As I try to cover the news tonight, I am struck by how completely the Republican Party, which began in the 1850s as a noble endeavor to keep the United States government intact and to rebuild it to work for ordinary people, has devolved into a group of chaos agents feeding voters a fantasy world.
The big news today was the hearing in Washington, D.C., where Department of Justice prosecutors argued for a protective order to stop former president Trump from intimidating witnesses and tainting the jury pool in the case against him for trying to stop the counting of electoral votes that would decide the 2020 presidential election.
Trump appears to have given up on winning the cases against him on the legal merits and is instead trying to win by whipping up a political base to reelect him, or even to fight for him. He has filled his Truth Social account with unhinged rants attacking the justice system and the president, and on Sunday his lawyer, John Lauro, echoed Trump as he made a tour of the Sunday talk shows, misleadingly suggesting that Trump had been indicted for free speech. In fact, the indictment says up front that even Trump's lies are protected by the First Amendment, but what isn't protected is a conspiracy that stops an official proceeding and deprives the rest of us of our right to vote and to have our votes counted.
A grand jury indicted Trump on August 1; when he was arraigned on August 3, the magistrate judge warned him that it is a crime to "influence a juror or try to threaten or bribe a witness or retaliate against anyone" connected to the case. Trump said he understood.
The next day, he posted on Truth Social: "IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I'M COMING AFTER YOU!"
Justice Department lawyers promptly sought a protective order to limit what information Trump and his lawyers can release. Trump has a longstanding pattern of releasing misleading information to bolster his position among his base, and lawyers are concerned that he will continue to intimidate witnesses and try to taint the jury pool in hopes of getting the trial venue moved.
Days later, Trump told an audience in New Hampshire that he would not stop talking about the case, and called Special Counsel Jack Smith a "thug" and "deranged." He has continued to post such messages on social media.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan reinforced that Trump's focus on politics had no relevance in her court of law. Justice reporter for NBC News Ryan Reilly noted: "The word of the Trump hearing today: yield. Came up six times, as in: 'the fact that he's running a political campaign currently has to yield to the orderly administration of justice.'"
Chutkan agreed to the protective order but agreed with Trump's team that it would not include any material already in the public domain. She also prohibited Trump from reviewing materials with "any device capable of photocopying, recording, or otherwise replicating the Sensitive Materials, including a smart cellular device."
Finally, she warned Trump's lawyers: "I caution you and your client to take special care in your public statements in this case…. I will take whatever measures are necessary to protect the integrity of these proceedings." If Trump repeats "inflammatory" statements, she said, she will have to speed up his trial to protect witnesses and keep the jury pool untainted.
Just what that might mean was illustrated today when a judge revoked the bail of former FTX cryptocurrency chief executive officer Sam Bankman-Fried for witness tampering and sent him to jail. Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried was leaking the private diary entries of his former girlfriend to the New York Times to discredit her testimony against him.
In Ohio, where voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected the attempt of the Republicans in the legislature to stop a November vote on an amendment to the state constitution protecting abortion rights, Republicans tried to stop the inclusion of that amendment by challenging its form. Today the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously rejected that lawsuit. The proposed amendment will be on the ballot in November.
After demanding that David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in charge of investigating and charging Hunter Biden, be named a special counsel and then charging that Weiss had asked for and been denied that status—both he and Attorney General Merrick Garland denied that allegation—Republicans are now angry that Garland today gave Weiss that status.
Weiss requested that status for the first time earlier this week, and Garland granted it, although both Weiss and Garland had previously said Weiss had all the authority that status carries. Now House Republicans say appointing Weiss a special counsel is an attempt to obstruct Congress from investigating the Bidens. For all that Republicans are in front of the cameras every day insisting President Biden is corrupt, there is no evidence that President Biden has been party to any wrongdoing.
One of the things such behavior accomplishes is to distract from the party's own troubles, including the inability of House Republicans to agree to measures to fund the government after September. Far-right extremists are still angry at the spending levels to which House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) agreed in a deal to raise the debt ceiling last June, and are threatening to refuse to agree to any funding measures until they get cuts that the Senate will never accept.
The House left for its August break after passing only one of the twelve bills it needs to pass, and when it gets back, it will have only twelve work days before the September 30 deadline. This chaos takes a toll: when the Fitch rating system downgraded the U.S. long-term rating last week, the first reason it cited was "a steady deterioration in standards of governance." It explained: "The repeated debt-limit political standoffs and last-minute resolutions have eroded confidence in fiscal management."
Another thing this chaos does is convince individuals that the entire government is corrupt. On Wednesday, as Biden was to visit Utah, FBI agents shot and killed an armed man there who made threats against him, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other officials who have been associated with Trump's legal troubles: Attorney General Garland, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, and New York attorney general Letitia James. Craig Deleeuw Robertson described himself as a "MAGA Trumper."
It seems we are reaping the fruits of the political system planted in 1968, when the staff of Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon reworked American politics to package their leader for the election. "Voters are basically lazy," one of Nixon's media advisors wrote. "Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we…seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable."
The confusion also takes up so much oxygen it's hard for the Democrats, who are actually trying to govern in the usual ways, to get any attention. Today was the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, officially known as the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022. The law improves access to healthcare and funding for veterans who were exposed to burn pits, the military's waste disposal method for everything from tires to chemicals and jet fuel from the 1990s into the new century.
According to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the PACT Act has already enabled more than 4 million veterans to be screened for toxic exposure, more than 744,000 PACT Act claims have been filed, and hundreds of thousands of veterans have been approved for expanded benefits.
Biden spoke in Utah about the government's protections for veterans and why they're important. In addition to the PACT Act, he talked about his recent executive order moving the authority for addressing claims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and murder outside the chain of command to a specialized independent military unit—a move long championed by survivors and members of Congress.
Today the White House released a detailed explanation of "Bidenomics" along with resources explaining why the administration has focused on certain areas for public investment and how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act have supported that investment. That collection explains why the administration is overturning forty years of political economy to return to the system on which the U.S. relied from 1933 to 1981, and yet it got far less traction than the fight over the protective order designed to keep Trump from attacking witnesses.
Joe McGinnis, The Selling of the President, 1968 (London: Andre Deutsch, 1970), pp. 36, 41–45.
Q. What is the difference between a law-abiding gun owner and a criminal?
A. The .2 of a second that it takes to pull a trigger.