The Unexpected "So Anyway" Stage of the US's Political Implosion

In a column last week here on Dorf on Law, I wrote: "Some days, I find that I can write about, say, business regulation or fear-mongering about the federal debt.  Too often, however, it is impossible to ignore that there is now open talk of political killings."  That last reference was merely an example -- and not even a uniquely worrisome one in the current environment -- of how crazy each day's Republican/Trump-related news has become.

In the nine days since I wrote that column, I have managed to write my two regularly scheduled columns on relatively normal law/policy/economics topics: (1) an analysis of a Supreme Court case that is ridiculous but in a non-Trumpy way, and (2) a discussion of how the "behavioral revolution" in economics is not merely the bullsh_t that it obviously was all along but is also rife with academic fraud and is pushing real-world policy in dangerous, trivial, or self-defeating directions.  I thus succeeded for a solid week in compartmentalizing the death of democracy.  Well done!

The political situation continues to be utterly insane, however, and the nature and frequency of that insanity bears comment, albeit a relatively brief one.  In particular, I continue to be amazed that the people who are hellbent on accelerating the descent of the US political system into despotic chaos have become so much more shameless and open about their plans.  Although I often pat myself on the back for having argued early and often that Donald Trump would refuse to leave office peacefully and that Republicans would offer no meaningful resistance to him while continuing to prosecute their divorce from constitutional democracy and the rule of law, I never predicted this.  The destination remains what it obviously has been all along, but the insanity of the journey is truly remarkable.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about an observation that many people have offered over the past few years.  There is no exact wording for it in wide usage, but one reasonably pithy way to put the point is this: "In Trump's world, every accusation is a confession."  Again, I make no claim that this is unique to me.  The point, however, is that nearly everything that the Republican/Trump machine accuses President Biden or the Democrats of doing is in fact exactly what they are doing (or are planning to do).

The list is long, but the most obvious example is the central fiction that motivates everything on the American right: election stealing.  The party that has spent decades trying to disenfranchise voters and undo or ignore every possible electoral outcome -- from nonsensical recalls of governors in California to the legislatures in Ohio (abortion currently) and Florida (ex-felon enfranchisement in 2019) negating extremely popular constitutional referenda results -- is obsessed with the idea that Trump lost in 2020 because the Democrats rigged everything.

Even their claim that certain states "changed the rules" to alter the results -- changes that were made in the context of a pandemic that Trump had bungled every step of the way -- is beyond dishonest.  Not only is it not true that, as some of the most committed maniacs in Congress claim, Pennsylvania changed its rules without its courts ever "reaching the merits," but Texas's governor unilaterally changed his state's election laws specifically to harm populous counties that vote for Democrats.  And now the man who wrote the argument (which failed spectacularly in the Supreme Court) that red states could challenge unwelcome election results in blue states is the Speaker of the House.

Again, the point is that Republicans do not merely lie about what Democrats are doing.  They accuse Democrats of doing what they themselves do or want to do.  And this is not a Trump-era thing.  Republicans spent years packing the Supreme Court and then accused the Democrats of wanting to pack the Supreme Court.  Mitch McConnell refers to any attempt to even a playing field -- by, say, eliminating gerrymandering -- as an attempt by Democrats to "gain an advantage," which only makes even a tiny bit of sense if we accept the weird idea that there is something wrong with undoing an injustice.  In a different context long ago, a US Senator opposed ceding control over the Panama Canal by saying (with a bit too much of a gleeful smirk): "[W]e stole it fair and square."

How about pedophilia (this writer finds himself surprised to ask)?  Republicans are obsessed with the idea, but they constantly find that the enemy is themselves.  Trump merely follows in the ignominious footsteps of his current party, having infamously partied with Jeffrey Epstein and even bragged about walking in on the dressing rooms of teenage girls at "his" beauty pageants.  But hey, LGBTQ+ people are the predators, right?

More than a decade ago, Dick Cheney was certain that the Obama Administration had used the IRS to punish its political enemies, apparently because Cheney lacked the ability to imagine that anyone could possibly refrain from abusing political power.  He knew that he would do it if presented with the opportunity, so he assumed that everyone else was just as cynical and ruthless as he is.

When the party line for Republicans is that Democrats are "weaponizing" the government to punish their political enemies, even as Trump openly admits that he will try to jail everyone who has wronged him (and take away the "broadcast" licenses of media that criticize him), we can indeed see that Republicans' accusations are confessions.  Whether or not that is a conscious strategy to muddy the waters or is simply Orwellian doublethink is a separate question, but it is certainly happening.

Again, however, this "I know you are, but what am I?" nonsense has been part of the Republicans' playbook for what seems like forever.  What is different now is not merely that they are saying it so openly but that they do so without even thinking that it could hurt them politically.

We have, in short, moved from "Every accusation is a confession" to "Every confession is not just a threat but a promise."

Trump (and, for that matter, Sam Alito) does not merely say that Biden is a traitor but then directly and unambiguously says that he would be eager to violate the supreme law of the land AND undermine US international interests by refusing to defend NATO allies and even directly "encourage [Russia) to do whatever the hell they want" to them.  Bonus points in the accusations-as-confessions game for Trump's saying that this is justified because "[y]ou gotta pay your bills," which is just delicious coming from the man whose business model boils down to: "Refuse to pay, and then declare bankruptcy."

Why is Trump assuming -- apparently accurately -- that he can say anything he wants about anything (including his claims in various courts that he is legally untouchable) and get away with it?  As the title of this column suggests, even people like me have been beaten down by the nonstop blast of lunacy from Trump's fire hose.  Trump says that he would take Putin's side?  Yeah, that sure is bad.  So anyway ...

This is the immoral marriage of two Republican strategies, which Trump merely blundered his way into using as a one-two punch.  Hypocrisy has been there all along, whereas Ronald Reagan's administration was the "innovator" when it came to creating so much chaos (flooding the zone, in the words of one of Trump's fascist strategists) that the press and Democrats could not keep up.  Each strategy separately is incredibly damaging.  Amazingly, we are now seeing both together, and rather than saying enough is finally enough, we are all saying, "So anyway ..."