Comment from Peter Saxon
Welcome to 2021
If we were hoping for a more positive, more stable, more peaceful year than the last, we’re not off to a great start.
The events of January 6th in Washington will rank among the most infamous in history as the day when the very heart of Democracy came under attack. That day a wild, angry mob stormed the Capitol in a misguided attempt to bring down the pillars of freedom they purport to defend.
When order was finally restored several hours later and the lawmakers who’d been evacuated in the melee were ushered back into the building, the Republican Senator, Mitt Romney had this to say:
“We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within…” Nikita Khrushchev
Whether you subscribe to the theory that Donald Trump colluded with Russia or not – and I stress that it remains unproven – what Russian Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev, told the UN General Assembly 65 years ago now seems prophetic, “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within…”
Even before the election, Donald Trump was sowing seeds of doubt, ‘The only way I could possibly lose this election,’ he said, ‘is if it is rigged.’ By making that statement over and over again during the campaign, Trump ensured that if the unthinkable did happen, his supporters would be well primed to immediately determine that it was rigged and stolen from them. It was a measure to pre-emptively control the narrative. Of course, had he won, the election could not possibly have been rigged.
Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of Democracy. For the “Leader of the Free World” to even suggest that an American election could be rigged is in itself an abomination that hurts not only America but Australia and every other nation that basks in the freedoms and prosperity that only true democracies can deliver to their citizens.
But if anyone was under any illusion that Trump was joking about the election being rigged or that it was no more than a throwaway line, we found out exactly where the truth lies when it started to become apparent that Joe Biden had, in fact, won the presidency.
From that point on, about mid-November, Trump was telling his supporters, and the whole world, that the unthinkable had, indeed, happened. The U.S. election had been stolen from him and, by extension, from 75 million Americans who voted for him. And he was going to prove it in court in order to regain the presidency.
Trump, with his gift for explaining complex issues to his base, provided them with a new bumper sticker with the mission statement: Stop the Steal.
Although senior Republican party officials doubted Trump had any robust legal evidence to back his claims, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said at the time, ‘the President has the right to have his claims tested in court.’
Fair enough. But by last Thursday, AEST, another lawmaker said, ‘The President has had two whole months in court and has come up with nothing.’
By early last December the Trump campaign had paid out an estimated $15 million in legal fees and for recounts in some states like Georgia. But it had also raised more than 207 million in donations from its fanbase which is an excellent return on investment… for Trump. Current estimates have bandied about numbers of up to 500 million.
But the courts, many presided over by conservative judges, dismissed Trump’s claims, one after the other, as lacking in evidence. Early in the caravan of cases to be brought to the courts in the battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Arizona, the high profile, reputable law firms representing Trump resigned from the case to avoid tarnishing their names further with what was turning out to be a fool’s errand based on a dodgy brief.
If there’d been any semblance of measured legal procedure till then, it evaporated when Trump appointed the erratic and disorganised Rudy Giuliani to lead his Quixotic quest. The caravan of cases had now become clown car as he bungled a simple hotel booking and ended up holding a pro-Trump media event in the parking lot of the not-so-prestigious Four Seasons Total Landscaping company (next door to and adult book store) instead of its more upmarket namesake, the Four Seasons Hotel.
After losing some 60 court cases and every recount (some that actually awarded a higher tally to Biden) Trump, like Rambo, looked beaten but remained unbowed. He promised his backers he’d fight on. Assured by him that he had more tricks up his sleeve, and that all their ‘bets’ were still alive, his fans stuck by him. They seamlessly blended the string of legal defeats into their election conspiracy.
In the alternative universe in which they choose to live, the entire justice system was in cahoots with the Democrats in the conspiracy to cheat them out of having their man in the White House. Who knew that all the Republican appointed judges would turn out to be RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)?
Next stop; the Supreme Court.
Despite the fact that almost every constitutional scholar advised that there was next to zero chance that the land’s highest court would even bother to hear the case, given so many lower courts had already dismissed it, and the impossibly convoluted manner in which the case was framed, Trump pressed on, convinced that with a 6 to 3 ‘right’ leaning bench – and with three of those Justices hand-picked by Trump himself, he would finally prevail, and they would overturn the election results in his favour. After all, they owed him, didn’t they?
Much to Team Trump’s dismay, SCOTUS swiftly dismissed their attempts to have the case heard. As it turns out, they too, must have been in on the grand conspiracy to deny Trump and his supporters the presidency. How else could one explain it?
With only a few weeks to go till Congress ratified Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President of the incoming administration, Trump was running out of time and opportunity to fulfill his promise to Stop the Steal and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In his desperation, he decided to give the Georgia officials who oversaw the election in that state, all of them Republicans, a call to see if they could somehow ‘find another 11,780 votes’ (one more than Biden got) to win back the state.
He spoke to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for almost an hour. But Raffensperger remained resolute. After three recounts, one of them of the original paper votes by hand, he told the president that he could find no evidence of any fraud – at least not any remotely on the scale needed to change the result.
In a some-times incoherent rant, Trump repeated all his fact free claims about dead people voting, tonnes of votes for Trump dumped in the river and rigged voting machines. All of which had been tested in court (although the Trump fans disagree) and found to be devoid of evidence. Audio and Transcript here.
Raffensperger, calmly but firmly told Trump, “Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
Down to his last “legal” option, Trump had one more very long shot to fire. In the upcoming confirmation by Congress of the electoral college votes, already ratified by the states – usually a ceremonial, pro forma or rubber stamp event – a number of his most ardent Republican supporters would object to the result and call for a different set of electors from their own side of the divide in one last futile attempt to overturn the results. It was a ridiculous motion with no chance of success, given the Democrats would vote it down with their majority in Congress.
Trump knew that he had next to no chance of success in this constitutionally dubious tactic, but the vote would flush out those Republicans that remained loyal to him and those who were not.
It fell to Vice President, Mike Pence, an unwavering Trump loyalist for the past four years, to perform a final count of the already counted and state-verified electoral college votes and declare Joe Biden the winner. Trump had applied maximum pressure on him to go against accepted protocol, reject the electoral college votes and unilaterally declare Trump the winner instead.
But Pence, the hitherto unwavering Trump loyalist, opted to remain faithful to his oath of office to uphold the constitution above any fealty to the President of the day. In a prepared statement on the Senate floor, he said: “(It is) my considered judgement that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not”.
A deeply disappointed Donald Trump, who had expected his own VP to bend the Constitution to his needs addressed a massive crowd gathered in Washington, a few blocks from the Capitol.
He again reinforced the core message that the election had been “rigged” by “radical democrats” and the “fake news media.”
And then a call to action that some in the crowd had come itching to act upon.
“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said. “Our country has had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”
He further said: “You’re the real people. You’re the people that built this nation. You’re not the people that tore down this nation.”
Trump counsel, Rudy Giuliani made the intent crystal clear, telling a rally it was time for, “Trial by Combat.”
Trump had promised the crowd that he would march with them to the Capitol but instead returned to the White House to watch events unfold on television.
Trump had lured his fans to Washington by giving them false hope that somehow, with their “help,” he could magically shoot the winning basket as the hooter sounded and have Congress announce that Donald J. Trump had been re-elected as president and that Biden and half the Democrat party along with all the crooked judges who were in on the “steal” would go on trial.
As things turned ugly, several program hosts implored the president to tell his supporters to go home, “They will only listen to you,” was a common plea. He took to social media to say, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Yes, he told them to go home, but it was as if they had done a great day’s work and had earned a rest, There was no condemnation of the violence and desecration of the Capitol and the institution it housed.
He returned to our TV screens later, looking like a ten-year-old who’d put the family cat in the microwave to see what might happen and suddenly realised what a terrible thing he had done.
This time it seemed as if someone had told him in no uncertain terms that he must condemn the perpetrators and concede that Biden had won. And not go off script as he invariably does.
In a flat delivery, he said to camera of the rioters, “(they) have defiled the seat of American democracy” and “will pay.”
Coming as close as he could to accepting defeat without acknowledging Biden’s victory, he said “a new administration” will be inaugurated on January 20. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power.”
With both chambers of the Capitol building cleared of rioters, just before 9pm, the Senators and Congressmen and women filed back in to complete the task they had started at 1pm.
In the hours between, as they waited together in a secure location, rivalries were largely put aside to discuss what to do next.
By the time the session reconvened, several of those who were slated to object to the count had lost their appetite to play Trump’s political game and withdrew.
Nonetheless, Republican Senator, Ted Cruz objected to the results and put forward the proposition that given that so many voters felt that the election had been rigged, it would be in everyone’s interest to hold a 10 day enquiry into the veracity of the vote tally before the winner was ratified so we could get to the bottom of it for once and for all.
Fellow Republican, Mitt Romney responded: “The objectors have claimed they are doing so on behalf of the voters. Have an audit, they say, to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen.
“Please! No Congressional led audit will ever convince those voters, particularly when the President will continue to claim that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.
“The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost. Scores of courts, the President’s own Attorney General, and state election officials both Republican and Democrat have reached this unequivocal decision.”
Even Trump knew that the whole exercise was futile, but it would force a vote that would indicate to him and his base, which lawmakers were with him and which were against.
Of the six state results that were to be up for debate before the riot, only Arizona and Pennsylvania drew the necessary objections from the floor after the lawmakers returned. The others were rescinded.
For the record: The Senate voted 93-6 to reject the objection. The House also rejected the objection 303-121.
While the Senate vote overwhelmingly shows cross-party faith in the election results, the tally in Congress tells a different story – which would worry Republicans. Given that there are 211 Republicans in The House and virtually every Democrat voted against the objection, it means that the Republicans were split pretty much down the middle on the question put before them.
Of course, the vote was never about the objections at all, which was doomed to fail from the beginning, but rather, who voted with Trump and who voted against.
Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan put it this way in The Australian: It is unsupportable cowardice for these same politicians — eight Republican senators and more than 100 members of the House of Representatives — to connive in Trump’s lies that the election was stolen and to support efforts in congress to overturn individual states’ election declarations. The Republicans involved knew they would fail in this, so they no doubt felt they weren’t really hurting democracy because Biden would be confirmed in office whatever they did. And in the meantime they could keep onside with the Trump base and with Trump himself, and not become victims in future Republican primaries of his attacks.
But this was cowardice of a bridge too far. It involved conscious lying. It genuinely imperilled democracy.
By any measure, this presents a huge headache for The GOP (The Grand Old Party, a.k.a. Republicans) going forward – especially if Trump starts his own Party.
With the opposition vote split, Democrats could retain power indefinitely. And that’s not good for democracy either.
In coming weeks, months or perhaps years we’ll be trying to figure out how this gameshow host, who should never have been allowed on a guided tour of the White House, let alone occupy the Oval Office as Commander in Chief, got himself elected as President of the United States.
How is it that a five-time bankrupt, “pussy grabbing” misogynist with a former Penthouse Pet as First Lady and who has hardly set foot in a church and can’t recite a single passage from the Bible is described by many of his by Evangelical Christian fans as a “godsend” ?
The answer is, he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. And he co-opted sections of the media to help reinforce his agenda.
Tump offered to address their core grievances by restoring their tribe to its ‘rightful place’ atop the social and political totem pole. When he talked about winning, he meant winning the cultural war that they’d been losing since the 1960’s. If Trump could do that for them, then they’d happily fete him like a messiah while voting against their own interests such as universal health care and supporting tax cuts that only apply to the rich.
Nowhere was this brought more into more stark relief than last June at Washington’s Lafayette Square iwhen a large but peaceful group, gathered to demonstrate against the killing of George Flloyd, were forcefully removed by a heavily armed contingent so that Trump, flanked by a group of government officials, military brass and law enforcement chiefs, could walk unimpeded for a photo opportunity featuring Trump holding a up bible in front of a church.
The symbolism was unmistakably Trump. ‘I am your law and order president who will clear the streets of undesirables and put Judeo-Christian values back at the forefront of American life.’
When the Republicans lost to Obama in 2012, they did some research, not dissimilar to what a radio station would do to figure out what their audience wanted and how to attract more listeners.
What the research firm reportedly told the GOP leadership seemed pretty obvious. The findings showed that America’s demographic and cultural mix was rapidly changing. And if they didn’t start to broaden their conservative base by attracting more minorities and women voters, they’d soon find themselves struggling for relevance.
Then along came Trump together with a pair of genius political strategists in Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. They, reportedly, told the GOP leadership that they had a better idea. They believed that they could still win an election on a conservative platform if only they could get their target group fired up enough to physically get out and vote in a country where voting is not compulsory.
In radio terms, they would look to nurture a body of “PI” fans – the type of fan that would queue in the street for days to buy the latest Apple product.
Trump, who started as a rank outsider, won the Republican nomination in 2016 and started building his base with a populist agenda that offered simple solutions to complex problems and big promises that had little chance of success. Those that resonated best were the ones that could be easily chanted such as: “Lock Her Up!” and “Build that Wall!” Neither came to pass and the notion that Mexico would pay for Trump’s wall was preposterous. But his fanbase believed it and didn’t care two hoots when it didn’t happen – after all they were “winning” because of him.
At a campaign stop in Iowa back in January 2016, then candidate Donald Trump was already well on the way to amassing a solid P1 fanbase, telling those gathered, “They say I have the most loyal people – where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.”
Trump’s takeover of America started in earnest from the day of his inauguration in January 2017. He chose the first press conference to be held in the famous West Wing press gallery for his first Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, to go in and tell the first big lie of his presidency. He chose this historic setting, where momentous announcements regarding war, peace and such have been made for decades, to tell the gathered media that Trump’s inauguration crowd was bigger than President Obama’s when according to official estimates and aerial photographs taken from identical positions showed that it was clearly not bigger but, in fact, significantly smaller.
What was so strange about this was not so much the lie itself that could so easily be disproved but that an adult, let alone a U.S. president, would bother to prosecute such a trivial matter from so high an office at all, even if it were true.
Some pundits have suggested that the whole episode was merely a test balloon to see how big a blatant lie Trump fans were willing to swallow for their hero. Apparently, they passed with flying colours because the lies started flowing thick and fast after that.
The next stage of Trump’s plan was to divide and conquer by amplifying the animus between left and right, Republican and Democrat. There was no crack, crevice or chasm for which Trump didn’t have exactly the right sized wedge to prise it further apart.
A most important part of his strategy was to censor the news media so that his base would only be exposed to the information he wanted them to hear and see. To achieve this, he branded those outlets that criticised him as “Fake News” while endorsing those outlets who supported him. Trump’s fanbase, who had a natural aversion to being exposed to any information that challenged their entrenched beliefs, were happy to stay within the media silos, or echo chambers, designated for them by Trump.
Further, it was a master stroke for Trump to use Twitter as his primary platform to directly communicate with the masses, unfiltered by the media.
It soon became apparent to news media that Trump held enormous power, not only from the office of president, which traditionally provided the nation’s biggest pipeline with a constant flow of news and information as well as access that his press secretary could (and would) turn off like a tap if you fell out of favour with the White House, but he also now commanded an audience of tens of millions of loyal fans that would switch news outlets in a heartbeat if the president told them to.
Trump left even the biggest, most prestigious media outlets with no middle ground. You were either singing his praises 24/7/365 or you were “Fake News.” Worse still, an “Enemy of the People.”
When not playing golf, Trump would spend more time watching television and listening to radio than any president before him. Even the slightest criticism from a presenter on a favoured station would earn a swift rebuke from Trump, usually on Twitter with one of his trademark personal attacks included.
Trump had alienated most mainstream media outlets, labelling the whole category, Lamestream Media. Most of Trump’s preferred, or “approved” outlets like Breitbart and OANN are relative fringe players that can hardly be called MSM. But syndicated radio talk shows including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin reach many millions of Americans each day and have enormous influence with Trump voters.
Fox News is by far the largest of these outlets that hitched their wagon to Trump’s caravan from the beginning. Interestingly, though, while the Fox opinion presenters such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram have been eager cheerleaders for Trump and all things conservative, the network’s news department presents the news with a relatively straight bat. And it is the news dept. that earned Trump’s ire when it was the first Network, while votes were still being counted in November’s election, to call Arizona a win for Joe Biden. Trump was reportedly livid at what he saw as a humiliation that a normally red state was called lost to the blue Democrats and that his favoured network was the first to call it.
Trump has punished Fox News before for an article in the Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal in June that published a poll that had him trailing Biden for the presidency. The poll was later shown on Fox News.
Trump took to Twitter: “Fox News gladly puts up the phony suppression polls as soon as they come out. We are leading in the REAL polls because people are sick & tired of watching the Democrat run cities, in all cases, falling apart. Also, now 96 percent Approval Rating in the Republican Party. Another 2016!”
In a second tweet: “Fox News weekend afternoons is the worst! Getting into @CNN and MSDNC territory. Watch @OANN & @newsmax instead. Much better!”
In less than two weeks Trump will be gone, a first term loser that not only lost the presidency but Congress and the Senate too.
Now, many Republicans reportedly rue the day they endorsed this charismatic, narcissistic, self-dealing, amoral grifter to become POTUS. After the events of last week, the experiment of electing a political ignoramus has failed miserably.
America and the name of Democracy has been badly tarnished around the world. Meanwhile, as Trump plays golf and stews over his “stolen election” more than 3,000 people a day are dying of Covid-19 and the U.S. is under the most severe and sustained cyber-attack (most likely from Russia according to security forces) it has ever experienced.
Read Part Two where I reveal what I think is the biggest reason a character like Trump is Kryptonite to a western democracy and what radio and the media can do to clean up this mess and prevent it from happening again.