After months of waiting in seething frustration, it does feel quite like we’ve all jumped out of an airplane at the same time. The doorbell at Trump’s house has been rung by federal agents, and there is no un-ringing it. What had for so long appeared to be a cautious, desultory affair is now going off like a string of firecrackers, each snap and crackle signifying new evidence or information to squeeze Trump and his would-be band of merry insurrectionists further into a corner of their own devising.
It seems a hundred years ago that former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified before the January 6 Select Committee that she saw former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows burning his notes after a meeting with a then-unnamed House member. That House member, Scott Perry, just had his phone snatched by federal agents brandishing a warrant, and he is, of course, outraged. That phone, according to Perry, contains “info about my legislative and political activities, and personal/private discussions with my wife, family, constituents and friends. None of this is the government’s business.”
Hate to break it to you, Scotty, but insurrection and attempted coups actually are right in the government’s wheelhouse. Perry is no stranger to all this; he was called to testify before the select committee in May over his role in trying to install Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general in furtherance of Trump’s plan to thwart the 2020 election results, but has so far refused to comply. Perry was also responsible for spreading wild-eyed conspiracy theories at the highest levels of the Trump administration, including the corrupted voting machines canard and the preposterous rumor that the Italian government somehow stole a U.S. election.
As for Meadows? In the roiled aftermath of the federal visit to Mar-a-Lago, in which about twelve boxes were removed from the home, the newest game in Washington, D.C. is wondering if there is a “flipper” within Trump’s camp directing all this federal traffic. Unlike their colleagues at the state and local levels, federal prosecutors tend not to move on their targets unless they already know what they’re looking for and already know where to find it. This often requires inside help, and Meadows’s name appears to be at the top of the list. Newsweek reports from last weekend:
Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner predicted Friday that Donald Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will “rat” the former president “out” to Justice Department investigators as part of the probe into January 6, 2021. CNN reported on Thursday that Trump had been told by advisers to “cut contact” with Meadows, who is seen by some legal analysts as a potential key witness against the former president…. The legal expert also pointed to reporting by Rolling Stone that said Trump’s legal team is attempting to place blame for any alleged criminal behavior on “fall guys.”
“Who is one of the marquee fall guys?” Kirschner asked. “Mark Meadows. And do you really think Mark Meadows is just going to sit quietly by and take the fall for Donald Trump? Maybe just volunteer to dive under the bus? No,” the attorney added. “He’s going to cut his losses. He’s going to cooperate. He’s going to flip. He’s going to turn state’s evidence. He’s going to rat Trump out. He’s going to snitch.”
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen flipped for a better deal. Why not Meadows? Every proper scandal has its John Dean, and anyway, these guys wear $3,000 suits to work and expect to rotate out into some cushy corporate corner office, not an indictment for treason. Most of them didn’t sign up for this shit. Donald Trump, a man who has never been loyal to anyone but himself, might be on the verge of discovering how lonely an estate it is to be truly faithless… you know, or not. The only thing certain is mayhem, how much is anyone’s guess.
Trump has taken the events at Mar-a-Lago and transformed them into a whole new loyalty test, one the herding lickspittles of the GOP are flinging themselves at with reckless abandon. Talk of Trump running for president in 2024 has gone from “maybe/probably” to “any second now,” which puts his would-be challengers in a rather delectable bind. If they don’t bend the knee now, they will be doomed with Trump’s outraged base. If they do bend the knee, they hamstring their own chances in ’24. The FBI, perhaps unwittingly, may have cleared the presidential field for the guy whose house it just searched.
Concern that Trump’s supporters could turn violent (again) motivated White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to call for calm as the details of the federal action await revelation. These words are coming for a reason: The Trumpian corners of social media are shrieking for civil war. The contradictions don’t seem to faze these people — wasn’t Benghazi essentially about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified documents? “But her emails…?” Is this thing on? Bueller? — although it remains unknown how many of Trump’s people are still willing to put themselves on the line for him.
“Trump has a hold on a party that has been offered plenty of exit ramps from its relationship with him, but he is not Voldemort,” writes Juliette Kayyem for The Atlantic. “He has been isolated and humiliated. Many of the individuals who used violence to support him on January 6 are now in jail. His audiences have dwindled. Even on the night of the FBI search, in the area of Florida that he now calls home, an impromptu roadside demonstration in support of him attracted ‘roughly two dozen’ supporters, the Miami Herald reported. ‘Roughly two dozen’ isn’t a revolution. It isn’t even a rally.”
I suspect many people, and more than a few erstwhile Trump supporters, will take all this in stride. “No one stormed into Trump’s home unannounced with guns blazing, awakening him from a sound sleep and scaring him into paralysis,” notes Robin Givhan for The Boston Globe. “No shots were fired without regard for human life. His private quarters weren’t riddled with bullet holes. No one was carried out on a gurney. His outrage has not gone unheard. That’s what happens when a person is at the mercy of the law. That’s what happened to Breonna Taylor.”
That being said, this remains a moment for peak vigilance. Beyond the hordes of right-wing keyboard warriors, there remain white nationalists waiting to prove themselves in the streets. Even in disarray — half of these paramilitary groups have turned on the other half in the face of Capitol Hill riot indictments — the far right remains a dangerous menace, one deliberately cultivated by Trump himself. He leads a party that is actively and publicly willing to perform violent acts, that takes great pride in being considered dangerous. Such energy attracts fascists the way porch lights draw moths, and there are still almost 400 million firearms out there in the hands of civilians.
As we have seen time and again in our schools and malls and markets, all it takes is one to instigate a bloodbath.