At Long Last, Donald Trump Knows True Fear

This is what we’ve waited for
This is it, boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As ninety-nine red balloons go by …

— Nena, “99 Luftballons”

There is a soul-searing symmetry to the fact that the morning after yet another man with yet another gun slaughtered yet another crowd of people in yet another all-American massacre, a mother who lost her son to gun violence and made that loss her cause of action won her election to Congress.

Six years ago, Jordan Davis was sitting in a car with friends at a Florida gas station when a man named Michael Dunn opened fire on them because he thought the music they were playing was too loud. Davis was killed in the hail of bullets. His mother, Lucy McBath, became a gun-violence activist and joined forces with the Parkland survivors after that nightmare unfolded.

McBath ran for the Georgia 6th House seat this year, and on Thursday morning, her Republican opponent Rep. Karen Handel conceded the race. “For me,” McBath told CNN back in May, “I was looking beyond my own tragedy, looking for the other tragedies that were most definitely going to happen if I didn’t keep talking about this crisis.” The victory marked the 29th House seat picked up by the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, further cementing their majority control of the chamber.

That is the election in a nutshell, an amalgam of joy and sorrow. It is inspiring for what did happen and utterly galling for what might have been. Democrats handily won control of the House but lost ground in the Senate, a harrowing fact when one notes that Democratic Senate candidates collectively got 10 million more votes than their Republican opponents. Power in the Senate is further devolving to a hard-right Republican majority who only represent about 18 percent of the country. Nothing good comes from this.

Beto O’Rourke lost in heartbreaking fashion in Texas, as Andrew Gillum appeared to in Florida — although that may change. However, neither Scott Walker nor Kris Kobach will be governors come January. Voters in Oregon handily defeated an anti-choice ballot measure while voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved them. Ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid won in Idaho, Utah and Nebraska but lost in Montana. Nearly a million and a half people with felony convictions regained the right to vote in Florida, while four states passed “victims’ rights” measures that will exacerbate incarceration.

One of the most consequential outcomes of the 2018 midterms was the full-spectrum dominance of a diverse cross-section of women all across the country. “At least ninety-eight women were elected to the House on Tuesday night,” reports Margaret Talbot for The New Yorker, “eighty-four Democrats and fourteen Republicans — which means that more women will be serving in Congress than ever before.”

All this good, bad and ugly took place in the umbra of rampant national vote suppression by Republicans that begs the question: What would Tuesday’s results have been if so many millions of voters had not been deprived of the franchise in so many shamelessly rigged elections?

In Georgia, hundreds of voting machines meant for Democrat-leaning districts were left locked in a government warehouse, causing huge lines and long waits. In North Dakota, Native Americans who live on reservations were stripped of their voting rights because of a GOP-passed law requiring voters to have street addresses, which many reservation residents don’t have. The list of brazen efforts to suppress voting rights during this last election is seemingly endless, and must be investigated down to the last stolen vote.

Towering over it all, however, is the change set to take place in the House of Representatives. Women, Muslims, African-Americans, war veterans, members of the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities, young people, gun violence activists, teachers, union activists, all the people who Donald Trump disdains came together on Tuesday night to create this new truth:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Banking Committee Chairman Maxine Waters, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

On January 3, 2019, those people will stand athwart a renegade White House with subpoena power in hand and the popular winds at their back. That, more than anything, explains the incredible chaos which unfolded in the immediate aftermath of one of the most consequential elections in living memory.

It began with Donald Trump giving easily the most unsettling, unhinged press conference of his tenure, and brothers and sisters, that is saying something. The peak moment came when Trump shouted down CNN reporter Jim Acosta for asking questions about the Mueller investigation. At one point, it looked for all the world like the two of them were about to come to blows.

A White House aide attempted to take Acosta’s microphone away from him during the exchange, and Acosta discovered later in the day that his White House privileges had been summarily revoked. Adding insult to injury, the White House press office fobbed off a demonstrably doctored video claiming Acosta had been violent with the microphone-grabbing aide. The ruse was promptly exposed, and a variety of national press organizations are now raising every shade of Hell on Acosta’s behalf.

Mere minutes after his press conference meltdown, Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing him with confirmed lickspittle Matt Whitaker, who will now have immediate oversight control of the Mueller investigation. This despite Whittaker’s public attacks on the investigation, and the fact that putting him in charge of the investigation may very well be flatly unconstitutional.

What sort of fellow is Mr. Whittaker? Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce was able to flag some comments made by Whittaker during his 2014 run for Senate:

I have a Christian worldview. Our rights come from our Creator and they are guaranteed by the Constitution. So I would start all analysis of any law or anything else first with the Constitution and then work from there.

OK, then.

It is to be devoutly hoped (pun intended) that Mr. Mueller saw this storm coming and has the contents of his investigation saved on flash drives that are easy to swallow should the need arise. No, I am not kidding. The period of time between right now and January 3 may be, mark my words, the strangest and most dangerous passage this nation has crossed in decades.

Why? Because before Tuesday, Trump only suspected someone might come along with a big enough stick to do him actual damage. Now, he knows they’re coming for sure, and if Wednesday’s presser was any indication, he is not taking the new order of things in stride. Matters did not improve as the weekend, and Trump’s trip to Paris, came crashing together in yet another presidential fit of temper.

Mueller was waiting out the midterms, and Adam Schiff is measuring the drapes for his new office while sharpening his fangs with 40-grit sandpaper. Trump knows they’re coming now, and he can impede some of it, but not all of it, before the building falls on him.

I could be wrong, but I believe we are about to bear witness to a scorched-earth retreat the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Boer War. I strongly suspect Donald Trump is going to try to burn everything, and everyone, to save himself from the awful grace of consequences. He can’t stop all of it, but between now and the first week of January, he’s going to try with all his might.

Sessions was only the beginning. Anyone who was hoping for a bit of quiet time after the midterms has not, frankly, been paying enough attention. Worse, what is happening now will seem tame by the new year. It definitely gets weirder from here.