The darkest hour comes before the dawn. Animals are meanest when they are cornered. On January 6, Donald Trump is about to lose his last wild hope to retain power, and he will feel ever more furious and victimized. Steve is holding his breath, and holding off on the “Happy New Years” until January 20.
For the past four years, we have struggled to find anything resembling a unifying, coherent philosophy of governance out of this White House, other than the obvious overwhelming political self-interest of Donald Trump. Presiding over unbalanced budgets and ballooning deficits, an authoritarian wannabe taking a wrecking ball to constitutional government, and a coward afraid to confront unrelenting Russian aggression, Trump is nobody’s idea of a Republican.
Indeed, the Republican Party did not even try to create a party platform at their 2020 convention, no doubt realizing Trump would not read it, would disagree with half of it if he did, and would change his mind on the other half three times before Election Day. It was safer for Republicans to announce that their party stands for, uh, you know… that thing that Donald Trump just said.
But at least in these final two months, we are seeing a consistent, clearly framed, and aggressively implemented philosophy of governing. “The Trump Doctrine” is elegant in its simplicity: “I am going to screw every last one of you because you screwed me.” In Trump’s view, anyone from any party or any state who is not fighting to overturn our democracy is a traitor, and he will therefore use the final weeks of his Presidency to do as much damage to those people as possible.
The President of the United States is now little more than a firehose of revenge, governing through a spigot of spite.
We credit this vision for its surprisingly nonpartisan stance. Where Trump was once viciously vindictive in his skirmishes with Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, AOC plus three, and everything bordering on an ocean, he is now out to destroy everybody and everything on his way out the door.
It’s not that Trump is easing up on Democrats – his efforts to sabotage the incoming Biden administration amount to an overt effort to block the will of the American people as expressed in the November election.
There was nothing subtle about Trump’s kindergarten-grade retaliation against election victor Joe Biden. Trump’s refusal to concede and the pressure he exerted on the GSA to withhold approval for transition funds cost Biden a full quarter of the time available for the new administration to come up to speed. Trump’s loyalists in the State and Defense Departments, in particular, slow-walked transition discussions, though we can remain calm knowing that Biden’s team already knows more about global conflicts, tensions, and diplomacy that anyone on Trump’s team has learned in four years.
It is all but certain that the Trump administration gave a green light to the Israeli raid that killed a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, a calculated collaboration designed to sabotage Biden’s desire to revive the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. The Israelis cleverly realized that the petty and angry Trump would be enthusiastic about any plan that would trip up the stated goals of the Biden team.
All of this, of course, is dwarfed by Trump’s final dissolution, his hallucination of sufficient voter fraud to reverse the outcome of the election. There are times when one wonders whether Trump is an epic Machiavellian, fully cognizant of his deceit, or has actually severed the thin gossamer fiber that once kept him loosely tethered to reality, and that he actually believes his own crap. Then we are left to wonder which of these only two possible options is truly more terrifying.
Biden, thank heaven, calmly carries on, in danger of all the spite.
And still, somehow, Trump’s comprehensive efforts to sabotage Biden and his new Democratic administration have suddenly taken a back seat to the arsenal of friendly-fire improvised explosive devices Trump is casually lobbing at the most senior members of his own party.
We have previously documented the epic sycophancy of Governors Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, two men who triggered out-of-control COVID-19 outbreaks among their own citizens in their eagerness to please Trump by prematurely re-opening their states to commerce. These two men have the blood of their citizens on their hands for the degree to which they ignored science in order to please Trump.
Yet both of these toadies had the intestinal fortitude to stop short of obeying Trump’s demands that they order state officials to take steps that might reverse the vote tallies in their states. Trump immediately and viciously turned on both, tweeting that Ducey had “betrayed the people of Arizona,” and that Kemp "should resign from office. He is an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!"
Sure, break-ups are always difficult, and many get messy, but Republicans in Washington have to be dizzy as they watch their former main squeeze lash out at them like a jilted lover posting compromising photos on social media.
Trump’s five-day delay in approving the COVID-19 relief package was just a clumsily executed triple axel in which Trump attempted to stick the landing on Mitch McConnell’s hard turtle shell. Trump announced that he might veto the legislation, and then humiliated his own party for offering up a measly $600 of cash relief per adult. Republicans had been fighting tooth and nail to hold the line on the relief package, with Trump’s own staff working closely with the Senate to forge the agreement.
There you go, Senators. Your reward for supporting Trump is watching him tell your constituents that you are too cheap to them in their time of need.
But it gets so much better. Trump’s demand that the individual cash benefit be raised to $2000 put the two Republican candidates in Georgia in a presidential pretzel: they had both supported the supposed “official” Republican position that $600 per adult was the highest tolerable expenditure, and that the higher amounts urged by Democrats were wasteful spending. Both then hastily jumping on board with the President, even though it handed the Democratic candidates the hammer of saying the Perdue and Loeffler were flip-floppers who now agreed that the Democrats were right after all. Thanks for all your help in the special election, Mr. President.
Yes, this late-exploding grenade followed weeks in which Trump supporters screamed that the November election in Georgia was fraudulent, which appeared to only serve to discourage Georgia Republicans from turning out to vote. Thanks for all your help in keeping the Senate, Mr. President.
Keeping the Senate? The only thing Trump cares about is the unicorn-grade apparition that he can still win a second term. Consider Trump’s treatment of the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune, who disdainfully dismissed the idea that House Republicans should challenge the outcome of the Electoral College results on January 6. Trump’s response? This amazing tweet: “RINO John Thune, ‘Mitch’s boy’, should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!”
And how about Trump’s treatment of McConnell himself? McConnell has worked tirelessly to ensure that no legislation is put on the floor of the Senate unless he is certain that it will have the approval of the White House. For Trump to publicly excoriate the provisions of a bill that his own White House team had agreed to was nothing other than an F-bomb at McConnell for publicly acknowledging that Joe Biden was indeed the President-elect. McConnell, of course, would easily play Trump on the legislative front, indicating that he would attach Trump’s ask for $2,000 checks to a bill that Democrats were certain to oppose.
But Trump could claim a decidedly Pyrrhic P.R. victory, appearing to be the champion of the people, and setting up Senate Republicans to look like a bunch of tone-deaf, entitled cheapskates. Trump’s angry tweet: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 - Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!’
The most senior leaders in the Republican Senate are feeling it: they carry on, in danger of all the spite.
Now, all eyes turn to January 6, and to one Mike Pence.
January 6 is the day that Congress accepts the results of the Electoral College, and determines that Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President on January 20. It is the point of no return for Trump.
We now know that Josh Hawley – a Senator with degrees from Stanford and Yale, who certainly knows better but is nakedly consumed by ambition – and others have announced that they will “challenge” the Electoral College results. This will trigger debates in the House and the Senate, where majorities of both Chambers must vote to endorse the notion that Electoral College ballots are not legitimate in order to create any question about the outcome of the election.
This will not happen. Likely both chambers of Congress – but certainly the House – will reject the challenge and the current Electoral College vote will stand.
But that challenge will create the opportunity for still more of Donald Trump’s victimization theatre, more chances to broadcast baseless claims of voter fraud to the Fox faithful, and to once again stoke his base that the election was an illegitimate deep state fix.
Which may be exactly what Donald Trump wants, but it is hard to see how it helps his party. This political theater will force every Republican in Congress to make a public vote that will be a painful burden for many in 2022.
And it is all just so much political theater that puts Mike Pence -- the number two elected Republican in the nation -- in a no-win situation.
On January 6, it is Mike Pence’s official duty as President of the Senate to announce the results of the Electoral College vote. He does not have the right to challenge or change the vote, nor would his failure to announce the results in any way change the outcome.
Mike Pence is also the single most unwavering, stoic, and complicit enabler of Donald Trump. Pence has sucked it in for four years, never once undermining Trump, all because he figured that if he stayed the loyal course, the 2024 nomination would be his regardless of whether Donald Trump won or lost in 2020.
Now it will be Mike Pence’s turn to discover just what loyalty to Donald Trump really means. Hey Mike, are you with Trump or against him? Et tu, Mike?
The only choice Mike Pence has that day is to announce the
results, or some version of calling in sick and saying that the dog ate his
homework so that he can delegate the dirty deed to Chuck Grassley, next in line to make the announcement.
No matter what Pence does, he loses. If he stands up and announces the results, he is dead meat in Trump nation. If he ducks the announcement entirely, Trump will excoriate him for failing to fight to overturn the results. And if Mike Pence were crazy enough to try to actually change the results, he would fail, and go down in history as a traitor to the Republic on the scale of Benedict Arnold.
Which will, of course, be an absolutely delicious irony, because Mike Pence has stood by, gazing adoringly as Trump has trampled on Constitutional principles like Congressional oversight, separation of powers, the emoluments clause, and the idea that no person stands above the law. Trump will be furious that Pence cannot or will not undermine the Constitution, and Mike Pence will be the next Republican thrown to Donald Trump’s wolves in OAN nation.
All of this, of course, will leave a man who is very well-positioned to lead a post-Trump Republican Party as just so much roid-rage road kill at the hands of the man who wants to make sure there is no “post-Trump” anything.
That’s the chance you take when you abdicate control of your own life, Mike. You’ve been living in danger of all the spite.
And then there are the rest of us: the millions of Americans making rough calculations about what day they will finally receive a vaccine, terrified that a hug could be a death sentence meted out to loved ones, citizens reeling economically, with savings depleted and businesses shuttered. We are the people who actually rejected Trump. Imagine what he has planned for all of us in those final 14 days, as we count the minutes until January 20, living in danger of all the spite.
What does Donald Trump have in mind to settle his scores with all of us?
Sure, it will infuriate us as Trump pardons dozens, if not hundreds more unrepentant criminals. He will pardon his family, and you can bet he will pardon himself... though you’d have a hard time finding a bookie in Vegas to take the other side of that wager.
The real issue is what happens after January 6, when the game is finally over. A seething Trump will have watched his final chance to keep power disappear.
It seems likely that he is going to – and forgive the use of an arcane clinical term – lose his shit.
He will be finally fully alone with his shame, his humiliation, his childhood trauma of being branded a “loser,” and his icy fear of a criminal justice system that will rapidly reveal him to be a fraud and a criminal.
He will seek psychological relief in the company of a tiny circle of enablers who will reinforce his sense of victimhood, and will help him justify his darkest impulses.
He will once again discuss martial law. He may begin to test what orders will actually be followed.
Cornered, he will start to feel like he has nothing to lose.
He may well decide that this is the time to send the signal to his shadow military of Proud Boys and AR-15 toting vigilantes that they should no longer just “stand back and stand by.”
Perhaps we should have guessed that it would be the coda of his Presidency: Donald Trump, the great divider, the man whose every impulse was to polarize the nation, may actually intentionally trigger violence in our streets, pitting citizen against citizen in rogue battles between alternate realities.
Seeking to create a final powerful visual image to rally his base, he may well refuse to leave the Oval Office, stage-managing a confrontation in which he is forcibly removed from the White House in view of the exclusive cameras of Fox News.
They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
And after four years of the longest night our lifetime, the dawn is so, so near.
In spite of all the danger, and in danger of all the spite, we hold our breath and count the days until January 20.
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