The President’s Mob

Many Republicans decried the fact the second impeachment of President Donald Trump was happening so quickly. Evidence wasn’t brought; no one had a chance to testify, they complained.

Why did it happen so quickly, and with 10 House Republicans joining all the Democrats in voting to impeach?

“It happened quickly because there’s footage, and then just to help the case a little bit more the president said you shouldn’t impeach me because there might be violence, which was as if he was trying to help them by adding more evidence of how he was inciting violence. It was an attack by the leader of the executive branch on the legislative branch. It’s a pretty open-and-shut case. And if it wasn’t just the fact that he incited the insurrection, members of the first branch called him on the phone, including Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, and said, ‘Please say something and stop this.’ He didn’t do it. While there was an attack on America, he sat silent.”

That was CBS journalist and “60 Minutes” correspondent John Dickerson’s take on a recent “Slate’s Political Gabfest” podcast, when asked about the speed of the impeachment.

And, yes, we know Trump was not only silent to the pleas of everyone who called him for help, including Vice President Mike Pence (who was definitely in harm’s way), but he actively assisted in the insurrection by refusing to call in the National Guard (Pence and Nancy Pelosi did that). His insurrectionists were doing what he told them to do (“if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country any more”), and in any case he was enjoying watching the attack on the Capitol on TV too much to be bothered.

He did worry about one thing: that his rioters looked a bit “low class.”

There it all is: one of his Big Lies brought to action, his mobster impulses, his self-absorption, his false patriotism, his lack of taking responsibility, and his insistence on gathering information almost wholly through television.

Which is to say, classic Trump.

Is he sociopathic and psychopathic? One or the other? As my wife says, “Whatever path you take, you end up at cray cray.”

We know now that many of the people involved are middle to upper-middle class, flying in to Washington, D.C., and staying at nice hotels and Airbnbs. A great little getaway for some sightseeing-maybe some recon-before storming the Capitol, bearing Confederate flags and wearing QAnon T-shirts and Trump stocking caps. Once there, incited by their President, they beat one police officer to death and sang “God Bless America” and chanted “U.S.A” while beating another officer outside with the American flag, shouting things like kill him with his own gun.

Next, we learned that members of Congress likely were in on the planning to breach the Capitol and even to locate and attack, and possibly kill, Vice President Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley — the line of succession to the presidency-and specifically targeted representatives.

As if that horror and outrage weren’t enough, we watched a video showing Republican members of Congress refusing to put on masks while harboring in “safe” rooms with other members. They not only refused but appeared amused as they waved off the masks they were being encouraged to put on. So even in an emergency, these GOP congresspeople could not find it within themselves to act like responsible adults.

And now we learn that thousands had given donations to help send domestic terrorists to Washington, and to supply “materials,” where they were incited to riot by the President and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who, after getting case after case about Trump’s persistent claims of election fraud tossed out of court (while billing $20,000 a day for his services), exhorted the assembled crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat!”

So much has happened since the President tried to extort the secretary of state of Georgia to “find 11,000 votes.” And, with Trump, that is always the gambit, to deny reality, overwhelm the news cycle with new outrages, and generally create chaos. As always, he especially likes to threaten others if he doesn’t get his way.

On January 6 his cult followers proved that they have absorbed those lessons well.

In a recent “Letters from an American,” historian Heather Cox Richardson reminded us that the far-right rebellion has deep roots, mostly based on racism and a longstanding hatred of paying taxes. The endless purposeful mischaracterization of socialism in this country began as far back as 1871, she notes, not because of government control of the means of production but as a reaction to “popular public policies which cost tax dollars and thus made wealthier people pay for programs that would benefit everyone. Public benefits like highways and hospitals, opponents argued, amounted to a redistribution of wealth, and thus were a leftist assault on American freedom.”

In more recent times, so-called Movement Conservatives have endlessly called for a smaller, less active government in order to dismantle the prioritization of infrastructure work and the social safety net created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda, created to pull us out of the Great Depression:

“The roots of modern right-wing extremism lie in the post-World War II reaction to FDR’s New Deal and the Republican embrace of it under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Opponents of an active government insisted that it undermined American liberty by redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to those eager for a handout — usually Black men, in their telling. Modern government, they insisted, was bringing socialism to America. They set out to combat it, trying to slash the government back to the form it took in the 1920s.”

The Republican push for smaller government was strikingly voiced by Grover Norquist, conservative activist and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, when he commented to NPR’s “Morning Edition” in 2001: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

The right’s rhetoric of violence has only grown since the days of Newt Gingrich, who taught conservatives to see liberals not as political opponents but as enemies. As for Norquist’s statement on making government smaller, not only is it violent but it seems creepily personal, doesn’t it?

The hatred of paying taxes to create government and infrastructure for all goes back even further, to a time before our Constitution. The attack on the Capitol might be seen as a Shays’ Rebellion, with cosplay elements, as equipped through Walmart.

Oh, and a massive dose of white supremacy, which was animating this insurrection far, far more than any desire for smaller government.

In Ron Chernow’s introduction to his magisterial biography of Ulysses S. Grant, he quotes Frederick Douglass, who wrote that Grant was revered by Black Americans for how he stood up for their rights, first as a general and then as president:

“May we not justly say…that the liberty which Mr. Lincoln declared with his pen General Grant made effectual with his sword-by his skill in leading Union armies to final victory?”

Chernow then recounts what Grant accomplished for Black Americans after he put down his sword:

“The imperishable story of Grant’s presidency was his campaign to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Through the Klan, white supremacists tried to overturn the Civil War’s outcome and restore the status quo ante. No southern sheriff would arrest the hooded night riders who terrorized black citizens and no southern jury would convict them. Grant had to cope with a complete collapse of evenhanded law enforcement in the erstwhile Confederate states. In 1870 he oversaw the creation of the Justice Department, its first duty to bring thousands of anti-Klan indictments.”

History, as they say, repeats itself. Is it any wonder that Trump from his first days occupying the White House consistently attacked the Justice Department in an attempt to critically weaken it?

Grant was also prescient when, on September 29, 1875, in his second term, he said this in a speech to the Annual Reunion of the Army of the Tennessee:

“If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other.”

The context of his remarks were on the necessity of an educated populace in a democracy; thus, he was advocating free (public) schools.

People are essentially the same as they were in Grant’s day. Many are superstitious, ambitious, and ignorant. Scientists note that the human brain is set up to embrace conspiracy theories. It loves to make matches between things, and delights in those connections. Artists of all kinds do it, and so does the lunatic fringe.

As Harvard professor and sleep researcher Robert Stickgold recently noted on Alan Alda’s “Clear and Vivid” podcast, there is a great power to stories and our minds are simply geared to explain things, no matter if the explanation is logical or not:

“The mind is a meaning-maker….That’s what the brain does, the brain explains things. The problem is, if the correct explanation is not available, every human being will tend to find a different one. We have all these superstitions. Someone broke a mirror and something terrible happened, and they said, ‘Oh, it’s bad luck to break a mirror.’ And conspiracy theories are just that. I remember shortly after 9–11 someone said to me, ‘You know, 9–11 that’s 911-that’s the number you call….’ Your brain hates coincidences. Our brains have evolved to say that correlation means causation.”

So, we seem to have a very large task ahead of us-not only to vaccinate a nation, and then help in the effort to vaccinate the world, but to somehow deprogram about a third of the American population.

Given they won’t wear a mask in a crowded safe room during a pandemic, even if just to be polite, good luck with that.

Originally published at



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Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen

Half a lifetime ago, Kirk Swearingen graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. His work has most recently appeared in Salon.