The stories of Utah Senator Mike Lee and California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, both Republican grandees, represent the perfect end to Act Two of the play entitled “The Rot Within,” a fable in three parts that will shape the future of our country.
This gripping drama – utterly compelling for anyone who believes a disgraced, debased former president should never again be anywhere close to the Oval Office – is now playing in several new books, many newspapers, on National Public Radio and on a few cable outlets. Don’t miss this show it if you enjoy watching the crumbling foundation of American democracy.
Just to catch you up on the plot: Lee, once thought to be a serious and sober Constitutional conservative and a forthright member of the Mormon Church, was caught red handed conspiring with Donald Trump’s White House to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Lee’s text messages to then-Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, first breathlessly desperate and finally, reluctantly resigned, indicate, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, that the senator was a player in a “plot to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss.”
The text messages show Lee repeatedly urging the White House to pursue the Constitution shredding strategy of convincing several state legislatures to reverse correct and legal decisions to certify Joe Biden’s election.
“Even if they (state legislatures) can’t convene,” Lee wrote in one message, “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today.” In another message Lee literally begged Meadows to tell him what he should be saying publicly about the plot.
Consistent with the central focus of our play – “The Rot Within” – Lee first went mum about the messages he clearly thought would never become public. Then he justified that this bit of light treason was merely a suggestion that Trump and his collection of legal charlatans exhaust all available avenues to contest the election outcome. There were, of course, no legal avenues to contest as court after court after court ruled.
Near the end of Act Two, Lee could be heard mumbling the by now hackneyed words of the GOP playwright: “I knew what a disaster Joe Biden would be.” There you have it friends of political drama, the ultimate conservative rationale for a coup in the night.
Meanwhile, entering stage right is the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is rather like another disgraced Kevin – Spacey. At one time earnest, seemingly sincere, yet with a menacing side. Beneath the veneer of respectability lurks something fundamentally fraudulent and, well, sleazy. With McCarthy – as with Spacey – you know he’s not what he seems to be. He’s always worse.
In our Act Two of the drama our Man from Bakersfield, who would, Macbeth-like kill to be speaker, acts out a vast jumble of deflections, numerous bald-faced lies and, of course, ultimately just sleazy rot. Ah, but the lies are the thing.
Two New York Times reporters, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, wrote a book – part of our play is based on their story – where McCarthy, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, said he was so done, so over with Donald Trump that he was washing him right out of his hair.
As Burns and Martin wrote: “Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: ‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders.” When that story got out, McCarthy issued a categorical denial. Never happened. Made up. Fiction.
Burns and Martin had it all on tape, and richest of all – our playwrights are flirting with farce here – McCarthy said he was done with Trump in a conversation that included Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans immediately after the Capitol attack vowing to hold Trump to account. McCarthy, of course, never followed through on Trump, but instead drummed Cheney out of Republican leadership, attacked her patriotism and is hoping to prevent her re-election.
At first McCarthy’s obvious world-class lying seemed to put his leadership position in question, but that’s not how this conservative drama rolls. Our Kevin dismissed his prevarications as just typical old efforts to divide Republicans ahead of the November election. In other words, McCarthy lied about lying, then lied about why he had lied.
I know it’s difficult to follow the plot, but just know that lying is what it’s all about in this play. To explain just how contemporary this drama is you must understand that such fable-making was once, in a democracy far, far away, a disqualifying action by such senior and seasoned actors. Now, getting caught on tape saying one thing while doing another in public or denying the content of text messages you wrote is just the conservative brand.
We need to stay tuned for Act Three to see how this production ends, but here is a spoiler. Politicians like Lee and McCarthy are nothing more or less than what they appear to be, and they never change. The craven, opportunist given to manipulation and lying to keep status, or power or to save face is a standard character on stage. Shakespeare had many such louts – Iago, Cassius and Richard III – and the modern conservative movement does, as well.
But in our drama, it’s the bit players who bear watching in Act Three, the silent, striving senators like Risch and Crapo in Idaho and Daines in Montana and the get along-go-along members of Congress like McMorris Rodgers in eastern Washington, Rosendale in Montana and Simpson and Fulcher in Idaho. These minor, but still important characters knew back at the beginning of Act One, back when the lying conman at the center of our drama rode down his escalator, that this could all be a horror show. Many of them said so at the time, but then the plot shifted, and craven became cozy. Looking away became commonplace.
By the end of the first act – January 6 – they had so enabled the lying, the conspiracy theorizing and the demonization of all opposition that they found themselves paralyzed by fear. Fear of their own supporters. Fear of losing. Fear of the truth. These characters know the old rule: the weapon that appears in Act One must always be used. And so, it was in the attack on the Capitol.
Act Two, as King Kevin and Mike the Malicious have show us, was about old-fashioned degradation. Humiliation in public in service of advancing the plot.
Act Three will open soon with a great reveal, the documented knowledge that there was a genuine conspiracy afoot to steal an election and degrade democracy, and the conspiracy and degradation continues. The bit players might yet assert themselves, but the playwrights say this show is destined to be a tragedy, so that isn’t at all likely.
But do stay tuned.
If you are inclined to read on … a few suggestions …
Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth
“ProPublica has obtained a trove of internal emails and other documentation that, taken together, tell the inside story of a group of people who propagated a number of the most pervasive theories about how the election was stolen, especially that voting machines were to blame, and helped move them from the far-right fringe to the center of the Republican Party.”
If you want to know how the vast majority of Republican voters came to believe the greatest lie ever told in American politics, ProPublica has the receipts.
The Rise and Fall of World’s Fairs
Smithsonian Magazine has a great piece on the World’s Fair phenomenon and how it’s basically gone away.
“Also known as the Seattle World’s Fair, Century 21 was in many ways no different from its predecessors. Its showcases—designed by architects, corporate leaders and cultural tastemakers—spotlighted a glorious, Cold War–era vision of what the U.S. (and the world) might look like after embracing Space Age technology and mass consumption. Collectively, these displays asserted the strength of the American way of life.”
“Everywhere I stop bookshops are thriving”: novelist Jon McGregor tours his latest book by bike
“I am cycling – as well as jumping on the odd train – to as many bookshops as I can get to in a week. Having conducted my last book tour entirely online, it feels good to be outside again: meeting people and holding books and putting miles beneath my wheels. It’s been a while since I’ve been out in the world like this, and I’m interested to know what the place is like. The roads are quiet all the way to Carlisle. There are Ukrainian flags hanging from windows, and builder’s vans outside every other house, and the occasional stink of a lawnmower. The hedgerows are getting ready to come out.”
This is kinda my idea of heaven. From The Guardian.
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