Like so many things in life that move slowly and then all at once, I fear Donald Trump has finally led America to the moment in our political history where things go very dark.
“Head on a pike.” “Take her out.” A rigged Senate impeachment trial with a foregone conclusion where one party isn’t even bothering to pretend they have the least commitment to truth, the rule of law, or the good of the country. Calls for the arrests and court-martial of whistleblowers and truth-tellers. An endless assault on a free press. Taken separately, these are troubling glimpses inside the political hurricane of the moment, but as a mosaic, they portend something so much more dangerous.
The enemy is always within for Trump. The abundant testimony by Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman and others about Trump’s effort—led by Rudy Giuliani and his private henchmen—to wreck Joe Biden, leading to the abrupt removal of Yovanovitch, isn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was that Trump is caught on a recording admitting it.
Today’s revelation that the henchmen recorded Trump saying, “Get her (Ambassador Yovanovitch) out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.” is five things.
First, it’s evidence—the kind of recorded evidence of malfeasance and intent that should be heard in a Senate impeachment trial but will never be.
Second, it’s yet another sign that Donald Trump was engaged in a scheme to extort a foreign power by illegally abusing his power of office, and no one was going to stand in his way, including a U.S. ambassador with a sterling reputation.
Third, it’s a window into the coterie of shitbirds, thugs, and criminal-adjacent scumbags Trump dispatches to do his low bidding. When Trump sends his henchmen to Ukraine, he’s not sending his best.
Finally, it’s a lesson to Republican backers of Trump: More shit always comes out. Nothing is ever over when it comes to revelations regarding the criminality, corruption, mendacity, and stupidity of Trumpworld. It’s a feature, not a bug, and the evidence that will inevitably keep coming out will end up in the arsenal of your political opponents so long as you keep declaring his innocence and covering for his behavior. The ads write themselves.
Late Friday, news broke of the new Trumpworld threat du jour: that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman should be arrested and court-martialed. After Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted out an attack on Vindman, Trump’s mighty media Wurlitzer ran with it, led by Fox (natch). Sean Davis of The Federalist (or as I think of it, “Gentry Breitbart”) tweeted, “Vindman deserves to be court-martialed.” This kind of messaging isn’t a coincidence. It’s not a throwaway line. This is the president’s crew showing that their opponents will “go through some things” if they don’t toe the line. (P.S. MAGAts, it’s Mike Flynn who’s going to jail, not Alexander Vindman.)
When I saw that the president’s political team had threatened his own allies with the message, “Vote against the President and your head will be on a pike”, my first thought was that Steve Bannon’s latest batch of bathtub meth was a tad too strong, but on a moment’s reflection, I realized this was just where we are now as a nation. The Republicans senators live in cringing terror of a Trump-driven primary and of hostile tweets from his mob of mouth-breathing Yokel Haram followers.
Unless you’re an aficionado of various medieval savageries or modern political systems defined by the consistent use of violence, the phrase “head on a pike” might not be familiar to you.
Our political culture has long been full of martial language, deployed by both of our political system’s intramural football teams. We talk of dropping oppo bombs, nuking the opposition, and killing off bills with extreme prejudice. It was a language of metaphor and towel-snapping banter. These days? Not so much.
That will be the Trump world’s excuse. They’ll laugh it off. They’ll say it was mere rhetoric. They’ll tell us to lighten up. But this is the moment where the inevitable signposts on the grotesque slide into authoritarian nationalism for which MAGA-world so clearly lusts meets the sweet cognitive dissonance of their actual character.
If I, for instance, said, “Vote to cover up Donald Trump’s malfeasance and you’ll be eaten by wild dogs and have your skin flensed off while we sell your womenfolk into chattel slavery,” the fuck-your-feelings MAGA set would be weeping and rending their garments, insisting I had irreparably coarsened the political dialogue and affronted the dignity of the sacred position of the Senate and given Donald Trump a sad.
In darker eras, a head on a pike was the ultimate pour encourager les autres tactic; riding into town and seeing the mounted heads of leaders of the losing faction staring into the eternal void of death, lidless eyes picked by crows as stark notice of the ultimate exercise of power. It’s such a retro strategy we even stopped talking about it, until now.
It’s almost—and call me crazy— like the gangster government of Donald Trump, the supine Republicans in his Senate caucus, his eager political fellators in the House, and the degraded claque of Trump-right media ball-washers have decided to go all-in on the new Trump thugocracy now aborning.
And why not? The decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump an exercise in raw power politics is grinding toward its foregone conclusion.
The creation of a new form of American government, where the executive branch is permanently and utterly above the law, oversight, and accountability is upon us, and the exoneration of Trump in the Senate is the moment that historians will look back on and say, “There. Right then. That was the tipping point.”
The weaponization of the departments of Justice, State, and Treasury into formidable arms of the Trump Organization is nearly complete. Bill Barr isn’t an Attorney General; he’s the Enforcer General of the unitary and puissant executive branch.
And it’s all because Republicans in the Senate don’t have the courage God gave the common rat.
Senate Republicans are going to let Trump skate, and permanently realign the balance of power in the process, because they’re too chickenshit to stand up to his tweets, too terrified of a primary by some MAGA nutters, and to dumb to understand they’re ushering in an era that looks like nothing we’ve ever seen in this country.
This is a one-way ticket, a ratchet toward a system that rewards a culture of threats by bullies and thugs like Trump with their desired outcome. It peels back the cowardice and weak-dick posturing of the Senate GOP like little else. They’re willing to ditch it all because they’re scared.
I do take comfort in one thought. Oliver Cromwell, the Trump of his era, sought to overthrow the monarchy, and for a time succeeded, ordering the murder of King Charles I. Time took its vengeance, though, and after he was dead of natural causes, Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his head mounted over Westminster for several decades.