I was revisiting some of my old Needlefish columns. Oh, sweet nostalgia! It’s weird, I barely remember writing them, and I’m sometimes surprised at what I was thinking at the time.
I was looking particularly at the postings from April and May of 2018, not all that long after Trump’s rancid administration had settled into power. The tone had changed from the earlier stuff. It wasn’t funny anymore. A certain dread had settled in, tempered slightly by a residue of fading optimism.
I suppose we were all waiting to see just how bad it would get, still not quite certain. Sure, we’d all known that the Trump Presidency was going to be a disaster, but the full scope of the calamity was still in doubt, and there was still room for just the smallest sliver of hope. Surely, America’s elaborate constitutional machinery would eventually oil itself up, and clank into action? Surely there were still limits to what the malevolent clown and his clown car brigade could get away with? I mean, all those checks and balances, right? Remember those days? Pundits were still talking about “guardrails” and “adults in the room”, and it wasn’t clear yet that the rest of the GOP was prepared to go along with Donald no matter what he did, however corrupt, depraved, unconstitutional and illegal. Just because Donald was crazy, that didn’t mean Mitch, Lindsay, Ted et al were too, did it? More likely, they were just being Machiavellian. More likely, the plan was merely to tolerate Trump’s batshit antics for as long as it took to get their judges and their tax cuts, after which things might settle down into a calmer, albeit uglier, sort of new normal.
Anyway, the midterms were coming along in another six months. The Dems would re-take the House, maybe the Senate too, upon which normal Congressional oversight could resume, and if Donald kept stepping out of line (how little we then realized how far out of line!) we’d impeach the bastard, and that would be that. Even if the GOP kept the Senate, and despite what McConnell and his toadies had proved about their own spineless capacity for complicity, when it suited their purposes, there’d be no damned reason to keep letting Trump get away with whatever it was he was bound to attempt. Not indefinitely. Why would they? The GOP already had what it wanted. He’d served his purpose. Past a certain point, having a deranged idiot in the Oval was, well, bad for business, right? When, inevitably, Trump did something that made Watergate seem like the hijinks of naughty boys just being boys, they’d pull the plug and install Pence, a perfectly acceptable, rabidly right wing religious zealot who’d do nicely. Things were getting a little worrisome, maybe, but there were still some rules. It wasn’t as if there were no limits at all!
Yet, upon revisiting what I was writing at the time, it’s clear that by May 22nd I was already in a bit of a panic.
Donald had just demanded that federal authorities take a run at former President Obama, in response to his delusional claim that the prior administration had being spying on his political campaign (the entirely insufficient efforts of the FBI to figure out what was going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians weren’t directed by Obama, and weren’t politically motivated; the whole of the manufactured “Obamagate” nonsense was designed to distract the public from the obvious truth that US counter-intelligence had every reason to have been investigating what Trump and his minions had been up to). It wasn’t clear if this was an actual directive, or just another Tweet tantrum that the relevant authorities would ignore, but clearly I feared the worst. All of a sudden, it seems, I felt completely unnerved:
Here’s what I believe… America has now taken the first steps down an old and well-travelled road that wends its way toward coups, assassinations, the imposition of authoritarian rule, and civil war.
Whoa! Settle down, lad! Steady on! Seems a little bit hyperbolic, even a tad, well, overwrought, wouldn’t you say?
I suppose it might have, at the time. But now look! They’ve now gone three-for-four, and they’re still hard at it! Let’s tick the boxes:
Coup? I’d say so. The whole 2020 campaign was a set-up to deny the validity of the election results, (remember the cries of “fraud” began something like a year before the vote, longer if you count Donald’s bleating about the purported fraud in 2016), and when all peaceful means were exhausted – the bogus court actions, the attempted coercion of local election officials, the effort to build up sufficient momentum to decertify the Electoral College results – we got this:
Looks reasonably like a coup attempt to me. Listen, if this had been any sort of properly coordinated effort, if any of these morons had been halfways competent in a big picture, overall planning sort of way, Donald would now be President for Life of the Peoples Republic of Redlandia. Damn straight that was a coup. Just like you’d see in one of those Third World Shitholes Donald liked to mock.
Don’t forget, either, that at the very end Trump was firing all sorts of personnel in the upper echelons of the Pentagon, including the SecDef, and seemed to be making the sort of preparations that foreign intelligence agencies must have interpreted as the run-up to a full-bore military coup. Why must they have thought so? Because at least some elements of America’s own military and security apparatus saw it that way too, as press reports and books just being published are now revealing. For his part, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, was very much convinced that Trump was hoping to use the alleged election fraud as his “Reichstag moment”. The military, thank Christ, would have none of it. They made that clear. They were determined to hold true to their oaths to the Constitution, and one day, history will take note of the difference that made, as the American experiment was strapped to a hand truck and wheeled toward the precipice. Otherwise, who knows?
Assassinations? Well, they gave it their best shot, didn’t they, but once again, oy! The incompetence! Still, kudos for giving it the old college try, unless you think the calls to hang Mike Pence were all in good fun, and that this thing was just a prop in support of a little bit of harmless political theatre:
…while these guys (hey, nice Ranger File there, soldiers!) merely intended to buttonhole their Representatives for a free and frank exchange of views:
I see it differently. I’d say that yeah, some sort of abduction / jihadi show trial / live-streamed executions-type deal had at that point advanced a little beyond the planning phase.
Authoritarianism? Geez, I guess, eh? What’s your favourite post-2020 neo-fascist reactionary law? The voter suppression? The changes that will allow partisan stooges to overturn election results? The laws against peaceful protest – that one in Florida that aims to make it lawful for motorists to run down demonstrators like mutts in the street is a humdinger, ain’t it? Or perhaps you’ve got a dog in the fight over female reproductive rights, and you’re enjoying the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, as being enacted right now in Texas:
That Texas GOP is really pulling out all the stops! They’re empowering private citizens – unconcerned third parties, mind you, not necessarily anybody involved either directly or even indirectly in any woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy – to enforce the abortion ban, by giving anybody who pleases a private cause of action against any clinics that break the law, or anybody who helps (like, say, somebody who gives a woman a ride to the clinic). They’re also throwing in $10,000.00 cash prizes to those who win their court cases! Eleven other states are following suit, with identical bills; see, GOP State Legislatures don’t write their own laws any more, they get drafted in right wing think tanks and then sent out across the country to be enacted, in a sort of franchise operation. That’s how they all manage to introduce the same sort of measures at the same time, whether it’s oppressing women, disenfranchising minorities, or banning First Amendment rights.
Don’t forget how SCOTUS is continuing to gut the Voting Rights Act, in case you think any new voter protection laws that Biden can get Joe Manchin to endorse are going to survive long, with Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, Alito and the rest of them just sitting there grinning, waiting to dig in with their bibs on.
So that leaves civil war. I guess the jury’s still out on that one, but I can’t claim I’m optimistic. Am I saying that an honest-to-God civil war, big and bloody like the last one, is on the way? Really? Well, no, not exactly, not inevitably, but put it this way, I’m sure as hell not saying it isn’t. That’s because the coup attempt isn’t over. It’s an ongoing process. We won’t know how things are really going until the 2022 midterms, and then the 2024 Presidential election, when we’ll see how far the Republicans are willing to go with the new laws they’re passing all over the place, and the mythology of Democratic election fraud that they think they’ve managed to sell.
The punditry is waking up, at last, to the horror that the voter suppression aspect of the various laws being rammed through the legislatures of the various Red States isn’t actually the scary part. After all, Republicans have always hated it when anybody besides white male landowners get the right to cast a ballot, and trying to roll back the clock to 1860 has been a theme with this crew for as long as anybody can remember. Decades of dealing with that have taught the Democrats how to resist. What’s new, and truly frightening, are the changes to the election machinery that will take the certification of election results out of the hands of relatively impartial career civil servants, and hand it over to partisan hacks in the legislatures. Setting the stage for the use of these new powers of election subversion is the real purpose behind their fealty to the Big Lie, and the fraudulent, unlawful election audits now being proposed all over the country, and still ongoing in Arizona. This relentless, propagandistic drumbeat of fraud-fraud-fraud is designed to convince the public that elections can’t be trusted, that Democrats always cheat, that they cheated bigly in 2020, and plan an even bigger election heist next time, which is why there’s a need for all these new election laws. It’s quite clever, actually, if a little obvious. Obvious is OK. It’s America, where nobody ever lost out running a scam just because it was obvious.
Having gone to such lengths to lay the groundwork, what do you think all these Republicans will do should things not go their way, come the next round of voting? What if the legislatures in places like Georgia and Arizona refuse to accept that Democrats won, and send Republicans to Congress instead? What if, in 2024, those Congressional Republicans achieve what they narrowly failed to do last time, and refuse to certify the results, installing their own candidate – who’ll be Trump, unless he finally keels over in the interim, in which case, sadly, it might actually be somebody even worse, somebody who isn’t a weapons grade moron, like DeSantis – even though they didn’t just lose the popular vote, as in prior elections, but lost in the Electoral College too? What do you suppose happens then? Will the millions who never fell for the Big Lie, who see clearly what’s really happening, simply roll over and accept the brazen, transparently undemocratic usurpation of power? We saw what the QAnon Corps was prepared to do on January 6, when the claims of a stolen election were patent lunacy, believed only by a virulent minority. What will a clear majority do when the election really is stolen, and everybody with any sense knows it to be true on the basis of overwhelming objective evidence? All those millions who will have had their access to polls curtailed, their ballots rejected, their votes ignored, their will subverted – will they all stay home and grumble quietly to themselves? Perhaps they’ll begin a mass migration to the Blue States, where the rule of law still prevails? Or will they stand and fight? Will they all finally conclude that fuckit, they’d rather die on their feet than keep living on their goddam knees?
I’d say that’s a pretty good set-up for a civil war. As good as the set-up for the last one. Better, maybe.
The old urge, still powerful, is to run and hide behind the comforting thought that it can’t happen. I get that. I feel it myself. C’mon, though, what, exactly, has occurred over the past five years to feed the hope that there’s actually anything, anything at all any longer, that still resides in the Happy Land of It Can’t Possibly Happen Here? Given the sheer determination and single-minded focus with which the Republicans are pursuing their anti-democratic program, it’s almost at the point that something truly awful has to happen. I can’t tell you what, or how far it’ll go, but the lesson of the last five years is that we shouldn’t fall prey to our own failures of imagination. We really should think the unthinkable. We also have to start believing these bastards when they straight-up tell us what they mean to do. They’re not hiding anything, after all. They’re proud of what they’re up to. They’re positively bragging, and they’re talking about more than new election laws, too. It’s not just politicians playing games out there. People are organizing for themselves, and making their own plans. Look at this – this was circulated to the attendees over the weekend at the latest annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held just six months after the last annual CPAC, and every bit as rabid:
It’s not much of plan, actually. If NASA had “planned” things that way, their official detailed roadmap to landing on the Moon would have read “1. Figure out how to get to the Moon, using some sort of machine. 2. Revel in glory of Moon landing.” That doesn’t matter, though. All that matters is how many are prepared to strap on their military gear and go kill people, believing that such bullshit actually means something.
If we’re going to thwart the next insurrection, I suppose it’s important to figure out who, exactly, is behind this organization calling itself PatriotsSOAR. It’s not clear. The QAnon folks, maybe. Christ, maybe f’ing Rupert Murdoch. Maybe Roger Stone. It’s such a sweaty exercise in whac-a-mole. There’s always more of them, more Oath Keepers, more Proud Boys, more Three Percenters, more frothing-at-the-mouth militias full of fat, bearded, swastika-waving, white-assed Navy Seal wannabees who’re ready to fix bayonets and charge that hill, and a lot of them seem to believe that they’re not going to have to wait until 2024, or rely on whatever sleights-of-hand the GOP has in the works with their new election laws. Donald himself has told them: back by August. See you then.
What do you suppose they do when Trump isn’t magically reinstated, like they were promised? You figure they roll over, sigh a wistful little “oh, well”, and go back to watching NASCAR? You think they reckon that January 6 was their last kick at the can?
Here’s a clue. This isn’t a picture from Charlottesville, a few years back. This bevy of neo-Nazi white supremacists was photographed less than a week ago, in Philadelphia. Plenty more where they came from, and they’re all still determined to take their country back. They just haven’t figured out who really took it, and never will.