Because his mental acuity doesn’t matter; never really has…
It doesn’t matter if Trump thinks he’ll be reinstalled as President or not. It doesn’t matter that Trump shut down his blog due to lack of interest. Or what his pants look like. All the effort spent over multiple news cycles recently trying to externally pick apart the former President’s various whims and motives is just a waste of time. Forget about his mental health: it’s probably not good for your health.
What matters is on January 6th, immediately before the insurrection at the Capitol, Trump incited the crowd by telling them:
“We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
But guess what? We’ve still got a country.
So by golly, Trump’s going to do what he can to make his wish so. Still. That’s what matters.
And that is not dependent on the state of his brain. Because as on January 6th, what he’s saying to his followers is “you’re going to do it for me, whatever my status, or shape I’m in”.
I’ve always argued that Trump’s assertions, statements, and lies should be understood as wishes. Like that the virus would go away; disappear. Soon, magically, instantly, without requiring masks. Like that he won the election because how could he possibly lose? How, if the “real Americans” he saw at all the rallies all voted for him?
And that remains true.
Trump’s not even trying to present faux facts anymore. Trump tells a local Republican gathering in North Carolina Saturday, he doesn’t need to present evidence of election film-flammery because it’s:
“Too voluminous to even mention”.
But that kind of glibness is also how the complete mess of a ultra-partisan election review going on in Arizona right now itself becomes evidence something was wrong with the election. Because if the election wasn’t broken, the ramshackle attempt to review it wouldn’t be such a disaster. No evidence needed.
The Space Force was “so desperately needed”, Trump also tells that assemblage of Republican faithful Saturday. But why was that elevated to a separate branch of the military and Cyber Command wasn’t? That’s a question I asked back in 2019, in a story that suggested while Space Force wasn’t exactly a bad idea, cybercrime would seem to be more of an urgent focus area, though obviously less visible and with less opportunity for self-aggrandizement. So less leverage for him with his followers. So too his decision to shut down the White House pandemic response team. Because if they did their jobs as expected, their work would be invisible. And that’s no good for someone who rules by pointing to monuments he’s built for himself as calls to rally around him.
And it matters that even more mainstream Republicans (who are increasingly being replaced by less mainstream Republicans) are OK with him doing whatever he can to do what he does best: tear things down. And make it OK to hate and express that hate, perhaps even violently. To make the county increasingly fractured. To make it so—now that we’re starting to walk into rooms again—we view everyone with suspicion: that there’s just as good a chance they’ll turn out to be a pre-sworn bitter enemy, as a friend.
Whether or not Trump’s return, electoral or otherwise, is a real threat, or purely imagined, or just a fund raising scam.
As Adam Serwer says in an astute piece in The Atlantic:
“Republicans are not blocking a bipartisan January 6 commission because they fear Trump, or because they want to “move on” from 2020. They are blocking a January 6 commission because they agree with the underlying ideological claim of the rioters, which is that Democratic electoral victories should not be recognized. Because they regard such victories as inherently illegitimate—the result of fraud, manipulation, or the votes of people who are not truly American—they believe that the law should be changed to ensure that elections more accurately reflect the will of Real Americans, who by definition vote Republican.”
Sure, hundreds of the January 6th insurrectionists have been arrested, and are being prosecuted. Sure they didn’t actually overturn the result of the Presidential election. But they ran with Trump’s anti-Democratic thoughts that day, and made them OK. And by that measure, while his wish didn’t keep him in office, the aftermath has been a screaming success.
One that has now been fully embraced by his party, and will be increasingly hard to push back against. What with his own party embracing the idea of making voting less easier and more of a test, and enough people in the opposing party insisting Congress continue to play by the existing rules at every turn, when Trump and his legacy is all about ignoring the rules: assuming his followers will accept or prefer displays of brute force than trying to maintain a semi-level playing field. Or they just don’t care if we live in an democracy or an authoritarian state, because they don’t see how either–how any kind of political system–will have any impact on their day-to-day lives.
And while the complicit are already set on their anti-Democratic path, the “I’m not really that into politics” group are part of Trump’s wish too. Because the complicit are already going to vote for Trump or whomever he backs anyway. The new laws being passed to restrict voting are aimed as much at the inconsistent voter as they are at suppressing minority voters who tend to vote Democrat.
Like my young friend in Texas whom I’ve mentioned before. Who didn’t vote in the last presidential election (despite my best effort!) because it was just too much of a hassle for her, because Texas had already made it very hard to vote. They already did not have no-excuse absentee voting, and they went to court in the middle of a pandemic to make sure people couldn’t use fear of contacting COVID-19 as a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot. And won. And still they’re using Trump’s January 6th exhortation as a springboard for making things much more difficult and much worse.
But they’re right in their thinking if that’s their goal: my friend definitely would’ve voted had she been able to vote by mail in Texas. And she definitely would’ve voted for Joe Biden. I already know I’m going to get feedback saying she’s just already proved she’s not a model citizen by not presenting her person on Election Day. And maybe there’s some truth to that. But does it mean her vote should count for less if she chooses to vote in the future? Or the hurdles to her voting should be even higher?
Heck, she would’ve voted if her fortune teller had told her she’d meet her future husband waiting in line to vote. So maybe that’s an opportunity for democrats. Fortune tellers.
Because whatever my friend’s shortcomings as a member of civic society, and whatever the vagaries of Trump’s mind, and whatever his mental capacity, Republicans are right now actively using his January 6th words to make sure they leave nothing to chance.
To such an extreme extent that they are using no evidence as evidence of evidence, if that makes sense. Which it doesn’t. Which is the whole point. Like with so many other things, Trump made it OK to come out and do this nakedly and with impunity. So nothing becomes something that’s “too voluminous to mention”. And no act then is too strong because it’s not being measured against anything. It’s just whatever you want it to be, and justifies whatever you want to do, if you’ve got the power to do it.
So even if Trump himself is living in less and less reality, reality is coming to mean less and less. Meanness, meanwhile, is coming to mean more and more.
Is the inherent rationality of Americans still intact? Was it ever? Or was it just an appearance?
And ultimately, that’s all that matters. And one way or the other, we will find out…