Donald Trumpis the second Impeachment proceedings attempt was an artifact of his presidency. It was a battle of meaning against noise, against nothing-means-everything-and-everything-is-the same nihilism – and the won nihilism.
Within three days, the impeachment managers meticulously put together facts, pictures and arguments. What was a fragmented understanding of the events of 6th January became an orderly narrative. President Trump had instigated a violent one revolt. For months he has consistently acted on his conviction that he deserved to be reinstated as president. His January 6 actions echoed earlier statements, such as praise for a militia plan to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and his method of communicating with his supporters through a series of provocations, promises, and praise. In his opening speech, the impeachment director of the house stated: Jamie Raskin, promised to be brief and specific, and offer a case based on cold, hard facts. It’s all about the facts. “Among the facts was a graphic video of the uprising, starting with a fragment of the Trump speech that started the mob. Later that day, Raskin described the facts of his own family’s harrowing experience in the beleaguered Capitol, and then further facts. “People died that day,” he said. “Officers suffered head and brain damage. People’s eyes were milled out. One officer had a heart attack. One officer lost three fingers that day. Two officers took their own lives. Senators, this can’t be our future. “
Then Bruce Castor, the co-leader of Trump’s defense team, opened up to his side. He spoke for more than half an hour and mentioned the federal papers; three of the founding fathers; Declaration of independence; having worked in the Capitol forty years ago; Visiting the Capitol earlier in the week; the importance of the Senate; the fall of Rome; the inherent fragility of democracy; Benjamin Franklin; Philadelphia; Independence from Great Britain; an unnamed member of Congress; the first change; the lack of criminal conspiracy charges against Trump; the extraordinary nature of impeachments; Bill Clinton; former Attorney General Eric Holder; Operation quick and furious; the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Dirksen’s speeches, and ancient turntable technology; the state of Nebraska, its legal mind and Senator Ben Sasse; all the other senators and how great they are; Locks, hurricanes and the Bible; the fourteenth amendment; the concept of hearsay as portrayed by an apparently clairvoyant driver talking to his wife in a hypothetical car; a supposed Senate rule that says, “Hey, you can’t” (not at all clear what); the alleged “real reason” for impeachment, ie the fear of Trump’s political rivals to face him in an election; some examples of annual presidents; the wisdom of the voters; the fear that voters create in Congress members; and the filibuster; Then he finally concluded: “President Trump is no longer in office. The aim of the constitution has been achieved. He was removed from the electorate. “Journalists described the speech as meandering, hike, and incoherent, and it was all that. It was also an insult to procedure and an assault on common sense.
The defense also had their own videos, including an eleven-minute montage of Democratic politicians and others – many of them black women – speaking out against Trump. The video began with a clip from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying, “I just don’t even know why there are no riots in the whole country, and maybe there will be.” Moving on to a series of battle words- Clips from a number of people including the singer Madonna; and ended up with a mashup of democratic politicians using the word “struggle”. One of the videos used a clip of Vice President Kamala Harris, then Senator, who spoke on the 2018 Ellen DeGeneres TV show. Another video compared Trump’s law and order statements to footage of protests against Black Lives Matter. Calling these examples “false equivalences” would increase them. False equivalence is the process of mistakenly equating two things through incorrect reasoning or incorrect information. Inciting a seated president to insurrection with passionate political rhetoric, talk show jokes and just about anything else – without acknowledging an actual insurrection – is an attack on the concept of reason and the idea of information. These videos, like Castor’s bizarre opening speech, countered the clear, factual case of the property managers with noise. They flooded the zone.
The mass propaganda found that its audience was always ready to believe the worst, no matter how absurd it may be, and did not particularly refuse to be deceived because it viewed any statement as a lie. The mass totalitarian leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that under such conditions people could one day be made to believe in the most fantastic statements and trust that they would seek refuge if the next day they received irrefutable evidence of their lie would in cynicism; Instead of leaving the leaders who lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
Another quality of totalitarian leaders and their followers is the belief that the ends justify the means; This makes it easier to accept the lie as a tactical move, even to support it – and to accept the next lie and the one after that and the one after that.
Trump’s defense team assumed that his audience was both gullible and cynical. That their audience, contrary to the prevailing legal opinion, was prepared to believe that Trump as a former president should not be the subject of impeachment proceedings; that he had no intention of inciting violence; that he did not realize that his followers had entered the Capitol; or simply that none of that meant anything – that he didn’t go ahead and pretend that he lost the election but it won that there were Antifa members in the building, as Trump apparently told the Republican leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, on the phone . That Trump’s words were as meaningless as those of his lawyers, and that the “just words” charge against the former president was the beginning of a slippery slope to unfounded impeachment and the suppression of freedom of speech. Arendt wrote that the qualities of gullibility and cynicism exist in different proportions depending on a person’s place in the hierarchy of the totalitarian movement. For example, a senator may be more cynical and a simple conspiracy theorist may be more gullible. I suspect that the ratio of gullibility to cynicism can fluctuate over time depending on your mood or circumstances – because anything is possible and nothing matters.