GELFAND’S WORLD - We've all seen the network footage of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
The Republican party line has been that this was just a lark, a spontaneous expression of legitimate anger over a stolen election. They pretend that the Republican members of the congress were as pure as the driven snow both before and after those events, as was their Commander in Chief.
As of Thursday evening last, the Democrats and two Republicans on the House committee on the January 6 events are claiming a different story, one involving a carefully crafted plot coming from the very top. The allegation is that Donald Trump organized the attempt to steal the election from its legitimate winner, Joe Biden, and the events of January 6 were part of that plot.
What is alleged is an attempt to overturn the Constitutional order. Call it sedition or call it treason, if true it should be disqualifying for any further participation in American government.
That is the accusation, but it will take a lot more evidence and testimony to make a solid case. The Democratic leaders claim that they have the proof, and that they will present it as the hearings continue. We can expect direct testimony and subpoenaed emails from White House staffers, right up to and including Ivanka Trump. We should get a more detailed explanation of the role of right-wing shock troops including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. A suggested link between the Proud Boys and the Trump administration would be damning if it can be made.
I should point out that some of this seems new to me in the sense of Trumpian collusion with the rioters. An offer is being made to the American people that these charges will be demonstrated. A few Republicans may argue that this is just an attempt to relitigate the second impeachment trial, but it clearly goes further because it is now presenting the evidence in a careful, organized manner, an open claim that what we were watching at the time was an attempted coup.
There are almost comical elements of that coup, in the sense that the use of the U.S. military to confiscate ballot boxes was one of the Trump administration thoughts. But you don't have to engage in banana republic activities to be engaging in an attempted coup. There was an attempt to take power unlawfully and illicitly, and that fits the definition perfectly.
What are the Republicans and their spokesmen saying in reply? One Republican congressman was cited on Meet the Press (Sunday, June 12) saying that nothing new was presented. I tend to disagree, but that statement by itself would be damning. We ought to remind ourselves that in our grade school American history classes, we were taught about this crucial difference between the United States of 1789 and the English monarchy, which is that we choose our leaders on a four-year rotation. Our leaders don't get to choose themselves. We have cherished this difference, and it seems deeply strange that the previous president has so little respect for this principle.
And that's one other point that ought to be rubbed into the faces of those congressional Republicans: It's a principle we are talking about, not just a partisan game.
This leads to another point. The ancillary plot element will be the mingled guilt of most of the congressional Republicans, as stated out loud by congresswoman Liz Cheney during the hearing: "There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain."
A question for historians: Why does Donald Trump believe that he won?
Trump himself has been straightforward about this. He stated, long before November of 2020, that there was no way he could lose in a fair election, the implication being that he is vastly popular among voters. Trump was obviously not talking to the same group of people that I was. But Trump desperately wants to believe that everybody likes him, and those who don't are but a few losers and treacherous Democrats.
If Trump actually believes all of this, then he is deluded. There are eighty million of us who made the effort to cast a vote to remove Trump from the presidency, even if Trump can't manage to accept this truth.
Another possible explanation is that Trump has no inner limit on telling lies in public and is using that capability to defend his hold on power. To dust off that old quote, "He lies the way other people breathe."
So is Trump self-deluded or just a pathological liar? When I raised this question, one colleague answered, "Both." In any case, he acts as if he has perfect faith in his 2020 victory.
Why this is important
The current hearings are making a case regarding the Capitol riot, but they are also telling the story of Trump's presidency, namely that he repeatedly was provided advice from people we can characterize as sane and serious, and much of it was ignored or rejected angrily. Many of these same people have written books about their experiences -- Trump's lack of willingness (or ability) to read simple sentences and his gross ignorance of the world and even of American government. We must ask this question: At what point will the Trump supporters concede that much of this critique is true, that those people, hand picked by Trump to be cabinet members and department heads, can't all be wrong. In fact, when you consider the combined evidence of the insiders' books and the investigations of respected journalists, the conclusion is that they are mostly correct.
Every time the press would ask Trump about the writings of his own appointees, he would wave them off as losers who just didn't work out.
And this leads to the ultimate and perhaps final word on the Trump presidency: This is a man who cannot stand the personal embarrassment of being publicly wrong or less than universally loved. He cannot admit error. He is mentally unable to concede anything less than perfection and personal genius. He was unable to admit to himself that the American people might reject him in the 2020 election, and everything else in his mind became concentrated on massive denial of this one fact. All the rest of the plot, including his pathetic calls to Georgia officials regarding his eleven thousand vote loss and the January 6 rally, are part of that mental defect.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)