Reasons for Hope
Between news of Rupert Murdoch's shift, an expanding DOJ investigation into Donald Trump's actions and an unexpected deal for a new climate and health spending bill, this week turned suddenly positive
If you focused on the return of Donald Trump to Washington, DC, this week, his first visit since he was evicted on Jan, 20, 2021, you’d be enveloped in the upside-down, his world of American carnage where “our country is now a cesspool of crime,” the streets are “soaked with the blood of innocent victims,” and he is the moral authority praising the police and asserting what is right and true: “There is no longer respect for the law and there is certainly no order.”
For anyone who remembers the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, and watched the primetime hearing last week detailing the evidence of his refusal to stop the violence—much of it attacks on the police—this speech at his America First Policy Institute Summit was hard to stomach.
But earlier that same day, speaking to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, President Joe Biden offered a voice of sanity that put Trump’s comments in context. “You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-cop,” Biden said. “You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-American.”
If I thought I was going to be writing about these dueling, discombobulating realities, there were other facts providing reason for hope. Last week, the day after the Jan. 6 committee’s primetime hearing, the New York Post published an editorial headlined “Trump’s silence on Jan. 6 is damning.”
It included lines like this: “As his followers stormed the Capitol, calling for his vice president to be hanged, President Donald Trump sat in his private dining room, watching TV, doing nothing. For three hours, seven minutes.”
And it concluded with this: “It’s up to the Justice Department to decide if this is a crime. But as a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again.”
That’s the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, and it was no aberration. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which called the eighth hearing “sobering,” published this editorial the day after the hearing: “The President Who Stood Still on Jan. 6: Even as the riot raged at the Capitol, Trump wouldn’t tell his supporters to stop.”
And when Mr. Trump came to Washington this week? Did Murdoch’s Fox News give the speech its usual fanfare? Nope. They didn’t even broadcast it.
Yes, House minority leader and Trump sycophant Kevin McCarthy and former House Speaker and Trump acolyte Newt Gingrich were on stage at the two-day America First event. Yes, Trump favorites like former advisor Stephen Miller and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene were in the audience. To no surprise, Gingrich called the former Trump officials in attendance “in a sense, an administration in exile.” He and the others were there to game out their return to power.
But this week offered the promising revelation that the Department of Justice was investigating Trump’s actions in relation to Jan. 6—including seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct a government proceeding and potential fraud involving phony electors—raising fresh doubt about Trump’s ability to regain access to elected office and the levers of power. We also learned that Marc Short, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff, and attorney Greg Jacob appeared before the grand jury in recent days.
And, the Washington Post noted, “the public pace of the work has increased,” including “a fresh round of subpoenas, search warrants and interviews,” plus obtaining the phone records of Trump former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. As the story explained:
“The Washington Post and other news organizations have previously written that the Justice Department is examining the conduct of Eastman, Giuliani and others in Trump’s orbit. But the degree of prosecutors’ interest in Trump’s actions has not been previously reported.”
Since the release early last week of a DOJ memorandum discouraging new criminal investigations involving political candidates that might raise the appearance of partisan politics, I have been among those who have worried whether this would accelerate Trump announcing a 2024 run to avoid criminal investigation and indictment. But in an NBC News interview with Lester Holt on Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said all the right things:
“We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan. 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That’s what we do. We don’t pay any attention to other issues with respect to that.”
And what about the schedule if Trump were to run? Holt asked. Garland responded with the urgency of an AG who just might be feeling the public pressure: “I’ll say again that we will hold accountable anyone who was criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer, legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”
The distance between these statements and criminal indictment remains unclear; investigating Trump’s actions does not mean that he is or ultimately will be a target of a DOJ investigation. But as much as I’ve learned to be skeptical of Trump ever being held accountable for his criminality, it’s hard to avoid the real and hopeful possibility that this is where we are heading.
These events alone would comprise a darn good week. But then came the unexpected news Wednesday that Sen. Joe Manchin had reached a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a $739 billion legislative package that includes $369 billion in investments to combat climate change, a lowering of prescription drug prices and extended subsidies for Affordable Care Act insurance coverage. This would be paid for by a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations and additional resources for the Internal Revenue Service to pursue tax cheats, with the promise that this would not cost taxpayers making less than $400,000 a year one single dime. In addition, the extra revenue raised would be used to reduce the deficit by $300 billion.
While the bill’s total price tag is well below the original $4 trillion Build Back Better plan, the newly titled Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 suddenly reactivates Biden’s agenda, particularly providing the largest investment in climate change strategies ever and said to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
But what made this announcement particularly sweet was the fact that it came about four hours after the House passed into law the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act to subsidize US semiconductor manufacturing and science and technology innovation. That’s legislation that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans agreed to support because Joe Manchin had appeared to doom the previous climate and social spending bill.
It was the kind of move that we might expect from McConnell—and infuriating to McConnell and other Republicans who realized that they had been out-maneuvered for a change by the Democrats. (In shameful spite, Senate Republicans blocked a broadly bipartisan bill that provided needed funds for veterans who are victims of burn pits—legislation that we can only hope will be revived later.)
Yes, we still await the intentions of the mercurial Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. But for now, in a political year that has seemed headed on a downward spiral driven by a tyrannizing minority, there are new reasons for hope.
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