But it is the ex-President’s greatest, most subversive victory that his empire of falsehoods will surely survive new disclosures that lay bare his own abuses of power and the voter-mocking deceit of his political and media enablers.
While there has already been a steady accumulation of shocking evidence of Trump’s coup attempt on January 6 and the emptiness of his election fraud claims, recent days put the saga into a horrifying new light. They brought the clearest indicators yet that the entire Make America Great Again infrastructure and Trump’s potential next White House campaign rest on hogwash and the whitewashing of history.
The House select committee probing the January 6 insurrection has released fresh details of the elaborate behind-the-scenes plot to subvert the certification of President Joe Biden’s election. There’s embarrassing new evidence of how conservative media stars were privately alarmed by the attack by Trump’s mob but quickly reverted to amplifying his lies to millions of Americans they willfully deceived. And a major new Associated Press survey of 2020 swing states contested by Trump found cases of voter fraud were sparse and far from the nationwide conspiracy he claims. There are separate reports that three Florida residents were recently arrested and charged with election fraud — two of whom were registered Republicans.
This week will be remembered for Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chair of the House committee, bringing receipts that exposed the hypocrisy of Trump’s extended orbit.
Texts from Republican lawmakers, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News prime-time anchors to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows show that they knew the attack on the Capitol was a disaster and wanted it to stop.
Yet those same conservative heroes are part of a political media operation that spent the last 11 months obscuring what really happened, in many cases denying the truth of Biden’s election win and fueling lies about voter fraud that are feeding anti-democratic extremism. All to preserve a meal ticket named Trump.
In another development fraught with chilling implications, the committee revealed that Meadows wrote in an email that the National Guard would be present to “protect pro Trump people” on January 6. It was the latest example of a habit of weaponizing sacred American institutions for Trump’s political gain.
The former President, meanwhile, encapsulated perverted political values that now rule much of the Republican Party and will likely produce its next presidential nominee. He recently declared that former Vice President Mike Pence had been “mortally wounded” because he had refused to steal the election during his ceremonial role in certifying Biden’s victory. The ex-President was giving voice to a GOP incentive system that now rewards coup attempts and despotic behavior over honoring the Constitution.
The scale of the evidence coming to light this week is remarkable. But daily bombshells about what happened on January 6 often have the effect of diminishing the shock value of Trump-related outrages. And voters have pressing concerns like the rising cost of living and a pandemic that will shortly drag into a third year. Yet this week’s developments are important not just because they chart the staggering breadth of Trump’s election conspiracy. They are also exposing the lies on which his future political prospects are built — and on which multiple Republican-run states have passed laws that make it harder to vote and easier to steal future elections.
Trump’s biggest confidence trick
There has always been an aura of a con man about Trump, from his days as a bankruptcy-plagued real estate chancer who adopted a persona as the master of the art of the deal. His presidency opened with false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd that in retrospect augured an administration constructed on untruths — or what his former senior aide Kellyanne Conway once dubbed “alternative facts.“
It is now clear that his big lie that “frankly, we did win this election” is the most audacious and damaging confidence trick of his career.
A few Trump supporters are seeing the light, including Dustin Stockton, one of the organizers of the January 6 rally that preceded the insurrection, who found himself subpoenaed by the House committee — and lacks the means to wage a legal battle like Trump’s wealthy political guru Steve Bannon.
“Essentially, he abandons people when the going gets tough for people. And, you know, in some ways, it’s embarrassing to think that in a lot of ways, we bought into what essentially turned out to be a bluff or a con,” Stockton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
Yet Stockton is an outlier. Trump’s popularity among Republican voters makes him the preemptive favorite for the GOP’s 2024 nomination. He has the power to shape the political careers of those willing to accept his extremism — as his raft of endorsements of midterm election candidates, nationally and in the states, shows. The Trump story, meanwhile, makes millions for conservative media outlets and stars — giving them an incentive to promote a false alternative reality that has won over legions of viewers.
The mendacity of the conservative media propaganda machine was exposed by Cheney’s reading aloud of texts sent to Meadows by several Fox News powerhouses, including Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, pleading with Meadows to get Trump to intervene on January 6.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ingraham texted. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Hannity asked the-then chief of staff whether Trump could make a statement that would tell the people at the Capitol to leave.
Both anchors later condemned the violence on January 6. But they have been among Fox News personalities who attack the investigation as a political vendetta against Trump rather than a probe into one of the worst assaults on democracy in American political history. And television disinformation is only a small part of the problem; social media networks teem with falsehoods about the election and boost Trump’s lies in what is almost a fact-free zone.
Trump’s Orwellian method
Trump’s enablers have reacted to the disclosures of recent days by adopting the signature move of their leader — spinning a false reality to excuse his behavior and mislead his supporters about what really happened.
Meadows, for instance, appeared on Hannity’s show on Monday and concocted a story that contradicts reports that the former President had cooled his heels and watched on TV as his rioting supporters marauded through the Capitol.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to find that not only did the President act, but he acted quickly,” Meadows said. The former chief of staff has since been cited for criminal contempt by the House for refusing a subpoena to testify to the committee. His tactic was familiar from previous Trump scandals, as he pivoted away from the truth to create a more palatable tale for Trump supporters that absolved the ex-President of culpability.
The approach recalled Trump’s own when his pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to open an investigation into then-candidate Biden and his son Hunter came out. The ex-President simply insisted that their call was “perfect,” even though a White House transcript showed repeated abuses of power as he used military aid as a carrot — a transgression that led to his first impeachment.
This Trump gambit — also used by conservative news outlets every day — recalls the party’s reality-defying “War is Peace” slogan in George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Trump explained his method in a less literal way in 2018 when instructing followers to distrust their own eyes and non-partisan media and to believe only him. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” he said.
This week’s revelations have been damning for Trump, his former aides and the conservative media propagandists who sustain him.
But if history is any guide, the truth will not bring him down.