In a new excerpt from I Alone Can Fix It, a chronicle of Donald Trump's final year as president, Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how the then-president's push to reject the results of the 2020 election began on Election Night. Rudy Giuliani, we learn, was the most honest—in a way—about the strategy: "Just say we won," he suggested with regard to any state that remained in dispute, and even some they'd already lost. So what if Fox News, which Trump reportedly regarded as an extension of his campaign, had already called Arizona for Biden. Just say you won. What actually happened in reality has never been important. All that matters is what you want to happen, and whether you can make it so.
What the excerpt doesn't get at—though it might feature in the larger book—is that all this was not some reaction to things going south on Election Night. Or rather, it did not emerge organically as some sort of Trumpian defense mechanism against bad news. The president made it blindingly obvious for months leading up to the election that he would yell and scream that the election was rigged if he lost. Four years earlier, he was completely transparent about the fact that he would only accept the results if he won. It was always going to be the same in 2020. And even when it became clear that, out in the realm of observable reality, he had lost, it was similarly clear that he would stop at nothing to overturn the result. He did not hide this at the time, even if he would dependably lie about it later.
On November 19, 2020, I suggested the president would need to be impeached on the basis he would never stop trying to steal the election. By that point, he was personally calling members of a Michigan elections board trying to get them to decertify results they'd already certified, an attempt to make a first domino fall. His campaign was in a Pennsylvania court asking for the results of that state's election to simply be thrown out. By the first days of the new year, he was on the phone with elections officials in Georgia, begging them to "find" him the exact number of votes he'd need to win that state. This development was so obviously coming—not just because of Trump's generalised corruption, but again, because he telegraphed this specifically—that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office knew to record the call. They knew that the President of the United States would come to them soon enough and demand they become party to his assault on the republic. They knew he would lie about what was said, and that they would need some corroborating evidence to fight back against the great power of his lies.
Trump was engaged in a sprawling behind-the-scenes campaign to steal the Electoral Votes he needed to reverse the result, while in public he was beginning to summon his supporters to Washington, D.C., for an event to coincide with Congress doing its constitutional duty in ratifying the election results on January 6. Maybe this was harder to grasp in the lead-up, as what arrived that day was simply inconceivable. But this was Trump's last-chance saloon with regard to his campaign to remain in power in contravention of the will of the American people. Having failed to win the election, and having failed to secure his preferred result through political pressure exerted on local officials, then federal ones, he turned to outright force. Fed a steady diet of lies about fraud and vague "irregularities" for weeks and weeks, his street goons attacked the Legislative Branch to try to keep him in control of the Executive Branch.
The effort failed, just about. But this was never going away, and it won't be going away now, and not just because these phony "audits" are springing up in states across the nation. The architecture of lies is so sprawling now, the alternate reality so exhaustively crafted with so much sunk-cost buy-in from the die-hards, that accountability is impossible. It's only a surprise that it took this long for Trump to emerge peddling an entirely fabricated account of what happened on January 6. He is beginning to add this to the MAGA folklore, in which the election was stolen and brave patriots who went to Washington in an attempt to right this grave moral wrong—peacefully, without guns, with hugs and kisses—were beaten back by shadowy figures at the gates. Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed while trying to breach the last line of defence between the rioters and members of Congress, is fast becoming a martyr. The audacity of this great fabrication was laid bare by some great editing work on Mehdi Hassan's show last night:
We all saw what happened. We saw the MAGA gear and heard the chants. We watched the people wearing that stuff and saying that stuff attack police officers and call for the Vice President of the United States to be lynched because he'd refused to do something for Trump that he did not even have the power to do. There is video evidence of all of this: the mob attacking officers who tried to secure doors to the Senate gallery. Body cam footage showcasing the outright brutality of the street violence. Much of it happened on national television.
But the potency of Trump's lie is not that anyone could realistically have seen all that and still buy what he's selling. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat said elsewhere on Hassan's show, the transparency of his corruption is an invitation to the faithful to bind themselves to him further, to enter willingly into the false world of his creation because, in theory, it might lead to a more palatable reality than the present. What Trump is selling is not an argument about what happened but a path back to power and dominance, towards control over a country that is changing rapidly in a world changing faster still. The election wasn't stolen, the nation was stolen. Anything is permitted if it means getting it back. Anything can be excused, minimized, distorted, outright fabricated. The larger goal is a noble one, even if it requires the birth of America's own stabbed-in-the-back myth to get there.
So Trump was always going to reappear lying about January 6, which was itself a spasm of authoritarian violence predicated on a whole sprawling structure of lies. He is now casting the rioters as very fine people. When that phrase first appeared after Charlottesville in 2017, there was fairly widespread agreement that the president had suggested good people march alongside neo-Nazis in the street. But as the months and years went by, a movement sprung up on the right to simply deny this happened. And the attempted insurrection Trump fomented, in front of the whole world, is headed in the same direction. This is the swirling maelstrom around a degenerate narcissist, where the bullshitter is constantly spinning tales of his own victimhood, and also his greatness. It is impossible to discern whether he has convinced himself along with his followers, or whether he is truly capable of believing anything at all. It seems just as likely that what he claims about the world isn't connected to reality in any recognisable epistemological sense. Everything exists as a means to his ends, as more and more of the actual world is dragged into the orbit of his ghastly being.
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