It landed in everybody’s Twitter feed as an apparent non sequitur, an all-caps dispatch from Donald accompanied neither by any particular context, nor any obvious meaning:
Full stop. Huh? Some readers took this to be the random discharge of one of Donald’s 236 remaining neurons, and responded by firing back equally random words of their own: FLUORIDE! CLAMBAKE! Buried within the output of a three-day Tweetstorm that at one point saw the President – even while his lawyers prepared to tell the Supreme Court that he was far too busy dealing with the pandemic to spare a couple of hours to think about a subpoena – spew over 120 increasingly unbalanced missives in a row, averaging one Tweet every seven minutes, it was easy to miss. More obviously and distractingly batshit was Donald’s claim that MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough had literally murdered one of his interns back when he was a Congressman (shades of his claim during the 2016 campaign that Ted Cruz’s father had played a role in the Kennedy assassination), and more overtly irritating was his assertion that the various State Governors, whose popularity now handily eclipsed his own, owed their success to all the help he’d given them in dealing with the Covid crisis, just to cite a couple of highlights from the endless torrent of bullshit. OBAMAGATE? Maybe it was just a brain turd. Maybe it was another “Cofeve”.
Soon enough it became clear that Donny was actually up to something. A subsequent Tweet claimed that Obama had committed “the biggest political crime in American history, by far,” and a sinister pattern began to emerge. Obviously, Trump needed a new shiny object to distract everybody from his disastrous bungling of the pandemic, but it wasn’t just that. Donald, being Donald, was still seething about all the old grievances. This was about the “Russia Hoax”. It was about Obama’s purported attempt to undermine his election, just like the old lie about bugging and surveillance that never gained the desired traction back in 2017. It was about his impeachment, and supposed exoneration. It was, as ever, about settling scores and rewriting history, of a piece with getting Barr to let Flynn off the hook, and Trump’s ominous warning that we could all stay tuned, because there would be more where that came from. OBAMAGATE, it soon became clear, was about every frickin’ thing that had vexed and tormented the six foot picnic ham since he cheated his way into the White House, the ultimate solution, all wrapped up in one over-arching program of lies and disinformation. It was Donald’s Ardennes counteroffensive, the armoured thrust that would knock his enemies back on their heels and reverse the tide of battle.
Or it was supposed to be, anyway. The problem, as so often these days, is that Trump lost the thread and couldn’t quite make the pitch when the moment came to sell it to the rubes in TV Land. It was strange. He’d put in the work. He’d completed the set-up. All the elements were in place. Now, with everybody’s curiosity piqued and the press duly assembled for another of his diaper-filled afternoon rants, all he had to do was pull the trigger and let everybody in on the details of his latest Q-Anon style Big Conspiracy Theory. Yet it was as if Trump was taken entirely off guard when a reporter asked him what he was on about. As if he didn’t expect the very query he’d primed everybody to make.
Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker posed the decidedly non-gotcha question:
In one of your Mother’s Day tweets, you appeared to accuse President Obama of ‘the biggest political crime in American history, by far’ — those were your words. What crime exactly are you accusing President Obama of committing, and do you believe the Justice Department should prosecute him?
A soft lob over the net to you, Donnie! Now for the blistering forehand down the line! Yet, presented with the planned-for opportunity, this is all the dummy could muster:
Uh, Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s been going on from before I even got elected, and it’s a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what’s gone on, and if you look at now, all this information that’s being released — and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning — some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again.
Uh-huh. You don’t say? Rucker, game as always, asked again: yes, but what crime in particular did the President allege? With the aplomb typical of fibbing four year-olds everywhere, Trump shot back:
You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.
Ladies and gentlemen, the steady hand at the helm as America confronts a new Great Plague and subsequent replay of the Great Depression.
Left at that it would have been nothing but the usual horse manure, easily forgotten, and we could all have moved on with a little spring in our steps; but then the usual cast of Trump surrogates stepped in. The likes of Libertarian yahoo Rand Paul, slithering Chief of staff Kevin McCarthy, and of course the bloviating idiots on Fox News, laid it all out in a way Donald couldn’t, and the mounting danger became disquietingly palpable. Over at Salon, Heather “Digby” Parton provided a good distillation:
…it’s the same old bizarro-world version of events in which the FBI didn’t sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign with the 11th-hour resurrection of the idiotic email scandal while keeping mum about Russian interference on Trump’s behalf. In the Trumpified version, the “deep state” was actually working on behalf of Clinton to take down Trump. Then, when he heroically thwarted their efforts they conspired to destroy him once he was in office by colluding with a long list of foreign actors, the entire intelligence community, the Democratic National Committee and the media to frame him with the Russia investigation in a slow-moving coup.
You almost want to ask yeah, but what about Benghazi? What about that pizza parlour pedophile ring? It’d be funny, except this shit isn’t funny any more.
Trump is flailing. There are cracks in his Base as his catastrophic mishandling of the Covid crisis becomes obvious even to some of his most ardent, Confederate Flag-waving fans. America is the global epicentre of the pandemic, with more cases than the rest of the top five afflicted nations combined. Over 80,000 are dead already, with two or three thousand more falling every day. As he tries to convince the public that ordinary citizens have to be “warriors” and go back to work in the teeth of the lethal contagion, Trump cowers inside the West Wing while everybody around him gets tested every single day, yet still can’t stop those close to him from coming down with the coronavirus. Over 30 million people are unemployed. One in every five parents reports that her children are suffering from malnutrition. Biden is ahead in the polls. Widespread testing remains a fiasco. Trump’s own operatives assure him that as the Red States move prematurely to “reopen”, it’s his own hard-core supporters who bid fair to suffer the most, and once rural white folk start dropping like flies, Trump’s second term, already swirling ’round the bowl, could be flushed entirely. Donald needs a new story to tell. He needs somebody to blame, and then he needs to change the channel. Perhaps even more, he needs vindication and revenge. Everyone who’s crossed him needs to pay. The whole world needs to witness his triumph.
The blame part is easy. It’s all China’s fault, as he stressed in his obnoxious, racist retort to the Asian-American reporter at the latest presser, delivered with the usual misogynist sneer before stalking off in a snit (when it’s women, it’s always the gripe about being “nasty”). We can expect to hear as much over and over in the coming weeks. Blame China! Not me! It’s the frigging Chinese! It’s that miserable lying Xi!! Ignore the praise I was heaping upon him and his nation’s handling of the crisis just a couple of months ago! In fact, that never happened!
Fine, but making everybody focus on something besides the pandemic is a lot harder than pinning the blame for it, and one wonders to what frightening lengths Trump and his henchman Barr will go in order to lay the necessary smoke screen. It presents both a challenge and a tantalizing opportunity. Dropping the charges against Flynn, a predicate to proving that the whole Mueller Investigation was a witch-hunt, just like he always claimed, may be just the beginning, as Trump himself has promised. Maybe the next step is a number of high-profile arrests and indictments against the anti-Trump cabal that perpetrated the Russia Hoax? Wouldn’t that be just like Donald? Hasn’t he longed inexpressibly for just this sort of payback? Would anybody still put this kind of Third World authoritarian power play past the malignant toddler? Amid rumours that he might have set his sights beyond members of the intelligence community to include former AG Eric Holder, Chris Hayes of MSNBC issued this horrifying Tweet last night:
Then there was this:
Somehow, despite everything I’ve learned to be possible since Trump gained power, I’d never imagined him taking anything that far. Stupid me.
OBAMAGATE! Classic Trumpian gaslighting. Perhaps the last desperate gambit of the teetering would-be dictator. Is this what we’re in for? Persecution of political enemies? Sham indictments? Show trials and kangaroo courts, presided over by a cackling Bill Barr? To remain sane I’m telling myself it can’t possibly come to that, not even in Trump’s dystopian America, but of course it can, and what then? Who’ll stop him? Who’s stopped him so far?
We may be on the cusp of an emergency, and I can’t think of anything legal and constitutional that remains to help us. Even the next election seems iffy at this point. The pandemic is going to make an ordinary voting process all but impossible, and just when we might have thought that we’d seen it all, Jared Kushner comes out with this:
He can’t do that! He can’t! The date of the election is set by law! The date that a person ceases to be President is in the Constitution for chrissakes! It’s not the call of some unelected goof who sits in his chair courtesy of the most craven nepotism, and it’s not his daddy-in-law’s call either! They wouldn’t dare pull a stunt like that. They wouldn’t…