Recalibrating our sights.
August 10, 2022
A day after the most consequential event since January 6th, the focus quickly shifted from the search of Trump’s residence to the “political blowback” from the search. The editor of the National Review crowed “Trump is winning the FBI-raid [story] going away. . . . this is his best day in pursuit of the 2024 nomination in a long time.” Ah, yes, among political commentators, the only thing that matters is spin, not facts or history or justice. Well-played, National Review! You have trivialized a momentous event in our nation’s history, reducing it to “who is winning” the news cycle today. Pathetic.
We need a moment to recalibrate. The search of Trump’s residence was real and substantial and will have lasting historical significance. Punditry is none of those things. It is as ephemeral as the angry and ugly tweets that are par for the course in the cesspool that has swamped much of Twitter. While we should not dismiss the reaction of Trump’s base or his media apologists, neither should we amplify or overinterpret the tantrums of (mostly) white males with anger management problems who view Twitter and Fox News as their only avenue for release of false bravado.
Are some of those angry cultists dangerous? Yes. Capable of violence? Yes. But I have seen the same handful of tweets replayed, reprinted, and splashed across multiple media outlets, creating the misimpression that America is teetering on the edge of civil unrest. It is not—at least there is no objective evidence of that fact. Are there protestors outside of Mar-a-Lago? Yes, perhaps a hundred. The other 320 million Americans stayed home—even though a hefty percentage of them are angry and energized over the search of Trump’s home.
So, in stepping back a bit, let’s recognize that many of the leading commentators and politicians weighing in on the search are consummate hypocrites who support Trump in public, but savage him behind his back. For example,
Kevin McCarthy tweeted a statement on Monday that threatened Merrick Garland with a meritless investigation, but recorded phone calls after January 6th show McCarthy believed Trump was an unhinged danger to the nation who should resign in disgrace.
Sean Hannity said essentially the same thing in tweets to Mark Meadows on January 6th but rallied to Trump’s defense on Hannity’s infotainment show on Monday evening.
Mike Pompeo privately told other senior administration officials that Trump had lost the election and should concede, only to tell waiting journalists minutes later that he was looking forward to a “smooth transition to the second Trump administration.”
Marco Rubio said that Trump was the most vulgar and unqualified person ever to seek the presidency but rallied to Trump’s defense on Monday.
Ted Cruz said that Trump was so erratic, “we’re liable to wake up one morning” to discover that Trump “would have nuked Denmark” but took to Twitter to compare the search of Mar-a-Lago to the Watergate break-in.
You get the point. The politicians and commentators defending Trump believe that he is a joke and a danger to the US. But they love power and the allure of the Oval Office more than they love their country. They have set aside self-respect, honesty, and patriotism to maximize ratings and sustain their vanishing hopes of becoming president.
Despite the hypocrisy and cowardice of Trump’s frenemies, major media outlets breathlessly report and repeat their statements as though they are worthy of respect and belief. They are not—especially because each of Trump’s high-profile defenders assisted Trump’s coup efforts or minimized the depravity of the plot to overturn the election and the deadly nature of the assault on the Capitol.
Here’s my point: Don’t let the performative outrage of cowards and traitors distract you. That’s their plan. Don’t let them win.
But what about the tens of thousands on Twitter and social media who are making explicit threats of violence? In the first instance, Twitter should “de-platform” those who threaten violence. Second, we should recognize there is a difference between rage-tweeting and planning violent attacks. In one of the tweets garnering the most attention on Tuesday, a Twitter user warned, “Tomorrow is war. Sleep well.” The author of that tweet is apparently dodging the draft in his self-declared war because he has disappeared from Twitter after users posted hilarious and humiliating videos that mocked him mercilessly. [Update: the author of the “Tomorrow is war” tweet has returned to his twitter feed—to sell “Fight Like Hell” tee shirts for $29.99.]
By now, I expect some readers are worried that I am dismissing the seriousness of the reaction on the right. I am not. The reaction on the right is serious because of what it says about the unraveling of the Republican Party. The outlandish and unhinged threats (including calls for secession, civil war, dissolution of the FBI, and gutting of the DOJ) show that the Republican Party is opposed to the rule of law and the institutions of state necessary to maintain peace and security. In their opposition to the federal government, Republicans are deadly serious and dangerous—whether Trump wins in 2024 or not.
For a round-up of the outrageous statements that Trump’s supporters have made in the last 24-hours, see Vox, The Republican response to the Mar-a-Lago raid should scare you, Vanity Fair, Right-Wing Pundits Are Clamoring for War After Trump’s House Gets Raided by the FBI, and Charlie Sykes, Morning Shots, The DOJ Crosses the Rubicon.
All of the above puts a very fine point on the need for Democrats to continue the hard work of retaining the House and the Senate in 2022. For those in need of an extra dose of steadiness, I highly recommend Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner in Steady. Their concluding paragraphs are spot-on:
This is a perilous time, but we must not let that deter us from seeking justice. What’s at stake is the rule of law in America. Donald Trump, for all his money and his minions and his dangerous rhetoric, is no longer in control of his destiny. That has to worry him. Plenty. And it should.
For the rest of us, it is a time to stay calm and carry on, while reminding ourselves that in our country, no person should be above the law. And no person is guilty until proven so beyond reasonable doubt.
Finally, I recommend Josh Marshall’s nuanced and measured analysis of whether the DOJ made a mistake in searching Mar-a-Lago. He thinks not, but his analysis is worth reading—up to and including its cautiously optimistic conclusion that Garland, Wray, and a federal magistrate did not err in deciding that a search warrant was appropriate. See Talking Points Memo, Perspective and Calm in the Storm.
Additional Facts regarding the search.
Per the WSJ, the FBI removed ten boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago.
Trump probably cannot be disqualified from running for president if convicted of destroying or removing classified information.
Yesterday I noted that some commentators raised the possibility that Trump could be disqualified from running for president if convicted of destroying or removing classified information. At least one of those commentators has walked-back his earlier position on that subject. This analysis in the NYTimes makes a strong argument that Trump would not be disqualified from running again even if he was convicted of destroying or removing classified information: Charlie Savage, NYTimes, Could the F.B.I. Search Result in Barring Another Trump Presidential Run? If anyone knows of a dissenting view, please let me know.
An even bigger story than the search of Mar-a-Lago?
A day after the search of Mar-a-Lago, the FBI seized the phone of U.S. Representatives Scott Perry, who played an early and key role in many of the efforts to overturn the election. See WaPo, Rep. Scott Perry says FBI agents seized his cellphone. Per the Post, Representative Perry played an “important” role in the effort to install Jeffrey Clark as Acting Attorney General—so that Clark could then encourage state legislatures to re-consider their electoral delegates.
While the search of Mar-a-Lago is unrelated to January 6th , the seizure of Perry’s cell phone is directed at Trump’s effort to overturn the election—and is another strong signal that Garland is targeting Trump’s attempted coup. And seizing the cell phone of a sitting US congressman is no small matter.
Appellate panel rules that the IRS must turn over Trump’s tax records to a congressional committee.
A three-judge panel ruled that the IRS must turn over Trump’s tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee. The Committee requested the documents to evaluate the effectiveness of the Presidential Audit Program. But the Committee may submit the records to the House when it is not sitting in executive session, which “is in effect, the power to put that information on the public record.” See Memorandum Opinion for The Acting Attorney General from the Office of Legal Counsel dated July 30, 2021.
Assuming the Supreme Court does not issue a stay pending review of the panel’s opinion, the Ways and Means Committee could put the returns in the public record. But if the Supreme Court grants review and stays the ruling of the appellate court, it will be the next Congress—possibly controlled by Republicans—that would decide whether to put Trump’s tax returns into the public record.
Reader opportunities for engagement.
I have pinned a note at the top of the Comment section regarding an opportunity presented by the Senate Circle to help elect two inspiring indigenous women who are pro-choice and running in pro-choice districts—incumbent Rep. Sharice Davids (Kansas 3rd) and Mary Peltola (Alaska's open US House seat). The Zoom meeting is this Thursday 7:00 PM Eastern / 4:00 PM Pacific.
You wouldn’t know it from the right-wing media’s coverage of the Mar-a-Lago search but being the target of a federal criminal investigation is not a good thing. Republicans are unable to see beyond their giddiness over another opportunity to attack the government, but reality will sink in eventually. I have been a harsh critic of Merrick Garland, but I have never questioned his intelligence. Without knowing more, I am confident that Garland did not err in choosing to execute a search warrant rather than issuing a subpoena. Indeed, given his overly cautious nature, my belief—rank speculation, I admit—is that Trump removed documents vital to national security or military alliances that could be devastating if they fall into the wrong hands.
Every Republican rallying to Trump’s defense must be secretly thinking, “Oh, God! What did he do? I hope it isn’t really bad!” Trump could dispel some of that uncertainty by releasing the search warrant—an omission that must be ominous for Trump’s defenders.
It is way too soon to determine how the search warrant will affect Trump’s electability in the 2024 primaries and general election (if he gets that far). But knowing Trump, we should assume that whatever we think he did, he did something worse. And we may soon discover what that is.
As Jim Newell wrote in Slate today, “Trump blew a very winnable election by being who he is.” Trump took documents from the White House because he believed that it would advance his interests to do so. Those documents are now in the hands of the DOJ and are providing insight into who Donald Trump is—and what he did.
Talk to you tomorrow!