by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2022 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
The verdict is in, so to speak. Heavyweights of the American juridical universe are confident that Donald Trump will be held formally accountable in multiple courts for the disgrace, dishonor, and delinquency of his twice-impeached, one-term presidency.
Mr. Trump’s comeuppance could arrive as early as this month of September. But swift justice is only a first phase in the moral, legal, and political reckoning to follow. We shall be put to The Test, with its profound questions:
Are we capable of assessing the damage to our national character caused by Mr. Trump and his cult? Are we capable of appraising our own rôles in how and why the damage happened? Are we willing to do these things? Are we interested in doing these things? Nuanced though our answers may be, our children and grandchildren deserve to know this: How did we respond, contemporaneously, to the resistible rise of Donald Trump?
The Test will be difficult because nuance is difficult; in nuance lies confusion and fear, doubt and the dread of dramatic change. But ready or not, an American Zeitenwende is nigh—what the Germans know as epochal change.
In a letter to a friend, posted from Germany during the rise of Hitler, the American novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) wrote prophetically and poetically of the malaise that now prevails, a dread of fascism gaining strength:
“When it happens, if it happens, as it happens—it may not happen in any of the ways you feared, the ways you had heard about; nor speak any of the words you fear that it may speak; or say any of the things you thought it would say.
“It will just speak to you the same old words—‘Fellow Americans’ and ‘Freedom’ and ‘Our great people.’
“And there will be no drums beat, and no grim compulsive beat.
“It will just come in quietly…and say, ‘Let the wheels turn.’
“When it happens, if it happens, as it happens.”
Reflecting the consensus view of thousands of other attorneys and legal scholars, consider the judgments of these three:
• Andrew Weissmann, a former top official of the U.S. Department of Justice who made his bones in convicting corporate felons and mafia bosses;
• Neal Katyal, former U.S. solicitor general now a professor of national security law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.;
• George Conway, former head of the Justice Department’s civil division, conservative political activist and husband of Mr. Trump’s one-time White House spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway.
In a recent television interview, Mr. Weissmann cited the two most serious charges faced by Mr. Trump: 1) violation of the Espionage Act, in regards to top-secret government documents the ex-president spirited out of the White House for haphazard storage at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida golf resort and residence where attractive Russian and Chinese female spies are known to frequent, and 2) obstruction of justice in tampering with the course of an ongoing Congressional investigation into his instigating the January 2021 terrorist attack on the Capitol building in Washington.
Conviction on the first offense carries the maximum penalty of ten years in federal prison. Conviction on the second is good for double that.
“The former president is going to be prosecuted,” Mr. Weissmann declared, noting that Mr. Trump faces parallel indictments from local prosecutors in Michigan, Georgia, and the District of Columbia.
In a separate interview, Mr. Conway said of the looming federal indictments, “It’s the shortest distance between Donald Trump and an orange [prison] jumpsuit.”
Mr. Conway added of seized documents: “If they contain material about national security and nuclear weapons, as has been reported, I don’t know what the defense could be. …[W]e haven’t really heard anything remotely approaching a rational, logical defense [about] why Trump stashed boxes of unauthorized documents from the White House that should legally have been held by the National Archives.”
Bottom line, Mr. Katyal’s free counsel for Mr. Trump’s bank of criminal lawyers: “They should advise him he’s looking at jail time.”
An even stronger measure of justice for Donald Trump is suggested by Michael Hayden—retired four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, former director of the National Security Agency, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Presidents George W. Bush (Republican) and Barack Obama (Democrat).
In a televised panel discussion between General Hayden and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, the ex-CIA director had a tight-lipped reaction to Mr. Beschloss referencing the Trump case at hand as equivalent to that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. Back then, the traitorous Rosenbergs transmitted top-secret documents to Moscow were found guilty of treason and famously electrocuted for their crime.
“Sounds about right,” said General Hayden.
I shall lift a glass to the imminent day in Phase One of the coming American reckoning. I expect multitudes of my countrymen to likewise celebrate the official onset of a post-Trump era.
But I also expect blow-back, in keeping with Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
As the U.S. Constitution prescribes, established legal order is the nation’s supreme and proper authority—a powerful force indeed. Yet we know from the stains of history that even the most powerful civil agencies in the most powerful democratic societies are vulnerable to attack by counterforces in the thrall of mendacious autocrats whose corruptions beget concurrence, whose untruths beget unreason.
We know as well that societies are vulnerable to epochs of madness, a condition painfully obvious in America.
For example, the American rate of random gun slaughter: Nearly twice a day, three hundred sixty-five days per year, four or more persons are wounded or slain in mass shootings, according to the Washington-based data collection organization Gun Violence Archive.
As I write, on Sunday the 28th of August, news comes of four fresh massacres—in Oregon, Texas, Michigan, and Arizona. The combined corpse count is eleven. Shooters are the usual suspects (variously aggrieved young white men), murder weapons are the usual AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
NOTE: Here in New York State, a teenage boy may purchase an AR-15, but he is forbidden by statute to purchase an aerosol can of whipped cream because he might huff the spray top in order to achieve a buzz of delirium.
Meanwhile, millions of other variously aggrieved Americans truly believe the mad Big Lie of Mr. Trump’s invention: Foreign communists, leftwing Washington bureaucrats, dark-complexioned big-city ward heelers, and merchants of “rigged” voting mechanisms conspired to cheat him out of reëlection to the presidency in 2020. It is a lie that we know leads to anger, a lie we have witnessed turn to physical violence and death.
The most ardent of Trump partisans, acolytes, and operatives are tinderbox angry. They are a cult of folks ranging from mouth-breathing yokels and motorcycle thugs to golfers and suit-and-tie greedheads. Always welcome are the bible crazed, those who believe that Donald J. Trump’s middle initial stands for Jesus rather than John. (I am not making that up.)
Armed with military grade weapons and crackpot notions spewed day and night from Fox Television, radio call-in rants, and the immensity of rightwing social media, tens of thousands are angry to the point of murderous rage.
Ordinary business of government at every level, and the public servants who make our governments function, are confronted daily by crazed Trump cultists. To wit:
• On August 12, an angry Trumper named Ricky Shiffer attacked the Cincinnati, Ohio field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a nail gun; he was shot dead by F.B.I. agents.
• Local election office workers and election day volunteers are resigning in droves due to physical harassment and threatening telephone calls.
• Employees of National Archives locations throughout the country have been assigned additional armed guards to protect against anonymous threats of vandalism.
• Lindsey Graham, a Republican Party senator from the state of South Carolina, said there would be “riots in the streets” should Mr. Trump, a golfing pal, be indicted.
• The Guardian (U.K.) quotes one Luis Miguel, a Republican candidate for the Florida legislature, on his mass death threat against federal law enforcement officers and tax collection officers: “Under my plan, all Floridians will have permission to shoot [federal agents] ON SIGHT! Let freedom ring!”
This all happens because of blind trust in the Big Lie, and it is bound to grow worse. Never mind that the Big Lie goes unproven, or that promised evidence of electoral fraud has never been produced. Never mind that Mr. Trump is himself an adjudicated fraudster, having been ordered to pay compensatory and punitive damages totaling $27 million by courts that shut down his sham Trump Foundation “charity” and his sham Trump “University”—both shut down by the courts during his presidential term.
As an article of faith, the Big Lie has not died. Mr. Trump repeats it every day because the anger provoked is money in the bank. According to tracking by the Washington Post newspaper, the ex-president’s incipient 2024 campaign organization has a daily haul of $300,000; according to the Federal Election Commission, his fundraising machine has produced a combined $86 million over the last two six-month reporting cycles.
Somehow, most of the money picked from the pockets of cultists winds up in the cult master’s purse, which will come in handy when Donald Trump, as expected, will announce his candidacy for another horrid four years under “your favorite president—me,” as he delights in saying.
—If he should be incarcerated, Mr. Trump will take heart in being informed that Eugene V. Debs ran for president from a jail cell in 1920, winning 3.5 percent of the popular vote as the Socialist Party candidate. Later, President Warren Harding issued a pardon to Mr. Debs (1855-1926), who had been convicted of treason under the Espionage Act.
And somehow, the Republican Party that Mr. Trump champions and controls has not seen fit to renounce any of it—not the lies, not the Pavlovian defense of its Mar-a-Lago autocrat, not the arrogant disregard for common standards of decency, certainly not the party’s cynical reliance on ignorance for for its political viability.
Nor do Republicans condemn the stench of violence that Donald Trump inspires. In February 2022, more than a year after Mr. Trump’s storm troopers attacked the Capitol and attempted to hang Vice President Mike Pence from a functioning gallows, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel characterized the bloody mêlée as “legitimate political discourse.”
Ms. McDaniel’s breezy description was no comfort to British journalist Edward G. Luce, associate editor of the Financial Times. In a recent tweet, Mr. Luce wrote, “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous and contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.”
To which General Hayden responded in a tweet of his own, “I agree, and I was the CIA director.”
The dangerous emotional states of rage and lunacy are often intertwined, which makes the tirades of Donald Trump unsurprising. Maybe he’s setting the stage for an insanity defense? It might seem so.
Late into the Sunday night of August 27, he posted a series of frustrations to “Truth Social,” his rickety and near-bankrupt version of Twitter, from whence he was permanently banned due to the “risk of further incitement of further violence.”
Perhaps risking an agonizing bout of hemorrhoid agitation, Mr. Trump let fly his frustrations with that surely crowding his mind’s eye: He sees again a report from a special Justice Department investigation into Russian assistance for his 2016 election campaign; he pictures the swarm of F.B.I. agents rummaging through boxes of classified documents confiscated at Mar-a-Lago, documents he insists are ”mine.”
Thus, Mr. Trump “truthed” his feelings in his familiar idiosyncratic prose stylings—
“Here we go again! The Radical Left Dems fraudulently created he now fully debunked Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax, they got caught and failed, but tried to get me with ‘obstructing’ their Fake investigation of their fraudulent, made up story. So, they make up a vicious & fake story, I fight it, and they claim I obstructed the investigation. It didn’t work, but now they are doing the same thing with the RAID on Mar-a-Lago assault. I did nothing wrong, they did. It is prosecutorial misconduct!”
Hard though it will be for future generations to digest, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America. Sad to say, he is a man of our time—an unfortunate moment in which intelligent people must keep quiet lest stupid people are made to feel badly about themselves; a moment, not seen since the Reagan years when the nation was led by a man who made us comfortable with our prejudices.
Comes now The Test.
Will we recognize the refreshing potential of Zeitenwende? Will we guard against fear and violence and stupidity that threaten to oppose necessary change for a post-Trump civil society? Will we preserve and protect and defend the most eloquent of all political manifestos, the U.S. Constitution? Will we sustain our democracy?
Will we pass The Test?
Democracy, as defined by a New York Times editorial of not long ago, is “an ideal that must constantly be made real…America is not sustained by a set of principles; it is sustained by resolute action to defend those principles.”
I now wish to offer a dash of optimism: Despite our frailties and failings, we Americans remain a people meant to pursue a “more perfect union,” as it is written, idiosyncratically, in our Declaration of Independence—our revolutionary independence from the tyranny of England’s Mad King George III, forerunner to a mad presidency thankfully gone.
Late-breaking news brings more uplift: As this essay goes online, on the first of September, the increasingly popular Joe Biden is set to deliver a major presidential address to the nation via television. His press secretary says Mr. Biden will speak to the “soul of the nation” in calling on Americans to each do what we can to preserve, protect, and defend democracy.
A map of Florida offers the tempting proximity of Mar-a-Lago to the state’s largest city, home to the Miami Federal Correctional Facility. How convenient for those who will come to arrest Donald Trump.
The Miami facility is a minimum-security prison, but prison just the same: in gangster parlance, the “big house.”
Inmates who behave themselves enjoy unobstructed views of lovely palm trees at Miami Federal Correctional, and may while away their sentences with ping-pong and shuffleboard, mah-jongg and whist. (No golf.)
Soon I shall write end notes to the life and times of the monarch of Mar-a-Lago. If my colorful Grandpa Ben was alive, he would encourage me to “write the bastard’s obituary in weasel piss.” If Ben was alive, he would appreciate the headline I have already drafted: “From the White House to the Big House.”