As I write tonight, Twitter is consumed by the fact that there are no results from the Iowa Democratic caucuses since, apparently, the app the organizers were using to tabulate results is not working. The Iowa Democratic Party has said it “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results. ...The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the result." It is suggesting they’ll have numbers by tomorrow.
This is shocking. Not that the caucus has turned into a technological quagmire, but that this focus on what is, in the scheme of things, a small event in the upcoming election (sorry, Iowa) has crowded off the stage the fact that the country is still, right now, in the midst of a profound political crisis.
The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump is not over.
Today the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense gave their closing arguments. The defense hammered the same themes it has hit all along, arguing that the House did not go about the impeachment properly and that the impulse for the impeachment was based in the desire to overturn the 2016 election (although if Trump were removed from office, his vice president, Michael Pence would take the office, and there is, of course, the other logical answer to this: the Democratic victories in the 2018 election suggest that voters wanted Trump reined in). The only answer, they said, was to leave the question of Trump’s future in the hands of voters in 2020.
Still, the honors of the day went to chief House manager Adam Schiff, who gave a passionate 25-minute speech in which he laid out the dangers of an unchecked President Trump. Schiff went for broke in a speech that will be remembered as one of the great speeches in American history because, like them, Schiff’s speech appealed to our nation’s fundamental principles and charged senators to uphold them. “Can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in [this] very election? Can we be confident that Americans and not foreign powers will get to decide, and that the president will shun any further foreign interference in our Democratic affairs?” Schiff asked. “The short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is no, you can’t. You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.” He begged the Republicans to say “enough.”
Republicans are in a hard spot, since a number of them have admitted they know he’s guilty, but are trying to argue his conduct is not an impeachable offense. Some that are willing to admit that he tried to cheat in the 2020 election, like Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), took refuge today in the argument that surely his impeachment and the subsequent trial will have chastened him, and he will not do anything like it again.
This is delusional. It’s not that Trump will not stop; it’s that he cannot stop. He must constantly up the ante because that is how he convinces himself he is powerful. By letting him off the hook, Republicans have given him license to keep pushing. Even while the trial was going on, he tweeted “I hope Republicans & the American people realize that the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax is exacty [sic] that, a Hoax. Read the Transcripts, listen to what the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said (“No Pressure”). Nothing will ever satisfy the Do Nothing, Radical Left Dems!” and “Where’s the Whistleblower? Where’s the second Whistleblower? Where’s the Informer? Why did Corrupt politician Schiff MAKE UP my conversation with the Ukrainian President??? Why didn’t the House do its job? And sooo much more!”
And he is, indeed, upping the ante. Just today, Vanity Fair reporter Jabin Botsford said he had talked to Republicans in Washington who said that Trump is planning revenge against those who crossed him in the impeachment trial, with congressmen Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, Mitt Romney, and former National Security advisor John Bolton, whose forthcoming book ties Trump directly to the Ukraine Scandal, at the top of the list. “It’s payback time,” one Republican said. “He has an enemies list that is growing by the day.” According to these sources, Trump wants Bolton to be criminally investigated.
His supporters seem more and more not to care. Today fallout from the Super Bowl showed the divorce between the reality of Trump himself and the image his followers believe. For years, we heard how Trump and his supporters were offended by the disrespect that protesters like African American football player Colin Kaepernick showed for our nation by taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against people of color. Today video emerged of Trump at Mar-a-Lago during the Super Bowl national anthem, fidgeting, pretending to be conducting the music, and then jumping for his chair while his wife Melania and the other guests stand with their hands over their hearts. The video was shared to Instagram by, as the Miami Herald put it, “a real estate agent for a Russian-American firm who frequents Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties and events.”
On Twitter, Trump congratulated the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-31 last night to win the Super Bowl, “on a great game, and a fantastic comeback, under immense pressure. You represented the Great State of Kansas and, in fact, the entire USA, so very well. Our Country is PROUD OF YOU.” The Kansas City Chiefs are, of course, from Missouri.
The reason this error matters is because of the instant attempt of Trump supporters to argue that his error was, in fact, right. Truthfully, this kind of slip is incredibly easy to make. We all do it, sometimes because we misspeak, sometimes because we’re just idiots. (I once thought Joseph Stalin, who I read was born in Georgia, was from the American South.) But when we make mistakes like that, we ‘fess up, and correct our errors to bring them into line with reality. In this case, someone in the White House corrected the Tweet quickly, but Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union, tried to turn Trump’s error into its own reality. He tweeted: “Dear East coast establishment: Kansas City, Kansas is in Kansas.” There is a Kansas City, Kansas, of course, but it not where the Chiefs are based. The attempt to fall in line behind Trump over something as stupid and obviously wrong as this is not a good indication of his followers’ increasingly tenuous relationship to the truth.
And now a word about Iowa. Iowa is roughly 90% white, and is old and rural. The US is only 65% white, and the Democratic party is only 60% white. Iowa is not representative of much of anything in the upcoming election, so the idea that it is a bellwether (which, by the way, is named for the castrated male sheep that led the rest of the flock and thus wore a bell) for the rest of the Democratic election season is misleading. Further, the snafu (which is a term from WWII, and means “Situation Normal, All F***ed Up”) in the tallies for the caucuses, while unfortunate, does not necessarily mean much.
Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale called the caucus mess “the sloppiest train wreck in history. It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process.” This is a deliberate attempt to undermine faith in the democratic process. The caucuses are run by parties, not by states, and they are not overseen by state machinery. Nor are the votes at the Iowa caucus taken by machines; they are tallied on paper. So the mess here seems likely to be an honest error, rather than some nefarious scheme. Now, that being said, there is zero excuse for our unprotected election machinery. We need paper ballots and records to trust our voting systems. But we need that in general, not because the Democratic Party in Iowa has made a hash of its technology.
Tomorrow the impeachment trial is quiet before Trump addresses the nation in the State of the Union address. There is lots of talk about how he will be unhinged and taking a victory lap; personally, I suspect he will be exceedingly well behaved as, among other things, he offers up some key benefits for wavering evangelical voters. We’ll see.
Iowa caucus glitch:
Trump and national anthem: https://amp.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article239913588.html?