By Andrea Scrima
After watching the impeachment proceedings and following the Impeachment Managers’ line of reasoning: I believe that 50% less melodramatics would have been more effective—including less of the “our hallowed chambers” rhetoric and particularly some of the dramatically inflected voices and tears—but all in all, the Impeachment Managers presented a strong case and the evidence is overwhelming. Republicans who decide to vote against conviction are doing what might well prove to be irreparable damage—not only to the future of the country and its ability not merely to enforce accountability for its leaders, but to maintain its democracy—unless what they’re striving for is, in fact, the very dictatorship Donald Trump failed to establish himself (remember how he claimed he “deserved” another term? How he wondered out loud if he shouldn’t just “postpone” the next election? Perhaps this is what they’ve set their sights on, after all: the Putinesque open-end autocratic rule Trump so coveted).
Interestingly, for those of us who may have forgotten this one item (so much has happened over these past four and a half years, I think we all have a case of PTSD): Roger Stone coined the term “Stop the Steal” back in 2016, which laid the groundwork early on for the entire coordinated disinformation campaign that the Trump presidency inflicted on its constituency. They were prepared to use it in the event Hillary Clinton won, they were prepared, already in 2016, to claim a presidential election had been stolen through election fraud. Stop and think for a moment. There was system in all this—“The Big Lie” has been in operation since the beginning, and it forms the core strategy of the movement. Let’s face it: the US has been the subject of a coordinated propaganda campaign over these past four years.
Many of the people storming the Capitol on January 6 believed, in all sincerity, that they were doing the “right thing.” The “patriotic thing.” They were “fighting for their country.” They were trying to stop what they had been told was a stolen election. They came within a hair’s breadth of executing Pence, Pelosi, Schumer, Romney, and others. We saw this, saw how close the mob came as they were evacuated. But this is not the only premeditated, coordinated assault that should be on trial here—we should be holding Trump accountable not merely for his intent to instigate insurrection, but for the manipulation of people’s minds.
I would have liked the Impeachment Managers to focus on the systematic nature of this disinformation campaign as it was rolled out from the beginning — from Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” and the baseless attacks, often expressed in infantile language, on the legitimate news media (which are an indispensable cornerstone of democracy: it’s dictators who fear the media, not democratic rulers) to the timeline of relentless and blatant lies, which the media only began openly calling lies after Trump failed to validate the election. “Claims,” “misspeaking”—there have been all kinds of euphemisms for what was essentially a concerted propaganda campaign from Day One, and the media response showed how poorly equipped we are, in a democracy, to deal with this level of attack. The very fact that an American president would turn to social media should have made it obvious that we were facing a propaganda campaign the likes of which the country had never seen before. There was no playbook to respond to the vulgarity, the flagrant breach of protocol and of the dignity of the office. The legitimate news media had never dealt with behavior quite as erratic and unabashed as this before—a president hiring and firing staff on Twitter, issuing decrees in churlish, schoolyard bully language.
An attack on language is no less dangerous than an attack with other weapons. Trump weaponized language, he destroyed the meaning of words and created such a cloud of confusion that his followers, “feeling” that he must be right, no longer tried to understand all the complicated and conflicting information—much of which they’d effectively screened out by limiting themselves to egregiously biased media sources—but, ignoring even their own common sense, settled on simply “believing” him. Hence the religious fervor—the belief structure, based on obedience, is identical.
By the way, the doctor in Omsk who administered Atropine to Alexei Navalny—a medication that can neutralize the effects of the nerve agent Novichok if given early enough—has died suddenly at the age of 55. The official reason given is that he had a heart attack. The head doctor at the same hospital, the one who claimed, before live television cameras, that there was no evidence of poisoning, was promoted to Regional Health Minister.