Tears and yet more tears
The more they blubber, writes Daniel Lazare, the more evident it becomes they have nothing to say
In 1964, the historian Richard Hofstadter published a famous article entitled ‘The paranoid style in American politics’ - an examination of the neo-McCarthyite fear-mongering that was ravaging the United States in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. But if Hofstadter, who died in 1970, were writing today, he might have called his essay, ‘The lachrymose style in American politics’, thanks to the emotionalism that is now all the rage.
This is not unprecedented. After all, Ed Muskie, a US senator from Maine, made headlines by bursting into tears on the presidential campaign trail back in 1972. But crying was not the manly thing to do in those days, so Muskie was forced to withdraw. But conditions were different 40 years later, when John Boehner, a Republican from southern Ohio, became speaker of the House, which is why he was able to turn on the waterworks so often that people lost count. Hillary Clinton’s polls similarly jumped when she allowed her voice to break on the campaign trail in 2008. (“This is very personal for me. It’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ futures. It’s really about all of us together.”) Barack Obama cried no less than five times during his White House years and received many plaudits.1
But nothing compares to last week’s special congressional inquiry into Donald Trump’s attempted coup d’état. First, four police officers broke into tears as they described fighting off a mob of ultra-rightists attempting to invade the Capitol. Then representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from the Chicago suburbs, cried as he told the officers, “You guys may individually feel a little broken … but you guys won, you guys held.” Representative Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Orlando, Florida, also cried while thanking the cops for enabling her to go home to her kids: “The reason I was able to hug them again was because of the courage that you and your fellow officers showed.” And Hollywood neocon Adam Schiff sobbed when he said:
I believe in this country, and I believe in it because of people like you, who understand what the flag means and what our constitution means and risk their lives to defend it. I didn’t expect this would be quite so emotional either, but it must be an Adam thing today.2
It was over the top even by today’s mawkish standards. But what is it all about? One theory we can dispense with is that the display was in any sense genuine. There could be an exception with the four officers, who spent hours battling white supremacists screaming, “Trump sent us, take the right side, we want Trump”, and are now understandably appalled by Republican denialists claiming that Trump had nothing to do with the violence on January 6 and that it was all somehow the fault of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
But it is hard not to be sceptical with regard to the others. After all, Congress overflows with hyper-ambitious types willing to do and say anything to advance their careers and serve the interests of capital. Murphy, for example, is a Blue Dog (ie, centre-right) Democrat, who, like all Florida Democrats, is so terrified of appearing soft on Cuba that she once slammed Bernie Sanders as “ill-informed and ignorant” for daring to suggest that not everything Havana does is evil.3
As for Kinzinger, he is a pro-gun conservative who opposes abortion and gay rights, cheered the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and never misses an opportunity to blame Covid-19 on China. “Daily reminder: you are in your homes because #Chinahidthevirus,” he tweeted his fellow Americans in March 2020 at the start of the lockdown.
When it comes to Schiff, he is a grotesque warmonger who relies on arms makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin for campaign funds, and has backed every foreign-policy atrocity over the last two decades, from the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to military intervention in Libya and Syria, the 2014 neo-Nazi-led coup in the Ukraine, and the 2015 US-backed Saudi air assault on Yemen. For anyone familiar with Schiff’s record, his comments last week were little short of astonishing:
If we’re no longer committed to a peaceful transfer of power after our elections if our side doesn’t win, then god help us. If we deem elections illegitimate merely because they didn’t go our way rather than trying to do better the next time, god help us. And if we’re so driven by bigotry and hate that we attack our fellow citizens as traitors, if they’re born in another country or they don’t look like us, then god help us.
Why was this remarkable? Simply because Schiff spent nearly every waking moment during the previous administration declaring, on the basis of zero evidence, that the 2016 election was illegitimate and that Trump was a traitor by virtue of colluding with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
While Trump is guilty of many things, Schiff and his fellow Democrats managed with incredible accuracy to zero in on the one area in which he was innocent. Yet he would not stop. In March 2017, two months after Trump took office, Schiff announced that there was now “circumstantial evidence of collusion”. A few days later, he said the phony Steele dossier was proof that Russia had interfered in the election in Trump’s behalf: “There’s ample evidence of collusion in plain sight,” he added in April. Even after special prosecutor Robert Mueller concluded a year and a half later that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”, Schiff continued to insist that collusion was a fact. It may not have been proved, he said, but that did not mean it had been disproved either:
I use that word very carefully, because I also distinguish time and time again between collusion - that is, acts of corruption that may or may not be criminal - and proof of a criminal conspiracy ... In fact, every act that I’ve pointed to as evidence of collusion has now been borne out by the report.4
All the while, “Shifty Schiff,” as Trump calls him, was sitting on top of a pile of secret testimony saying the opposite. “I never saw any direct empirical evidence that the Trump campaign or someone in it was plotting [or] conspiring with the Russians to meddle with the election,” CIA director James Clapper told him and other members of the House intelligence committee in a closed hearing in 2017. A Pentagon official named Evelyn Farkas testified that she “didn’t know anything” about the Trump campaign dealing with Russia, while other top Obama officials such as Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, and Samantha Power said the same.5
Yet Schiff kept such testimony under wraps in his campaign to force Trump out of office, only releasing the transcripts early last year, when Republicans finally forced his hand. Although Democrats - and Democrat-tailing pseudo-leftists - will deny it to the hilt, it is an example of how Dems have done as much to bring about the great Washington breakdown as Republicans. Would Trump have launched his attempted coup in 2021 if Democrats had not launched theirs in 2017? The answer, very possibly, is no.
Russiagate was ultimately a Democratic attempt to outflank Trump on the right by painting him as soft on Russia and hence unsuited to his duties as commander in chief of US Imperialism Inc. Last week’s three-hour congressional hearing on the Capitol Hill insurrection was an effort to do the same by painting Republicans as anti-police and Dems as pro.
Bennie Thompson, a black Democrat from Mississippi, intoned: “If not for the heroism of the United States Capitol police ... many more lives might have been lost and the rioters could have accomplished what they set out to do, up-end American democracy.” California Democrat Zoe Lofgren added: “You saved the day, you saved the constitution, and it made a tremendous difference for our country.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria said, when addressing one of the officers:
When you mentioned and compared this earlier to the experiences that you had in Iraq, that in a war zone you didn’t feel like you felt that day, can you share that with us, in a little more detail, what was going through your head - your thoughts about what you would experience defending our nation on foreign soil and then being here in the heart of our nation, in our capital, and being assaulted the way that you were?
In a single sentence, however convoluted, she thus managed to align herself with the police, the military, and patriotism in general. “But my oath, your oath, all of our oaths here today to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic will be our guiding light for this investigation,” she added. Cops, Democrats and the constitution were on one side of the “thin blue line”, while Trump and assorted foreign foes were on the other.
This is a far cry from 2020, when Democrats had nothing but sympathy for Black Lives Matter and calls to defund the police. But in the land of eternal forgetfulness, it is perfectly fine to say one thing one year and the opposite the next.
Although it is forbidden to say so when everyone is so hard at work protecting and defending the constitution, the document is in fact at the heart of the problem. By allowing tiny minorities to frustrate the democratic will, America’s pre-modern system of government has resulted in a generation of gridlock that is driving up temperatures to boiling point on both sides of the aisle. Republicans and Democrats are like two scorpions in a bottle - madly stabbing at one another, with no hope of escape.
But that is not all. Once Trump launched his assault on the legislative branch, the constitution rendered Congress defenceless by stipulating in article 1 that, while a simple majority would be enough to vote a bill of impeachment in the House, a two-thirds majority would be required for conviction in the Senate. Given the undemocratic nature of a body based on equal state representation, this means that 34 senators representing as little as 7.5% of the population are all that is required to let a would-be dictator go free. The constitution pretends to hold the president to account. But by placing conviction beyond reach, it effectively does the opposite.
The upshot is a runaway executive that leaves Congress looking foolish and weak. Since Democrats are unable to argue on the basis of ideas, the result is to reduce them to pure emotionalism. Thus, they wanted voters to know last week that they feel the officers’ pain, and they wanted voters to feel their pain too. The more everyone falls sobbing into one another’s arms, the more thoroughly the strutting, contemptuous, unfeeling Trump will be excluded from the magic circle.
Or so Democrats hope. But it will not work, because, the more they blubber, the more evident it becomes that they have nothing to say. The political structure is dissolving in a flood of tears.
A full transcript of the hearing is available at www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/january-6-house-select-committee-hearing-investigation-day-1-full-transcript. For a video of the proceedings, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnFSSyoNu_k.↩︎
‘All the Adam Schiff transcripts’ Wall Street Journal May 12 2020.↩︎