Thursday, June 6, 2024

Permission to Be Your Worst Self

Over at the Xitter, Dinesh D'Souza is really on drugs now:

No, Dinesh, it's a 1787 document. See the "We the people" up at top?

Eleven years earlier, the authors had been members of a rebellion against a monarchy, and they could conceivably have been arrested for it, if the British army had been able to get close enough (I know for instance that Samuel Adams and John Hancock were expecting to be arrested in 1775 and fled Boston for Concord), but they weren't, and none of them was ever charged with, let alone convicted of, a felony. You can't become a convicted felon without having a trial first. That's how Trump did it, with a grand jury deciding to charge him and a regular jury deciding he was guilty.

That's just one of the differences between Donald Trump and James Madison. If you're looking for a Trump parallel in the story, you'd do better going with George III, another extremely wealthy but profoundly stupid grandchild of German immigrants who believed that God had put him above the law.

Think about it: 

  • in the early 1770s there's a lot of discontent in British North America with the government of George III, and a certain amount of violence, even, and the government response involves sending a lot of troops to Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the idea that that would pacify them. 
  • In 2020 there's big time rage in the streets over the Trump government's mishandling of a deadly pandemic and the murderous behavior of police, though hardly any violence except for that of the regime's thug supporters, and Trump's idea is a military occupation of parts of Oregon and Minnesota and New York and other states, though the military doesn't actually go along with that. 
  • In 1776, a convention of notables from all the American colonies decides to make a complete break with the king and institute a government of their own; George's reaction is to fight this development with all the means at his disposal, mostly the army.
  • In late 2020, a general election is held and a big majority of voters decides to cancel the Trump government and replace it with a Biden government; Trump's reaction is to fight this development with all the means at his disposal, which to his disappointment do not include the army—mostly dozens of lawsuits, but in the end mounting a loony and illegal scheme to seize control of the instruments of election (from voting machines to the Electoral College), including at one point a violent assault on Congress.
  • And then in 1781 the Americans win in the end, and in 2021 the Americans win again. I don't even know why we're still talking about it, except that Trump is not only even more pig-headed than George was, but also sees reelection as his only chance for avoiding more felony convictions, a problem George didn't have to deal with, in part because he really was kind of above the law, but he was not into committing crimes in any case, which is as I was saying the other day the safest way of staying out of jail for most of us. (If what we're going through now is the analogy of the War of 1812, I'll remind you that the royalists still lost, though they managed to burn down Washington.)
I don't want to speculate too much on the workings of Dinesh's mind, I don't think I can even imagine the process that leads to something this disordered, but I do want to point out one element of interest, the explicit acknowledgment that Trump is a criminal.

This is an instance of something that's going on all over the Trumpery, and I think it's important. I mean to say, I'm sure we'll keep getting arguments that the prosecutors and judge did things that were technically incorrect in the New York criminal case, but nobody is going to be seriously trying to convince you that he didn't falsify the records of his payments to Cohen in order to conceal the fact that he was paying Cohen back for Cohen's payoff to Stormy Daniels. It's more like a defiant so what? so's your old man!

Nor is there any real effort going into claiming he didn't actually bonk Stormy Daniels. Or that he didn't rape E. Jean Carroll and then defame her, or that he didn't commit $355 million worth of falsified business records in the financial statements he used to get favorable credit terms, or $25 million worth of fraud in his so-called university, or $2 million in the family's so-called charity, the other things he's been adjudicated for, as opposed to the criminal cases that are still in the pipeline. 

In part that's just Trump's own standard procedure, of dropping things when there's no way left of claiming he didn't lose, but I think there's another authentically Trumpy element, that Paul Waldman ("Trump's Conviction Has Liberated the GOP") refers to today, that's been spreading around Trumpworld:

Trump doesn’t argue that he is clean, but that everybody is dirty: Everybody cheats on their taxes, everybody cheats on their wives, everybody falsifies business records, everybody gives bribes and takes bribes. Everybody’s venal, everybody’s corrupt, everybody’s worst selves are their truest selves, and he’s the honest one because his worst self is his only self. 
The permission to be your worst self lay at the heart of Trump’s appeal in 2016. He didn’t use dog whistles or pretend to be a better person than he was; his bigotry, resentments and anger were right on the surface, and he encouraged his followers to be like him. Let your freak flag fly, stop being polite, grab ‘em by the pussy and tell those bastards what you think of them, right to their face.

It's badass to be openly guilty, or guilty with a wink and a smirk, in a crowd of hypocrites pretending they're not just as corrupt as you are. It's rebellious, like the Founders, who got away with treason against the king (in reality, they put out an exhaustive and extremely solemn legal argument to justify their action, the actual 1776 document, to make sure to show "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," because they mostly didn't want to look badass at all). It's sexy to get public revenge against your tormentors, like Trump, if he succeeds in getting at Judge Merchan.

And that is what Dinesh is getting at, and the whole of the Claremont Institute with its open crusade against democracy, and all those minions threatening Alvin Bragg and Fani Willis and everybody else with prosecution and jail, all the judges and all the Democratic officeholders and Biden and his entire family, and Merrick Garland and the entire Justice Department (where Speaker Johnson's plans appear more than a little vague).

It's not really much of a threat, as I was saying the other day. They just don't have the material they'd need. Politico reports:

Even if they manage to land a political blow on Garland, who is all but guaranteed to not face criminal charges, Republicans are in the dark about when, or how, the larger Biden investigation wraps.

“It’s this glacier that we’re on. People like to stop and make ice cubes sometimes, but it still keeps moving along kind of slow,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said about the state of the inquiry.

It's really more of a campaign strategy, like the one that worked in 2016, the strategy of permission to be your worst self, generalized across the party. And that, I'm afraid, really could work (if the parallel strategy of discouraging Democratic turnout works too). Scary times.

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