Discover more from Letters from an American
August 17, 2022
“Last night, my father killed another political dynasty, and that’s the Cheneys. He first killed the Bushes, then he killed the Clintons. Last night he killed the Cheneys.” So Eric Trump, former president Donald Trump’s son, interpreted the primary loss by Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) last night.
He is not wrong that the Republican Party has now been captured by extremists who reject the principles associated with that party. Trump’s statement reflects the reality that today’s MAGA crowd rejects the ideology of Reagan’s Republican Party, which was based in the idea—if not the actual execution—that the government must not interfere with markets. Far from trying to free up markets, Trump and those like him, including Florida governor Ron DeSantis, have used the government to punish businesses that don’t support their political policies and to reward those that do.
Using the government to reward friends and punish enemies is the province of authoritarians like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who spoke earlier this month in Texas at the Conservative Political Action Conference. MAGAs’ support for such tactics fits, as they have rejected the fundamental principles of American democracy.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution established that Americans have a right to consent to the government under which we live and that we are equal before the law. But today’s MAGA movement is based on the Big Lie that former president Trump won the 2020 election, and its adherents are currently engaged in the attempt to make sure that they can rig elections going forward, establishing a one-party state whose leaders can do as they wish.
And at least part of what they appear to want is the establishment of a state religion that overrides the rights of LGBTQ Americans and takes away women’s rights. Indeed, their vision looks much like that of Orbán, who maintains that secular democracy must be replaced by what he calls “Christian democracy,” or “illiberal democracy.”
While Eric Trump might see this as a triumph, others do not. Edward Luce of the Financial Times observed today: “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous & contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.”
Shocking though that observation was, it was nothing compared to what came next. General Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, retweeted Luce and commented: “I agree. And I was the CIA Director[.]”
That this movement has dangerous designs on our government got more confirmation today when Jordan Libowitz and Lauren White of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported that the Secret Service had notice of a specific threat against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi days before the January 6 attack on the Capitol but didn’t tell the Capitol Police until 5:55 on the afternoon of that day, after the attack had happened.
On December 31 a Parler user posted, “January 6 starts #1776 all over again…Fight for EVERYTHING,” and included Pelosi in a list of “enemies.” Later, the account was more specific about the attack. On the evening of January 6, the Secret Service sent the information along to the Capitol Police with a note: “Good afternoon, The US Secret Service is passing notification to the US Capitol Police regarding discovery of a social media threat directed toward Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
The Secret Service is under scrutiny because its agents’ texts from the period around the attack were erased from their phones, the phones of Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were wiped, and the Trump-appointed inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, Joseph Cuffari, neglected to tell Congress of the destruction of evidence for more than a year and has refused to make his staff available to testify about the matter.
But it is not clear that the MAGA attempt to take over the government will stay behind Trump. Today, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has recently been in the news for his defamation of the parents of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, announced on his show that he is switching his support to DeSantis. He was a staunch enough Trump supporter that he spoke at the January 5, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., to fire up the crowd for the next day.
Almost on cue, Trump began to float the idea that he would release the surveillance tape of FBI agents recovering the stolen government documents from his Mar-a-Lago property in what seems to be an attempt to reclaim his base. The argument for releasing the tape is that his supporters will resent the federal officers milling around Trump’s property, feeding the idea he is a victim of political persecution. Other advisors warn that actually seeing just how many boxes of documents, including top secret documents, were recovered, will backfire.
“It’s one thing to read a bunch of numbers on an inventory list, it’s another to see law enforcement agents actually carrying a dozen-plus boxes out of President Trump’s home knowing they probably contain sensitive documents. I don’t see how that helps him,” a person close to Trump told Gabby Orr, Sara Murray, Kaitlan Collins and Katelyn Polantz of CNN. It would fit the usual Trump pattern for him simply to say he is going to release it to generate stories that keep him in the news.
Trump’s supporters’ willingness to find another candidate is likely, in part, a reflection of the legal trouble mounting for the former president.
Today, Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani testified for six hours before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, that is investigating Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Giuliani alleged vote rigging in Georgia even after his theories had been proven fake.
Prosecutors have told Giuliani he is a target of the investigation, meaning it is possible he will be indicted. Ken Frydman, Giuliani’s former press secretary, told CNN yesterday: “He knows he lied for his client, and he knows we all know…. I think, you know, at this point in his life, his goal is to die a free man.”
Tomorrow the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, will plead guilty to 15 felonies associated with conspiring to avoid payroll taxes on $1.7 million over 15 years by taking pay in the form of school tuition for his grandchildren, a free apartment, a car, and so on. The deal with the Manhattan district attorney’s office lets him off with fines and a minimum of 100 days in jail, a very light sentence. In exchange, Weisselberg will testify against the Trump Organization in its upcoming October trial for related offenses, though not against Trump himself.
This deal seriously weakens the Trump Organization’s legal position in the case but leaves Trump and his family untouched. If the case undercuts the Trump family’s business— its traditional financial base— family members might be hoping to cement a new financial base in the American political system.