So here’s my question: Let’s say you’re Attorney General Merrick Garland. Filing a criminal indictment against former President Donald Trump should be a fairly straightforward matter, even though conspiracy charges are notoriously hard to prove. After all, much of Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, attempt to overthrow the U.S. government was performed live on national TV.
We’ve seen the video a hundred times, with Trump urging the mob to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol to “fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump also promised to march with his impassioned followers, but anybody who believed that probably still believes that Trump got a big league tryout alongside Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, as he once boasted.
(For the record, McCovey, who died at age 80 in 2018, was eight years older than Trump. By the time our hero graduated from high school, McCovey had been the San Francisco Giants first baseman for five years. In 1959, when Trump was in ninth grade, McCovey was National League rookie of the year. Also: Slate once dug into old newspapers that published local prep school box scores. Trump’s batting average was .138.)
So no, there was no big league tryout, a pathetic and ridiculous lie very much like his “landslide” win in the 2020 presidential election.
He just makes stuff up as he goes along, this guy, relying upon the tribalism and extreme gullibility of his supporters. So, of course, he failed to march with the mob to the Capitol. It’s doubtful he could walk that far without a golf cart.
Instead, Trump retired to the White House, where he watched the violence unfold on TV — evidently ignoring pleas from his son, daughter and normally worshipful Fox News personalities to urge the rioters to desist.
At 2:24 p.m., with the crowd having erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds and chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump tweeted that the vice president “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
The vice president’s security detail hustled him to safety. Meanwhile, Trump kept watching for another couple of hours as the mob beat cops with flagpoles and fire extinguishers, hunted Nancy Pelosi, vandalized congressional offices and defecated in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
Not long after he finally urged the horde to relent, as they obediently did, Trump dispatched another tweet: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots ...”
But back to the attorney general’s dilemma. That Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote appears quite clear. Now that he’s no longer in office, the Justice Department’s policy that a president cannot be charged no longer protects him. Indeed, Rep. Liz Cheney has pointedly paraphrased the applicable laws in her statements about the investigation.
But how on earth would it be possible to put Trump on trial? Jury selection alone would be a nightmare. Not only does everybody already know many of the facts and judgments alluded to above, but many have already formed unassailable opinions. (I’d certainly be ineligible to serve.)
Some observers think Fulton County (Georgia) prosecutor Fani Willis has a better shot at prosecuting Trump for trying to strong-arm Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes — enough to overturn that state’s vote. Partly because not everybody already knows the story, and partly because they’ve got Trump whining and threatening on tape.
That said, convicting the sleazy rascal would be a heavy lift. A substantial proportion of the American public exists in thrall to what The Hill columnist Bill Schneider calls “militant ignorance” — i.e., “ignorance that is proud of itself, that holds knowledge in contempt.” (It’s first cousin to what we called “invincible ignorance” back in my Baltimore Catechism days.)
A good place to witness the phenomenon, for those who lack the advantage of living among red-state Republicans, would be through examining a focus group The New York Times conducted with Trump voters. Not only have most swallowed his election lies — they believe that mail-in voting led to massive fraud — but they also contend that the Jan. 6 insurrection was “way overblown.”
Shown texts by Donald Jr., Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity urging Trump to restrain his followers, they express dismay.
“They’re saying what you would think almost a Democrat would say or a liberal would say,” one woman exclaims.
“Kind of shocking to me,” says another. “You’d think they’d back the president.”
That is, the mob.
Elsewhere, the group evidences a deep strain of paranoia. Democrats are scheming to steal our freedoms and usher in the New World Order: “It’s all about control, and they’re keeping COVID as one of their biggest weapons,” one Trump supporter said.
Alas, our nation’s problems go deeper than Trump.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner.)