Republicans Can No Longer Deny the Reality of Donald Trump
It can be hard to see what's in front of you, especially when you're struggling not to see it.
After watching last week's otherworldly events—a violent seizure of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump mobs who were incited by the president—I was left thinking of a quotation from "1984" and "Animal Farm" author George Orwell: "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." That should be the enduring slogan of the Trump era.
We've all seen what Donald Trump was about long before he entered politics—and yet large swaths of the Republican Party and public have struggled to reckon with the evidence that was right in front of their noses. You know—his habit of stiffing contractors, bankruptcies, litigiousness, myriad sexual-assault allegations, and abuse of eminent domain.
Even the president's sycophants have gone on the record in the past attesting to his demagoguery and misshapen character. "I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) before he decided to avert his eyes. I saw the same dramatic change unfold among many of my conservative allies.
I likened it to "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," where extraterrestrials showered Earth with plant pods that grew human replicas. The pod opens and suddenly your wife looks the same, but is now an alien. I used to call a friend who complained about Trump but was softening. "Has the pod opened yet?" I'd ask. He'd laugh, but eventually declared his support for Trump.
It was one thing to jump on the Trump train during the 2016 election before his political approach was entirely clear—and given that his opponent was unlikable Hillary Clinton. After four years of his incessant lies, cruelty, conspiracy-mongering, ad hominem attacks, and various authoritarian musings, one could only not see it by deliberate choice.
Yet the vast majority of Republicans remained devoted to him. Even before 2020 voting had started, Trump claimed voter fraud and refused to commit to accepting the results. When I said, "You know, he might not abide by the election," Trump supporters insisted that we shouldn't take his words literally—or that I was suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.
People see what they want to see—and many still cling to his baseless allegations (rejected by 59 courts, state election officials and legislatures, and now Congress) that he won a landslide victory. The following seems obvious, even if we must struggle to grasp it: Trump is trying to overturn a democratic election to keep himself in power and instigated mobs in the process.
Perhaps the edifice finally is crumbling. After the Capitol putsch, leading Senate Republicans—including Graham—had enough. They voted overwhelmingly to certify the election. Sadly, many Republicans were silent when Georgia's Republican secretary of state released that appalling tape of President Tony Soprano muscling him into finding 11,780 votes.
Even the oleaginous Vice President Mike Pence refused to singlehandedly reject the electors, as Trump had pestered him to do. Virtually everyone denounced the violence. Jesus accepted laborers in the vineyard at the first hour and the 11th hour—and paid them all the same. So who am I to criticize these politicians for waiting until the last possible moment to do the right thing?
"I think the president's conduct today was simply incredible," said Trump's longtime ally Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey. "As someone who has known him for 20 years, today breached something none of us should have to put up with by anybody who's given the honor of being an elected leader in this country."
Those are refreshing words. Yet too many people still are struggling to see what's been happening. Bitter-end Trump supporters claim that the president has no culpability in the violence that transpired at the Capitol—ignoring the long-held conservative maxim that ideas and words have consequences.
For days, the president had urged his supporters to head to Washington, D.C., on certification day. He spoke to the gathering—and riled them up with incendiary rhetoric. Even after the hordes invaded the Capitol, he released a video that repeated his unfounded election-theft claims and ended with these words: "We love you. You're very special. Go home." What an admonition.
After the attack, 138 Republican members of the House of Representatives still supported the president's challenge to the Pennsylvania electors. The newest Trumpian talking point is to blame left-wing agitators for the attack. "Evidence growing that fascist ANTIFA orchestrated Capitol attack with clever mob control tactics," tweeted U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama.
Brooks isn't the only lawmaker to make this outrageous claim. Never mind the video evidence of the pro-Trump crowds, with their Confederate insignias, MAGA hats, and Trump flags defiling the building, or of the president's urging the DC crowd to fight the election results with "strength." It can be hard to see what's in front of you—especially when you're struggling not to see it.
This column was first published in the Orange County Register.