Purge, classic style

A purge is almost never a good thing, though in the sense of a good vomit after gross overeating or over-drinking, it makes a lot of sense. A new democratic government does well to purge diehard fascist members of the former government, but in general, purges are the work of autocrats who need to periodically weed out the disloyal and make terrifying examples of them. A frightful spectacle of vengeance deters those inclined to think for themselves instead of doing exactly what the leader demands.

When I hear the word purge I always think of the underground chamber where my favorite writer, Isaac Babel, was condemned, after a long stint in prison, one of millions of victims of Stalin’s purges. Babel pleaded with his interrogators, men who worked for Beria [1], Stalin’s chief of torture, to let him just continue writing. Babel’s mock trial was short, only a couple of minutes in that tiny, airless room, after which he was taken from that dark chamber and into a nearby courtyard for a couple of gunshots. A trunk of Babel’s unpublished writings, safeguarded by his friends, disappeared, never to be heard of again. That’s a purge.

Yesterday the GOP purged Liz Cheney from Republican leadership in a basement room at the Capitol, by a voice vote. This shouting out of “yay” or “nay” spared potential embarrassment for any individual Republican who would otherwise be on the record in favor of removing Cheney for the high crime of insisting that a violent riot, caused by Trump, watched worldwide on live television, had taken place on January 6, to support a lie that Trump had won the election in a landslide.

You don’t necessarily want your face attached to a vote to do that, since you can’t predict the future, so you meet in a large room in the basement, in a kind of lynch mob, and do it fast. The “yays” have it, Liz Cheney is purged. The whole thing took 16 minutes.

The problem with a purge that does not actually kill your enemy, as any good dictator knows, is that the opposition tends to organize around leaders who remain unbowed during a purge. Cheney, as hideous as her torture-endorsing right-wing politics are — and she is truly a chip off the old aptly named Dick Cheney — has taken a basic and principled position against perhaps the boldest single lie in American political history. Certainly the boldest lie ever told by a president who sent a mob to stop the certification of an election he lost, and, if they got lucky, lynch his vice president and decapitate the government by taking out the next two in line, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Patrick Leahy.

“Stop the Steal”, in a nutshell, is the wildly counter-factual idea that Trump had the election stolen from him, by a bipartisan cabal of evil bastards, after four glorious years during which his ruthless enemies continually persecuted him for no reason except their radical hatred, that he actually won the 2020 election in a landslide, as he still insists he can prove.

How much courage does it take for a Republican to admit that the whole Trump thing, with its $50,000,000 ad budget to spread the infuriating lie (an ad buy that ended on January 6), with its $3,500,000 organizing budget to bring a massive crowd to Washington, DC to forcibly shut down Congress and “stop the steal,” is a lie? Trump’s claim that a rigged election was stolen from him is one of his trademark “transactional” lies, this one based on the paranoid fantasy of a former president who cannot accept the reality that he lost an election.

You would not think it would take much courage, but outside of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, you seldom hear a peep from the Red team to contradict the obvious lie of their vindictive strongman leader. It would be nice to hear from Reince Preibus, John Kelly, Mad Dog Mattis, Sessions, Barr, H.R. McMaster, John Bolton, Chad Wolf, former Trump cabinet members Elaine Chao and Betsey DeVos (both of whom resigned right after the January 6 riot) and many others, on this. The united cowardice and calculation of virtually all Republicans in support of America’s Greatest Lying Loser is hard to fathom.

We are balanced on the rim of an active volcano, all of us, along with our democracy. This is going to remain an ugly fight, but it is a crucial fight, existential.

I take a certain amount of consolation from the actual facts in evidence and from the general rule of actual proof in our legal system. Virtually every lawsuit based on a demonstrable lie must fail, as we saw over and over with the dozens of Trump/RNC election lawsuits dismissed for lack of evidence of their claims. There are very few cases where a judge has the discretion, by ruling narrowly along an ideological crevasse (a Boof Kavanaugh speciality), to rule in support of ideology and contrary to the facts. It must be done with skill to avoid being overturned on appeal (unless you write for an unappealable court, of course, as Kavanaugh now does).

Our legal system is in many ways brutal, openly favoring the rights and privileges of the wealthy, and corporation persons, over everyone else. Criminal justice is applied in a systemically unjust manner that routinely incarcerates small-time criminals (disproportionately “non-white”) while leaving the most powerful criminals free to ply their lucrative trade. There is no legal enforcement of “ethics,” a concept applied on a strictly voluntary basis by anyone with the power to decide whether to abide by ethics recommendations.

For all its flaws, our legal system is bound by rules that even the most partisan judge cannot simply ignore. For example, you can insist on your deeply held opinion that Hillary Clinton is a vicious criminal who needs to be locked up. To lock her up you will need actual proof of a crime.

In the case of Trump and his loyalists, their crimes are many, and now shown with more and more powerful evidence. Now that Trump is no longer a sitting president (even Kevin McCarthy admitted yesterday that Biden is the actual president [2]) he does not have the shield of that OLC memo about not indicting POTUS.

Trump and his followers have been brazen, and relentless, but not always very smart. Even the purportedly brilliant legal mind of Bill Barr was addled, and not always smart, while he served as Trump’s zealous gunsel for the second half of Trump’s term. The entire story of Trump’s seamless obstruction of justice (new chapters written daily, stay tuned!) is now fair game for prosecutors and juries, and more and more facts, previously hidden (as part of the obstruction) are coming to light.

To take one thread as an example:

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn, interviewed under oath by Mueller’s investigators, recounted a shameless attempt by Trump to obstruct justice, followed by an even more shameless attempt by Trump to have McGahn create a lying record, denying that Trump ever made the first shameless ask.

McGahn’s public testimony under oath would have been deadly to Trump during the first impeachment trial (had Pelosi had the wisdom to allow an additional article of impeachment for Obstruction of Justice based, in part, on the ten examples Mueller laid out).

Even though Republicans under McConnell had the power to prevent all witnesses from testifying in the first impeachment “trial”, as they did, after vowing to work closely with Trump’s defense team, no chance could be taken that would allow McGahn (a right-wing zealot in his own right, promoter of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh for Supreme Court) to be deposed or testify. Barr suggested Trump invoke an imaginary all-encompassing presidential immunity that covered anyone Trump had ever talked to from ever testifying to anyone. McGahn’s subpoena to testify was held up in court for two years. Until the other day, when his long refusal to obey the subpoena ended with a deal for McGahn to answer a few questions [3].

We now have published facts that were hidden from Mueller, from the public, some key facts were zealously hidden by our disingenuous former Attorney General. It now is possible, for example, to prove that Trump’s then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had a direct channel to Putin in his long-time friend Konstantin Kilimnik, and gave the Kremlin important secret polling data that allowed Russia to help Trump most efficiently. The facts are going to continue crushing Trump and his myrmidons in court.

It is dangerous, of course, to underestimate the power of organized rage and blind obedience in human affairs. Our experiment in democracy faces a grave danger from the forces of enraged white grievance and a party that now speaks for that grievance in one voice, “the yeas have it”. This free-floating anger has found an avatar in Donald Trump, an unapologetic hater, a man who will never, ever stop fighting.

It would appear, looking over his public history, that Trump, an angry bully since childhood, lives to fight. This fight-to-the-death-and-beyond spirit appeals to certain underdogs who feel that fighting is their only option. It also appeals to all cynical Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham types who simply attach themselves to what they perceive to be power, in any form. The fight is waged amid the silence of the mass of GOP officials and absurdist claims by little known partisans like Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), who insist, during public testimony, that footage of the “riot” was no different than what could be shot of any tourist group, they were just there enjoying themselves!

By not actually stringing Liz Cheney up yesterday after the mob shouted its approval of her being stripped of her party leadership position, Trump’s followers in Congress may have made a huge mistake. If I had to bet on a Republican presidential candidate for 2024, my money would be on Liz Cheney over DJT. For one thing, it may be very hard, no matter how strong and organized the denial is, for Trump to run against the findings of the eventual January 6 Commission, and the verdicts in state criminal courts of Georgia and New York. Last time Trump had the indomitable Bill Barr fixing everything for him, this time, no such luck for Donnie Bonespurs.

[1]

Naturally when Beria, one of history’s most infamous sadistic torturers and rapists, was eventually arrested (in one of Stalin’s final purges, I think) he cried, screamed and whimpered like a terrified baby. I guess it occurred to him that if “what goes around comes around” is true, he had a horrible death waiting for him. Which he sure enough did.

[2]

“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters after meeting with Mr. Biden and congressional leaders at the White House to discuss infrastructure spending. “I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem.”

source

[3]

The House Judiciary Committee and the Biden administration have struck “an agreement in principle” to resolve a two-year-old fight over a subpoena for testimony from Don McGahn, a former White House counsel to President Donald Trump, lawyers said in a court filing on Tuesday evening.

Trump has not signed off on the deal, however, according to the status report submitted to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The former president could try to take legal action to block any testimony from McGahn, but the filing from the House and the Justice Department — now under the control of appointees of President Joe Biden — seems to try to head off such a move by noting pointedly that Trump “is not a party to this case.”

source

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