President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended as “totally appropriate” the speech he made at a rally last week that was followed by his supporters launching a deadly siege of the Capitol.
In his first live remarks since the violence last Wednesday, Trump deflected blame and sought to highlight other politicians’ comments last summer about protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
“If you read my speech — and many people have done it, and I’ve seen it both in the papers and in the media, on television — it’s been analyzed, and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, en route to Alamo, Texas.
Impeachment As Exorcism
“And if you look at what other people have said — politicians at a high level — about the riots during the summer, the horrible riots in Portland and Seattle and various other places, that was a real problem, what they said,” Trump continued.
“But they’ve analyzed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody — to the tee — thought it was totally appropriate.”
This man deserves the most forceful repudiation possible. More than that, this country needs to know that its leadership, in both parties, regards this kind of behavior as utterly disqualifying for public office, or respect. A bright red line must be drawn and defended. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 in the House GOP leadership, has come out for impeachment. The Times reports that Sen. Mitch McConnell is saying that he would favor it, to make it easier for the GOP to purge itself of Trumpism:
Yet as they tried to balance the affection their core voters have for Mr. Trump with the now undeniable political and constitutional threat he posed, Republican congressional leaders who have loyally backed the president for four years were still stepping delicately. Their refusal to demand the president’s resignation and quiet plotting about how to address his conduct highlighted the gnawing uncertainty that they and many other Republicans have about whether they would pay more of a political price for abandoning him or for continuing to enable him after he incited a mob to storm the seat of government.
I find that dishonorable — worrying about whether or not you’ll pay a greater political price for abandoning Trump. Of course many of them will. But it’s the right thing to do. How about showing some leadership, for once? If the price of winning your next primary is remaining silent on the question of Trump and his post-election behavior, which culminated in the storming of the Capitol by a “Hang Mike Pence!” mob, then you have lost your priorities. If you cannot explain to voters why they are wrong to give a pass to a president who behaved as Trump has done, and what it means to have a president who fouls American democracy by rousing the rabble to break down the doors of the Capitol and shout for lynching the vice president, then why are you in public service? If that’s what it takes to keep your job, why would you even want a job like that? Honestly, I do not get it.
Here’s how it could happen. First, the party’s non-Trumpist faction — embodied by senators like Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, various purple- and blue-state governors and most of the remaining Acela corridor conservatives, from lawyers and judges to lobbyists and staffers — pushes for a full repudiation of Trump and all his works, extending beyond impeachment to encompass support for social-media bans, F.B.I. surveillance of the MAGA universe and more.
At the same time, precisely those measures further radicalize portions of the party’s base, offering apparent proof that Trump was right — that the system isn’t merely consolidating against but actively persecuting them. With this sense of persecution in the background and the Trump family posturing as party leaders, the voter-fraud mythology becomes a litmus test in many congressional elections, and baroque conspiracy theories pervade primary campaigns.
In this scenario, what remains of the center-right suburban vote and the G.O.P. establishment becomes at least as NeverTrump as Romney, if not the Lincoln Project; meanwhile, the core of Trump’s support becomes as paranoid as Q devotees. Maybe this leads to more empty acts of violence, further radicalizing the center right against the right, or maybe it just leads to Republican primaries producing a lot more candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, to the point where a big chunk of the House G.O.P. occupies not just a different tactical reality from the party’s elite but a completely different universe.
Either way, under these conditions that party could really collapse or really break. The collapse would happen if Trumpists with a dolchstoss [stabbed-in-the-back] narrative and a strong Q vibe start winning nominations for Senate seats and governorships in states that right now only lean Republican. A party made insane and radioactive by conspiracy theories could keep on winning deep-red districts, but if its corporate support bailed, its remaining technocrats jumped ship and suburban professionals regarded it as the party of insurrection, it could easily become a consistent loser in 30 states or more.
Alternatively, a party dominated by the Trump family at the grassroots level, with Greene-like figures as its foot soldiers, could become genuinely untenable as a home for centrist and non-Trumpist politicians. So after the renomination of Trump himself or the nomination of Don Jr. in 2024, a cluster of figures (senators like Romney and Susan Collins, blue-state governors like Maryland’s Larry Hogan) might simply jump ship to form an independent mini-party, leaving the G.O.P. as a 35 percent proposition, a heartland rump.
I don’t see how the GOP avoids this fate. As Douthat points out early in his column, the Republicans have had to hold together during the Trump years by depending on having enough people who are able to tolerate Trump’s excesses for the good things his presidency has meant for them, even if it’s only keeping liberalism at bay. That’s blown sky-high now.
He’s talking about people like me. As bad as Trump was on many things, and even though I didn’t vote for him, I found him tolerable, mostly because the alternative from an increasingly woke Democratic Party and liberal establishment was even worse. Besides, though Trump was a particularly flawed messenger, the populism that he brought to the Republican mainstream was on balance good for a party that could not seem to break free of zombie Reaganism.
So, when, on Election Night, Sen. Josh Hawley — for me, a real hope for the conservative future — tweeted out that the GOP is now a working-class party, I saw that as good news. Trump might lose, but the track he put the Republican Party on was a good one, I thought.
But then he started up with the Stop The Steal garbage, and disparaging election officials. He trash-talked Georgia election officials, and ended up costing the GOP the Senate, and giving the Democrats unified control of Washington. Then came January 6.
There is no way I will have anything to do with a QAnon party. None. What the MAGA mob did last week was vile and extremely unpatriotic, and if a party of the Right cannot condemn it meaningfully, then that party has not the slightest appeal to me. I don’t understand how anybody can claim to love this country and support what that mob did, or even dismiss it as not so bad.
Even though I really do believe Sen. Romney has acted with honor and courage in this crisis, I don’t have any interest in a Romneyite breakaway party that would attempt to restore the pre-Trump status quo. The problem with Trumpism was Trump, not populism.
No doubt people like me are the smallest sliver in the conservative voter coalition, and we don’t matter much anyway. Most Republican voters would be able to make a choice between the two right-of-center parties, I suspect. But such a split would mean a long-term era of Democratic dominance has arrived.
Whether or not he is impeached and convicted, it seems unavoidable that Donald Trump will leave Washington having destroyed the Republican Party. If he had behaved just a bit more normally last year, he might have won re-election. Had he accepted his defeat like a normal person, he would have remained a kingmaker in the GOP, and could have been satisfied that he changed the Republican Party in his own image.
But that’s not the choice he made. After the once-unthinkable damage that man has done to the Republican Party, to political conservatism, and to American democracy, he deserves total repudiation. Politicians that cannot muster the wherewithal to issue a rebuke to this president, or any president who behaves as Trump has done, is not one that is going to command respect, loyalty, or votes outside of the hardcore Trumpists.
I had an extremely frustrating conversation this evening with a friend who believes all of this was invented by the Left to discredit the president. The narrative is unfalsifiable. It’s not a question of a political disagreement; it’s about living outside of reality. All day long I’ve been getting e-mails from people who are really suffering because beloved friends and family members — even elderly parents — are completely lost in this toxic unreality of paranoia and conspiracy. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, aside from woke militants. Something demonic is in the air. We might not need an impeachment and conviction so much as we need an exorcism.
If you think I’m overreacting with the demonic stuff, take a look at this interview with Arieh Kovler, an Israeli analyst who follows the pro-Trump Internet, and warned on December 21 that a MAGA mob on January 6 was going to try to storm the Capitol. Excerpt:
What did they think they were being called on to do?
They thought, “This is the thing we have been asked to do. Trump is telling us to do this, so we have to do it.” But more than that, it must be important enough, the key to his winning. Because why would he ask us to come to Washington if it wasn’t part of the plan? It wouldn’t make any sense. There’s a trend among the Trump fans—it’s almost religious—to see him as basically infallible and any mistakes are caused by bad people around him. He wouldn’t be calling us to Washington unless there was a purpose that would ultimately end in him winning the election.
So they saw that, and are convinced they’re coming in order to win the election. Or perhaps they’re going to be an army. You can see the discussions around this: “Why has he asked us to come? Surely there’s a reason.” They would say, “Should we bring guns? Is he asking us to bring guns? But maybe he doesn’t want us to be armed because if we’re armed we’ll get in trouble, and we need to be there.”
The other part of it this is that since the late summer, when Trump was falling in polls and Biden was polling thoroughly ahead, the one thing I picked up from all parts of Trump World—from the QAnon-ish to the MAGA-ish to fairly moderate conservatives—is: Trump’s gonna win. You didn’t see that from people supporting Biden. You saw, you really hope he wins. The Trump people thought: Trump’s going to win and not only is he going to win, you smug liberals, you’re going to have the smile wiped off your face. This ideology really took hold and a lot of people really believed it. Trump was continually telling them everything was in the bag and he was massively ahead and we’re going to win California and it’s going to be a landslide.
Come Election Day, he doesn’t win. So all these people go, “Wait, it can’t be. How could Trump possibly lose an election that everyone I know knew he was going to win?” I could just see a certain reality catching up with [them], and it would have to be on that day [of the certification]. And once they saw Trump saying to his supporters, come to DC on that day, I could see it going the wrong way.
You could see the discussion become less abstract. By last week, these people were sharing maps of D.C. They were talking about having enough of them that they would be able to erect basically their own cadre around the entire area of Congress. They had a map of the tunnels [in the basement of the Capitol], and they were talking about how they’re going to be able to stop Congress from leaving. They imagined that this was the day there were going to be mass executions of Congressmen.
But a lot of them also just imagined they were going to be there for this historic time when Trump pulled away the curtain and revealed that all of Congress were traitors and then took his just and equal revenge. There were a variety of characters: people who were there to watch Trump gain control and people who thought Trump would win, but only by activating the military, [with] a proper military coup that they supported. They thought they were there to go and purge Congress. They were there to stop the certification. They were there to punish those who went against Trump. When you put them all together, you get this explosive mixture.
The only thing that surprised me was that it was not the army I expected it to be.
By that Kovler means that he thought they would be armed. Read it all.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has disturbed me more over the past four years, than the weird misuse of Christian religious language, spirituality and mysticism in service of the Trumpist political agenda. I’ve written about this elsewhere, and so I won’t repeat myself here.
However, I will add that I hope the day will come when I will see other alleged Trumpist “prophets,” or the people who spread their prophesies, apologizing for misleading the faithful, as Christian leader Jeremiah Johnson recently did (And has since received death threats for so doing.)
The effect of these alleged prophesies has been to endow political loyalties with a degree of religious fervor and conviction that rightly belong only to God. Clad in the certitude of total faith, Trumpist true believers have breezily rejected every inconvenient fact or event or piece of evidence as a diabolical deception. After all, what do your “facts” matter, when God Himself has told us the truth? Eric Metaxas even stated that he didn’t need evidence that the election had been stolen; he knew that Trump had been re-elected, because God was on Trump’s side.
In reality, this was the diabolical deception: the complete confusion of spiritual and political loyalties; the rejection of reason and fact in favor of credulous belief in unproven and untested “prophesies” that amounted to little more than wish fulfillment fantasies rubberstamped with divine endorsement.
In the world of Trumpism, religious principles were rewritten to accommodate Trump, rather than Trump being measured according to religious principles. The mere fact that Trump openly used religious language and imagery and made overt gestures to a religious demographic was taken as a de facto triumph, indisputable evidence that the President was bringing the United States back to God, that his faith was sincere, that he was God’s instrument doing God’s work.
And if you doubted this, it was because you lacked faith.
The result was a weird, perverse form of Christian nationalism. As Russell Moore wrote this week:
The sight of “Jesus Saves” and “God Bless America” signs by those violently storming the Capitol is about more than just inconsistency. It is about a picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic. The mixing of the Christian religion with crazed and counter-biblical cults such as Q-Anon is telling the outside world that this is what the gospel is. That’s a lie, and it is blasphemous against a holy God.
Trump has not brought the country back to God. He and his grifter friends have infiltrated and perverted the Church, exploiting Christians’ spiritual loyalties to serve his personal ambitions, recreating the church in MAGA’s image, and luring us away from our core religious, ethical and political principles.
So yeah, I’m angry.
I have said since the first day of Trump’s presidency, that the primary result of his presidency would be to foment a backlash from the left that would not only erase whatever conservative gains he pursued in the meantime, but would ensure that conservatives were ultimately far worse off than if he had never been president.
It is hard to deny that this is where we find ourselves now: Most of Trump’s accomplishments were accomplished through personnel changes or executive orders. All of this will be wiped out on the first day of the Biden administration. Meanwhile, MAGA has descended into a rat’s nest of violence, conspiracy theorizing, and cultish thinking, culminating in a horrific attack on the seat of democracy that has given the tech giants the excuse and public support they need to conduct a purge, silencing and marginalizing conservative voices. Meanwhile, the whole GOP is weakened by this internal civil war, the conservative movement divided and rendered ineffectual by ferocious disagreements over the personality who has dominated our every waking hour for the past five years.
The right’s response right now is to blame everything on the left. No doubt, the left bears a great deal of the blame. I can recite the litany of leftist crimes of the past four years as well as anybody else. But I have lost all patience with whataboutism. I have lost all patience with the mental habit of eschewing responsibility by responding to all criticism or internal self-doubt by reciting the litany of grievances against the left.
All we had to do, was stay true our principles: Truth matters. Character matters. Charity, decency, honesty, the rule of law, love for our enemies, humility, goodness – all of these matter.
Some conservatives have been asking me why I’m directing so much of my anger at “our side,” when the “other side” has done so many horrible things. The short answer? Because I’m not responsible for the other side. I can’t change them. I have no influence over them. I am not surprised when my enemies do things I disagree with. It doesn’t make me angry, because I never expected anything different.
But when my own side abandons its own principles willy-nilly, and then girds itself in the impregnable armour of puerile whataboutism (“Ok, so we did riot a little. But what about all those BLM riots over the summer, huh? Why didn’t the media get as angry about those!”), then I get angry.
Read it all. I’m sick of it too. Today I spoke to someone who — how shall I put this? — is in a professional position to know what the capabilities of surveillance are, and what it likely to happen next. This person reached out to me to say they had read Live Not By Lies, and that all of it is spot on — except that it’s actually worse than I say in the book. This person said that because of what happened in Washington on January 6, all the soft-totalitarian things that I write about in the book are going to come at Christians and conservatives much faster.
I’m open to hearing arguments in the comments section for why Congress should not impeach and convict Trump. But I’m weary of hearing I told you so from the Left, and whatabout and traitor! from the Right. If you have something substantive and meaningful to say about this, comment away. If you just want to shout, taunt, or troll, save it, because I’ll spike your comment.