The Problem with Embracing Shameless Lying as Your Superpower

apocalypsis

In the material quoted in the immediately preceding post, Paul Waldman argues, in substance, that Republicans have forgotten that they have eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That they have become prelapsarian men. That they believe that shamelessness is their superpower.

And, indeed, that is exactly what they seem to believe.

Let me tell you what I believe. But, first, to be precise, let me say what I mean by “believe.” I can be as sentimental as the next guy, but I speak here not of sentimental beliefs about a wonderful world—

Rather, I speak of the world as I actually understand it to be. And it’s generally not wonderful, at least for a lot of people a lot of the time.

That said, in the world as it actually exists—seen with brutal, cynical honesty—there remains a fundamental problem with incessant, shameless lying.

The problem is that if you are a shameless liar, there will come a time when people stop believing you.

And if no one believes you, that is a problem.

Their Superpower

superpower

Paul Waldman writes,

Let us be clear: It’s not as though Republicans were hesitant to lie before Trump came along. Tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves, Saddam Hussein is going to attack us with his weapons of mass destruction, we’ll protect Medicare, voter fraud is rampant, etc.

But they put some effort into their lies, building them off pieces of reality and providing ballast for them with (frequently bogus) supporting evidence. Though they were willing to deceive the public, they hadn’t completely given up on the idea that it’s better to pay lip service to honesty, to retain a reputation as a reasonable participant in public debate even when you’re not being reasonable. They still had some glimmer of shame.

But Trump taught them that shamelessness can be a kind of superpower. If you don’t care whether journalists (let alone your political opponents) point out your lies, then you have been liberated.

And if you stop caring what anyone except your most committed supporters believes, then not only can you ignore the truth, in Republicans’ case, you have to.

When Republicans say the I.G. report has proven their conspiracy theories right or that Trump only pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden because he is deeply committed to fighting corruption, they know they’re lying. But they also know they have to lie, because it’s what their conservative constituents demand.

Every Trump lie comes with its own warning to Republicans: Back this up, or else. They know his lie will quickly be echoed by conservative news outlets. If you’re a Republican member of Congress, you turn on Fox every day and say, “This is what my constituents are hearing.” You know that if you contradict the Trump/Fox narrative, you’ll be attacked as a traitor and your political survival will be at risk.

Even if Trump loses reelection, that media system and the voters Republican officeholders represent will remain. The patterns of behavior that have been built up over the years will be difficult to undo, as they keep insisting every Republican defeat is a victory and everything a Democratic president does is a horrific crime. They will keep lying and keep insisting that to question their lies is to betray their cause.

They will be Trumpists without Trump, knowing that their audience and constituents expect nothing less. And their poison will continue to infect our democracy.

Have a nice day, everyone.

If They Won’t Admit the Proven Facts, Then They’re Admitting the Proven Facts are Really, Really, Really Terrible

Engine Facts

For a long time, Bill Clinton lied about sex. For a long time, prominent Democrats faced the camera and solemnly declared that they believed Clinton’s lies. But, eventually, Clinton and his supporters reached a point where they were forced to admit the truth. There ensued a national debate about whether perjury about sex should or should not be considered impeachable. It was a matter of judgment then, and, IMHO, it’s a matter of judgment today. But, after as good deal of toing and froing, the majority of Americans reached a consensus. And that consensus answer was no, committing perjury about sex should not be impeachable.

At this point in l’affaire ukrainienne, Republicans aren’t admitting the proven facts. And they may never move on—instead, putting their faith in gaslighting, bluster, and distraction.

It is time for Democrats to begin to argue that, if they can’t admit the facts, then they are plaining admitting that the facts show impeachable conduct. It’s time to argue that Republicans are waiving the bad-but-not-impeachable defense.

A Little Poetry

In the meantime, please join me in savoring Jonathan Chait’s poetic dissection of poor Stephen Castor, Esquire:

The House Republican impeachment defense of President Trump has been an experiment in pointillistic surrealism, in which disconnected pieces of information — some true, some false — are slushed together into a dreamlike haze in which nothing is certain. The most emblematic moment in this defense came during Monday’s impeachment hearings when Steve Castor, the Republican lead counsel, answered a series of simple, obvious questions about President Trump’s motives to discredit Joe Biden.

Or at least the questions were expected to be simple and obvious. In Castor’s hands, they were rendered obtuse and enigmatic.

“Would you agree that Joe Biden was a leading contender to face President Trump in 2020?,” asked the Democratic lawyer. Castor shook his head, “I wouldn’t agree with that.” …

Castor refused even to concede that Trump had asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. For the record, here is the portion of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump requested an investigation of the Bidens:

“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

The Democratic lawyer displayed this passage and asked Castor, “President Trump was asking Ukrainian president Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials ‘look into’ the Bidens, correct?”

“I don’t think the record supports that … I think it’s ambiguous,” Castor insisted.

Words can mean anything. Maybe Biden isn’t actually running for president at all.

A Little Analysis

I find it demeaning and offputting to spend my time dissecting nonsense in great detail. Fortunately, Kim Wehle, a law professor and former prosecutor has done it for us. If this sort of thing appeals to you, please check out The Trump Defenders Make Their (Weak) Case: They still can’t explain why the pr4sident withheld aid from Ukraine.

Walks Like a Duck, Talks Like a Duck

Apparently, after I tuned out yesterday, things did not go so well for the Republicans’ counsel. In The GOP: If it looks, swims and quacks like a duck, it’s an avocado, Dana Milbank writes,

“Would you agree,” Democratic counsel Berke asked, “that Joe Biden was a leading Democratic contender to face President Trump in 2020?”

“I wouldn’t agree with that,” replied GOP lawyer Steve Castor with a dismissive shake of the head.

“President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials look into Joe Biden?” Berke asked.

“I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor replied. (In the White House rough transcript of the call, Trump literally asks Volodymyr Zelensky to “look into” Biden.)

Castor further disputed that Ukraine’s announcement of a corruption investigation into Biden would have hurt him politically and that Trump hadn’t cooperated with the impeachment inquiry. Asked why he had mischaracterized witness testimony (he left out bits calling Trump’s call “inappropriate” and “political”), Castor replied: “We didn’t misquote her.”

This Morning’s House Judiciary Committee Hearing

game's afood

I turned it off when the 41 committee members—or however many there are—began their “five minute rounds.” Because how much fun can one human being stand? Here are just a few observations on what I did see.

Stephen Castor’s Rotten First Speech

Stephen Castor, Esquire, the Republicans’ lawyer did not, in my view, help his case one whit by an opening statement ignoring the issues raised by the Democrats, focusing instead on bias and process. If I shot Cock Robin on Fifth Avenue, I might argue that the prosecutor is biased against me, and that might even be true, but I still shot Cock Robin on Fifth Avenue.

Stephen Castor’s Workmanlike Second Speech

But when it came time for the respective counsel’s “testimony,” later on in the morning, another Republican lawyer showed up. Oddly, he was also named Stephen Castor, Esquire. The second attorney Castor’s job was to muddy the waters, factually. I have neither the time nor the inclination to express a view on every single point. Overall, though, my impression is that the second Stephen Castor, Esquire, did about as good a job for his side as could be done.

Doesn’t mean that he succeeded. Not by any means. But he did give the appearance of trying to meet the case against his client, not just yelling like a basshee.

Hence the picture I chose for the top of this post: the issues are joined. The Game is Afoot.

The Biggest Questions

IMHO, the most important factual questions remain: Why did Trump restore the aid? and Why did Trump restore the aid, when he did—which was right after he learned of the whistleblower?

Stephen Castor the Second got to this point rather late in his presentation, and I didn’t catch all the details. But I believe he was trying to argue that there was some kind of legitimate interagency review going on in early September, and that review was just about to lead to the restoration of the aid—when, as a matter of chance, happenstance, and random bad luck (for the Orange Man), news of the whistleblower came out.

True or False?

Now, this claim by Stephen Castor the Second is either true or it is false. If it is true, then there should be lots of documents backing it up. As far as I know, no such documents have been disclosed.

So, where’s the evidence for the Republicans’ alternative narrative?

Where’s the Whistleblower?

Stephen Castor the Second, being an actual lawyer rather than a random spaghetti thrower, said almost nothing about the whistleblower—the one Shouty Shirt and the rest of the sorry crew had ranted about. And why, pray tell, might Stephen Castor the Second have elected not to emphasize the whistleblower? Oh, what a mystery. Oh, what a conundrum.

Or, maybe not. Stephen Castor the Second did not want to draw attention to the whistleblower, because drawing attention to the whistleblower would only detract from his alternative narrative about why and when the Ukrainian aid was restored.

The Obstruction Question

My last observation relates to Castor’s effort to refute the obstruction charge. Think of it this way. Let’s say I’m a four-year-old, playing marbles with several other four-year-olds. One of them, Doofus Donald by name, gets mad with the rest of us for no good reason. So Doofus Donald says, “I’m taking my marbles and going home,” when he then proceeds to do.

I take it that the game’s premature end is our fault, because the rest of us didn’t chase after Doofus Donald and beg him, pretty please with sugar on top, to come back and bring his marbles.

No, Stephen Castor the First, and no, Stephen Castor the Second, that dog won’t hunt.