I remember 20, 25 years ago, being a reporter in New York, hearing all the kinds of things one heard about Donald Trump, watching him go through bankruptcy after bankruptcy, watching him get sued by people he obviously swindled but always wriggle out, and wondering: How does this guy get away with this? It was always a mystery to me.
Now I know. Now that he’s the president and I’m watching it all unfold much more closely, I know. It’s called lie and make it up.
First: Just keep lying—never, ever, ever stop lying. Because if you admit something once, you’ve given up the game. So, Trump says: All 16 or however many of those women are harlots and hustlers who are out for money. He won’t say, “Oh, maybe I did kiss this one.” That would just put a crack in the facade, and once there’s a crack, there’s another, and another.
Second: When cornered, make up new rules as you go along. If the city’s building code requires him to do something, as he well knows, just say it doesn’t. The papers will have to report what he said, and then it looks to the average reader like, well, who knows.
We saw both on display Tuesday when Corey Lewandowski appeared before Congress. I write “appeared,” not “testified,” because he obviously didn’t offer any testimony.
Lewandowski—auditioning for high-roller, Trumpy donors to bankroll his New Hampshire Senate campaign—followed the old Trump model to a T.
Executive privilege—for someone who never worked in the White House. That’s insane. Everyone knows it’s insane, in the exact same way everyone in 1990s New York knew that the building codes did require Trump to do X. But just say it. Bluster through. If reality ever catches up, make up something else new, and bluster through again until the world just gives up.
What these people are doing to democracy is repulsive. And they’ll never stop. It will just get worse and worse.
The question of whether former White House Counsel Don McGahn can be compelled to testify, for example, is now before the courts. House Democrats a month ago asked that it be expedited. Suppose it is. Suppose the court rules for the Democrats. What happens next?
I think everyone assumes that McGahn will testify. Maybe. But that has never been the pattern in Trumpland, for 40 years. Why would it happen now? If the courts (a federal judge in the District of Columbia) order McGahn to testify, Trump will direct him to defy the order. Then it’ll kick up to the Supreme Court. There, a reversal is entirely possible—Trump has four votes on the Supreme Court for anything, up to banning the Democratic Party. It just depends on how John Roberts is feeling that day.
So maybe the Court will order McGahn to testify, but even if it does, I say there’s a good chance he won’t. One, he can always go to Russia. Two, maybe he will show up, but say nothing; read the same statement over and over.
Yes, the third possibility is that McGahn’s conscience, if it exists, will eventually get the better of him, and it’ll be Frank Capra Day and the republic will be saved. But—come on. The president is a mobster and has turned everyone around him into goons.
So we know what they’re doing to democracy. The question is, in the face of this, what can the Democrats do for it?
Impeach, you say! You know, I was originally against it. But now I say what the hell. My Beast colleague Jon Alter convinced me with a recent column: If the House impeaches Trump and the Senate acquits—all by next February, say, which is doable—then the Democrats can hang the acquittal around Mitch McConnell’s neck and make it hurt him and everyone who voted to acquit. That makes sense to me. Except for one thing: The Democrats don’t even have the votes to impeach in the House.
People fret all the time about the political consequences of impeachment. I’m coming to the conclusion that it probably won’t matter much either way. The country is so dug in. Even in those swing districts Nancy Pelosi is guarding so zealously, I bet Trump is underwater enough in most of them that a Democrat can defend an impeachment vote (while emphasizing the other stuff, health care and so on, down the final stretch).
I ask people all the time. Yes, the Democrats look weak. I agree. How could I not agree? It’s undeniable. But what, specifically, can they do? Trumpists and Republicans are lawless zealots. They’re Bolsheviks. The Democrats are Mensheviks (or not even, many of them). And history teaches that Bolsheviks overrun Mensheviks. Every. Time.
Still, the Democrats need to do something dramatic. What that is, I have no idea. But here are two smallish things. For one, move faster. They’re going about all this at a pace that suggests they’re secretly praying the clock will run down until Election Day. For another, for God’s sake hand the questioning—all the questioning—over to the pros. Barry Berke crushed Lewandowski. Let the career prosecutors who aren’t carrying electoral pressures around in the backs of their minds handle it.
Maybe they do need to have someone arrested. Trump aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter didn’t show Tuesday. Go have them arrested. Really—there’s nothing to lose! Nothing. Or rather, there might be something to lose, but there will probably be at least as much to gain.
I don’t want the Democrats to become just like the Republicans. But this is a fact: The Republicans are always probing the perimeter fences for weaknesses to see what kind of outrageous shit they can get away with next; and Democrats are always coming up with reasons why trying something audacious is too risky.
Well, if this isn’t a time for risks, Democrats, when will it be?