Every era has its song. In 1965 it was Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction – perhaps the most pretentious protest song from those odd days. It was imitation Bob Dylan, written by P. F. Sloan, and he had offered it to The Byrds. They rejected it. Pretentious posturing just isn’t cool. McGuire didn’t think so. He recorded it for Dunhill and suddenly had a big hit – the world is coming to an end because our leaders are fools, and everyone is blind, and we’re all going to die, and there’s not a damned thing anyone can do about it.
There is no hope – the lyrics were apocalyptic – but there was a lot of money to be made there. People were in a bad mood and liked the message. Everyone was lying. Only the singer (and anyone who bought the record) could see how oblivious everyone else was, even if everything listed was actually rather obvious. This was just whining:
Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say?
Can’t you feel the fear that I’m feeling today?
Actually, people got it. The song soon disappeared. People “got it” and they just didn’t care. Years later, after McGuire suddenly got all evangelical and born again, he refused to perform his one big hit song from long ago. He’d been wrong. Jesus will fix everything. There’s no need to worry. There never was. Sorry about that. But no one cared about that either. He had screamed out that the world was ending. Wake up, people! The people had shrugged. Barry McGuire was just another jerk. He always would be. Pretentious posturing about the end of everything is tiresome.
Donald Trump doesn’t think so. His inaugural address was drafted by Stephen Miller, the kid from Santa Monica High School out here – the kid who hated the school’s Spanish-language announcements and the endless damned festivals of minority “cultures” and all the rest – the kid who went on to Duke University, where he hooked up with Richard Spenser, the white nationalist, and then went on to work for the wild-eyed congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and then for Jeff Sessions, then still a senator, who relied on Miller to help him defeat immigration reform in 2013 – the kid who then hooked up with Breitbart News, and with Steve Bannon, and finally with Trump’s campaign, as a key advisor. That’s how Stephen Miller ended up in the White House. And he’s responsible for that inaugural address, now known as the “American Carnage” speech. It was nasty. Things are awful – look around – there’s carnage everywhere – because the whole world is against is, laughing at us. So it will be “America First” now – to hell with them all.
Stephen Miller had been very unhappy at Santa Monica High School. He found a national figure that had been just as unhappy as he had been, and still was, and Miller finally let it rip. It was a Barry McGuire moment that became a Trump moment. It was odd. George W. Bush was startled:
Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony. But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.
And nothing has changed. The day before the House would vote to impeach him – Trump’s Eve of Destruction – Trump himself let it rip, as the New York Times’ Michael Shear reports here:
President Trump on Tuesday angrily denounced the looming House votes to impeach him as a “Star Chamber of partisan persecution” by Democrats, describing the effort to remove him from office as an “attempted coup” that would come back to haunt them at the ballot box next year.
On the eve of the historic votes, Democrats reached a critical threshold, gathering majority support to impeach Mr. Trump, as the president raged against the proceedings. In an irate and rambling six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Trump portrayed himself as the victim of enemies determined to destroy his presidency with false accusations.
“This is nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth,” Mr. Trump declared, describing a process enshrined in the Constitution as an attempted government overthrow.
This was Trump being Trump:
In a missive full of unproven charges, hyperbole and long-simmering grievances against his own government – at one point, he referred to leaders of the FBI as “totally incompetent and corrupt” – Mr. Trump angrily disputed both of the impeachment charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The letter ignored the extensive evidence uncovered during a two-month inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee, based in part on the testimony by members of his own administration. It found that Mr. Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while holding back nearly $400 million in military assistance the country badly needed and a White House meeting for its president.
But none of that is true! Everything he did was perfect! Everyone agrees he’s the greatest president of all time! Everyone knows that!
That may not be true:
Past presidents have offered contrition as they stared down looming House impeachment votes. President Bill Clinton issued a personal apology from the White House Rose Garden in 1998, biting his lip and saying he was “profoundly sorry” for his actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair days before the House voted to impeach him. President Richard M. Nixon resigned his office in 1974 rather than face the vote at all.
But Mr. Trump was defiant and unrepentant on Tuesday. He accused Ms. Pelosi and her party of fabricating lies, saying that the speaker and Democrats were possessed by “Impeachment Fever” and vowing that he and the Republican Party would emerge stronger after he was vindicated in a Senate trial.
“You are the ones interfering in America’s elections,” he wrote in the letter, on stationery embossed with the presidential seal. “You are the ones subverting America’s democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain.”
Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say? Can’t you feel the fear (for the nation) that I’m feeling today? Well no, not exactly:
The president wrote that he knew his letter would not change the outcome. But he said that the document was “for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record.”
In her own message on Tuesday evening to Democratic lawmakers, Ms. Pelosi made no reference to the president’s letter, instead urging her colleagues to “proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
So, ignore the little boy throwing a tantrum and get back to work. Let him rage. There’s work to do.
There is? Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman add background:
The letter read like a Twitter tirade published on White House stationery. The words ran together with the cadence of a Trump rally script, just before the president veers from the teleprompter. The accusations, untruths and wayward exclamation points piled up by the paragraph.
“You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!” President Trump wrote in the letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. “By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy.”
Five and a half pages long, signed in Sharpie and sent the afternoon before the House of Representatives was due to impeach him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the letter officially underscored – for the “permanent and indelible record” – how angry he had become over the prospect of becoming only the third president in history to have this happen to him.
So that’s pretty much what Donald Trump wrote in all caps with his Sharpie – I AM VERY ANGRY!
Yeah, well, so what? But fine, indulge yourself:
Multiple aides said on Tuesday that the president wanted the letter to be written because he wanted to get some things off his chest. By letter’s end, he seemed to have gotten rid of all of them.
Extensive in its grievances and laced with different words for what he perceives the House is about to do to him and what its reason is for doing it – such as “assault,” “destruction” and “derangement” – the letter was a rambling diatribe that played loose with facts, sometimes disregarding them outright.
As Mr. Trump laid out a case for his belief that the Democrats have been engaged in an unlawful crusade to end his presidency, he repeated his erroneous contention that a “so-called whistle-blower” had “started this entire hoax with a false report of the phone call that bears no relationship to the actual phone call that was made.”
Even his historical analogies were problematic. Comparing impeachment to the Salem witch trials, Mr. Trump claimed that the Massachusetts women accused of witchcraft in the 1690s were treated to “more due process” than he was afforded during the inquiry.
He doesn’t check facts of course:
In an impeachment inquiry marked by reams of emphatic, eloquent and often emotional testimonies written by lawyers, Foreign Service officers and Purple Heart recipients, Mr. Trump’s letter stands out for how much it sounds like an unvarnished version of its signer: off the cuff, angry and ready to make an expletive-laden case against impeachment.
And that’s a real problem, unless it isn’t:
Michael Waldman, who served as a policy aide and speechwriter to President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, called the letter “a six-page screech” and said it was a representation of Mr. Trump’s “id.”
“Typically a president’s words are weighed very carefully, especially at a moment of constitutional significance,” Mr. Waldman said. “This just seemed to be a chance to change the news stories for a few hours and get it off his chest.”
On the other side of a sharply partisan lens that has divided Washington, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies in Congress felt differently. Representative Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania called the letter “very important” and urged his fellow Pennsylvanians to read it.
Perhaps everyone really should read the letter, because Jonathan Chait says they’ll see this:
If you worked in print media, you became accustomed to receiving long, unhinged letters from agitated members of the general public. Often these letters tied together facts, pseudo-facts, paranoid insinuations, dramatic though false legal interpretations, unconventional punctuation, and occasionally, threats. It is at this point unsurprising, though still quite unsettling, to read one of these letters from the hand of the president of the United States.
Trump’s letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is obviously written, or at least dictated, in large part or in whole by the president himself. Its most notable quality is its lack of any coherent structure. It does not build an argument or even group like-points together. It careens wildly from point to point.
On the other hand, Chait argues that in this letter Trump actually strengthens the case for impeachment:
First, he portrays impeachment as constitutionally illegitimate. By this, Trump doesn’t mean simply that his actions do not rise to an impeachable offense, or even that the accusations are completely meritless. He repeatedly denies that the House has any constitutional right to undertake impeachment at all.
“This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers, unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history,” he insists. “By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy… It is no more legitimate than the Executive Branch charging members of Congress with crimes for the lawful exercise of legislative power.”
Of course the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to determine what presidential acts constitute impeachable offenses. Trump seems to believe that he as president has the power to determine whether a president’s actions are impeachable. Trump argues that if Congress can impeach him, which is a clearly delineated power, then he can prosecute Congress for crimes of Trump’s choosing, a power that exists nowhere in the Constitution.
Trump says the Constitution is wrong and he is right. Congress has no right to impeach him. But the Constitution says that Congress does have the right to do that – the words are right there. His oath is to the Constitution. He says it’s wrong and kind of stupid. He’s in the wrong line of work at the moment.
But he does say this:
After three years of unfair and unwarranted investigations, 45 million dollars spent, 18 angry Democrat prosecutors, the entire force of the FBI, headed by leadership now proven to be totally incompetent and corrupt, you have found few people in high position could have endured or passed this test. You do not know, nor do you care, the great damage and hurt you have inflicted upon wonderful and loving members of my family. You conducted a fake investigation upon the democratically elected President of the United States, and you are doing it yet again.
You are the ones interfering in America’s elections. You are the ones subverting America’s Democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain.
Chait finds that damning:
Trump identifies first his family, and then the Republic, as the parties enduring this mental anguish, no doubt in an effort to feign stoicism. But the letter makes it perfectly clear that Trump himself is in agony, to the extent where his mental health is very much in question.
And that means he has now done more harm than good:
If a juror in Trump’s coming impeachment trial had no other evidence except this letter, it would provide ample grounds for impeachment. Trump openly denies the Congress’s constitutional prerogative, and makes plain his mental unfitness for the job.
Jennifer Rubin sees that too, and sees more:
It is difficult to capture how bizarre and frightening the letter is simply by counting the utter falsehoods (e.g., repeating the debunked accusation that Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin was fired for investigating Burisma; claiming Congress is obstructing justice; arguing he was afforded no rights in the process), or by quoting from the invective dripping from his pen.
What is most striking is the spectacle of the letter itself – a president so unhinged as to issue such an harangue; a White House entirely unable to stop him; a party so subservient to him that it would not trigger a search for a new nominee; a right-wing media bubble that will herald Trump for being Trump and excoriate Democrats for driving the president to this point; and a mainstream media not quite able to address a public temper-tantrum (resorting instead to euphemisms such as “scorching,” “searing,” etc.).
The letter and the response (or lack thereof) is the perfect encapsulation of the state of American politics – in which one major party has bound itself to the mast of a raging, dangerous narcissist while the other cannot uphold the norms and institutions on which our democracy depends.
That is, one side will casually destroy the system and the other side has no way to stop that – others hold the levers of public opinion and whatnot. It’s a stand-off of sorts, but there’s still an imbalance:
To say the process is “partisan”- or that the two sides are “unable to agree” – misleads average Americans who think there is some shared responsibility for the result of one party’s willingness to subvert the truth and the Constitution. Trump brought impeachment on himself and has become, like his Fox News information source, untethered to reality. Republicans are refusing to live up to their oaths. That is the reality; the solution comes in 2020.
And that, Rubin says, could be interesting:
I take some solace in noting that female voters – who disfavor Trump’s performance and would vote against him by nearly 30 percentage points according to some polls – recoil from such outbursts. Many are rightly concerned by the damage an unfit and deeply disturbed president might bring. Perhaps the experience of having abusive spouses or angry male bosses makes women particularly sensitive to fits of fury and evidence of irrationality.
If only male voters were as concerned, and as unwilling to see Trump as some sort of champion of the downtrodden white male in America, we could be assured of his defeat in 2020.
Maybe the president’s meltdown (and we suppose it will get worse with time) will help open their eyes.
Maybe it will, or maybe this is the Eve of Destruction. The pretentious and whiney old song may get some new airplay now. That would be ironic airplay of course. That really was a stupid song. But these are stupid times. The president is very angry. Sigh. So he is. Let him be.