The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Boiling to Death in Paranoia

“The entire Trump phenomenon was, from the very beginning, about conservative fear of losing America.” — Zack Beauchamp, Vox

Now that we’ve had a few hours to digest the documents case indictments — wow, this was worse than I imagined. He had boxes containing highly classified documents stuffed all over Mar-a-Lago, including in publicly accessible bathrooms and ballrooms and whatnot. And Jack Smith has testimony that on some occasions Trump showed this stuff to random people. And he knew good and well he wasn’t supposed to have those documents, or else why go to such lengths to hide them from the National Archives and FBI?

I see that people still on Twitter are linking to a 2022 interview of Kid Rock by Tucker Carlson, in which Kid Rock seems to be saying Trump showed him a classified map of North Korea. Let that sink in.

Trump is a grotesquely warped person. We knew that all along. I’m not terribly surprised any more at anything he does. I believe I’ve said before that he makes more sense if you imagine him to be a spoiled pre-adolescent boy. But what’s frustrating is the rest of the Republican Party and its institutional support structure.

A lot of us are old enough to remember the televised Watergate and Nixon impeachment hearings, in which Republicans for the most part treated the hearings seriously, asked intelligent questions, and made intelligent comments. I don’t remember anyone gaslighting the proceedings to turn it into a clown show to protect Nixon. And we’ve all heard the story about how bleeping Barry Goldwater and other senators told Nixon he’d better just resign. In those days, Republicans knew when it was time to cut somebody loose. Not now. Even now nearly all of the Republican/right wing establishment is pushing the claim that President Biden ordered the indictments to knock Trump out of the 2024 presidential race.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote today, “Americans will inevitably see this as a Garland-Biden indictment, and they are right to think so.” Seriously? WSJ continues,

Thirty-one of the counts are for violating the ancient and seldom-enforced Espionage Act for the “willful retention of national defense information.”

But it’s striking, and legally notable, that the indictment never mentions the Presidential Records Act (PRA) that allows a President access to documents, both classified and unclassified, once he leaves office. It allows for good-faith negotiation with the National Archives. Yet the indictment assumes that Mr. Trump had no right to take any classified documents.

Did they bleeping even read the indictments? At what point was Trump in any way engaging in “good faith negotiations” with the National Archives? And the thing continues with the usual whataboutism. Joe Biden had classified documents in his garage! Hillary Clinton’s emails!

The editors of the National Review, who were the original Never Trumpers as I recall, at least admit that Trump deserves to be prosecuted. But to get to that part you have to wade through verbiage about how those nefarious lefties have been twisting the law to get to Trump.

Trump fans online are calling for civil war and mass murder. We’ll see if they get off their sofas to actually do anything, though.

What’s the difference between 1974 Republicans and 2023 Republicans? It’s not as if the Republican Party hasn’t gone off the rails before. They famously were the party of Joe McCarthy some years earlier. But even then, when McCarthy was exposed for what he was in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings and Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now program, McCarthy was cut loose. In 1954 he was censured by the Senate in a bipartisan vote. And fortunately for America he didn’t live long enough after that to make a comeback.

At this point, one would have to be genuinely demented to not see that Trump is utterly unfit to be President. But we have a lot of genuinely demented people in this country.

Philip Bump had an interesting comment today

Last week, CNN reported on the existence of a recording, taped at Donald Trump’s golf club in New Jersey, in which the former president is heard talking to writers working on a book being written by Trump’s last chief of staff. In the recording, Trump made note of a document in his possession that was classified, a significant admission, given the indictment handed up against him this week.

Hours after news of the indictment broke Thursday, CNN published excerpts of the conversation.

“Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” Trump says, according to CNN. “This was done by the military and given to me.”

Understandably, much of the focus on that quote has centered on the first part, in which Trump tells a visitor to his club about classified material. But what’s more broadly telling is the second part: where he says that the document was “given to me.”

The military did not give that document to Donald Trump, the guy sitting at Bedminster on the day the recording was made. The military gave that document to the president of the United States, to inform his decision-making on some national security issues. At the moment the document was handed over to the president, the person who received it happened to be Trump.

Trump’s failure to understand that distinction — between himself and the office he was granted — is at the heart of nearly every crisis that he’s faced since.

Trump never understood the role of the POTUS. He had no interest in the United States and its people, except as things to exploit to glorify and enrich himself. His efforts to hang on to the position after he lost the election have done serious harm to our political institutions. This is obvious. Even the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal ought to be able to understand that. Yet they won’t. Everywhere, the Republican Party and the institutional infrastructure supporting it and their warped version of “conservatism” works to normalize and protect Trump. In a sane world they’d be cutting him loose. In a sane world they would have cut him loose a long time ago.

Awhile back I wrote a post titled The GOP: A Cornered and Wounded Animal. They’re cornered and wounded because they are on the losing end of too many causes. I wrote: “Unfortunately, they’re not going to stop acting like wounded and cornered animals in the near future. They have staked Trump, abortion, and guns as the hills they’re going to die on, and they may very well do that. So to speak.” But lately I’ve seen a lot of callouts to “paranoid style,” which recalls Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” I read it again and noticed this, after a review of Famous Paranoid Episodes of American History (emphasis added):

The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Hofstadter wrote this in bleeping 1964. Just short of 60 years ago. And the right wing has only gotten worse. It’s turned itself into a paranoia machine. Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media infrastructure, along with social media, are perpetually feeding the paranoia so much more effectively than in 1964 or 1974.

But this is truly at the heart of Trumpism and why those who support him can’t see him for what he is. He’s a moron, but he has a grifter’s instinct for giving the people what they want, what he can sell. And he has packaged himself as the last hope of the paranoids; the one who might finally slay the evil Left. It’s going to take more than some chiding words from a Joseph Welch equivalent to bring people to their senses.