Sì, the Doge Incited the Besieging

Notes on the first week of the second impeachment.

TWO DAYS AFTER the besieging of the Capitol by MAGA insurrectionists, I compared what happened on January 6 to the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade:

Constantinople was famously impregnable: surrounded by difficult-to-navigate waters on three sides, and defended on the fourth by a series of unscalable walls, of the kind Trump never managed to build. Even Attila the Hun took one look at the place and kept heading West. But in April of 1204, the Doge of Venice and his French brute squad managed. They landed their ships on the perilous shore, and the Byzantine guardsmen helped them penetrate the city walls.

Once inside, the Crusaders lay waste to the greatest city in the world, slaughtering its citizens, raping its women, burning its buildings (including the great library), destroying its precious artwork, and stealing whatever they could get their grimy hands on. As one historian put it: “There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade.” That this unspeakable horror was committed in the name of Jesus Christ did not escape the notice of the Pope, who was livid when he heard the news. “Whoever suggested such a thing to you,” he wrote, “and how did they lead your mind astray?” The Pope’s C.Y.A. tone was similar to Mitch McConnell’s on Wednesday night…

I’ve thought about the Fourth Crusade a lot these last few days—since the motley MAGA army of smirking cosplay insurrectionists stormed the U.S Capitol. The Constantinopolitans surely knew that the three emperors who held the throne from 1199 to 1204—Alexius III, whom the Doge installed; the Trumpy Alexius IV, who robbed the treasury and fled; Alexius V, the Mike Pence-like sap who was left holding the bag—were bumblers. But I’m sure they did not realize, as they prepared for Easter that fateful year, that their city was on the verge of being destroyed—that life, as they knew it, was over.

Thirty-seven days have passed since January 6—It feels much longer!—and while life, thankfully, has continued apace, so much has changed. One week after the insurrection, Trump was impeached by the House, whose Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s mob was trying that day to kill. Two weeks after the insurrection, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris assumed the presidency—despite the assurances of Mike Flynn and other MAGA loyalists that a second term for The Donald was a certainty, “a ten out of ten.” Five weeks after the insurrection, the House managers began the second impeachment trial of Donald John Trump.

Watching all the footage of the besieging of the Capitol, cut chronologically with the exhortations of Trump and his surrogates, two things become clear. First, yes, duh, of course Trump incited the insurrection. It is objectively impossible to watch the case made by the House managers and not reach that conclusion—which is why Fox “News” is picking and choosing and spinning what it shows its viewers. Second, we are very very very lucky that more lives were not lost. Denied backup by ex-president Trump, Capitol police fought back the waves of insurrectionists in hand-to-hand combat for hours. January 6 could have been a full-scale riot. The fact that it wasn’t—that the insurrectionists were there with common purpose, and not just to trash the place—only lends credence to the case against the ex-president.

The only drama remaining is what the Republicans will do.

As Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her “Letters from an American” newsletter, the House managers took great pains to avoid the elephant in the chamber—that some of the Senators serving as jurors in Trump’s trial were knowing, active participants in the insurrection:

The House managers tried to make it possible for Republican senators to convict Trump. They focused on him alone, leaving untouched the fact that some of the senators in the chamber had themselves spread the lie that the election had been marred by massive fraud. (The one apparently in deepest, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, refused to watch the presentation.)

They held up Vice President Pence as a principled leader attacked while trying to do his constitutional duty, offering Republican senators a choice not between their party and the Democrats, but rather between Trump and Pence, Republicans both. They also detailed the attack on Capitol police officers, offering the chance for Republicans to side against Trump and with the officers.

As she mentions, Josh Hawley—whom Twitter dubbed #KidHitler, for his pathetic salute of the insurrectionists on the way to the chamber on January 6—went out of his way to show people he was not paying attention. As infuriating as this is in the moment, it can be ignored. Hawley is a troll, in a sport coat as ill-fittingly tight as Bruce Castor’s was ill-fittingly roomy. Trolling, of course, is what MAGA does best, its only real skill. Other, politer GOP ghosted:

The Republican Senators are fascinating characters in this season of the series, as they seem dead set on acquitting the ex-president. Which, on its face, makes no sense. Remember, all of these Senators, even the seditious ones, were victims of the besieging.

All of them were targets. All of them were in danger. All of them. Republicans speak of the need for an “offramp.” It’s harder to conceive of a safer offramp than “Trump put me in harm’s way as he tried to attack democracy.”

This would be like if the civic leaders of Constantinople, whose homes had been invaded and ransacked, were jurors in the trial of the besiegers—and voted to acquit the Doge of Venice on the charge of masterminding the 1204 attack.

Or if the 9/11 families voted to acquit Osama bin Laden.

Or if Fred Goldman voted to acquit O.J. Simpson.

Or if Roman Polanski voted to acquit Charles Manson.

Like, why the fuck would they do that?

And yet there is Hawley with his feet on his desk. There is Chuck Grassley—whom the insurrectionists may well have executed that day, as he was third in the line of succession—sneaking a game of Solitaire on his iPad. There is Ted Cruz still arguing that the trial is unconstitutional even though the founding documents and literally every historical precedent proves the opposite, as Rep Joe Neguse masterfully showed on Tuesday. There is Rand Paul being a dick, as Rand Paul will. There is doe-eyed Ron Johnson on the MAGA-friendly talk-shows, protesting this and that. There is hysterical Lindsey Graham tweeting nonsense.

Again: Why are they acting like this? The opening argument by the House managers is so compelling, so damning, that, whether or not Trump is convicted in the Senate, he may well face actual criminal charges for his role in the besieging—as soon as Merrick Garland is confirmed as Attorney General…which, by the way, the same gaggle of Senators is slow-rolling. (When Garland is finally confirmed, they should blast “Waiting Room” by Fugazi, and use that as his entrance music going forward). There is zero political benefit to acquitting Trump. Zero.

These Senators are traitors. They are the modern analogs to the residents of Constantinople in 1204 who helped the Crusaders gain entrance to the city. They have betrayed the American people, they have betrayed democracy, and when they vote to acquit Trump, they will have betrayed their colleagues in Congress.

I ask again: Why are they acting like this? The only possible explanation is that they have no choice. They are compromised. They are owned.

And they are easy to spot. None of this, alas, is a surprise.

I wrote about Rand Paul on Medium, well before the launch of PREVAIL—his abrupt 180 on Trump, his long and fishy ties to Russia, his disgraceful attempts to lobby for sanctions relief for his oligarch chums, the time he acted as courier, delivering a letter from Trump to Putin on his trip to Moscow.

I wrote about Ron Johnson, John Neely Kennedy, and the other Fourth of July traitors last December, showing how they became MAGA mouthpieces soon after their return from their Republicans-only junket to Moscow.

I wrote about Lindsey Graham, calling him “Trump’s hostage,” laying out his reversal of position after a day on the links with the ex-president, and citing research done by private investigator-turned-novelist Don Winslow that “Lady G” has managed to keep quiet:

If Winslow’s source is right, then Graham did something so heinous, so beyond the pale, that he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his health, his political power, the well-being of every woman in the country, and last but not least, the national security of the United States, to keep it under wraps. He isn’t worthy of sympathy—or mercy.

These men did not stop being owned just because Trump is no longer in office. For all we know, the presence in the chamber of the lawyer who by his own admission “represented all sorts of reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses, as well a guy the government claimed was the biggest mafioso in the world” was less to defend the ex-president than to intimidate the jury. Defense attorneys meeting with members of the jury is a glaring no-no. That this mob lawyer had private meetings with Republican Senators only supports this assertion.

For five years now, Trump and his associates have made it their mission to gaslight the country. His defense team continues to do so at the trial. It is frustrating to watch. It is enraging. But after all this time, the truth is finally coming out—and it is ugly, scary, and damning.

The Doge really did incite the besieging. The least we can do, to hold him accountable, is banish him from politics forever.

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Photo credit: “Dandolo Preaching the Crusade” by Gustave Doré (1892).