The Corner

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump and Us

President Trump speaks to his rally in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

Yesterday, we witnessed a mob attack on our democracy, encouraged by the president and his allies in politics and the media. “Oh, how shocking,” some people have said. If you egged it on, you have no right to say it. When you play with matches around kindling, you are obviously playing with fire.

• Trump tweeted yesterday, “Remember this day forever!” Americans should, yes, but not necessarily in the way Trump intends.

• Since 2015, there has been one overriding question: Is Donald Trump fit to be president, in mind and character? Millions said yes (including virtually the whole of the Republican Party and conservative movement); millions said no. Nothing has really changed.

• Anyone who has failed to notice the smell of violence around Trumpism — right from the beginning — needs to get his nose checked.

• All those people at Trump rallies, screaming maniacally at people in the press pen, egged on by the demagogue at the podium?

In December 2015, in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Trump singled out Katy Tur, of NBC News. He pointed at her and said, “Little Katy. What a lie she told,” etc.

Describing the scene later, Tur said, “The entire place turns, and they roar as one. Like a giant, unchained animal.”

Fearing for her safety, the Secret Service escorted her out.

• Over and over, Trump says “enemy of the people.” Anyone who displeases him, he calls an “enemy of the people.” That’s what he called Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, on Thanksgiving Day. Raffensperger and his wife have received many threats of murder and rape.

Mainly, however, Trump reserves “enemy of the people” for the press.

Yesterday, some of his followers smashed up a bunch of press equipment — cameras and the like.

Professional conservatives — the kind who wear suits and ties — say, “Aw, he doesn’t really mean it, when he says ‘enemy of the people.’ That’s just the way he talks. He’s blowin’ off steam.” Other people, however, take him seriously.

Shouldn’t you take seriously what the president of the United States says?

• Fear of the mob — a healthy awareness of the mob and its dangers — is almost the foundation of a genuine conservatism. I hope that this and other elementary facts can be rediscovered.

• On the American right, there is more chavismo than most of us would care to admit. Populism is a dagger aimed at the heart of republican government. Conservatives have always taught this. But the very idea of conservatism has been lost in recent years to populism — to “sheer demagoguery,” as Reagan used to say.

• In June 2016, I wrote a piece called “The F-Word: Donald Trump and concerns about fascism.” “He mainly talks of ‘strong’ versus ‘weak,’” I said. “Strength is better than weakness, of course. But an exaltation of strength can be strange.”

Yesterday, Trump said to his mob, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. Let the weak ones get out. This is a time for strength.”

Way back in 1990, Trump gave an interview to Playboy magazine. The Soviet Union was in uncertain condition, and democratic protesters were getting bolder. Trump said, “Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”

His interviewer asked, “You mean ‘firm hand’ as in China?”

Trump answered, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it.”

Think on that for a moment: “almost blew it.”

“Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

Okay.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said of Vladimir Putin, “I think that he is a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader.”

He’s a powerful leader, yes. (I’m not sure how strong it is to jail, maim, and kill your critics. Some would construe all that as a sign of weakness.)

• About three weeks ago, on December 19, Trump tweeted, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Uh-huh.

Two days ago, he tweeted, “I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C. They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen.”

Uh-huh. The threat of mob violence, a true hallmark of “conservatism,” right?

• Bret Stephens, in a column yesterday, recalled something that Mike Pompeo said — in March 2016. The then-congressman warned that Trump would be “an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution.”

I can hardly muster the energy to type the letters “LOL.”

• To return to this question of violence, or the threat of violence, let me excerpt an item from an Impromptus column I had last October:

You have heard that 13 men were arrested in a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. I’d like to go back to protests at the state capitol, earlier this year.

Men with guns entered the gallery, intimidating the lawmakers below. One of those lawmakers, Dayna Polehanki, took a picture and tweeted, “Directly above me, men with rifles are yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bulletproof vests are wearing them.”

I didn’t like that kind of protest, that kind of display. Some of my colleagues chastised me, saying this was just good ol’ American friskiness, and what did I expect, with people locked down and deprived of their livelihood? Plus, was I a little girl about guns?

2A, man!

Well, two of those men — two of the men in the photo taken by Polehanki — were arrested by the FBI in the kidnapping plot. I’m glad that the FBI is alert, and I hope that law enforcement in general will continue to be.

Ordered liberty is the only kind of liberty worthy of the name.

• Early in 2020, the chairman of CPAC — the “Conservative Political Action Conference” — said that Mitt Romney would not be welcome at the group’s proceedings. “I would actually be afraid for his physical safety,” said the chairman. Some of us tried to point out that this was telling, and damning. And alien to real conservatism.

The chairman also said, “We won’t credential him as a conservative,” meaning Romney. Would you “credential” CPAC as conservative?

There is more conservatism in a follicle of Mitt Romney’s (copious) hair than there is in about ten MAGA rallies.

Of course, everything depends on what you mean by “conservative” — and this is a battle of our age. (I wrote about the battle in an essay last November: “‘Conservative’: A Term Up for Grabs.”)

• On Tuesday night, Romney shared a plane ride with a bunch of Trump ralliers, going to Washington. They chanted “Traitor!” at him. “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” They call themselves patriots.

Sick stuff. (See it here.)

• Mitt Romney is the only person in American history to vote against a president of his own party in an impeachment trial. He stood dead alone — alive alone — among Republicans. If there were another impeachment trial before Inauguration Day, would any other Republicans join him? (I wouldn’t bet the ranch.)

• In 2012, the Obama-Biden campaign ran an ad that said, “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.” So true. He is not one of the Republicans either, really, though he belongs to that party, formally. He is essentially a party of one.

Good party.

• After this year’s election, people said, “Oh, just humor him” (Trump). “Let him huff and puff and shout ‘Rigged!’ and file lawsuits. He’ll just tweet and play golf. Then he’ll leave on January 20 and everything will be fine. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

Yeah.

• Consider Trump’s phone call to the Georgia officials, trying to get them to subvert the election. Does anyone doubt that if a Democratic president did this, every Republican and every conservative in the country would be demanding the president’s impeachment?

• For years, David Frum has wondered, “Why do Americans brag about a ‘peaceful transfer of power’? Don’t all civilized countries transfer power peacefully? Is it really something to thump your chest about?” A good point.

But now moot, I suppose.

• In the Capitol yesterday, some of the Trump rioters carried Confederate flags, which I was happy to see. That is a symbol that represents them, more than the Stars & Stripes do.

(Party of Lincoln, my a**.)

• Onstage at CPAC last year, Trump hugged and kissed the American flag. Someone said he “slow-danced” with it. Someone else said he “dry-humped” it. Yes, Trump will hug the flag. And blast the NFL “kneelers.” But patriotism, obviously, involves a lot more — like not whipping up mobs to overturn a democratic election.

• Yesterday, Jim Mattis, the former secretary of defense, wrote,

Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.

I believe he is right. I also think he was right about the violence and the Trump stunt at Lafayette Square last summer. A lot of people on the right hated him for that (Mattis, I mean).

• Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said yesterday, “Enough’s enough.” Oh, Lindsey — right on time. There are many like him, of course. I think of a phrase I learned from Fred Barnes, many moons ago: “towers of jello.”

Frankly, I think I have more respect for Trumpers who are sticking with their guy than for those who are now distancing themselves from him. Trump hasn’t changed one iota. It’s just that now he is seen as a “loser,” on his way out. You know?

• A friend of mine wrote me today, “I guess the umpires have finally decided to call strike three.” Gave me a smile, much needed.

• Back in the days of the War on Crime, we had an expression: “scared straight.” There was a famous documentary using those words as its title (1978). Perhaps the recent violence will scare some Americans straight. I especially think of young people who have been seduced by illiberal politics. The young are always vulnerable to such things.

• There are good people — very good people — in the conservative movement. I was talking to one yesterday afternoon, a young colleague of mine, I’m grateful to say. They must find their voices and be bold. Very bold. They will be called “cuck,” “globalist,” “RINO,” “cosmopolitan,” and all the rest. That whole lexicon of abuse.

Let the epithets roll off, and take a brave stand. I will stand with you. Happy to. Thanks and see you later.