The New Specifics

Things can be worked out in the abstract. Maybe the United States should have some sort of universal healthcare system. Every other developed country in the world has one of those. Why shouldn’t we? But get down to specifics and all hell breaks loose. How could we pay for such a thing? And who gets to make life and death decisions when the cost of treatment is absurdly expensive? And what about personal responsibility and personal freedom and all that? People should take of themselves. Big government is never the answer to anything, Ronald Reagan said so. Obamacare is stupid and maybe evil, and it works pretty well. A decade in and the specifics still trouble everyone.

And this time, now, everyone can agree that any angry mob storming the Capitol and trashing the place is a bad thing, and that Donald Trump might have tweeted a bit less and argued logically a bit more. But he didn’t do either. He’s a bit casual about details. He doesn’t get specific.

But that has to be done sooner or later. And yes, all hell broke loose. The specifics were not pretty. The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos covered the new details:

The House impeachment managers opened their prosecution of Donald J. Trump on Wednesday with a meticulous account of his campaign to overturn the election and goad supporters to join him, bringing its most violent spasms to life with never-before-seen security footage from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Filling the Senate chamber with the profane screams of the attackers, images of police officers being brutalized, and near-miss moments in which Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers came steps away from confronting a mob hunting them down, the prosecutors made an emotional case that Mr. Trump’s election lies had directly endangered the heart of American democracy.

That was what actually happened, but the House impeachment managers were more concerned with implications of these details:

Though the House managers used extensive video evidence of the Jan. 6 riot to punctuate their case, they spent just as much time placing the event in the context of Mr. Trump’s broader effort to falsely claim the election had been stolen from him, portraying him as a president increasingly desperate to invalidate the results.

“With his back against the wall, when all else has failed, he turns back to his supporters – who he’d already spent months telling that the election was stolen – and he amplified it further,” said Representative Joe Neguse, Democrat of Colorado.

After dozens of frivolous lawsuits failed, the managers said, Mr. Trump began pressuring officials in key battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to overturn his losses there. When that failed, he tried the Justice Department, then publicly attempted to shame Republican members of Congress into helping him. Finally, he insisted that Mr. Pence assume nonexistent powers to unilaterally overturn their loss on Jan. 6, when the vice president would oversee the counting of the electoral votes in Congress.

Those were the specifics, and then they tossed in a few more:

At the same time, the managers argued, the president was knowingly encouraging his followers to take matters into their own hands. When an armada of his supporters tried to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway in October, Mr. Trump cheered them on Twitter. He began adopting increasingly violent language, they noted, and did nothing to denounce armed mobs cropping up in his name in cities around the country. Instead, he repeatedly invited them to Washington on Jan. 6 to rally to “stop the steal” as Congress met to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

“When he saw firsthand the violence that his conduct was creating, he didn’t stop it,” Mr. Neguse said. “He didn’t condemn the violence. He incited it further and he got more specific. He didn’t just tell them to fight like hell. He told them how, where and when.”

All the previous long-forgotten smaller specifics led to that, and to those who argued that none of that meant all that much:

Many of the same Republicans who had been hostile to hearing the case did not dispute on Wednesday the horror of the attack, but they suggested it was the rioters, not the former president who retains heavy sway over their party, who are culpable.

“Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional, reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “But there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president satisfies the legal standard.”

That’s on its way, but this should have changed a few minds. Peter Baker shows why:

It was ghastly to watch, but that was the point. A rampaging crowd threatening death as it hunted the vice president and speaker of the House. Senators spinning around mid-step to run for their lives. Staff members barricading themselves in an office as attackers pounded on the door. Overwhelmed police officers retreating from rioters, desperately calling for help.

It seems safe to assume that never in American history has such gut-churning video footage been shown on the floor of the Senate, where matters of great weight have been debated but hardly brought home in such a visually powerful way. The images shown in former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday were all the more resonant because some of the jurors themselves were onscreen.

This was not just a bad day in Washington. This was a bad day as specific as it gets:

The display of never-before-seen video from Capitol security cameras, along with newly disclosed police dispatch audiotapes, brought the mob assault of Jan. 6 back to life as mere words from the House managers prosecuting Mr. Trump never could. The terror of that day felt palpably real all over again as senators sitting in judgment of the former president were forced to relive the first mass siege of the Capitol since British invaders ransacked the building in 1814.

The emotions inside and outside the Senate chamber were raw as the sun set on Wednesday evening after the House managers sought to use the montage of wrenching pictures to drive home their case against Mr. Trump. Some current and former senators struggled to regain their composure after watching, which was exactly the reaction that the managers were trying to generate.

“I’m angry, I’m disturbed, I’m sad,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska who has been critical of Mr. Trump’s actions, told reporters afterward. Even after living through the attack on the Capitol that day, she said, she found the video shown by the managers eye-opening. “I knew what it meant to be running down this hallway with my colleagues. I wasn’t fully aware of everything else that was happening in the building.”

But specifics can offend the other side of things and make them dig in deeper:

It was not clear that it would change the overall dynamics of a trial governed largely by partisan divisions, with most Republicans still backing Mr. Trump and likely to block the two-thirds vote required for conviction. Several of his Republican allies said afterward that they too found the video images distressing but did not consider them the former president’s fault.

“Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “But there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president’s satisfies the legal standard” of convicting him of high crimes and misdemeanors.

As former Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, wryly described his onetime Republican colleagues on Twitter: “Apparently shaken, but not stirred.”

But this was dire stuff:

The footage from Capitol security cameras showed Vice President Mike Pence, who had alienated Mr. Trump’s supporters by refusing to try to overturn the election as the president had demanded, being rushed with his family by Secret Service agents down a staircase to escape invaders calling for his death. Young aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi were shown scrambling into an office and barricading themselves inside just minutes before the mob arrived and tried to break down the door.

Other clips showed Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Police officer famous for facing the mob alone, encountering Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, and warning him about the danger, prompting the senator to abruptly spin around and run the other way to safety. Likewise, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, was seen being led away by his security detail only to suddenly realize they were heading toward the rioters, forcing them to turn and race in the opposite direction.

And then, to get really specific:

“They were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family,” Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands and one of the House impeachment managers, told the senators sitting as jurors. “They were just feet away from one of the doors to this chamber where many of you remained at that time.”

And then came this:

She and other Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, played police dispatch audio recordings and cited legal filings, social media postings and videos to make clear that the rioters posed a serious danger to Mr. Pence, Ms. Pelosi and other lawmakers as well as to police officers, some of whom sounded nearly panicked pleading for backup.

“Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd could be heard chanting. Outside the Capitol, where a gallows had been set up, others called out, “Bring out Pence!” One rioter taped a video saying, “He’s a total treasonous pig.”

They likewise were searching for Ms. Pelosi, and Ms. Plaskett pointed out that the intruder photographed sitting at a desk in her office was actually carrying a 950,000-volt stun gun walking stick. “Where are you, Nancy?” some of the rioters called out. “We’re looking for you!”

Over the police radio tape played for the senators, officers could be heard effectively narrating the escalating threat to the building – and to them.

“They’re throwing metal poles at us.”

“We need some reinforcements up here now.”

“We have been flanked and we’ve lost the line.”

This went on and on, but they were making their case:

The video footage was the culmination of a methodical presentation by the managers arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the insurrection began months before Jan. 6 with the propagation of what they called the “Big Lie” that the election would be stolen if he lost. The managers laid out the timeline of the president’s efforts to inflame supporters, setting the stage for the eventual outburst of violence at the Capitol.

The president, they added, cared not about the havoc he had unleashed but continued to push his efforts to block the Electoral College count even after the attack began. The video showing Mr. Pence being evacuated was time-stamped at 2:26 p.m. – just two minutes after Mr. Trump posted on Twitter attacking his own vice president for not trying to overturn the election: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Even at that point, the managers told the senators on Wednesday, Mr. Trump disregarded pleas from his aides and allies to intervene to explicitly call on the mob to stop the attack, issuing instead only a belated and mildly worded video telling supporters to be peaceful and return home even as he embraced them. “We love you,” he said at the time. “You’re very special.”

Is that specific enough for Ted Cruz? No? Things are obvious now:

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the lead House manager, said that Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the actions of supporters who were acting on his false assertions of widespread election fraud that did not exist.

“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Mr. Raskin said. “He told them to fight like hell,” he added, “and they brought us hell that day.”

Senate Republicans will say that doesn’t really matter now. Yes, the specifics were horrible, but that’s over, and Trump is gone. And they have a new three-word message-meme for outraged Democrats, and wary independents, and for anyone upset by death squads loose in the Capitol building hunting down Nancy Pelosi to beat her to death. Turn the page.

Well, that’s what people are doing:

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the phone lines and websites of local election officials across the country were jumping: Tens of thousands of Republicans were calling or logging on to switch their party affiliations.

In California, more than 33,000 registered Republicans left the party during the three weeks after the Washington riot. In Pennsylvania, more than 12,000 voters left the G.O.P. in the past month, and more than 10,000 Republicans changed their registration in Arizona.

An analysis of January voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily available data (19 states do not have registration by party). Voting experts said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election, as well as the potential start of a damaging period for G.O.P. registrations as voters recoil from the Capitol violence and its fallout.

None of that made any sense to them:

Many Republicans denounced the pro-Trump forces that rioted on Jan. 6, and 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Sizable numbers of Republicans now say they support key elements of President Biden’s stimulus package…

And now add this:

Dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former President Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine U.S. democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party, four people involved in the discussions told Reuters.

The early-stage discussions include former elected Republicans, former officials in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, ex-Republican ambassadors and Republican strategists, the people involved say.

More than 120 of them held a Zoom call last Friday to discuss the breakaway group, which would run on a platform of “principled conservatism,” including adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law – ideas those involved say have been trashed by Trump.

The Republican Party had always been a reasonable political option, generally. Specifically it was a nasty mess. Turn the page:

Names under consideration for a new party include the Integrity Party and the Center Right Party. If it is decided instead to form a faction, one name under discussion is the Center Right Republicans.

Members are aware that the U.S. political landscape is littered with the remains of previous failed attempts at national third parties.

“But there is a far greater hunger for a new political party out there than I have ever experienced in my lifetime,” one participant said.

That’s because someone got specific. Details matter, and now Trump is on trial. So, try him. It’s time to get specific.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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