A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Time To Push the Panic Button on the Midterms?
By David Corn October 12, 2022
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) at a Donald Trump rally in Wilkes-Barre Township, Pennsylvania, on September 3, 2022. Sean McKeag/AP
A political party led by a man who incites and excuses political violence, who threatens democracy, and who advances the loony conspiracy theory that his political opponents are baby-eating, Satanic sex-traffickers is close to seizing control of a portion of the US government, and…this is not regarded as a national crisis. It’s a month out to the congressional midterm elections, and the Republican Party remains the odds-on favorite of winning a majority within the House of Representatives, and it retains a good shot at bagging the Senate. Pundits on television calmly assess the 2022 elections, noting the historical pattern—the party in control of the White House tends to take a shellacking—and many within the political media world, including Democrats, act as if we’re in a normal cycle. Yet the nation is poised on a precipice that warrants apprehension, if not hair-on-fire screaming. It’s a break-glass moment—though it’s not.
Are we sleepwalking? For years, Donald Trump has displayed an authoritarian impulse that threatens the republic. He refused to accept the 2020 election results, promoted baseless allegations of a stolen election, and encouraged violence to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. And since January 6, the Republican Party—its officials and, more important, its base—has accepted or ignored Trump’s reality-defying assertions and cheered on his assaults on the constitutional foundations of the country.
In recent weeks, Trump’s crazy has become crazier. As I wrote last month, he fully embraced the bonkers QAnon conspiracy theory, transforming the MAGA movement into QMaga and leading millions to believe that Democrats are cannibalistic pedophiles who worship Lucifer. Literally. With this move, Trump is demonizing and dehumanizing a third or so of Americans and exacerbating the nation’s political polarization. (How can Republicans be expected to engage in policy debates—let alone to compromise—with miscreants who feast on dead infants?) And as he is delegitimizing his political foes, Trump has essentially endorsed the use of violence in politics. Five weeks ago he vowed that if he returns to the White House he will pardon the January 6 insurrectionists who assaulted law enforcement officials. Here was the Trump seal of approval for Brownshirt thuggery. After all, if your enemies are indeed Beelzebub’s shock troops, shouldn’t you confront them with fists and weapons?
As he continues to travel down the dark path of demagoguery and treacherous nuttiness—days ago Trump posted a social media message that appeared to invite violence against Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and included a racist reference to McConnell’s wife—Trump is hardly alone. This past weekend, speaking at a Trump rally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) proclaimed, “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killing.” What message does this send? We better kill them before they kill us. (By the way, why is a past president and current party leader featuring a speaker who once spoke at a white nationalist conference?) And at a different Trump rally, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) let loose this rant about Democrats: “They’re pro-crime. They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.” Wow, so much racism in so short a time. His noxious conspiracy theory: Democrats are encouraging Black people to commit crimes to “take over” what white people have so the whites can be controlled—and they want to pay back the criminals with reparations. This is the GOP that appears to be cruising toward a majority in the House: racists, conspiracy nutters, and democracy deniers who don’t seem to mind the exercise of political violence.
Is it time to press the panic button?
Developments in the last few months—such as the Dobbs decision that has unleashed a GOP war on women’s freedom and assorted blunders committed by Republican knuckleheads running for office—appeared to slow the expected GOP juggernaut. Still, the Rs are leading in the polls. And it doesn’t matter much whether the Republicans win the House by a mile or a yard. Any victory will yield a thousand Hunter Biden investigations, assorted impeachments (Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Merrick Garland, you-name-it), and probes of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, the Trump-Russia investigation, Benghazi, and—I’ll take bets on this—Hillary Clinton’s emails. The House Republicans will mount a ceaseless revenge-athon for Dear Leader. You can also look forward to a debt-ceiling crisis and potential government shutdowns. Plus, a GOP takeover of the House will bolster the right-wing forces that baselessly charge the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and that are scheming to gain control of the voting and vote-counting systems to block future Democratic triumphs.
A few weeks ago, Biden moved to call out the danger posed by Trump and the Republicans. He labeled MAGAism “semi-fascism” and asserted that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.” Since then, Biden and the Democrats have not sustained this outcry. Practically every day, Republicans are denouncing Democrats as evil, crime-lovin’ enemies of America who want to replace real Americans (that is, white folks) with immigrants, take everything they have, and kill them. The Dems are not as assiduous in championing the notion that the Party of Trump advances fear and paranoia, winks at (or encourages) violence, and aims to sabotage American democracy. It’s not a fair fight.
Why aren’t more people scared of a GOP victory in November? Why aren’t we more focused on the prospect of a demagogue’s minions gaining power and hate-mongers like Greene and Tuberville attaining greater influence? My hunch: Trump Outrage Exhaustion. After more than seven years of Trump’s democracy-endangering conduct and his vile, racist, divisive, and deceptive comments, his latest transgressions—bear-hugging QAnon, signaling he would set free the January 6 rioters, and his autocratic responses to the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid—come across as more of the same-old/same-old. Sure, they are a worrisome escalation in his anti-democratic behavior and an intensification of the threat he and his GOP cult present. Yet for many, it’s just more Trump junk thrown on an already enormous pile of Trump junk.
Have we become too inured to Trump’s outrages to notice collectively when the threat level moves from Trumpcon Four to Trumpcon Two? Has his steady output of nonsense and crap overwhelmed us? I recall when I was a young man bumming through Europe, a woman who owned a small boarding house in Nice tried to convince me that after a few days I would no longer hear the trains that rattled past the bedroom window. And then there was the landlord in Washington, DC, who told me that I would eventually become unaware of the buses that rumbled by the apartment he was seeking to rent me. Years later came the realtor who said the same about the airliners landing at a nearby airport via a flight path that guided them directly over the house he wanted to sell me. Maybe that works for some people. They become accustomed to the noise and tune it out. I couldn’t in Nice, and I couldn’t in that apartment. By the time I reached that realtor, I had learned my lesson.
Trump’s never-ending noise does cover up the threat. But he and his Republican comrades are not hiding the extremism, authoritarianism, and ugliness that will descend upon Congress, should the GOP capture either chamber. It’s all in damn plain sight. This feels like a horror movie when you can see the monster approaching but most everyone else is acting as if it’s business as usual. Biden took a decent, if delayed, shot at warning the electorate. But he and the Democrats needed to do more. A couple of days of messaging in the waning weeks of summer was insufficient.
Is all lost now? I’m not saying that. And perhaps a last-minute blast from the president and his party might succeed. But they have not made the most of the opportunity they had to accurately depict the GOP as the party of political violence, extremism, and conspiracy theory lunacy. A catastrophe looms, and the political-media world has not clearly sounded the alarm.
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The Watch, Read, and Listen List
Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice, David Enrich. Donald Trump has not waged war on democracy and decency all on his own. He’s had plenty of help, especially from lawyers. I’m not referring to his nutball, go-on-Fox attorneys, such as Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and others who have facilitated the Big Lie. No, throughout the Trump years, there have been plenty of oh-so-respectable lawyers who have enabled Trump and his excesses. The most prominent probably was Bill Barr, until Trump’s loony conspiracy theories about the 2020 election became too much for Barr, then the attorney general, to bear. But further from the headlines, one set of lawyers has been guiding and protecting Trump, as he has wreaked havoc on the American system: the powerful law firm of Jones Day. With Servants of the Damned, David Enrich, the business investigations editor of the New York Times (and a former colleague of mine), has produced a fascinating and troubling—and important—dissection of this influential legal titan and its disturbing relationship with Trump.
Once upon a time—long before his entry into politics—Trump relied upon Roy Cohn, a notoriously sleazy lawyer (who had worked for Joe McCarthy, the mob, and other unsavory players) for legal advice. As a presidential candidate and as president, he went mainstream and forged a bond with Jones Day, a distinguished corporate law firm that has been around for about a century. The firm, led by Steve Brogan, went all in with Trump—first providing legal advice for Trump’s 2016 campaign; then supplying a bevy of lawyers (including Don McGahn) to fill key Trump administration posts and implement such controversial policies as Trump’s Muslim ban and the separation of families at the US-Mexico border; and working closely with the right-wing, dark-money-funded Federalist Society to flood the judiciary with conservative jurists (be they experienced or not). Finally, Jones Day handled a lawsuit that aimed to toss out a large number of mail-in votes in Pennsylvania for the 2020 election—which, if successful, would have essentially rigged the count there in favor of Trump. (The lawsuit failed.) Trump was not of the DC establishment, and he repeatedly assailed “the swamp.” Yet Jones Day, a key and influential denizen of that swamp, made so much possible for Trump.
Enrich notes that the firm’s counsel for Trump was merely one of its sins. Jones Day, he writes, concocted “a variety of creative defenses” and “tapped its alumni network inside the Trump administration” to protect Walmart from liability for its role in the opioid crisis. (The mega-retailer had been “dishing out opioids with abandon” through its pharmacies.) Jones Day also assisted Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and helped the Catholic Church minimize its sexual-abuse scandals. It came to the rescue of Abbot Laboratories, when that pharmaceutical company was trying to dodge responsibility for brain damage caused to babies by its powdered formula, and of Fox News, when it its hosts and top brass faced allegations of sexual harassment. For Johnson & Johnson, it “deployed a novel legal strategy to avoid payouts to cancer victims.” It supplied advice to Russian oligarchs seeking to expand globally and to companies attempting to crush unions.
Of course, the old saw is that everyone is entitled to legal representation. But Enrich smashes that cliché, noting, “Citing the constitutional right to counsel is a convenient way for giant firms to rationalize this representation and to preempt criticism—or even scrutiny—of whom elite lawyers serve and how they serve them.”
Law firms and attorneys pick the clients they choose to work for. No one forced Jones Day to become Trump’s modern-day Roy Cohn or to help numerous corporate giants escape responsibility for harming large numbers of Americans. Brogan, as Enrich reports, was enthralled with being Trump’s favorite firm. And it was good for business, as Jones Day bagged clients who wanted attorneys wired into Trump circles and as its lawyers spun through the revolving door between the firm and various government agencies. The law firm pulled in $19 million in 2020 for advising the Trump campaign and other GOP political outfits. Some partners and associates in the firm—there were liberal-minded lawyers within its ranks—did grumble about its embrace of Trump. But their complaints did not counter the prerogatives and profits of power.
Enrich does a skillful job of weaving together the firm’s history and its various offenses of recent years. And he does not let it off the hook by accepting the phony defense that you cannot evaluate a lawyer or a law firm by its clients. In the crucial political battles of recent years, Jones Day chose a side. It deserves to be judged accordingly.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
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October 4, 2022: American Psychosis, Facebook, and a dog; a denizen of the economic establishment admits the elite’s big mistakes; Topdog/Underdog’s brilliance hits Broadway; and more.
October 1, 2022: How Giorgia Meloni’s win in Italy helps us understand a US Senate race; American Psychosis in the news; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ben Stein); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 27, 2022: Stormy Daniels, AOC, and the long arc of Donald Trump’s possible downfall; American Psychosis in the news; Skullduggery and the Havana Syndrome; the New York Times agrees about Mark Finchem; and more.
September 24, 2022: The craziest GOP candidate in the nation; American Psychosis becomes a bestseller; Dumbass Comment of the Week (FPOTUS); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 21, 2022: Donald Trump and the birth of QMaga; American Psychosis in the news; House of the Dragon versus The Rings of Power; and more.
September 17, 2022: American Psychosis and the reckoning of history; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
September 13: What Barack Obama said to me about the 47 percent video; the release of American Psychosis; and more.
September 10, 2022: A death in Washington and a very Trumpian conspiracy theory; American Psychosis update; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Donald Trump Jr.); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
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September 2, 2022: Snowflake fascists and the GOP politics of rubber and glue; American Psychosis tease of the week; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Blake Masters); Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table and Sara Watkins’ “You and Me”; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
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