Trump and the implications of January 6 for American democracy

Bob Sheak, January 11, 2022

Introduction

The majority of Democrats, as well as an overall majority of all Americans are remembering the anniversary of January 6, 2021, as an insurrection by a motley and violent mob of Trump supporters, all of whom were in Washington, D.C., to carry out their leader’s appeals to stop the peaceful and traditionally routine transfer of presidential power, as exemplified by the efforts of the right-wing Trump forces to sabotage the election of Joe Biden. Yes, according to the Britannica dictionary, the January 6 uprising did constitute an insurrection:

“insurrection, an organized and usually violent act of revolt or rebellion against an established government or governing authority of a nation-state or other political entity by a group of its citizens or subjects; also, any act of engaging in such a revolt. An insurrection may facilitate or bring about a revolution, which is a radical change in the form of government or political system of a state, and it may be initiated or provoked by an act of sedition, which is an incitement to revolt or rebellion.”

“In the United States, insurrection against the authority of the federal government is a crime under 18 U.S. Code §2383, which provides that:

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Incitement

Trump claimed for months preceding and continuously after the 2020 election that the election had been rigged against him and insisted falsely and perhaps seditiously that he had won the election by millions of votes. It came to be known as the “Big Lie.” He did this despite numerous re-counts and court judgements that found no significant voting fraud in any state election. Zachary B. Wolf analyzes the origin of the term “Big Lie” and how it has been used by Trump (https://cnn.com/2021/05/19/politics/donald-trump-big-lie-explainer/index.html).

For example, Wolf describes how Trump came to adopt the term. Here’s some of what he writes.

“Trump falsely claimed after the 2016 election, which he won, that millions of people had illegally voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Leading up to the 2020 election, Trump again routinely asserted that voting in the US would be rigged against him, and afterward, when he denied his loss, critics began using the term ‘the Big Lie’ to describe his rejection of the factual world.

“Trump, master propagandist, has since seized the term from his critics and now routinely uses it to claim it is he who is the victim of untruths and conspiracies. ‘The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!’ he said in a statement issued by his PAC on May 3.

Since then, Trump’s use of it to claim his own persecution has arguably eclipsed its use to warn about his lies as a form of propaganda.”

Disregarding the overwhelming evidence, his huge electoral and ideological base continues to lap up whatever came out of his mouth and/or what was broadcast on the right-wing media that echoed the “Big Lie.”

There is no disputing that those who came to Trump’s “Save America” rally at the Ellipse within the National Mall just south of the White House were ready to do Trump’s bidding. (I’ll elaborate on these points later in this post.) They believed that the election had been stolen and they were waiting to be told what they should do, that is, walk to the capitol building and “stop the steal.” The Capitol is about 2 miles from the Ellipse.

Upon reaching the Capitol – some had already been there – a huge throng of 2,000 or so Trump supporters violently invaded the building, while thousands of others watched supportively. The violent invaders were not tourists peacefully entering and roaming through the halls of the Capitol building. They were not greeted by the capitol police as friendly visitors. No, they rampaged through the building, or watched while others attacked and injured the police and damaged property, with the purpose of stopping the certification of Biden’s presidential victory.

Be clear about this. They would not have been there without Trump’s encouragement and a coordinated plan by Trump and his supporters to call them to a rally in D.C. None of this would have occurred without Trump. There would have been no massing of thousands of people, no crowd to enflame, no violent invasion of the Capitol building, no injuries to capitol police, no terrorizing of elected officials, their staffs, janitors, and other workers.

There were others involved

Logan Jaffe and his colleagues at ProPublica provide further documentation of how some “capitol rioters” were also engaged in planning for the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” rally (https://propublica.org/article/capitol-rioters-planned-for-weeks-in-plain-sight-the-police-werent-ready). They write:

“…the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

“‘We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,’ leaders of the Stop the Steal movement wrote on Dec. 23. They called their Wednesday demonstration the Wild Protest, a name taken from a tweet by Trump that encouraged his supporters to take their grievances to the streets of Washington. ‘Will be wild,’ the president tweeted.

“Ali Alexander, the founder of the movement, encouraged people to bring tents and sleeping bags and avoid wearing masks for the event. ‘If D.C. escalates… so do we,’ Alexander wrote on Parler last week — one of scores of social media posts welcoming violence that were reviewed by ProPublica in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s attack on the capitol.”

Bottom of Form

Another example: “On Dec. 12, a poster on the website MyMilitia.com urged violence if senators made official the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

“If this does not change, then I advocate, Revolution and adherence to the rules of war,” wrote someone identifying themselves as I3DI. “I say, take the hill or die trying.”

What Trump said at the rally: Incitement?

At the rally, a number of speakers ginned up the crown before Trump spoke.

Wikipedia cites sources documenting that “at the rally, Donald Trump Jr.Rudy Giuliani, and several Republican members of Congress addressed the crowd, repeating unfounded claims of electoral fraud affecting the 2020 election outcome” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2021_United_States_Capitol_attack). Then in an hour-long speech, President Trump told the crowd to march to the Capitol, “assuring his audience he would be with them, to demand that Congress ‘only count the electors who have been lawfully slated…’”

Robert Reich, an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator, summarizes what Trump told the crowd what they should do (https://robertreich.org/post/672010546164449280).

“Trump repeated his falsehoods about how the election was stolen. ‘We will never give up,’ he said. ‘We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.’”

Trump also told the crowd, “We’re going to have to fight much harder…. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong…. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

 “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

“Then he dispatched the crowd to the Capitol as the electoral count was about to start. The attack on the Capitol came immediately after.”

Energized by the speeches at the rally, and reinforced by the lies that Trump supporters had been told over the previous months about the election, thousands then marched to the Capitol.

Trump left the rally and watched the attempted insurrection from his private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office for hours

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin report on what Trump did in the nearly five hours after his provocative speech at the Ellipse, where he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, and, as the Capitol was under attack, and up to the time he sent out his final tweet “telling his followers to remember the day forever” (https://nytimes.com/2021/02/13/us/politics/trump-capitol-riot.html).

After leaving the rally, the president arrived back at the White House about 1:19 p.m., just “as the crowd was making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue and beginning to swarm around the Capitol” and as television “news footage showed the mob” moving closer to the doors of the building. “At some point,” Haberman and Martin write, “Mr. Trump went to the Oval Office and watched news coverage of a situation that was growing increasingly tense.”

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham says Trump was “gleefully watching” the January 6 riot on TV and “hitting rewind,” according to a report by Oma Seddiq for Business Insider (https://www.businessinsider.com/stephanie-grisham-trump-was-gleefully-watching-the-january-6-riot-2022-1). Seddoq reports on what Grisham told CNN,

“All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, ‘look at all of the people fighting for me,’ hitting rewind, watching it again.”  

Seddiq adds: “Grisham’s comments echo reporting in multiple news outlets and books last year [2021] that said Trump had watched the riot unfold on television and resisted taking swift action to call on his supporters to stop the violence. She also quotesa CNN news story in which reporter journalist Carol Leonnig refers to Trump “watching it and almost giddy.”

Haberman and Martin report that Trump put out his first tweet to the mob at 4:17 p.m.. about 3 hours into the riot. He “posted a video on Twitter of him speaking directly to the camera in the Rose Garden. ‘I know your pain,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us, it was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now.’”

“He added, ‘We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.’”

His final tweet at 6:01 referred again to the Big Lie and gave a compliment to the rioters.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

The evidence doesn’t support the “Big Lie”

Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde report for Politifact that at least 86 judges — from state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court — have rejected at least one post-election lawsuit filed by Trump or his supporters, according to a review of court filings by the Washington Post, published Dec. 12. Around that time, more than 50 cases had failed or been tossed out of court (https://politifact.com/factchecks/2021/jan/08/joe-biden-right-more-60-election-lawsuits). It subsequently rose to 60 failed suits.

The Post analysis also found that 38 judges appointed by Republicans were among the 86 judges who had rejected lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-appointed justices, subsequently rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to election results in four states.

Who participated in the January 6 assault on the Capitol?

As noted earlier, they were not just tourists wanting to learn more about American history, admire statues of American presidents, or see the places where the country’s laws are made. But also, contrary to some liberal and leftist analysts, the majority of those who showed up for the rally were not there because of reasons of economic insecurity, wage stagnation, rising income or wealth inequality. They were under Trump’s spell and believed that the election had been stolen from him.

They responded to his call to come to D.C., believing that Biden and the Democrats posed a threat to the kind of government and country they wanted. They did not want a government that would take away their “freedoms,” such as, taking away their white status privileges, opening the borders to hordes of allegedly dangerous immigrants, supporting civil rights and justice for Black Americans. And Trump, their hero, would not let any of this happen if he were rightfully made president.

Scotty Tong and Serena McMahon report on the extensive survey research of Robert Pape, who directs the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, research that identifies demographic characteristics of the Jan. 6 mob (https://wbur.org/hereandnow/2022/01/03/jan-6-rioters-white-older).

Pape and his team analyzed the characteristics of more than 700 people arrested for breaking through the barricades on January 6. They found, unsurprisingly, that “people interviewed by officials said they went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to support former President Donald Trump that he, not Biden, was the legitimate president. They came from a broad range of places, but not mainly in raw numbers from violent fringe groups, or from impoverished or unemployed circumstances, or from those with connections to the military, or from rural areas and Republican congressional districts, although they were all there and some played particularly violent roles.

Rather, Pape’s evidence revealed

  • “…as of Dec. 2021, Pape says 87% of Capitol rioters he’s analyzed were not members of violent groups like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys.

“We’re used to thinking of extremists as on the fringe,” he says. “… What we see over and over in their demographics and in their motives really is a disturbing picture: That this is coming from part of the mainstream.”

  • More than half of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were white-collar workers such as business owners, architects, doctors and lawyers.
  • Out of the hundreds of people arrested for breaking into the Capitol, he says only 7% were unemployed at the time — nearly the national unemployment average.
  • Normally, 40% of right-wing extremists have prior military service, whereas Jan. 6 Capitol rioters sat at about 15%, he says.
  • More than half of the more than 700 people arrested hail from counties where Biden won…. Rioters flooded in from places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Chicago, he says, or from the immediate suburbs surrounding those cities, where they were essentially the political minority.

The most significant finding, inferred from the data, is that most of them were motivated, at least in part, by the fear that their white privilege and culture were in danger of being lost to a multicultural, liberal/left Democratic government. Tong and McMahon put it as follows.

“Looking back at the statistics Pape has compiled about the people involved on Jan. 6, the most notable is how many insurrectionists came from counties that lost their white, non-Hispanic population…. That loss has been amplified by a right-wing conspiracy — voiced by mainstream political leaders and media figures — known as the great replacement of white people by minorities and even the Democratic Party in order to win future elections. The conspiracy is no longer a fringe narrative but rather touted and embraced by key players in the mainstream.”

The intelligence agencies failed to recognize the threats leading up to January 6, 2021

William Arkin argues that the lack of adequate security at the Capitol on January 6, stemmed from the secret service and intel agencies mistakenly overlooking or minimizing the indications that there would be “civil disobedience” (https://democracynow.org/2022/01/06/us_capitol_insurrection_coup_attempt_january).

Arkin has a notable career as a national security analyst. Here is a partial summary from “wordpress.” “William M. Arkin has been working in the field of national security for almost 50 years, as an Army intelligence analyst, activist, author, journalist, academic and consultant. He has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books, two of them (Top Secret America and Nuclear Battlefields) national best sellers. He is the recipient of numerous journalism awards and his articles have appeared on the front pages of The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has written numerous cover stories for Newsweek magazine. And he has been on NBC News countless times as analyst. He has appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS News 60 Minutes, ABC’s 20/20, Dateline and in multiple long-form Frontline and History Channel programs” (https://williamarkin.workpress.com/about).

Here is some of what he said in his interview on Democracy Now on the failure of intelligence agencies to identify the threat leading up to January 6.

“On January 4, five days after the request, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller approved the use of the D.C. National Guard in support of law enforcement in protection of the Capitol for the upcoming Joint Session of Congress, two days away. But a closer look at what Miller approved reveals how much the National Guard is a false issue, hiding the much larger question of the failure of the intelligence community to anticipate what would happen.” Arkin provides evidence that the inadequate security force at the Capitol on January 6 reflected an intelligence failure.” For example:

“In the afternoon of January 4, “a multi-agency teleconference was… hosted by the D.C. Police, and included the FBI, the Secret Service, the Park Police, Supreme Court Police, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services.” Arkin continues: ‘They discussed the first of three Daily Intelligence Reports from the Capitol Police. The report said that the probability of acts of civil disobedience was on a continuum from ‘Remote’ to ‘Improbable.’”

The Damage

#1 – As reflected in the property damage

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. has compiled relevant evidence, published on January 6, 2022 (https://justice.gov/usao-dc/one-year-jan-6-attack-capitol). Here’s what they report.

“Thursday, Jan. 6 2022, marks one year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the process of affirming the presidential election results. The government continues to investigate losses that resulted from the breach of the Capitol, including damage to the Capitol building and grounds, both inside and outside the building. According to a May 2021 estimate by the Architect of the Capitol, the attack caused approximately $1.5 million worth of damage to the U.S. Capitol building.

“Under the continued leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack continues to move forward at an unprecedented speed and scale. The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, has not, and will not, wane.”

Journalists Jie Jenny Zou and Erin B. Logan report, “the Cost of cleanup and repairs: $1.5 million to more than $30 million” (https://latimes.com/politics/story/2022-01-05/by-the-numbers-jan-6-anniversary).

#2 – As reflected in the charges brought by the government against rioters

“Based on the public court documents, below is a snapshot of the investigation as of Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Complete versions of most of the public court documents used to compile these statistics are available on the Capitol Breach Investigation Resource Page at https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/capitol-breach-cases.”

“Arrests made: More than 725 defendants have been arrested in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia. (This includes those charged in both District and Superior Court).”

“Criminal charges:

  •  225 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, including over 75 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.
  • Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted Jan. 6 at the Capitol including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department. 
  • Approximately 640 defendants have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds.
  • Over 75 defendants have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
  • More than 45 defendants have been charged with destruction of government property, and over 30 defendants have been charged with theft of government property.
  • At least 275 defendants have been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.
  • Approximately 40 defendants have been charged with conspiracy, either: (a) conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding, (b) conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement during a civil disorder, (c) conspiracy to injure an officer, or (d) some combination of the three. 

Pleas:

  • Approximately 165 individuals have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction, many of whom will face incarceration at sentencing.
  • Approximately 145 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Twenty have pleaded guilty to felonies.
  • Six of those who have pleaded guilty to felonies have pleaded to charges related to assaults on law enforcement. Four face statutory maximums of 20 years or more in prison as well as potential financial penalties. Two face statutory maximums of eight years in prison as well as potential financial penalties.

Sentencings:

  • Approximately 70 federal defendants have had their cases adjudicated and received sentences for their criminal activity on Jan. 6. Thirty-one have been sentenced to periods of incarceration. Eighteen have been sentenced to a period of home detention, and the other defendants have been sentenced to probation with no term of incarceration.
    Public Assistance:
  • Citizens from around the country have provided invaluable assistance in identifying individuals in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. The FBI continues to seek the public’s help in identifying more than 350 individuals believed to have committed violent acts on the Capitol grounds, including over 250 who assaulted police officers.
  • Additionally, the FBI currently has 16 videos of suspects wanted for violent assaults on federal officers and one video of two suspects wanted for assaults on members of the media on January 6th and is seeking the public’s help to identify them. For images and video of the attackers, please visit https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence. Anyone with tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or visit tips.fbi.gov.

One concern about the Biden government’s approach to holding people accountable for the January 6, 2021, is that the Department of Justice has yet to bring charges against Trump or his inner circle who planned the rally on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 5, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to such criticisms. According to a report on that day by Washington Post journalistsMatt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Garland “vowed to hold all those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot accountable — whether they were at the Capitol or committed other crimes surrounding the day’s events — saying investigators are methodically building more complicated and serious cases and would prosecute people ‘at any level.’ The journalists’ quote him.

“‘The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,’ Garland said Wednesday [Jan. 5], speaking in the Justice Department’s Great Hall in an address that was broadcast live online and by cable news channels. ‘The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.’”

Additionally, according to a report on PBS by Mary Clair Jalonick (AP), “the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is subpoenaing six people who the panel says were involved in the organization and planning of rallies that aimed to overturn Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election (https://pbs.org/newshour/politics/jan-6-insurrection-panel-subpoenas-6-people-who-helped-plan-trump-rallies). Those issued subpoenas, include, “Robert ‘Bobby’ Peede Jr. and Max Miller, who the committee says met with Trump in his private dining room on Jan. 4; Brian Jack, Trump’s political director at the time; and rally organizers Bryan Lewis, Ed Martin and Kimberly Fletcher.”

#3- As reflected in the physical and mental injuries to the Capitol police

Recent research by New York Times journalists Susan Dominus and Luke Broadwater finds that many of the officers have suffered long-term physical and/or emotional problems as a result of what they experienced, and hundreds have retired or left the force (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/04/magazine/jan-6-capitol-police-officers.html). They report:

“In the year since the siege on the Capitol, about 135 officers on a force of about 1,800 have quit or retired, an increase of 69 percent over the year before. (One officer quit after enduring a string of tragedies: He suffered a stroke shortly after the assault on the Capitol and then contracted the coronavirus twice because of what he viewed as the department’s lax enforcement of mask-wearing protocols.)

“More may soon join them: Papathanasiou, the union chairman, warns that more than 500 additional officers will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

Officers we interviewed about their decision to leave said the failures of Jan. 6 were the most egregious of a series of management crises and errors. If Jan. 6 was a national tragedy, it was also one that the officers who served at the Capitol that day experienced cruelly and intimately in their own bodies, compounding the psychic fallout that has been especially profound in people who believed that their daily work reflected the country’s highest ideals: to protect members of Congress, regardless of party, in order to protect democracy itself.”

“During the turmoil, the growing body of evidence finds that Trump spent over three hours doing nothing to stop the mayhem, which was inspired by his rhetoric and which could have been ended by him… During this time, many people implored him to tell his would-be insurrectionists to cease their violent occupation of the Capitol and leave the building peacefully.”

What is it that gives Trump so much influence over his Base?

He is rich. He is not worth the $10 billion he claimed in his 2015-2016 presidential campaign. David Cay Johnston cites estimates by Bloomberg and Forbes, which run competing indexes of billionaires, put his worth at a few billion….” (The Big Cheat, p. 20). Still, quite rich.

Political scientist Anthony R. Dimaggio posits in his book, Rising Fascism in America, that “many of his supporters saw a model for what Americans aspire to in achieving ‘the good life” – decadent penthouses, regular trips to the golf course, private jets, weekend retreats at Mar-a-Lago. As pre-election polling demonstrated, one of the biggest reasons Republican voters supported his candidacy was because they saw him as a successful businessman.” For them, “Trump represented the possibilities of the American dream, particularly the notion that anything is possible” (p. 67). And that he alone could make the economy work for them as well as for the rich.”

To his supporters, it doesn’t matter how Trump got to be rich – Indeed, Trump has accumulated that few billion or so as a result of his checkered career in real estate, in hosting a popular television program, in an ultimately failed and fraudulent university, and, while president, the beneficiary of a substantial stream of investments and renting of his properties by corrupt politicians and other rich folks from around the world who hoped to win Trump’s favor. On the latter point, author and journalist Casey Michel writes in his book, American Kleptocracy, “…Trump was the first global leader to emerge from one of the key pro-kleptocracy industries – American luxury real estate….” (p. 15). And, more specifically:

“…it’s clear that Trump’s properties in the U.S. alone may have laundered billions of dollars even before he ascended to the White House. According to the most comprehensive available, Trump’s American properties sold over 1,300 units – over one-fifth of Trump’s total available condos – to buyers matching money laundering profiles: anonymously, to shell companies and cash buyers, often purchased in bulk and without ever revealing the identities of the ultimate beneficiaries…. The final bill of these suspect purchases ran to a dumbfounding $1.5 billion – and that’s before adjusting for inflation” (p. 221).

The money continued to flow into Trump properties after he became president. Michel writes: “One study from USA Today, published in the summer of 2017, discovered that… ‘the majority of his company’s real estate sales [went] to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities” (p. 239).

Susan B. Glasser reminds us of Trump’s besmirched  record, writing on December 1, 2020, in the New Yorker magazine (online) that “Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). In their book, The Trump Revealed, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher write: “Over three decades, Trump and his companies filed more than 1,900 lawsuits and were named as defendants in 1,450 others, according to a USA Today analysis (p. 300). David Cay Johnston reports that Trump has been a con artist his entire life. In his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think (2018), Johnston writes:

“In The Art of the Deal he [Trump] brags about deceptions that enriched him. He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn what Trump said were the secrets of his success into paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. In a promotional video, Trump said his university would provide a better education than the finest business schools with a faculty he personally picked. Lawsuits forced Trump’s testimony and documents that showed that there were no secrets he shared with the ‘students.’ The faculty never met Trump. These professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estates, the focus of the ‘university.’ Because of the lawsuits, Trump paid back $25 million to the people he conned so the scam would not follow him into the White House” (p. 10).

In his new book, The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family (2021; referred to earlier), Johnston digs into the evidence of how Trump and his family profited during Trump’s presidency. The thrust of Johnston’s book is captured in the following excerpts.

“Throughout his presidency, Trump was dogged by questions about whether he was a tax cheat. In 2018, the New York Times published an exhaustive inside look at how the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, and his siblings engaged along with their father, Fred, in schemes to evade income, gift, and estate taxes, while at the same time jacking up the rent on rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments in Brooklyn and Queens” (p. 12).

“Trump’s older sons have boasted about all the money the Trump Organization has been taking in for years from Russians. Trump spoke admiringly of the Saudis, who paid tens of millions of dollars from Trump’s apartments. Many Russians of dubious character also bought Trump apartments, as Reuters and others have documented….” (p. 49).

While president, Trump told the public that, while president, his sons would be the trustees and run the Trump Organization, with its “more than 500 corporations, partnerships, trusts, and other entities. He said that Don Jr. and Eric were free to tell him whatever they wanted or, though he didn’t mention this, whatever he demanded to know.” The arrangement seems to violate the two emolument clauses in the U.S. Constitution.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the “Domestic Emoluments Clause, “limits the president’s income to what Congress determines before he assumes office.” Article 1, Section 9, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, “provides that ‘no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [in the U.S. government], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state” (p. 65).

He is an effective con man. Anthony R. Dimaggio (cited earlier) writes that“Trump demonstrates traits that suggest intelligence of an unconventional sort,” and puts it as follows.

“He is cunning, manipulative, and highly strategic in his political maneuvering. He served as President of the United States for four years, and [for example] managed to retain the support of nearly half the population, despite doing nearly nothing in response to Covid-19 – the worst pandemic in a century – outside of further intensifying the crisis by claiming that those  taking it seriously were perpetuating a “hoax,’ and falsely promising the virus would quickly disappear, despite his refusal to offer a national plan for dealing with the crisis once it emerged, despite his support for a premature reopening if the country that resulted in millions of additional infections, despite his disastrous herd immunity ‘strategy,’ and his stigmatization of mask-wearing, which normalized contempt for social distancing and contributed to needless mass suffering and death” (p. 48).

Nonetheless, in the last three months of his presidency, “Trump maintained an approval rating among Republicans ranging from 82 to 90 percent,” higher than the ratings at the same point in the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. Indeed, as Dimaggio again points out, “Trump was a charismatic public speaker and manipulator who disarmed critics with a façade of clumsiness and stupidity that masked the deeper reality of a shrewd manipulator and a savvy, viciously effective political operator” (p. 49).

He has built a massive following on lies and celebrity.  Trump rose to national prominence, with the help of mainstream and right-wing media, funding from the rich and powerful, sycophantic Republicans, and, to repeat, with the skills of a masterful con man. Withal, in the final analysis, his power rests on what has become his BASE.

His mass appeal first came from his claims that Obama, the first black president,  was an illegitimate president because he was not born in the U.S. The “birther” lie. This fed into the white supremacist views of many of his followers. He also garnered a popular following as a result of his NBC television programs, The Apprentice and the Celebrity Apprentice. Johnston writes in The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family,

“They [the NBC programs] earned Trump the cash he needed to pose as a multibillionaire, and more importantly, they made him famous in what he called the ‘real America’ of small towns, farmland, and cities where no one wore suits or designer dresses” (pp. 2-3).

As pointed out earlier, Trump’s political base stretches beyond lower-income households and is occupationally diverse, tilted towar middle- and higher-income groups, and coalesced around white supremacist beliefs and a variety of other right-wing interests in gun deregulation, highly restrictive immigration policy, opposition to abortion and even contraception, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, a nationalistic foreign policy, the allure of a “strong man,” and many who now oppose any government mandates amid the ongoing pandemic.

In addition, there are wide swaths of the corporate community who like his adoption of neoliberal economic policies, including keeping taxes low, minimizing government regulation, dismissing the minimum wage, the absence of an anti-trust policy, while favoring fossil fuel energy policies, big military budgets, disregarding or downplaying the climate crisis, allowing pharmaceutical corporations to set the prices for COVID-19 related vaccines and prescribed drugs generally.

On the last point, Jessica Corbett finds that major corporations have broken their post-election promises not to fund “seditionists” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/01/04/major-corporations-have-broken-promises-and-funded-seditionists-jan-6-reports-reveal). She reports on two recent studies by watchdog groups that “called out companies and trade groups that continued to financially support the 147 congressional Republicans who voted last year to overturn the 2020 presidential election results even after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

(You can see the names of the 147 Republicans and what some of them said in justifying their opposition to the certification process on Jan. 6 in Appendix A of Mark Bowden and Matthew Teaque’s book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It.)

One of the watchdog groups to which Corbett refers it Accountable. US, which “released an interactive report entitled In Bad Company, [focusing] on 20 Fortune 500 companies and 10 industry groups that have contributed over $3.3 million to the eight senators and 139 representatives collectively dubbed the ‘Sedition Caucus’ since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol last year.”

Companies profiled by the group “range from fossil fuel and pharmaceutical giants such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Merck, and Pfizer, to the shipping companies FedEx and UPS, to six major military contractors: Boeing, General Dynamics, L3Harris Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies.”

Corbett also refers to a report by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) – authored by Angela Li and Areeba Shah. Crew details how corporate donors have “broken promises and funded seditionists” in the aftermath of the Capitol attack.” Key findings from CREW include the following.

“Since the insurrection, 717 corporations and industry groups have donated over $18 million to 143 of the 147 members of Congress who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.”

“Li and Shah found that despite pledging to stop or halt donations to the Sedition Caucus, reviewed companies ‘have contributed a total of $4,785,000 to insurrectionist political groups, including $2,381,250 directly’ to lawmakers’ campaigns and political action committees (PACs).

“Boeing ($346,500), Koch Industries ($308,000), American Crystal Sugar ($285,000), General Dynamics ($233,500), and Valero Energy ($207,500) are the top corporate donors to those who objected to the election and their party committees.”

Trump’s supporters keep pouring money into his pocket

Time magazine journalists Brian Bennett and Chris Wilson document how Trump has “turned January 6 [2021] into a windfall with his big lie (https://time.com/6133251/donald-trump-january-six-anniversary). The article was published on January 6, 2022, the anniversary of the capitol assault. Here’s some of what they report.

“For months, fundraising emails from Trump that claim that the 2020 election was ‘rigged and stolen’ have pointed readers to a bright red button that reads DONATE TO SAVE AMERICA. Trump’s political machine raked in at least $50 million in the six months that followed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high figure for a defeated former President during his first year out of office and nearly eight times what Trump raised in outside funding while seeking the GOP nomination in 2015.”

Trump’s influence over his Base, has given him the opportunity to dominate the Republican Party

Republicans in elected office or candidates who have hopes of winning elections must not ever criticize Trump, his policies, or take issue with the Big Lie. They must please Trump or suffer his revenge. In this regard, Trump’s power has grown since the attempted coup of January 6, 2021. Bennett and Wilson (cited in previous section) give the following examples.

“As Trump and his allies have used Jan. 6 to raise money and woo voters, they have also leveraged it to weed out GOP members critical of Trump’s actions that day. After U.S. Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan voted to impeach Trump for trying to overturn the election result and staying silent for hours while his supporters violently laid siege to the Capitol, Trump called him a “RINO” (“Republican in name only”) and endorsed a primary challenger. Trump also endorsed a challenger against Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State, who voted in favor of his second impeachment and said Trump encouraged “would-be assassins” with his remarks at a rally before the attack. (Trump was acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment trial – [by a Republican minority vote])”

“Lawmakers’ reactions to the attack have become a personal loyalty test: at least six Republicans who have criticized the rioters have been targeted for primary challenges by candidates loyal to Trump. Members of Congress who supported the House investigation into the attempted insurrection have been featured in critical ads by pro-Trump groups. ‘Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak,’ Trump said in May of the ‘wayward Republicans’ who voted for the congressional probe to move forward. Trump’s office did not respond to requests for comment.”

“After Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, voted on Oct. 21 in favor of holding former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the House investigation into Jan. 6, Drain the DC Swamp again went on a spending spree. On Dec. 13, the group dropped at least $14,000 for five different ads on Facebook and Instagram calling Mace ‘anti-Trump’ and ‘a disgrace.’ The ads appeared more than 450,000 times, reaching an audience largely over the age of 55, per the Facebook Ad Library.”

In line with these data, Igor Derysh gives examples of the extremist candidates running in some upcoming 2022 Republican primaries (https://truthout.org/articles/gops-2022-candidates-could-push-the-party-even-further-into-extremism).

Where does the country stand now?

The society appears to be irreconcilably divided, reflecting competing and deeply-historically rooted conceptions of U.S. history as well as a host of current and conflicting cultural values and economic interests.

Reasons to be hopeful

#1 – The majority of Americans don’t believe the big lie

Fortunately, the majority of American have rejected the lies streaming out of the Trump and his co-conspirators. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reports on a recent Associated Press-NORC poll showing [that] “Some 57 percent say former president Donald Trump deserves ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’ of the blame; that number grows to 70 percent when we include respondents who think Trump was moderately to blame.” And: “Even 4 in 10 Republicans say he bears at least a moderate amount of responsibility. It’s still mind-blowing that 60 percent of Republicans say Trump bears little or no responsibility; that number, however, is 11 points lower than it was a year ago” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/05/polling-jan-6-trump-blame).

 Dan Balz, Scott Clement, and Emily Guskin, also find similar results in other recent polls (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/01/post-poll-january-6). They refer to findings from a Washington-Post-University Poll. Here are some examples.

“Overall, 60 percent of Americans say Trump bears either a ‘great deal’ or a ‘good amount’ of responsibility for the insurrection, but 72 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Trump voters say he bears ‘just some’ responsibility or ‘none at all.’”

“…the Post-UMD survey finds that 68 percent of Americans say there is no solid evidence of widespread [voter] fraud [in the 2020 presidential election] but 30 percent say there is.

“Big majorities of Democrats (88 percent) and independents (74 percent) say there is no evidence of such irregularities, but 62 percent of Republicans say there is such evidence. That is almost identical to the percentage of Republicans who agreed with Trump’s claims of voter fraud a week after that Capitol attack, based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll at the time.”

#2 – There are 24 States that have improved access to voting in 2021

(https://democracydocket.com/news/these-24-states-improved-access-to-voting-this-year). This source, The Democracy Docket, reports that the 24 states “took steps to make voting easier, enacting reforms like universal mail voting, expanding access for people with disabilities and banning prison gerrymandering.” The 24 states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware,  Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont Virginia, and Washington.

#3 – There are reasonable reforms being proposed, but it all depends on large Democratic turnouts in 2022

Critics of Trump, from moderates to leftists, argue that, more than anything, there must be education and political mobilization of Democratic voters and their supporters – and encouraged to vote for candidates who stand for meaningful change. When appropriate, some say reach out to Republicans who also see the need for reform and find ways to work with them, though there are few Republicans will to buck Trump. In the final analysis, it all revolves around whether voters will be willing and able to cast their ballots and have them fairly counted in the 2022 and 2024 elections, despite Republican efforts to suppress the votes and to control how votes are counted in swing states, such as, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Nevada. Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague document in great detail how Republicans have worked to change voting rules to favor their party. See their book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and The People Who Stopped It.

What reforms? Many urge the need to end the filibuster in the Senate. Replace the Electoral College with a system that chooses presidential candidates on the basis of the popular vote. Get money out of politics at the federal level by supporting public funding of political campaigns or at least have laws that require the public disclosure of political contributions. Pass the voting right bills stalled in the Senate. Encourage people to run for elected office at all levels of the political system.

The following views of the New York Times editorial board reflects the reformist approach (https://nytimes.come/2020/01/01/opinion/january-6-attack-committee.html). Here’s what the Board recommends.

(1) “Republican leaders could help by being honest with their voters and combating the extremists in their midst. Throughout American history, party leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Chase Smith to John McCain, have stood up for the union and democracy first, to their everlasting credit.”

(2) Democrats in the U.S. Senate must end the filibuster at least for voting rights legislation.

(3) “Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.”

(4) Above all, “we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.”

Is it too late?

Journalist Thomas B. Edsall addresses this question by consulting authoritative sources and communicating with experts

(https://nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/republicans-democracy-minority-rule.html).

He opens his column with these words: “Political analysts, scholars and close observers of government are explicitly raising the possibility that the polarized American electoral system has come to the point at which a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” He then cites authoritative sources that have voiced this concern.

“The endangered state of American politics is the dominant theme of eight articles published by the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, with titles like ‘Polarization and tipping points’ and ‘Inter-individual cooperation mediated by partisanship complicates Madison’s cure for ‘mischiefs of faction.’”

He continues: “The academy is not alone. On Dec. 6, The Atlantic released ‘Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,’ by Barton Gellman, and ‘Are We Doomed? To head off the next insurrection, we’ll need to practice envisioning the worst,’ by George Packer.” And: “On Dec. 10, The Washington Post published “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown.”

In the article he quotes five experts. For example, Edsall quotes Zack Beauchamp, a senior correspondent at Vox: “‘We are experiencing failures on both the elite and mass public level,’ he wrote, as Republican elites “have chosen to normalize the violence committed by their extreme right flank on Jan. 6.”

“The activist anti-democratic Trump wing of the Republican Party, committed to avoiding at nearly any cost a political system dominated by an Election Day majority of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and social and cultural liberals, has adopted an aggressive strategy to preserve the political power of white people, especially heteronormative white Christians.”

The experts also replied to a series of questions posed by Edsall. They refer to a potential vicious cycle moving the political system to a place where “extremist representatives become party leaders and are in a position to “punish moderates in their party by backing more extreme candidates in primaries.” The movement toward extremism can at the same time be facilitated by other parts of the political process, “interest groups, right-wing media, donors.”

Edsall concludes his article by citing an Aug. 3-Sept. 7 CNN survey of 2,119 people that “demonstrates the differing ways Democrats and Republicans are responding to the emerging threats to democracy.” He continues:

“Far higher percentages of Republicans, many of them preoccupied by racial and tribal anxiety, believe “American democracy is under attack” (75 percent agree, 22 percent disagree) than Democrats (46 percent agree, 48 percent disagree).

“Republicans are also somewhat more likely to believe (57-43) than Democrats (49-51) “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election in the United States because their party did not win.”

“This level of anxiety is in and of itself dangerous, all the more so when it masks the true aim of America’s contemporary right-wing movement, the restoration and preservation of white hegemony. It is not beyond imagining that Republicans could be prepared, fueled by a mix of fear and provocation, to push the nation over the brink.”

Concluding thoughts

American democracy hangs on a thread. Trump has significant influence, if not control, over the Republican Party. He has energized Republican operatives and grassroots groups everywhere to engage in efforts to diminish or marginalize their Democratic opponents. The Democrats in the Senate are currently unable to obtain the votes to overcome Republican obstruction. Legislation that would advance voter’s rights and social infrastructure bills, already passed by the House of Representatives, are stalled because two Democratic Senators have, so far, refused to give their support to overcome the filibuster.

If the Senate Democrats fail in these endeavors, and if the economy is not doing well and the pandemic continues, there is a chance that many centrist, independent, and moderate Democratic voters will not vote or even vote for Republican candidates. In such an eventuality, Republicans would win back control of one or both houses of the Congress as well as governorships and other state and local elected positions in 2022, and lay the groundwork for a return of Trump to the White House in 2024.

Richard L. Hasen is the author of several books about elections and democracy. In 2020, he proposed a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to defend and expand voting rights. On January 7, 2022, he published an article in the New York Times titled “No One Is Coming to Save Us From the ‘Dagger at the Throat of America’” (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/07/opinion/trump-democracy-voting-jan-6.html). It’s fitting to end this post with what he concludes in the article.

If the officially announced vote totals [in 2022 and 2024] do not reflect the results of a fair election process, that should lead to nationwide peaceful protests and even general strikes.

One could pessimistically say that the fact that we even need to have this conversation about fair elections and rule of law in the United States in the 21st century is depressing and shocking. One could simply retreat into complacency. Or one could see the threats this country faces as a reason to buck up and prepare for the battle for the soul of American democracy that may well lay ahead. If Republicans have embraced authoritarianism or have refused to confront it, and Democrats in Congress cannot or will not save us, we must save ourselves.”

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