As much as millions of Americans would like to move on, stop talking about -- even thinking about -- former President Donald Trump and the four years of relentless stress and outrage we endured during his presidency, that is simply not something that the country can do safely. That's because the threat to US democracy he unleashed has not passed, even though he was the loser of the 2020 election.
Trump's own words, in audio tapes played by CNN, show just how determined he is to pump noxious gases into the American psyche, poisoning the atmosphere to bring as many people as he can into the alternative reality he is trying to construct. Trump may or may not believe the nonsense he spouts, but he's making sure Republicans buy into his lie about what happened during the 2020 election, during the January 6 assault on the Capitol (an attempted coup d'etat, in my view) and during his presidency.
The audio comes from an interview by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonning and Phil Rucker for their book "I Alone Can Fix It." Listening live, CNN's Anderson Cooper said, "This is like listening to Nixon drunk rambling." Another comparison might be to a half-deranged comic book villain putting into play his malevolent designs.
Above all, Trump spews lies, lies upon lies, about everything he discusses. January 6? It was all "very friendly," he tells his interviewers. Demonstrators and police "were hugging and kissing." Police "were ushering people in," that's why the crowd went into the Capitol. Anyone who has seen the images of brutality, of beatings, shooting, mayhem, destruction, knows this as far from the truth as one can get.
Then there's the election, which Trump lost decisively, but insists was stolen, offering preposterous fabricated details. "We had Indians getting paid to vote!" There's much more.
We could dismiss Trump's fantasies as the rantings of an unstable man, except that a majority of Republicans apparently believe much of his concoctions, and GOP leaders are giving Trump aid and comfort. That is even though most of those leaders no doubt know that all of it, including the mountains of lies about election fraud, are in the words of Trump's own hyper-partisan Attorney General Bill Barr, "all bullsh*t."
Establishing the truth is vital, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right to bar two radical Trumpists from the select committee she's trying to establish to look into the January 6 events. Some think Pelosi's decision to reject two of five members chosen by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who subserviently bows before the failed president, was a political mistake that allowed the GOP to pull out of the committee and claim it's all a partisan exercise.
But they are wrong and she is right. After listening to the Trump tapes, there's no doubt that the committee's task -- getting at the truth -- is much too important to allow people like Representatives Jim Jordan and Jim Banks to obstruct the process. Does anyone really believe someone like the bellicose Jordan would do anything other than work to protect Trump?
Just before announcing his selections for the committee, McCarthy made a pilgrimage to the Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club the semi-retired Trump calls home these days. Shortly afterward, McCarthy named the Republicans he (and possibly Trump) wanted on the panel. The majority of those he chose had voted to deny American voters their choice of president, refusing to certify Biden's election when the vote finally came on January 6, after the violence had ended and some 140 Capitol Police officers lay injured. In other words, the men representing the GOP in the panel investigating the January 6 assault, voted in support of the attempted coup's goals.
Americans need to get to a clear, incontrovertible truth about January 6, not just so that the historical record will be accurate, but for a more urgent reason: distorting reality, creating a false narrative, is part of an assault against US democracy, and one that is still in progress.
Listening to Trump lie with such ease, a stream of falsehoods sliding from his lips like an endless, multicolored kerchief in a magician's act, one wonders if he really believes what he's saying; if he really lives in that alternative reality where he won the election (by a landslide, of course!), where anyone who doesn't think he won is a crook; where more than 86 judges rejected his campaign's claims of fraud only because they're cowards; where he was assured reelection before the pandemic, even though in fact he had some of the worst approval ratings of any modern president.
Or, does he know he's lying; is he putting on an act for the same reason he does everything, because he thinks it will benefit him?
We cannot know what's inside Trump's far-from-ordinary head. But somewhere in the interview, we get a hint. When asked why he encouraged Americans to believe lies about the pandemic, Trump starts rambling about the brilliance to be found in his genes, but then he returns to the question. "Are you talking about disinformation or are you talking about lies?" he asks, adding, "There is a more beautiful word called disinformation."
There, he gives away the secret. Disinformation, as every spy chief knows, as the Kremlin has made us all learn, is not just any lie. It is false information, deliberately disseminated, usually for tactical political purposes. It's all still unfolding. It's too soon to turn the page.
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