives of fascist politics won't budge. They are putting themselves on the wrong side of democracy and the Constitution by lending support to a former president who is himself poised to lead some kind of paramilitary movement against the US. The GOP likely won't break up so much as forge a new compact between competing wings. One would see political violence as useful and legitimate while the other would see it as illegitimate but useful. The Republicans would today seem to be making a choice, but the choice is already made.

Are respectable white people scared enough by fascism yet?

Last week, after the mutiny on Capitol Hill, I asked: "Is polite white society scared enough?" If so, we might expect a categorical backlash against the rise of native-born fascism. If not, we can expect more of the same amoral indifference among respectable white people that we saw under an autocratic president and his Republican enablers. While the former would be very good for democracy and the republic, the latter would not. Hard as it is to accept, our fates are linked to the feelings of polite white society.

Is it scared enough? I don't know, but the evidence over the last few days alone seems suggestive of an answer. Indeed, at some future point, we might look back at the 2020s the way we look back at the 1980s to see two eras reacting politically to respective previous eras, setting the tone for a generation each. The 1980s, under Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, were a reaction to Black freedom and power. The 2020s, under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris might be, in the end, a reaction to radical right-wing collectivism. For now, we can only hope that's the case. More certain is that each period was and will be, alas, determined by the opinions of respectable white people.

Last week's mutiny should prove to respectable white people that fascist politics never ends on its own. It must consume everything—even itself and even respectable white people.

They should be scared. It's no longer possible to maintain the belief that native-born fascism will be satiated by eating the politically weak, vulnerable or helpless. It's no longer possible to believe the Republican Party can balance protecting the interests of respectable white people with beating down on women of color, Muslims, immigrants, Black people and LGBTQ people. It's no longer possible to believe the president's confederates only stand against "the undeserving." If nothing else, last week's mutiny should prove to respectable white people that fascist politics never ends on its own. It must consume everything around it—even itself and even respectable white people.

I said yesterday that the Republicans fear Donald Trump being impeached by this Congress, and convicted by the next Congress, because it would mean the Democrats have neutralized their best negotiating tool: extortion. For at least a decade, the Republicans have gotten most of what they wanted by holding democracy hostage.

But there's another reason they fear, or should fear, impeachment and conviction. The process will make clear to everyone how deeply fascism is rooted among so-called conservatives. The process will make clear to respectable white people that the problem isn't just "lone wolves" blowing things up. The problem is the Republican Party. Respectable white people, as represented by suburban voters, are already, thanks to Trump's unvarnished sadism, giving the Democrats and their ideas the benefit of the doubt. Impeachment and conviction may cement that dynamic for a few decades.

The idea that the Republicans will get what they want, even if they have to kill people, is already being galvanized by recent reports that last week's insurgency was partly organized by three House Republicans: Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar and Mo Brooks. Not only did they vote to overturn a lawful election; they created the means by which the president incited an insurrection during which seditionaries brought zip ties, guns and homemade napalm into the Capitol, during which five people died, including a Capitol cop who was beaten to death. The danger is so clear and present that some Democrats are demanding that metal detectors be installed at next week's inauguration. They fear gun-carrying GOP members of the Congress might try their hand at assassination.

(The danger isn't confined to Washington. The FBI released a report Monday saying "violent protests" are expected in all 50 states. "Multiple reports indicate various threats to harm President-elect Biden ahead of the presidential inauguration," it said. "Additional reports indicate threats against VP-Elect Harris and Speaker Pelosi." Law enforcement institutions aren't taking the danger seriously enough either. After the siege, the FBI said it was caught by surprise. A memo obtained by the Post reveals, however, that the bureau knew the day before that "extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and 'war.'" The report said organizers were explicit: "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood … being spilled," one said. "Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.")

Then, of course, there's Trump. He denied today having incited a coup attempt. That's going to make life hard for the Republicans. They'll have to defend sedition. But that might succeed if polite white society allows it. After leaving the White House, Jelani Cobb said recently, Trump will lead "a revanchist movement seeking to topple the government." Impeaching and convicting him isn't just moral, he said. It's tactical. That, I think, is how you move respectable white people away from fascism. That, I think, is how you end a four-decade-old political regime rooted in white supremacy.

Republicans are trying another extortion play — but Democrats refuse to pay the ransom

If there's any doubt about the impact of Donald Trump being impeached for the second time in two years, consider this. Some House Republicans sent a letter to Joe Biden asking him to get Nancy Pelosi to back off. "A presidential impeachment should not occur in the heat of the moment, but rather after great deliberation," they said. They added that Impeachment Vol. II "would undermine [Biden's] priority of unifying Americans, and would be a further distraction to our nation at a time when millions of our fellow citizens are hurting because of the pandemic and the economic fallout."

To their credit, these Republicans are not among the 147 Republicans in the United States Congress who planned to vote to overturn the results of the presidential election before a gang of insurgents stormed the Capitol. They are not among the 60 percent of elected Republicans who actually voted to overturn the election after the insurgents, some of whom erected a gallows and chanted "Hang Mike Pence," came close to breaching the room where lawmakers were. These are not the Republicans working with confederates who beat to death a Capitol police officer. These are not the people who stand with murder being a legitimate alternative to democracy.

Nice unity you have here. Shame if something happened to it.

These Republicans are OK with extortion, though. That's what the Republican appeal for unity is. What they are really saying is that if the Democrats move forward with impeaching Trump with just days left in his term, they can expect even more defiance on the part of the president and his confederates inside and outside the Republican Party. Nice unity, these Republicans are really saying. Shame if something happened to it. It's not reasonable. It's certainly not principled. It's a threat of more political violence.

Some might say there's enough bad behavior to go around. Last summer, some Black Lives Matter protests got out of hand. Didn't some "leftists" riot, loot and vandalize? True, some did, but these are categorically different acts of violence. Smashing the windows of the Express Mart is not the same thing as smashing the windows of the US Capitol at the direction of a president during a joint-session of the Congress to finalize an election's results. Anyone saying they are the same, as Fox's Brian Kilmeade did, is expressing sympathy for right-wing terrorists and rationalizing their attempted coup.

Fortunately, the House Democrats seem to understand they can't give in to extortion. Pelosi introduced one article of impeachment this morning, accusing the president of "incitement of insurrection." The House Republicans blocked a resolution calling on the vice president to invoke the 25th Amendment. That set up a vote for Wednesday. Pelosi doesn't fire blanks. Trump is going to be the only president impeached twice.

There's some question about when the impeachment trial would take place in the Senate. Jim Clyburn suggested the House might hold on to the article until after Joe Biden's agenda is up and running after the first 100 days. I'm less concerned about the timing than I am about the Democrats' commitment to convicting the president and making an example of him. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a key vote in the next Congress, said Trump deserves impeachment. That suggests that his party is all-in.

Why? The Democrats are pissed. This time for good, I think. Before the siege, it was still possible to see a gallows erected on Capitol Hill as mere symbolism. Not after, though. It was still possible to believe the president's confederates really did believe Blue Lives Matters. Not after beating a cop to death. Before 147 Republicans went on record supporting the insurrection, it was still possible to believe not all Republicans act like separatists. It was still possible to believe the Republican Party's fascist turn would end after Trump left. It was still possible to believe the Republicans had more to offer the republic than disloyalty, sabotage and treachery.

They don't. So the Democrats are acting accordingly. Pelosi made sure Trump cannot start a nuclear war. House Democrats plan on freezing out their traitorous colleagues, not allowing them to introduce or co-sponsor any bills, even plain-vanilla ones. Civil society seems to be piling on. One CNN anchor is now outwardly, and gloriously, hostile toward Fox. Expect others in the press corps to follow suit. Twitter and Facebook banned Trump. Apple and Google deplatformed Parler, the fascist Twitter. Corporate donors are pulling out. Big-dollar individuals are adding to calls for resignation, sanction or expulsion. Meanwhile, according to CBS News, right-wing violence is spreading across the country, like a virus, after last week's MAGAttack.

The Republicans have held democracy, the economy and democratic norms for ransom for at least a decade. Take that way, and what leverage does the party have? None.

Political consequences are coming. So are criminal consequences

As I was writing Thursday's edition, Chuck Schumer did something I would never have expected from the milquetoastiest member of the Democratic leadership. He called for Donald Trump's immediate removal. He said the president was the leader of a violent insurrection against the US government. (His words). He said Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment. If they do not, Schumer said, the US Congress would take action, including a second impeachment.

Schumer is the squishiest squish. He caves at the slightest resistance. Yet here he is, showing backbone. More importantly, he's calling for something that's increasingly likely. A couple hours after his statement was released, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi followed suit. More than 200 Democrats have come out in favor of impeaching the president before he has a chance to incite another violent coup attempt. At least one Republican agrees. Others appear open to the idea. Articles of impeachment have been drafted. A Wall Street Journal editorial said the president should resign before getting hammered again. The US House could vote as early as the middle of next week.

Translation: Possible suspects might include Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in the United States Congress.

Political consequences are coming. So are criminal consequences. The FBI has asked the public for help identifying insurgents who overran the Capitol. (That should be easy. Cameras are everywhere.) The Washington Metropolitan Police released pictures of scores of suspects. Authorities are looking for the man who put pipe bombs near the RNC and DNC offices. Capitol cop Brian Sicknick's death is now being investigated as a homicide. US attorney Michael R. Sherwin said during a presser Thursday: "Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but . . . were there others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this. We will look at every actor and all criminal charges." Translation: Possible suspects might include Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in the US Congress.

Consequences are coming for the enemies of the republic. Cue expressions of regret, or equivocation, or both, designed to blur distinctions and soften the blow. Marco Rubio: Subverting the government in order to cancel a lawful democratic election is totally the same thing as Black Lives Matter protesters smashing windows. Everyone is to blame, and everyone has work to do, right? (Not his words, and wrong.) The CEO of a Chicago firm, among the infiltrators, said he was really so very really truly very sorry. (Not sorry enough.) Ted Cruz, who enabled the insurgency by voting Wednesday to overturn a free and fair election, said the president went a bit too far. Anyway, Cruz said, he's disagreed with Trump's "language and rhetoric for the last four years." (Ha!)

And then there was the president:

This moment calls for healing and reconciliation. 2020 has been a challenging time for our people. A menacing pandemic has upended the lives of our citizens, isolated millions in their homes, damaged our economy, and claimed countless lives. Defeating this pandemic and rebuilding the greatest economy on earth will require all of us working together. It will require a renewed emphasis on the civic values of patriotism, faith, charity, community, and family. We must revitalize the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that bind us together as one national family.

The temptation among liberals is to ease up. They should not. Not ever. According to Elie Mystal, The Nation's justice correspondent, the insurgents might have succeeded had they "gotten a hold of the boxes holding the [Electoral College] certifications, even for a bit. They would have broken the 'chain of custody.' They'd have had a colorable argument for demanding states re-certify." In other words, Trump could have made a plausible case in court that a do-over was needed thanks to his goons tampering with the votes. He could have sown even more paranoia, suspicion and doubt. The staffers who took the boxes, Mystal said, "are literally the people who stopped the coup."

Coming so close to victory demands a swift, determined and unrelenting response. It demands that the enemies of the republic be found out. That includes the Republicans who are quickly becoming known as the "Sedition Caucus." Calls are growing for their expulsion (unlikely, but still). Calls are growing for their censure (more likely). The Republicans are not going to change on their own, because there's no reason to when everyone is as good or bad as everyone else, and nothing really matters. Consequences mean the rule of law matters. Consequences mean accountability matters, that public morality matters. Consequences mean people who don't really believe what they are saying, but who say it anyway for political gain no matter who gets hurt, will stop. Consequences, political and legal, are the only things the Republicans will respect.

The Republicans enabling Trump's 'confederate' insurrection

At the end of yesterday's edition of the Editorial Board, I said you should not expect the Republicans to change. They lost the White House. They have now lost the US Senate. But they won't do any soul-searching. They won't pull back from the brink. They will do what they were elected to do. They will represent a wholly imagined nation-within-a-nation, a confederacy of the mind and spirit where "real Americans" live and where anyone who is not a Republican is, no proof required, the "enemy of the people."

As I pressed the publish button, an enraged mob broke off from a massive rally in Washington in support of Donald Trump on the day the US Congress was set to tally electoral votes showing Joe Biden to be the next president. Under Trump's explicit direction, the mob lay siege to the Capitol. They broke windows, smashed doors, ransacked offices, and generally overran security. Guns were drawn. Police fired teargas. A woman was shot and killed. Lawmakers were rushed away, provided with gas masks. The most striking images from ground zero were those of rioters waving flags honoring the old Confederacy. Cory Booker, a Senate Democrat, later connected those dots. That flag represents old political forces that nearly brought down the republic. That flag represents new political forces that are trying to do it again.

Political violence on the outside of "democracy's temple" was paired with political violence on the inside.

Legislators reconvened in the evening. They finished the job about 3 this morning. But as I watched the Post's coverage, I sensed from reporters speaking that the tone in Washington had changed. I was told the Republicans were chastened by displays of real violence, real blood, and real tragedy. But even as reporters spoke, even as some Republican senators pulled back, the rest of their party put the lie to such happy talk.

Representative Andy Harris nearly started a fistfight after Conor Lamb, a Democrat, said the attack "didn't materialize out of nowhere. It was inspired by lies—the same lies you're hearing in this room tonight." "He called me a liar," Harris was heard saying. He'd have come to blows had aides not stepped in. Political violence on the outside of "democracy's temple" was paired with political violence on the inside.

Pre-putsch, it was possible to see attempts by the Republicans to overthrow the election as familiar Washington theater. The Democrats control the House. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is in no more mood for Trump. All of this is sturm und drang. Nothing to be worried about. If something serious happened, they'd surely check themselves. Politics is one thing, after all. Real life is something else.

Post-putsch, it's impossible. This isn't theater. They mean it. Their intentions are clear. Josh Hawley and six other Republican senators really did vote to deny the legitimacy of Pennsylvania's lawful election. Nearly 140 House Republicans really did the same. Ted Cruz and five other Republican senators really did vote to deny the legitimacy of Arizona's lawful election. More than 120 House Republicans really did the same.

They declared where they stand—against the Union and for a confederacy of the mind and spirit. Through it all, they repeated the same lies, the same propaganda and the same venom that fueled insurgents storming the Capitol, leading to a woman's death. The Republicans were not chastened. They were not humbled. They were inspired.

The only way for the Republicans to change is to break them. We have the first steps. Take the presidency. Take the Senate. But the Democrats can't, and apparently won't, stop there. Biden called the putsch an "insurrection." In short order, respectable white people were following suit, even McConnell. The Post used the word without quotes. (So did public radio's "Marketplace," of all things.) Chuck Schumer, the next Senate majority leader, stepped past "insurrection" to call Trump's mob "domestic terrorists." All of this pushed Twitter to lock Trump's account temporarily. Facebook banned him indefinitely. White House attorneys reportedly warned aides they could be tried for treason if they go along with Trump. His Cabinet is reportedly discussing invoking the 25th Amendment. Polite white society seems to be universally appalled, and scared.

It should be. But is it scared enough? Trump really is the leader of an insurgency whose participants are armed, paranoid, dangerous and deadly. Some on the inside of the GOP—Hawley, Cruz, Republicans in the House, et al.—really are working in tandem, or in coordination, with an illegitimate movement seeking to replace our nation with a wholly imagined confederate nation within our nation, one where "real Americans" live and anyone who opposes Donald Trump is "the enemy of the people."

He's going to be president for the next two weeks. A long two weeks. "What happened at the US Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president," Schumer said today. "This president should not hold office one day longer. If the Vice President and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president." How scared is polite white society?

We're about to find out.

Why we're all Georgians now

I admit I didn't expect much from yesterday's runoff elections in Georgia. Sure, one of two Democrats might knock off one of two Republican incumbents, but that's about it, I thought. The threat of Donald Trump is over. Runoffs are designed to discourage voter turnout. I had resigned myself to seeing Joe Biden working with a split Congress.

By midnight, our world changed. More Georgians had voted Tuesday than voted in November. Raphael Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler. Jon Ossoff, as if this writing, has a slight lead over David Perdue. He's going to win. The ballot count continues this morning, and the former has more outstanding votes than the latter. Chuck Schumer is going to be the majority leader. Biden is going to be working with a unified Congress.

Over the last four years, the Republicans played with dynamite. Now they're shocked it blew off their hands.

Before we rush into what the Democrats can do with their newfound power, we should appreciate what's been accomplished, why and how. For one thing, a Black man and a Jewish man will represent Georgia in the United States Senate. (There are nine Jewish senators currently. Ossoff will be the 10th. Warnock will be the 11th Black senator ever.) For another, the last two times a Democrat won the White House, his party lost Georgia runoffs. It isn't possible now to overstate the state's impact on US politics. It's equally impossible to overstate Stacey Abrams' role in that. But Abrams herself might be an effect, not a root cause. According to Roy Barnes, the cause is Donald Trump.

Barnes would know. He was the last Democratic governor of Georgia. His successor, Sonny Perdue, was the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Given Barnes was a dynastic Democrat, he seemed unbeatable. (His nickname was "King Roy.") But in 2002, the state and the rest of the country were reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11. The George W. Bush administration was gearing up for war. It wouldn't do for a governor to look soft. That's what happened, though, when Barnes signed off on a change to the Georgia state flag, removing the emblem of the old Confederacy.

Last night on Bloomberg TV, as the runoff votes were coming in, Barnes said the coalition that put him in office comprised "urban blacks" and "rural whites." The suburbs, he said, were dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican voters (though Barnes had some success with them). What he didn't say is by signing off on the flag change, Barnes took a side (the Black side) and cracked his coalition. Perdue, seeing his opportunity to strike, permanently broke the king's bloc. He made Barnes look like a chardonnay-sipping, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading liberal in league with "the Jews" and "the Blacks" (and even "Islamofascist" terrorists). To win, since 2002, Georgia Republicans have pitted rural and suburban white voters against Black voters.

Trump changed things, Barnes said. On the one hand, he created conditions in which Black voters, urged, cajoled and guided by the indefatigable Stacey Abrams, would crawl over broken glass, rusty nails and bloody rags to vote against a lying, thieving, philandering sadist (my words, not Barnes'). On the other hand, Trump flipped the suburbs for Biden. That's not all, Barnes said. By refusing to concede, and by blaming the Republicans for his troubles, Trump would in effect suppress Republican turnout. What Barnes didn't say was Trump suppressed turnout by voters who raged against him in 2002—voters who raged against Barnes turning his back on the Confederacy.

And everything it stood for. Namely, right-wing collectivism. Which is where I'm going. Trump arose from the Republicans' fascist turn after Sept. 11. He nationalized Perdue's white-power strategy. He gave the party incentive to follow, even if that meant standing against the republic—even if that meant unearned forgiveness for treasonable conduct. The Democrats are as partisan as the Republicans, but in the age of Trump, Warnock and Ossoff didn't seem so. A vote for them last night was a vote for democracy, decency, freedom and love of country. Over the last four years, the Republicans played with dynamite. Now they're shocked it blew off their hands.

Mitch McConnell, who now leads a minority party, reportedly blames Trump. He's correct, but don't expect soul-searching. Don't expect the Republicans to back off. While Biden, the Democrats and the rest of the country move on to issues as wide-ranging as the pandemic, climate change, and systemic racism, the GOP will continue to serve a wholly imagined nation-within-a-nation, a fictional confederacy where "real Americans" live, where anyone who isn't a Republican is an "enemy of the people."

Is Mitch McConnell actually getting just what he wants?

I get it. Totally. It's fun watching the Republicans squirm. Mitch McConnell would rather move on. The top Senate Republican would rather move on to sabotaging the new Biden administration. He'd rather not deal with some in his conference making noise about "voter fraud" in a doomed effort to save Donald Trump's presidency. Liberals despise McConnell. Ergo, liberals take pleasure in watching him squirm.

Is he squirming? Seems so. Mike Allen, the most conventional member of a very conventional Washington press corps, says "the Republican battle lines being formed in President Trump's final days—his loyalists vs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's establishment—will shape American politics for the next four years."

Some say McConnell and Trump have competing visions for the future of the Republican Party. Nah.

The presumption is that while Trump and his cohort are bent on smashing democratic norms, McConnell and his cohort are bent on defending them—at least when it comes to the willingness, even eagerness, of the "Republican establishment" to accept the outcome of a lawful presidential election. The tension arising from ideological conflict "will permanently define one of America's two major political parties," Allen said.

But looks can be deceiving. I'm not sure McConnell is squirming. I'm not sure there's distance between "McConnell Party v. Trump Party." (That's Allen's framing.) On the one hand, McConnell isn't involved in a scheme to overthrow the republic. On the other hand, he knows the scheme is going to fail. Things might be different were the Republicans to control the House. They don't. Knowing you can't win a fight, and deciding against fighting it as a result, isn't principled. It's partisanship in basic form.

You could say McConnell is principled in preventing, or seeming to prevent, his party from raging full-on fascist. I suppose there's honor in that. But that's no doubt part of his cunning. It won't do for the American people—especially the press corps—to see the Republican Party for what it's become. It won't do to have political reporters scrutinizing the Republican Party the way they scrutinized Sinn Féin, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other organizations benefiting from disorder, anarchy and violence. Game over if that happened. You can't con anyone if they don't trust you. Better to let some in your conference appeal to Trump loyalists while appearing principled. Better to let the Washington press corps portray the GOP as a legitimate responsible party.

Same thing goes for Gabriel Sterling. His boss, Georgia's secretary of state, is a target of Trump loyalists outraged by Joe Biden winning a GOP-controlled state. Sterling spent hours Monday refuting each and every conspiracy theory and allegation against Brad Raffensperger. In doing so, he got a lot of praise. Finally, some said, here are real conservatives willing and able to stand up to Trump. Perhaps there's hope after all for the Republican Party. Perhaps it won't take that final step in the descent into fascism.

Please. Sterling is complicit in a massive years-long effort to disenfranchise Black voters and voters of color. That effort went into overdrive after the US Supreme Court, in 2013, gutted provisions of the Voting Rights Act in ruling Shelby County v. Holder. Since then, Georgia and other states, especially in the South, have enacted so-called voter ID laws that have boxed out minority voters. To get these laws passed, the Republicans had to manufacture a problem demanding a solution. Voter fraud—the same problem Trump loyalists are saying sabotaged the presidency of Dear Leader. To be sure, Sterling seemed pissed yesterday. But it wasn't the anger of the righteous. It was the anger of a Republican elite having to explain himself to Republican rubes.

Like Mitch McConnell, Gabriel Sterling knows the Republicans can't win this fight. The numbers just aren't there. But knowing the Republicans can't win should not be mistaken for principle—or for anything that might constitute a moral foundation for trusting the Republicans to behave with honor in accordance to their stated values.

Like Sinn Féin, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Republicans benefit from disorder, anarchy and violence. Unlike them, however, they have yet to commit to terrorism. I don't see a reason why they would act as they are now acting if Biden's margin were smaller. I don't see a reason why McConnell would not join his conference in trying to overthrow the republic if the Republicans controlled the US Congress. Indeed, all things being equal, they'll try canceling Joe Biden one way or another. Partisanship means it's not a matter of motive, but of opportunity. Hopefully, they'll never see one.

Prison time for Trump is the way to stop GOP's descent into fascism

The Washington Post released the transcript Sunday of the president's Saturday phone call with Georgia's secretary of state. The document is a thicket of conspiracy theory, threats and lies. We'll be talking about it for some time. For now, however, I think it's important to focus on one big thing, which is this: Donald Trump broke the law.

I'm not an attorney. I'm not a judge. I'm not a professor of law. But any commonsense yet critical reading of this transcript, done in good faith, should come to the same conclusion. There's one reason and one reason only for a president who lost Georgia to be hounding that state's top election official. There's one reason and one reason only for the president to insist he won the state only to have Brad Raffensperger, the official in question, politely but firmly correct him each and every time. There's one reason and one reason only: to vandalize the supreme sovereignty of the American people.

Federal statute: It is punishable by fine or up to five years in prison for "a person" to "knowingly and willfully" deprive, defraud, or attempt to deprive or defraud "the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process."

That's the only conclusion. Raffensperger's office recounted the vote three times, once by hand, each time with the same result. Joe Biden won by 11,779 votes. His office has explained itself to the state House of Representatives. It has explained itself to the state Senate. His office, together with the Georgia General Assembly, has certified the vote. Georgia's electors, along with those of 49 other states, convened Dec. 14 to certify the national Electoral College vote. All but one of Trump's lawsuits have been tossed. (One is pending in state court.) All that remains is for the US Congress to sign off.

Every "i" has been dotted. Every "t" has been crossed. Yet here's the president of the United States calling a state official directly. (Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and three White House attorneys were also on the line.) Why did he call? Only an idiot would ask why. The right question is what federal statutes were violated? I'll leave that to attorneys, judges and law professors, but even 52 U.S. Code § is subject to a commonsense reading. It is punishable by fine or up to five years in prison for "a person" to "knowingly and willfully" deprive, defraud, or attempt to deprive or defraud "the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process."

Some will quibble about criminal intent. I don't see why. There's one reason and one reason only for a president to call a state election official after every "i" has been dotted and every "t" has been crossed. But, OK, fine. The president said: "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state." This is as explicit as it's going to get for a man who talks like a mobster. Again, however, this is insulting to everyone's intelligence. Trump tells us what he's going to do. He tells us why. Then he does it. The appropriate response is not asking whether he did something, and why. It's how he should be punished.

The point isn't Trump. The point is putting a damper on raw political incentive. The raw political incentive right now is for the Republican Party to go all-in. Dozens of GOP lawmakers in the US Congress, including a handful of senators, are now planning to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote. That will trigger a phony debate that won't change the outcome. (Biden will be president.) But just because they won't succeed this time in overturning a lawful presidential election doesn't mean they won't succeed next time. All they'd need right now is control of the US House. Do we have good reason to trust they won't do the unthinkable next time around? I don't see it.

The best way to dampen political incentive is prison time. Impeachment won't suffice. We've already seen what the Republicans are willing to do even when faced with a Republican president's treasonable conduct. (All bets are off, however, if two Senate seats from George flip after tomorrow's runoff election.) Sure, Trump might pardon himself, but that would almost certainly trigger a legal challenge from the next US attorney general. (The US Supreme Court would have to decide if a president is or is not above the law; I'm guessing it would choose the latter.) It seems to me the US Department of Justice must act no matter what. Democracy would benefit from it.


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