Well, for former President Trump, last Thursday night turned out to be the worst “How I spent my Christmas vacation” slideshow ever. The January 6th Committee presented the first chapter of their findings on the insurrection/riot/tourist visit, or whatever description is suitable for the gang at Fox News these days. And it was a much better presentation than the usual boring congressional ego-fest that a standard hearing devolves into.
The statements from key players like former Attorney General Bill Barr, Ivanka Trump, the insufferable Jared Kushner and various other rubes and self-important militia bumpkins were damning to say the least. The testimony from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Hill police officer who suffered a brain injury fighting off the mob, was moving and effective. The elements of a plot, not a spontaneous riot, were laid out and proven. And the insider testimony about the former President’s reaction, or lack of it, to the unfolding attack were devastating, up to and including agreeing with the mob that maybe Mike Pence deserved hanging.
There is a scene in an old movie called A Guide for the Married Man which starred Walter Matthau and is no doubt, far too sexist and locker room for today’s audience. The scene though, featured Joey Bishop and Julie Tate as a husband and his mistress who are caught in bed by his wife, Imogene Coca. They both calmly get out of bed, get dressed and, while the wife watches, the mistress leaves and Bishop sits down with the evening paper. Coca is left to assume that what she just saw never happened and must be a figment of her imagination. That’s pretty gutsy gaslighting, and it’s what the folks over at Fox engaged in as the hearing played out. Oh, they didn’t show the hearing itself except on their business channel, but the prime time shows on the highly rated network side, spent the evening jangling car keys to distract the toddler that they apparently consider their prime demo.
Tucker Carlson delved into that vast internet treasure trove of conspiracy theories from the FBI to Antifa who must have instigated all this. That, of course, is bilious nonsense. Sean Hannity said the real crime was that Nancy Pelosi didn’t call out the National Guard, or Chuck Schumer or someone, anyone except Donald Trump. Of course, they can’t call them out but Trump claimed several times that he offered Guard troops to the Speaker and she rejected them. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, apparently recovering from his spine bypass surgery, held a press conference before the night’s festivities, and repeated the story of the rejected troops. The problem with all of that is that it didn’t happen. From Newsweek Magazine today…
“USA Today wrote that Pelosi's office was never contacted by the president regarding such a recommendation, and the Pentagon has denied having record of the request. Additionally, the Department of Defense's timeline of the events leading up to the Capitol riot also makes no mention of a National Guard request, and the former House sergeant-at-arms said he had no discussions with congressional leaders about the matter, according to USA Today.”
Suffice to say, the presentation was calm, full of evidence and convincing. Unless you have a stake in not being convinced and that is what is making me want to simply take a nap. It’s not just that people are lying or making outrageous charges against the other side, it’s the zeal involved and the complete lack of self-awareness.
Maybe I’m just getting old. Politics today is simply wearing me out. I used to spout bromides on the radio and television about the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats being of the moderate variety and how smart politics was played between the 20-yard lines of life with the two extremes left in the ends of the gridiron. Politics is the art of compromise. Better to take half a loaf. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I might as well throw in Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too and sound like a real antique. The world is changing, and I’m apparently not keeping up.
I also used to defend doing what I thought was a well-rounded radio talk show with, yes, politics but also interviews with scientists, authors, actors, movie critics, doctors and comedians. I used to say that we are more than just who we vote for. I gather that quaint theory is worthy of a “well bless your heart, darlin’” these days. As a walking Rip Van Winkle in the modern media world, I have awakened from my Edward R. Murrow-induced slumber to realize that for an increasingly large segment of the great unwashed, who you vote for is the only thing that really matters.
And I think what is making me tired is the relentless energy involved in extreme politics today and the absolute disregard for how you or your arguments look. It can take the form of Georgia’s answer to the question “How damned dumb can voters be?” Yes, our favorite 20-watt bulb in the national chandelier, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who now claims that Democratic representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland is unfit to sit on the January 6thcommittee because his son committed suicide and he isn’t thinking straight. Yes, that was actually said by a sitting member of Congress, joined by the star of the new remake of Lolita, Matt Gaetz.
On the left, we have the so-called “Squad” who persist in making statements that will take years off Joe Biden’s life, years he can’t spare. The most outspoken and tin-eared member is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. From backing a far left challenger to the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to wingnut challengers to fellow Democrats in safe seats, to claiming that those who push for Puerto Rican statehood are perpetuating the "the legacy of colonization," She even bragged about opposing a bill to protect Supreme Court Justices from threats of violence. Cortez is like her right wing colleagues in that she doesn’t care if her causes and the way she promotes them lead to defeat for her party.
This “go down with flags flying” attitude is absolutely driving old political hands, you know the kind that actually can win elections, to invest heavily in shares of Johnny Walker. I watch guys like James Carville and Steve Schmidt, who helmed basically decent campaigns and know a thing or two about strategy, and they seem to be struck dumb by the mindless and incessant stupidity and self-destructive politics from their own parties. Defund the police? Really? That’s a winning slogan? Let’s try calling ourselves Democratic Socialists, eh? How about the Capitol insurrection was just a tourist visit? Or, if we had prayer back in school, nutcases with heavy weaponry wouldn’t shoot them up.
My sofa has drool stains from my inability to keep my open mouth closed as I watch these political reality show contestants drill holes in their own boats. When I watch Boebert and Cortez, I’m reminded of something Churchill once said of US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, “He is the only bull who brings his own china shop with him.”
And it goes beyond that. A recent piece by Christopher Mathias details how the state of Idaho is being slowly taken over by the radical right, and I mean the white nationalist radical right. It has gotten so dire that many longtime residents are wondering if they can even continue to live there, and many of them are mainstream Republicans. From the article…
“Chaney said his wife, wanting to better understand the people threatening her family, picked up a copy of “Confrontational Politics” and read it from cover to cover. Multiple people in Idaho told me that if I really wanted to understand the far right in the state, I needed to read this book.
Authored by a former California state senator and gun rights fundamentalist named H.L. Richardson, “Confrontational Politics” is essentially a how-to guide for a Christian nationalist insurgency in the United States. “There can be no compromises with the Left,” Richardson writes. “We are ideologically at opposite ends of the spectrum with no arbitration possible. Either they win or we do. They will run the government or we will. That’s the only choice open to either of us. They know it — shouldn’t we?”
Richardson prescribes an aggressive style of politics that’s always, always on the offensive, that is constantly attacking its opponents, provoking them, screaming over them, and wearing them down. Never apologize. Exploit “hot button issues” that inspire “deep emotion” and “moral righteousness” to gain followers.
Richardson pays special attention to primaries, which he sees as an opportunity for a dedicated radical minority, marching in lockstep, to take advantage of low voter turnout to win power: democratic means for anti-democratic ends.
It is, as summarized in an excellent episode of the NPR podcast “No Compromise,” a strategy of “leveraging voter apathy to impose your will on society.”
So, here we are. Mr. Smith wouldn't stand a chance today. And you can see it in the reactions to the January 6th Committee’s findings. It’s politics that allows no quarter, and as a result, no progress on anything that in any way requires compromise. Both Pelosi and McConnell have to deal with it, and despite their considerable collective flaws, they are savvy enough to know the country can’t continue this way. It is scorched earth that makes General Sherman seem like Mr. Rogers. They may stand on a heap of smoking rubble like King Pyrrhus at the battle of Asculum, lord of all the destruction he surveyed. But they know it will all end in tears, not for them, but for all of us.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.