Conversations with Charlie (11/18/2021)

Conversation 12:

Charlie’s Thursday’s podcast had him talking with Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and member of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee (Nov. 18, 2021).

A major point of discussion later in the conversation covered the mistakes that had been made with the Mueller Report and Russia investigation, but the bulk of the conversation centered on Schiff’s new book Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.

The conversation opens with Schiff’s emotional closing argument from Trump’s first impeachment trial.

This sets the stage for Charlie’s feeling that that speech was a warning that to let Trump escape responsibility was an invitation for Trump to do something like he had done or worse again. He did just that, hence his second impeachment. Escaping responsibility emboldens Trump.

Charlie asks Adam if he has regrets for the ways the Democrats handled the investigation and impeachment of Trump because every time they failed Trump took it as permission to keep going and do more he shouldn’t rather than be chastened.

Adam says he does not because what let Trump escape consequences was the fact that the Republicans let him off the hook.

Adam is quick to admit that he is obviously not objective on the matter. The reality was that since nothing Trump did was going to ever cause the Republican senators (in particular) come to hold him to account, to impeach him, there were serious constraints on what Democrats could ever really accomplish.

The real problem was that there was a growing problem, a ballooning issue that developed from each attempt to hold Trump accountable making him feel more powerful and more willing to see just how far he could go or just how much he could get away with.

From the Mueller Report on Russia, which Schiff noted that AG Bill Barr really hamstringed in its delivery to the public as to mislead its conclusions to the public, to Ukraine and the first impeachment to the January 6 insurrection, each time Trump got away with it.

Each escape made Trump more willing, embolden to do whatever he wanted and act as if he was above the law. In a more layman terms, this is what happens with a spoiled child who is not punished and simply gets away with more and more. The difference of course is that the child in question here is specifically a 70 something-year-old pampered brat from Queens.

Charlie and Adam turn to talking about the book, in particular how Adam has come to feel, based largely on the situation with Trump mainly, that many of his colleagues in the Republican party continue to roll over and surrender of their principles and beliefs in the service of one man.

Even when presented with clear evidence and knowing what Trump was guilty of doing, they let him walk away with no real consequences.

This of course begs the question as Charlie puts it to Adam, from his view: What happened to the Republican party? What specifically is his view on this from being in Congress and serving with many of them.

Adam says that those questions, particularly the first one, is what inspired him to write his book because he wanted to know, to explore and understand what would make these people, the Republicans in Congress, turn their backs on their own values, their own beliefs, to pay homage and give service to demagogue.

How did this happen?

The answer, according to Adam, is that it happens one day at a time and one concession at a time. It does not happen all at once and that is why many don’t see it happening until its happened. It’s like that cautionary story of the frog boiling in a pot, never really realizing the danger as the water slowly cooks them. In this case, it cooks their integrity.

It starts out with small concessions that grow over time, you swallow a small lie and then you swallow bigger lies, each time you let it go someone like Trump will come back and ask you accept bigger compromises and bigger lies. Inch by inch each concession and lie peels a part of one’s integrity and principles with it. 

Adam laments that he has witnessed people he had a lot of admiration for on the Republican side of the isle give what they believed and stood for away in the name of Trump.

“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.”

Robert Carroll

For Adam, power is telling because it reveals those who are corruptible. 

Power reveals who someone is, not too different from what Brian Klaas talked about on Tuesday’s podcast.

To illustrate the point, Adam contrasts two members of Congress he works with who are both Republicans. On the one hand there is Rep. Liz Cheney who Adam says has great admiration for because she stood by her principles and refused to give into the “big lie”. She lost her leadership position in the GOP caucus as a result and continues to be derided. On the other hand there is the woman who replaced her in GOP leadership, Rep. Elise Stefanik. Here is someone who saw the opportunity for power and raised her hand to say “I’ll do it. I’ll uphold the ‘big lie.’ Put me in.” 

This is a reveal of who both these women are deep down. Cheney revealed that deep down, for whatever you don’t like about her or disagree with her, that she is genuine in her beliefs and principles and is willing to stick by them. Stefanik is revealed to be a political opportunist who will do whatever she needs to do to get ahead, to get power.

It is very telling how this conversation take up and gives some practical examples to what Brian Klaas talked to Charlie about earlier in the week. There are those who seek power as a means to serve and be dedicated to those they serve while there are also those who simply seek power for the sake of the power itself and attention it garners.

Another point brought up is Adam’s relationship with his colleague on the House Intelligence Committee, its former chairman and now ranking Republican, Devin Nunes. Nunes, in the Trump years, became an incredibly partisan and controversial figure. However, Adam states that he used to have a good working relationship with Nunes… then Trump came to power.

Adam sees it as a classic case of someone who just slowly turns and reveals himself to be something you didn’t think they were. He was lured in by power. He was once someone who was critical of the crazy wing of the GOP, calling Tea Party members “lemmings in suicide vests” but when Trump came on the scene he drifted into that circle.

His close relationship with Trump compromised Nunes. He chose his relationship with Trump, according to Adam, with doing his job as head and member of the House Intelligence Committee. His poor have isolated Nunes and caused him only to have the option left of aligning himself with MAGAworld. It is the only venue left to him where he might find belonging, there is not a left otherwise. That is the consequence of his choices.

The conversation shifts to the particular grotesqueness for those in Congress and GOP who are almost sycophantly willing to accommodate the very worst of Trump and MAGAworld.

Men like former speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Mark Meadows, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is motivated by a belief that truth is for suckers, but each has their own motivations for why they accommodated Trump.

1. Ryan’s greatest flaw was fatalistically believing he could guide Trump. He accommodated Trump like other GOP leaders who bargained they could control Trump when it ended up him controlling them.

2. Jordan is motivated by his perception that he sees everything through a sporting event lens. It’s his team versus your team and that’s the way he conducts himself. Doesn’t matter how you win, cheat, who cares, just win. 

3. Meadows, who became Trump’s last acting Chief of Staff is motivated by the seduction of power. Being close to the center of power and being Trump’s right-hand man is his goal. 

The common denominator is that when exposed to pure power it strips away the veneer of these people to reveal what was really underneath them all along. To reveal who they are deep down.

Adam does note that with the book, he wanted to make sure that his time wasn’t simply spent focusing on those people who have revealed themselves to be “villains.” He believed that there are heroes who have also revealed themselves during these times as well. 

Adam names the likes of former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, former Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, and former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) under Trump Dan Coates. These are people who stood up for their principles. Their stories are important for what they were NOT willing to concede on and the lies they would not accept. 

What Adam finds particularly disturbing, as it pertains to Jan. 6, having been there that day and now serving on the House Select Committee investigating, was that it was less the people outside who were trying to break in who he thinks are threatening than those on the inside with him dressed in suits and ties.

Adam recounts on Jan. 6 being approached on the floor by some Republican colleagues urging him to leave and find safety. They were afraid for his safety if seen by those breaking in and Adam says he was initially quite touched by this concern. Then another thought crossed his mind: none of them, including him would have to be in fear if you and others in your party hadn’t been spreading lies about the 2020 election they were there to certify. Were they so naïve to think there wouldn’t be consequences?

Those on the outside trying to break in mostly believed “The Big Lie” that the election had been stolen, but the vast majority on the inside knew it was a lie and had simply exploited it for their own gain politically. Many of these same Congress men and women continue to push “The Big Lie” even after what happened on Jan. 6.

The consequences of “The Big Lie” continue to echo across the country, stoked by political opportunists upon those who’s partisanship shuts them off from reasoning. The moves now are aimed at attacking local election officials, state officials, and others to try and make sure next time they will have the ability to override the will of the people. That is real danger facing us now.

Of course, as Charlie asks Adam:

How many of your Republican colleagues truly believe “The Big Lie”?

Answer: almost none of them believe “The Big Lie” but instead they are just going along with it.

There are perhaps some of the more mentally unwell members like Rep. Gosar, Boebert, and Taylor Greene who may actually believe it, but most of it is just performative assholery that is really hurting our country.

Case in point: Rep. Steve Scalise.

He was on Chris Wallace‘s Fox News Sunday show and, though repeatedly asked by Wallace whether President Joe Biden was the legitimate president, refused to denounce “The Big Lie” and say Biden was the legitimate president.

Adam still can’t believe this because he refuses to believe that when Steve Scalise first started out to run for Congress (came to office in 2008) that he told himself: “I’m doing this because one day I will get to perpetuate a lie that aims to undermine our democracy.” Of course he didn’t think that or believe that. He is doing this now because it is performative and serves his political party and ends, just like some many other Republicans. 

The majority of the Republican members of Congress appear willingly to refuse to recognize the truth and are failing to uphold their oaths in the name of political opportunity and party loyalty.

What is worse, they are trying to spread and persuade other people to actively mistrust our elections, at least if it doesn’t favor them. 

If people fail to trust the integrity of elections, what is the alternative? This is where it comes back to the promotion of violence as the alternative.

Enter Rep. Paul Gosar. What he is doing cannot be ignored because ignoring it won’t make it go away, in fact, it serves as a tacit endorsement that this behavior is normal. It is a truly dangerous slippery slope. 

Doubt it? 

After he was censured, Paul Gosar went back to his office and retweeted his violent video AGAIN.

Adam feels that the ENTIRE “Big Lie” is an invitation to violence.

There is an astonishingly high and growing number of people in the Republican party who are receptive to the view that violence as an acceptable option if they are not in power or winning an election.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Republican party was able to cast out former Rep. Steve King for his white nationalist views…that was 2019, just TWO years ago. Look at how the situation as devolved since. Now, rather than ostracizing Paul Gosar as they did Steve King, Republican politicians are rallying around him. Amazing how quick and powerful negative partisanship can work its influence.

From my point of view, what is happening here is the promotion and acceptance of individuals who should be treated as anti-models, people whose behavior should be seen as unacceptable and punished are now becoming models others seek to emulate and copy. The central and most recent master anti-model to model transformation is the former president Donald Trump.

Trump’s influence is a poison in the Republican party that is spreading and rendering the party as unhealthy as Adam sees it. The party itself is degenerating into something less than a party and simply a cult-like organization obsessed with their dear leader, Donald Trump.

The degeneration of Trump exists in the conservative media ecosystem too. As Adam puts it quite bluntly, the thought leader of the Trump Republican party is none other than FOX News Host Tucker Carlson. This is a man who goes on TV and talks about white replacement theory, who spread misinformation, and who touts President Viktor Orbán of Hungry, a quasi-dictator, as a model of the leadership America needs.

The rot continues, as Adam tells Charlie, because Republican Minority leader Kevin McCarthy has no independent judgment outside of Donald Trump’s instructions.

The Republican party in its drive for power appears to see no boundaries. They are willing to get in bed with the devil to win, to join with the conspiratorial QAnon friendly side of the Republican party because they think it’s a path to power. 

This is kind of striking to me, personally, because where people talk about the far right and far left controlling the narratives in their parties (Republican and Democrats respectively), it seems worth pointing out that though “the Squad” and Progressives in the Democratic party may pull on the strings a bit and rattle their sabers, unlike the Republican extremists like the Freedom Caucus and QAnon caucus, the Democrats can still governor from a moderate position and not bow down to conspiratorial and extreme majorities, even if that is what Republicans want people to think.

All for now.

J C Evans


LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:

The Bulwark Podcast: “Adam Schiff: The GOP Has Created a Monster”

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