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THE OTHER SIDE: Wonderland 2.0—Insurrection Madness

Layman that I am, I might very well be alone in the analysis that follows, but I’m going to offer some examples of what I see as the intersection of psychopathy, self-absorption, and stupidity.

It was more than disconcerting to watch the coverage of the newly elected Republican members of the House squabble for days about who will lead them in their efforts to send us all back a half-century or so. It was especially jarring, even shameful, to see it continue on the insurrection anniversary of January 6 as the President was awarding medals to those who lost their lives or fought bravely to protect some of those very same Representatives. They’ve chosen to celebrate their ascension to power with a decision to remove the magnetometers that might protect the chamber from the insurrectionists of tomorrow. Announcing, as it were, that the time has come to pretend January 6 hadn’t happened at all.

Never mind those members who asked former President Trump for pardons for their role encouraging the war on democracy, hoping against hope that evidence of their collaboration might find its way into the trash folder at the Department of Justice, disappearing before someone decides to charge them with conspiracy.

If you’ve read my Insurrection 101, you’d be right to imagine that I believe there is much to be learned from studying and thinking about the work done by the House Select Committee to Investigate January 6, 2021.

Layman that I am, I might very well be alone in the analysis that follows, but I’m going to offer some examples of what I see as the intersection of psychopathy, self-absorption, and stupidity. I begin my efforts to fully appreciate Insurrection Madness with Wonderland, and Alice’s attempts to understand what is happening to her:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

As I turned from fiction to non-fiction, I quickly discovered that the Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate January 6, 2021 offers so many small jewels, extraordinary moments that reveal exactly what Trumphoria has done to us—all of us, here, in Wonderland 2.0.

Trumphoria has turned what once passed as normal political wrangling, even highly partisan politics, upside down and inside out until today’s politics is barely recognizable and no longer even mildly responsible. Witness a remarkable example of how far we have fallen in such a short time: the successful election of George Santos to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District. We are certainly no stranger to the occasional lies of the politician—hiding lovers, or their sexual proclivities, or their willingness to exchange votes for an all-expenses paid trip to the Caribbean. But Santos has set a record for deception that may well be far more difficult to exceed than the Major League Home Run Record. As the New York Times documents reveal, he has lied to the voters, now his constituents, and the public at large about pretty much everything he has ever done.

Santos is supposed to have graduated from Baruch College in New York, but there are no records of him attending. He is supposed to have once worked for CitiBank and Goldman, though no one there remembers him. The Times writes: “He lent his campaign more than $700,000 during the midterm election, has donated thousands of dollars to other candidates in the last two years and reported a $750,000 salary and over $1 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization. Yet the firm, which has no public website or LinkedIn page, is something of a mystery. On a campaign website, Mr. Santos once described Devolder as his ‘family’s firm’ that managed $80 million in assets … But Mr. Santos’s disclosures did not reveal any clients, an omission three election law experts said could be problematic if such clients exist. And while Mr. Santos has described a family fortune in real estate, he has not disclosed, nor could The Times find, records of his properties.”

To all that add probably the most egregious of fantasies: Santos claims to have rescued 2,500 abandoned cats and dogs, though the Times was unable to find IRS tax-exempt records for his supposed Friends of Pets United.

But, back to the Insurrection which Santos once claimed he attended. The House report begins late on election night 2020 when Donald Trump is readying his pre-planned announcement of victory—The Big Lie. Almost all his political advisors and campaign staff inform the President that such a claim is inaccurate. At best, as Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien tells him, it’s “far too early to be making any proclamation” and, at worst, considering that he’s already lost Arizona, it’s an outright lie. Our first gem: “According to testimony received by the Committee, the only advisor present who supported President Trump’s inclination to declare victory was Rudy Giuliani, who they were told was ‘definitely intoxicated’ that evening.”

Clearly, as events played out and Giuliani assumed an even more central role in disputing Biden’s clear victory, the Trump campaign had shifted to a strategy of deceit, conspiracy theories, and the politics of inebriation. Accompanied by the elevation of My Pillow Guy into the inner sanctum.

The Committee offers this sober evaluation: “Time and again President Trump was informed that his election fraud claims were not true. He chose to spread them anyway. He did so even after they were legally tested and rejected in dozens of lawsuits. Not even the electoral college’s certification of former Vice President Biden’s victory on December 14, 2020, stopped the President from lying. Throughout, the Big Lie remained central to President Trump’s efforts to block the peaceful transfer of power on January 6, 2021.”

I confess that until I read the report, I was unaware of the delicious coincidence that it was on Halloween that Steve Bannon first advanced his crackpot authoritarian, and ultimately lame parlor trick for Trump to announce victory despite the outcome. He told FOX News that President Trump needed to address the nation on election night to “provide the narrative engine for how we go forward.” Or in Bannon Speak: “What Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just gonna say he’s a winner.”

Isn’t this the perfect metaphor for just about everything Trumpian? It seems he’s been forever practicing the fanciest form of lying, prevarication. Years ago, Donald Trump told the world: “I’m proud of my net worth, I’ve done an amazing job … The total is $8,737,540,000 U.S. I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what, I don’t have to brag.” But thanks to the forced release of his 2015 to 2020 tax returns, we’ve learned that when it comes to doing business, Donald Trump has absolutely nothing to brag about. Almost all of his financial successes came from gifts and inheritances from father Fred. On his own, he has suffered great losses and paid little in taxes. So yes, say you’re rich, but that doesn’t mean you’re rich. Say the Russia probe is a witch hunt, but that doesn’t mean the Russians aren’t helping you. Say you won when you lost.

Roger Stone had his own version of the Bannon Plan: “I really do suspect it will still be up in the air. When that happens, the key thing to do is claim victory … Possession is nine-tenths of the law. No, we won. Fuck you. Sorry. Over. We won. You’re wrong. Fuck you.” I suspect nobody told Stone there was one major problem with the plan. They never had possession. And if it was still up in the air, it was only because of all their hot air.

The fake possession issue centered around The Red Mirage. The report explains: “The timing of how votes are counted created the potential for what is known as a ‘Red Mirage’—or an illusion of a Republican (Red) victory in the early stages of vote counting. President Trump would appear to be in the lead on election night, but this was not the whole picture. Many mail-in votes for former Vice President Biden would not be counted on election day. Therefore, the actual winner would likely not be known on election night.”

So, yes, for a moment it seemed as if they possessed a victory, but that, as we discovered, was fleeting. Yet, thanks to the Big Lie, countless millions of Americans, without any credible evidence, still believe the election was stolen—that Donald Trump won and Joe Biden lost. But here’s the truth: “As Benjamin Ginsberg, a longtime Republican elections lawyer, explained to the Select Committee, ‘the 2020 election was not close.’

“Previous campaigns had successfully challenged vote differentials in the hundreds—not thousands—of votes. Ginsberg explained, ‘you just don’t make up those sorts of numbers in recounts.’ Georgia performed a hand recount of all the ballots anyway, confirming within weeks of the election that Biden had won the State. Also, by January 6th, Arizona and New Mexico had conducted statutory post-election audits of voting machines or randomly-selected, representative samples of ballots at the State—or county—level that affirmed the accuracy of their election results.” (Emphasis added.)

The report turns to what I regard as a striking indicator of a particularly Trumpian form of madness: the phenomenon where arrogance and self-absorption so often overwhelms good sense.

“Trump repeatedly denounced mail-in voting on Twitter, during interviews, and even during the presidential debate. Here is a small sample of President Trump’s attempts to delegitimize mail-in balloting.

“On April 7, 2020, President Trump claimed:

Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases … These mailed ballots come in. The mailed ballots are corrupt, in my opinion. And they collect them, and they get people to go in and sign them. And then they—they’re forgeries in many cases. It’s a horrible thing

“The following day, April 8, President Trump tweeted:

Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends

“On May 24, President Trump tweeted:

The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and ‘force’ people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!

President Trump tweets on mail-in balltos on May 24, 2020.

I suspect someone in the Trump campaign must have been aware of the polling conducted by the Pew Center. In October 2020, Pew wrote:

“The vast majority of voters (90%) say they plan to vote in the coming month, while 7% say they have already cast their ballot for president. About four-in-ten registered voters (39%) say they plan to cast their vote by absentee or mail-in ballot this year (or already have done so), compared with 33% who say they plan to vote in person on Nov. 3, and 21% who have voted in person or plan to vote in person at an early voting location before Election Day.”

“Trump supporters are more than twice as likely as Biden supporters to say they plan to vote in person on Election Day (50% vs. 20%). By contrast, 51% of Biden supporters say they plan to vote by mail or absentee (or have already voted this way). A quarter of Trump supporters (25%) say they plan to vote by mail or absentee.” (Emphasis added.)

By constantly emphasizing what he regarded as the inherent inaccuracy of absentee ballots, coupled with the overwhelming opportunity for fraud, Trump turned a minor problem for Republicans in 2016 into a major problem in 2020. As FiveThirtyEight makes clear in its review of absentee voting in the 2020 election:

“We may have seen it coming, but now we know for sure: The coronavirus pandemic made the 2020 election look different from any other election in recent memory. Due to the massive expansion of mail voting, a staggering number of Americans cast their ballots before Election Day. And due to then-President Donald Trump’s false claims that mail voting would lead to election fraud, a huge partisan gap emerged between ballots cast by mail and ballots cast on Election Day. First, the share of voters casting mail ballots far exceeded that of any other recent national election, and the share of voters who reported going to a polling place on Election Day dropped to its lowest point in at least 30 years.

“According to preliminary findings from the 2020 Survey on the Performance of American Elections, a poll of 18,200 registered voters run by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III, 46 percent of 2020 voters voted by mail or absentee—up from 21 percent in 2016, which at the time was considered high. Only 28 percent of people reported voting on Election Day—less than half of the 60 percent who did so in 2016. In-person early voting also reached a modern high (26 percent), although the change from 2016 (when it was 19 percent) was less dramatic.” (Emphasis added.)

It’s not particularly surprising, given his dismal record in the fight against COVID and his continued dismissal of its on-going impact, that Donald Trump just couldn’t imagine that there would be Republicans who might want or need or prefer voting by mail. Completely unable to imagine an elderly or infirm Trump voter unable to make it to the polling place, he discouraged or insulted the voters who preferred voting by mail. What percentage of those potential Republican voters might have been offended by Trump’s inability to even imagine they existed, let alone his unwillingness to express some empathy?

FiveThirtyEight continues:

“We have data for only 15 of the 50 states, but it tells a consistent story: Biden won the absentee vote in 14 out of the 15 states (all but Texas), and Trump won the Election Day vote in 14 out of the 15 as well (all but Connecticut).

“Indeed, Trump won the in-person vote even in deep-blue states like Hawaii (by 71 percent to 27 percent). He even won the Election Day vote in Biden’s home state of Delaware, though it was extremely close there (49.25 percent for Trump versus 49.19 percent for Biden). Conversely, Biden won the absentee vote even in reliably red states like Arkansas (61 percent to 37 percent) and South Carolina (60 percent to 39 percent). If we had data for all 50 states, we would likely see Trump winning the Election Day vote in almost all of them and Biden winning the absentee vote in almost all of them.” (Emphasis added.)

Voting by mail increased from 21 percent in 2016 to 46 percent in 2020, while voting in person declined from 60 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2020. The numbers, unlike Donald Trump, don’t lie.

You can only imagine the position of the professionals, used to running rational political campaigns, suggesting time and again to Trump without success that his attack on mail-in ballots was bound to backfire.

The report offers examples:

“Bill Stepien sought an intercession. Along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Stepien attempted to convince the President that mail-in voting was ‘not a bad thing for his campaign.’ They argued that President Trump’s decision to discourage mail-in voting, while ‘urging [his] voters to vote only on election day leaves a lot to chance’ and would fail to take advantage of a superior grassroots operation that could encourage Trump voters to return their ballots. President Trump did not heed their warning. He continued to demonize mail-in voting.”

The fact that some of those professionals took to calling themselves “Team Normal” suggests that the madness was metastasizing.

The report continues:

“[On] November 7th, Giuliani held a press conference at the parking lot of Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He immediately began making outlandish claims, arguing that the Democrats had conspired to steal the election. ‘As you know from the very beginning, mail-in ballots were a source of some degree of skepticism, if not a lot of skepticism, as being innately prone to fraud,’ Giuliani said. ‘Those mail-in ballots could have been written the day before by the Democratic Party hacks that were all over the Convention Center.’ Giuliani offered no evidence to support his shocking and baseless allegation. Echoes of President Trump’s relentless campaign against mail-in balloting, and his decision to exploit the Red Mirage, were easy to hear.”

Polonius says of Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” Hamlet may or may not have been mad and with or without method, but Giuliani’s decision to disregard legal precedent and argue that the election was stolen without offering any compelling evidence was as idiotic as it was mad. As idiotic as mistaking Four Seasons Total Landscaping for the Four Seasons Hotel.

Any number of Shakespearian Fools would have cherished the chance to accompany Rudy as he joined their fraternity in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping—better known for commercial snow removal and pruning shrubs and small trees than hosting political press conferences.

The Report continues:

“Less than two weeks after the election, President Trump pushed ‘Team Normal’ aside because its members didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. In their place, Trump promoted Rudy Giuliani and his associates, men and women who spread baseless and extreme claims of election fraud. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, recruited several investigators and lawyers to assist him. Giuliani’s team included Jenna Ellis, Bernard Kerik, Boris Epshteyn, Katherine Friess, and Christina Bobb.

“President Trump discussed the Campaign’s legal strategy in the Oval Office with Giuliani, [Justin] Clark, and Matt Morgan, the Trump Campaign’s General Counsel. Prior to the election, Morgan was responsible for the Campaign’s litigation strategy. Morgan and his team filed lawsuits challenging the changes States made to voting practices during the coronavirus pandemic. Morgan also studied previous elections to determine the types of cases that were likely to succeed … Giuliani had other ideas and advocated to President Trump that he be put in charge of the Campaign’s legal operation so that he could pursue his preferred strategy. ‘Mr. Giuliani didn’t seem bound by those cases or by those precedents. He felt he could press forward on anything that he thought was wrong with the election and bring a strategy around that,’ Morgan explained. ‘Rudy was just chasing ghosts,’ Clark said.” (Emphasis added.)

And you can add this extraordinary understatement from a member of Team Normal about the efforts of Trump’s new legal team, as referenced in the report: “‘I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time,’ Stepien explained. ‘This wasn’t a fight that I was comfortable with,’ he added.”

There’s a tagline from the promotion of Jaws II: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water!” Yes, there was more Insurrection Madness to come. Trump told his faithful friend Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends: “‘We’ve proven it [fraud], but no judge has had the courage, including the Supreme Court—I am so disappointed in them,’ Trump said. ‘No judge, including in the Supreme Court of the United States, has had the courage to allow it to be heard.’”

The Report notes:

“In every State in which claims were brought, one or more judges specifically explained as part of their dismissal orders that they had evaluated the plaintiffs’ allegations or supposed proof of widespread election fraud or other irregularities, and found the claims to be entirely unconvincing.

“In Arizona, for example, the plaintiffs in Bowyer v. Ducey alleged that the election was tainted by the introduction of ‘hundreds of thousands of illegal, ineligible, duplicate or purely fictitious ballots.’ A Federal judge dismissed their suit, finding it ‘void of plausible allegations’ and ‘sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence.’ Likewise, in Ward v. Jackson, an Arizona State-court judge dismissed a lawsuit by the State GOP chair following a two-day trial, finding no evidence of misconduct, fraud, or illegal votes. This ruling was unanimously upheld by the State supreme court, where all seven justices were appointed by GOP governors.

“In Georgia, a State court dismissed Boland v. Raffensperger, which alleged that tens of thousands of illegal ballots were cast by out-of-State voters or with invalid signature matches. The judge found that ‘the Complaint’s factual allegations … rest on speculation rather than duly pled facts’ and ‘do not support a conclusion that sufficient illegal votes were cast to change or place in doubt the result of the election.’ The judge who issued this decision had been appointed by a Republican governor, as had seven of the eight justices of the State supreme court who upheld her ruling.”

The Trump Campaign lost 62 court cases. Graphic courtesy of the House Select Committee.

Judges across the nation struggled to find new and inventive ways to describe the incompetence of Team Abnormal:

“In Nevada, a State-court judge rejected a litany of claims of systematic election fraud in Law v. Whitmer, ruling that plaintiffs ‘did not prove under any standard of proof that illegal votes were cast and counted, or legal votes were not counted at all, due to voter fraud’ or ‘for any other improper or illegal reason.’ The ruling was unanimously upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court … In all, the judges who heard these post-election cases included 22 Federal judges appointed by Republican presidents.”

Still, the Mad King and his court jesters lied:

“President Trump and his lawyers were well-aware that courts were consistently rejecting his claims. During a December 18th meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump, Sidney Powell and others, White House Senior Advisor Eric Herschmann pointed out that President Trump’s lawyers had their opportunity to prove their case in court, and failed. Powell fired back that ‘the judges are corrupt.’ Herschmann responded: ‘Every one? Every single case that you’ve done in the country you guys lost, every one of them is corrupt, even the ones we appointed?’” (Emphasis added.)

As the Committee emphasizes:

“President Trump didn’t just prime his audience to be receptive to false narratives of election fraud—he inspired them to produce those narratives and then echoed those false claims back to them … This resulted in what Attorney General Barr has described as an ‘avalanche’ of false claims, as President Trump’s supporters attempted to justify his ‘Big Lie.’ The post-election allegations of fraud or other malfeasance were ‘completely bogus,’ ‘silly’ and ‘usually based on complete misinformation,’ Barr explained. Nonetheless, many of President Trump’s supporters wanted to believe them. The stolen election narrative has proven to be remarkably durable precisely because it is a matter of belief — not evidence, or reason.”

At what point does serial lying morph into a form of madness? “As Barr told the Select Committee, President Trump never showed any ‘indication of interest in what the actual facts were.’”

A brief investigation into the issue of pathological lying and how it is referred to and dealt with in the world of psychiatry reveals how complicated the issue is. Is pathological lying merely a symptom of other disorders like narcissistic personality disorder or does it deserve its own place as a separate diagnosis, for example, in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). I don’t know enough to know the answer but I do suspect it may well be relevant when it comes to deciding whether Donald Trump should be held responsible for his behavior in a court of law, not to mention the court of public opinion when he next runs for President.

I’ve always regarded the phantasmagorical dispute over Dominion voting machines as a leading indicator of the Trumpian descent into total madness. The Report puts it this way: “[T]he Select Committee presents two case studies demonstrating how President Trump and his surrogates lied in the face of overwhelming evidence. The first case study deals with Dominion Voting Systems. President Trump repeatedly claimed that Dominion’s software ‘switched votes’ and ‘rigged’ the election well after the leaders of campaign and Justice Department officials told him that these claims were baseless. The President’s smear of Dominion was central to his ‘Big Lie.’”

And so, “On November 8th, the day after networks called the election for Joe Biden, Sidney Powell claimed on Fox News that Dominion machines ‘were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist.’ On November 12th, Rudy Giuliani appeared on Fox News to claim that Dominion was connected to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and its software was created ‘in order to fix elections.”

That same day Donald Trump tweeted:

November 12, 2020, Donald Trump claims Dominion deleted 2.7 million of his votes.

The report explains:

“By that time, the Trump Campaign team had looked into allegations regarding Dominion and its software and concluded that the claims were false. An internal campaign memo, dated November 12, said that Dominion’s software ‘did not lead to improper vote counts’ and cited reports concluding that, among other things, Dominion machines ‘Did Not Affect The Final Vote Count.’ The memo also addressed various claims of foreign influence regarding Dominion. Jason Miller told the Select Committee that by November 12th he had told President Trump the results of the analysis of the Dominion claims by the campaign’s internal research team, specifically telling him ‘that the international allegations for Dominion were not valid.’ Emails and text messages show that this same analysis was shared with Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff.”

It’s remarkable how many times Donald Trump was offered the opportunity to return to the solid ground occupied by his Team Normal. His own “Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a joint statement of election security officials on November 12, reassuring voters that the election was ‘the most secure in American history.’ CISA emphasized: ‘There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.’”

Joint CISA Statement of November 12, 2020. Highlighting added.

The Committee reminds us that “this was another decision point for the President. He could choose to endorse the findings of his administration’s own cyber security experts, or he could continue to promote baseless fictions about Dominion. President Trump chose the lies.”

As we learned, there were victims of the Big Lie who were completely blameless:

“President Trump’s conspiracy-mongering endangered innocent public servants around the country, including in Fulton County. For example, during a December 10, 2020, appearance in Georgia, Giuliani falsely accused Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, two Black public servants shown in the Fulton County video, of ‘surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine.’ In fact, Moss had been given a ginger mint by her mother, Freeman.” (Emphasis added.)

Then, sadly, a clerk’s human error, understandable when one is involved in complicated activities under pressure, became the center of yet another manufactured controversy:

“During the early-morning hours of November 4th, Sheryl Guy, a clerk in Antrim County, Michigan, reported the unofficial results of the vote count. Guy’s online report was odd. It showed that former Vice President Biden had somehow won Antrim, Michigan, a county that is majority-Republican and President Trump was expected to easily win. Trump’s supporters quickly pointed to Biden’s improbable win as evidence that Dominion had tampered with the votes. That wasn’t true. Guy had made a mistake in updating the election counting software after a late addition of a local candidate to the ballot in some of the county’s precincts, which caused her unofficial counts to be off when she tallied the votes reported by the various precincts. Guy, a Republican, was informed of the odd result and began to investigate immediately. The result was corrected, and President Trump won Antrim just as was expected.’”

Unfortunately, many hard-working folks involved in the election were sacrificed to the need to stay true to the Big Lie. There were professionals and volunteers alike who became the focus of election conspiracies. If, as falsely alleged, there was tampering, and widespread fraud, well someone had to be at fault. And, sadly, because the need to promote the Big Lie reigned supreme, there were many innocent victims, ranging from Secretaries of State to vote counters. Trump ordered Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, to look into the actions of Sherry Guy and allegations of election irregularities in Michigan, including more changed votes by Dominion. Remember CISA Director Christopher Krebs:

“Wolf forwarded the allegations to the leadership of CISA, including CISA Director Christopher Krebs. Krebs provided Wolf with a press release from the Michigan Secretary of State that debunked the false claim about Antrim County and Dominion’s software in detail. Wolf shared an update about the information he received from Krebs with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. On November 17th, Krebs tweeted out a statement issued by the nation’s leading election scientists that dismissed claims that election systems had been manipulated as either ‘unsubstantiated’ or ‘technically incoherent.’”

Chris Krebs tweet of November 17, 2020 about election security.

In such a mad world, the best way to do one’s job was not to do it: “President Trump fired Krebs that same day. President Trump claimed the statement released by Krebs was ‘highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud.’ The President had no evidence for his claim.”

The cultish groupthink amongst believers in the Big Lie quickly spread, and violent texts and obscene phone messages spread to actual demonstrations and physical threats. It also posed a major problem for news commentators and opinion writers—making it close to impossible to say or write “it’s hard to believe but …” In fact, thanks to Insurrection Madness, anything and everything quickly became believable. Including the following.

On November 19, at a press conference at the Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters in Washington, DC, despite all the evidence, and just two days following Chris Krebs’ tweet:

“Powell asserted that there was ‘massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States.’ She pointed a finger at Dominion, claiming its software was ‘created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election,” and Giuliani echoed her claims.”

In her testimony before the Committee, Hope Hicks provided additional insight into how lies had fully merged with the cynical and devious self-absorption of the soon-to-be former President:

“Hope Hicks told the Select Committee how that press conference was received in the White House. The day after the press conference, President Trump spoke by phone with Sidney Powell from the Oval Office. During the call, Powell repeated the same claims of foreign interference in the election she had made at the press conference. While she was speaking, the President muted his speakerphone and laughed at Powell, telling the others in the room, ‘This does sound crazy, doesn’t it?’” (Emphasis added.)

Yes, not only does it sound crazy, but it is crazy.

Though he subsequently fired Powell from the campaign’s legal team, the lies continued:

“On November 29th, President Trump was interviewed by Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo. It was the President’s first interview since he lost his bid for reelection. He claimed the election was ‘rigged’ and rife with ‘theft’ and ‘a total fraud.’ He repeated various conspiracy theories, leading with the claim that Dominion’s voting machines had ‘glitches,’ which he alleged moved ‘thousands of votes from my account to Biden’s account.’ He claimed that there had been ‘big, massive dumps’ of votes—a reference to the Red Mirage. He rambled off various other, spurious allegations, including that dead people voted in significant numbers. None of it was true.

“On December 1st, Attorney General Barr met again with President Trump and told him that ‘the stuff his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit.’ Attorney General Barr specifically told President Trump that the claims about Dominion voting machines were ‘idiotic claims.’ President Trump was still not dissuaded from continuing the lie. The day after his meeting with the Attorney General, President Trump released a video in which he repeated several claims of election fraud, including a claim that ‘votes had been wrongly switched from Trump to Biden’ using Dominion voting machines.”

These lies were magnified by near-constant reporting on FOX News and other right-wing news outlets, threatening the ability of Dominion to survive. Dominion launched a 1.2 billion dollar defamation lawsuit against FOX News that claimed:

“Fox endorsed, repeated, and broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies about Dominion. These outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched fictions included Fox falsely claiming that: (1) Dominion committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 Presidential Election; (2) Dominion’s software and algorithms manipulated vote counts in the 2020 Presidential Election; (3) Dominion is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for the dictator Hugo Chávez; and (4) Dominion paid kickbacks to government officials who used its machines in the 2020 Presidential Election.

“Fox recklessly disregarded the truth. Indeed, Fox knew these statements about Dominion were lies. Specifically, Fox knew the vote tallies from Dominion machines could easily be confirmed by independent audits and hand recounts of paper ballots, as has been done repeatedly since the election. Fox also knew that these lies were being rebutted by an increasingly long list of bipartisan election officials, election security experts, judges, then-Attorney General Bill Barr, then-United States Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, Election Assistance Commissioner Ben Hovland, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Republican former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, to name a few—not to mention some within Fox itself …

“Yet even after Fox was put on specific written notice of the facts, it stuck to the inherently improbable and demonstrably false preconceived narrative and continued broadcasting the lies of facially unreliable sources—which were embraced by Fox’s own on-air personalities—because the lies were good for Fox’s business. Fox took a small flame and turned it into a forest fire …”

At a certain point, it seemed as if the lying had taken on a life of its own. It was as if Donald Trump could no longer even access the truth and the facts. He and his team just upped the ante. The Committee put it this way:

“President Trump’s fixation on Dominion’s voting machines and the baseless theory that the machines had manipulated votes led to a concerted effort to gain access to voting machines in States where President Trump was claiming election fraud. On the evening of December 18th, Powell, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) and Patrick Byrne met with the President at the White House. Over several hours, they argued that President Trump had the authority, under a 2018 executive order, to seize voting machines. Several administration officials joined the meeting and forcefully rejected this extreme proposal. Multiple lawyers in the White House, including Eric Herschmann, Derek Lyons, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone ‘pushed back strongly’ against the idea of seizing voting machines. Cipollone told the Select Committee it was a ‘horrible idea,’ which had ‘no legal basis,’ and he emphasized that he had ‘seen no evidence of massive fraud in the election.’ White House advisor Eric Herschmann similarly told the Select Committee that he ‘never saw any evidence whatsoever’ to sustain the allegations against Dominion.?” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien phoned into the December 18th meeting and was asked if he had seen ‘any evidence of election fraud in the voting machines or foreign interference in our voting machines.’ O’Brien responded that his team had ‘looked into that, and there’s no evidence of it.’”

I don’t think Donald Trump was aware that his need to remain faithful to the Big Lie made him appear ever more desperate and less sane. The now famous conversation with Georgia’s Secretary of State offers a perfect example of this dynamic. The Report continues:

“On January 2, 2021, President Trump had a lengthy phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The President repeatedly brought up Dominion’s voting machines, alleging that they were at the heart of a conspiracy against him. Raffensperger was incredulous. ‘I don’t believe that you’re really questioning the Dominion machines,’ Raffensperger said. ‘Because we did a hand re-tally, a 100 percent re-tally of all the ballots, and compared them to what the machines said and came up with virtually the same result. Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result.’ In other words, the story in Georgia was the same as the story in Antrim County, Michigan: Officials performed a hand recount to put to rest any allegations that Dominion’s machines had manipulated the vote. But once again, President Trump consciously disregarded these basic facts and persisted with his lies.

“During a January 4, 2021, speech in Dalton, Georgia, President Trump chose to ignore Secretary Raffensperger’s straightforward observations. The President rhetorically attacked Dominion once again, claiming that a ‘crime’ had been ‘committed in this state’ and it was ‘immeasurable.’ The President called for an ‘immediate forensic audit of an appropriate sampling of Dominion’s voting machines and related equipment.’ His allegations were both false and nonsensical. Georgia had already performed a statewide hand recount of all ballots.

“President Trump and his allies have never provided any evidence showing that Dominion’s voting software altered votes in the 2020 presidential election. In fact, some of the most vocal proponents of the Dominion claims harbored their own misgivings about the claims they were making in public. For example, Rudy Giuliani repeatedly claimed in public that Dominion voting machines stole the election, and that foreign countries had interfered in the election, but the evidence uncovered by the Select Committee reveals that he did not believe either of those things to be true. Giuliani testified that he did not believe that voting machines stole the election. He also acknowledged that he had seen no evidence that foreign countries had interfered in the election or manipulated votes. This testimony is consistent with his lead investigator Bernie Kerik’s acknowledgment that he had not come across proof that voting machines were used to switch, delete, or inject votes improperly. Christina Bobb, an attorney who worked with Giuliani, similarly could not point to any evidence of wrongdoing by Dominion. Even Sidney Powell, perhaps the most committed proponent of the Dominion falsehoods, was unable to provide the Select Committee with any evidence or expert report that demonstrated that the 2020 election outcome in any State had been altered through manipulation of voting machines.”

Unfortunately, the lies of Donald Trump and his accomplices, in and out of government and in the media, have destroyed many lives—the lives of those who surrendered to the Big Lie and who have fallen down the Trumpian rabbit hole, the lives of those who were forced to defend the Capitol against their crazed fellow Americans, and the lives of so many of us who have seen the prospects for compromise and reasonable government so severely diminished. It’s hard not to anticipate even more years of dysfunction.

We have watched with embarrassment as the madness has spread to almost the entire Republican delegation in the House of Representatives, who seem to believe that investigating Hunter Biden is more important to the American people than the growing gap between the rich and poor and the impossible-to-deny and ever more devastating effects of the climate crisis.

If ever you doubted that we now reside in Wonderland 2.0, let me leave you with a last glorious tidbit from the Select Committee:

“Even Sidney Powell, perhaps the most committed proponent of the Dominion falsehoods, was unable to provide the Select Committee with any evidence or expert report that demonstrated that the 2020 election outcome in any State had been altered through manipulation of voting machines. And Powell defended herself in a defamation suit brought by Dominion by claiming that ‘no reasonable person would conclude that her statements were truly statements of fact.’”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

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