By Stump Connolly

         Of the 30,000 lies Donald Trump has told in his presidency, the one Mitch McConnell will never forgive is the one that almost killed him.

         In the well of the Senate, on the day before the inauguration of Joe Biden, McConnell remembered the events on January 6 like they were yesterday. “The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty,” he began.

         Just thinking about it made McConnell shudder. He was in the Senate chamber when the Capitol insurrection started. Finally, Donald Trump had run out his string of loser excuses and Congress was ready to affirm the Electoral College choice of Joe Biden as the next President. The envelopes from each state would be opened, Congress would count the votes, and Vice President Pence would make the ceremonial proclamation.

          McConnell had given Trump all the leeway he could to make his case for massive vote fraud. But the evidence was woefully lacking. That didn’t keep Trump from doubling down on his claim the election was stolen. He was so obsessed by the idea he’d really won, McConnell stopped talking to him in mid-December.

         Now McConnell had these Trumpkins on his side of the Senate aisle, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, in particular, showboating for their next campaign by saying they will “object” to the Electoral College tally. And to make matters worse, the President was outside on the Mall egging them on, telling his MAGA legions, “We fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

         “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats,” Trump said. “We’re going to walk down there – and I’ll be there with you – and we’re going to cheer our brave senators, and congressmen and women. But we’re not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

         In his remarks that day on the Senate floor, McConnell gave Trump a clear, unambiguous answer.  “We’re debating a step that has never been taken in American history. Whether Congress shall overrule the rules and overturn a presidential election,” he said. “The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them it would damage our republic forever . . . I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.”

         McConnell called it the most important vote he has cast in 36 years. Forty minutes after he finished, the first rioters broke down the doors of the Capitol.

In the Well

         Two weeks after the Capitol insurrection, with National Guardsmen stationed on every corner, McConnell was back in the well to assure the incoming president he meant it. But he could still hear the echo of the mob raging through the hallway.  “Hang Mike Pence!” they shouted. “Where’s Nancy’s office?” He remembered the savage look on the face of the rioters, hearing a gunshot in the distance, the Secret Service whisking away the vice president, getting pulled down the hall into a secret room with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy.

          “The mob was fed lies,” he said. Slowly. Deliberately. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” McConnell was now speaking for the whole institution. “We stood together and said an angry mob would not have veto power over the rule of law in our nation, not even for one night. We certified the people’s choice for their 46th president.”

A Man of Decorum

         Mitch McConnell is no spring chicken. He’s 78 (and was just re-elected for six more years). He’s been the leader of Senate Republicans – sometimes in the majority, sometimes not – for 15 years. He appreciates Thomas Jefferson’s description of the Senate as the saucer that cools the hot tea of the House, and he has wielded that saucer with all the decorum, if not eloquence, of Cicero in the forum, because McConnell is nothing if not the embodiment of decorum. But in that secret room with Chuck and Nancy and Kevin, decorum was the last thing from his mind. All he felt was terror.

         The room was not sound-proof. He could hear the caterwauling outside, the thugs with their ropes, and ladders, and handcuffs, the sound of windows being smashed and pepper gas grenades. All the leaders had cellphones, so they were getting first-hand reports from aides or instant videos showing the chaos in the corridors. He saw rioters rummaging through the desks of Senators, a clown in coonskin hat and bull horns preening on the Senate dais. They were attacking the Senate. Invading the Senate. Defiling the Senate. His Senate! It scared the shit out of him.

         Locked away together, the congressional leaders reached out to friends in the police, the FBI or at the Pentagon, to find out when the National Guard was coming. (The Secretary of Army told them it was being held back because of the “optics.”) Finally, the Pentagon released the guard, but it took two hours for the troops to arrive. Two hours locked in a room with Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and Kevin McCarthy in the middle of a riot. What would you do? I’d shoot myself.

         But Mitch McConnell came away with a different perspective. Democracy was under attack, and if it survived, he was going to do more to preserve it. The Senate would do things different in the next couple years. They’d work together. It was time to give up the ghost on this whole election fraud scam. Enough is enough.

         Trust in the government would not be restored until the people saw it working.

         “Certainly November’s election did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change,” McConnell said. “But our marching orders from the American people are clear: We’re to have a robust discussion and seek common ground. We are to pursue bipartisan agreement everywhere we can, and check and balance one another respectfully where we must.”

         As McConnell spoke, he knew an impeachment resolution was coming his way that charged the president with inciting the Capitol insurrection. If you read Trump’s remarks that morning, or watched him whip up his followers in the weeks  leading up to the rally, that’s an impeachable offense, McConnell told friends. When the resolution came before the Senate, he was going to tell senators to vote their conscience. He hadn’t made up his mind how he would vote — he needed to take the temperature of the saucer – but he had made up his conscience.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

        After McConnell’s speech wound down, MSNBC switched its cameras over to a shot outside the White House. The usually busy front portico was empty. No cabinet members were going in or out.  The president had not been seen all day.

         Sources said he was working on his Farewell Address. It was supposed to be a five-minute video, but he was practicing, so it was coming in around 20. “He claimed credit for things he didn’t do and twisted his record on jobs, taxes, the pandemic and much more,” the Associated Press reported. “Falsehoods suffused his farewell remarks to the country.”

         It was a speech written for a time capsule, a recitation of all the wonderful things he wished he’d done. The words on the teleprompter had been worked over more times than a Kayleigh McEnany fact. Without an audience to play off of, the President came across as wooden. 

         In a future Trump Presidential Library, the Trump hologram on a pedestal in the rotunda will probably will not be giving his Farewell Address. Words he didn’t write, delivered to no one, in an empty White House. Or maybe it will. What else are you going to put there? Stormy Daniels?

The Sound of Silence

         Across the mall at the Lincoln Memorial, Joe Biden and Kamela Harris were attending a memorial service for the 400,000 Americas who have died from Covid-19. Orange lamps lined the sides of the Reflecting Pool converging on the Washington monument. When the ceremony ended, they turned and stood with their spouses looking out at the serenity of it all.

         You could hear the silence. Feel the silence. It was a blessed silence. The Trump Years were over.

Inauguration Day

         Inauguration Day ran like clockwork.

         President Trump refused to attend Biden’s swearing in ceremony, the first sitting president not to attend since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Instead, he invited anyone who worked at the White House, or ever had worked at the White House (and wasn’t busy getting ready for Joe Biden’s inauguration) to come to Andrews Air Force Base at 8 AM to see him off. There was a red carpet, and a military band playing “Hail to The Chief” and, maybe 500 people, mostly loyal staffers and family. As he walked to Air Force One, his last words were, “We will be back in some form. Have a good life.”

         Exactly three minutes after Air Force One went wheels up with Trump on board, Joe and Jill Biden emerged from St. Matthews Cathedral, the traditional first stop at the inauguration of an incoming president. They went to Arlington National Cemetery, attended a reception in the Capitol, and embarked on all the rituals of the day, the swearing in, the poem, the song, the speech, the handshaking, and the inexhaustible TV blather about what an historic occasion this was.

Notes and Clippings

         With the TV on in the background, I started sifting through my notes and clippings to find things I meant to use but couldn’t find a place for. They were a jumble of random observations, kind of like a Trump speech, and it occurred to me the best way to end this story might be to put this jumble together into a conclusion.

         Here, for instance, is Tom Friedman writing in the New York Times after the election. “We have just experienced four years of the most divisive and dishonest presidency in American history, which attacked the twin pillars of our democracy – truth and trust. Donald Trump has not spent a single day of his term trying to be president of all the people, and he has broken rules and trashed norms in ways that no other president ever dared.”

         And here’s Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review: “Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between,” Lowry wrote. “To put it bluntly, he’s the only middle finger available — to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the ship hand in American culture.”

         On CBS This Morning, Anthony Mason observed, “To meet Donald Trump for the first time is to meet him forever. He is exactly the same in everything he does, and it’s all about him.”

         In November, a couple days after the election, while half a dozen states were still counting ballots, President Trump held a bizarre press conference where he charged that Big Money, Big Media and Big Tech were conspiring to steal the election from him. After it was over, Jake Tapper looked into the camera and sighed.

         “What a sad, sad night for the United States of America to hear their president falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election, to try to attack democracy that way with this feast of falsehoods. Lie after lie after lie about the election being stolen. It’s time for some Republican lawmakers to find their spine and talk to the president about what he needs to do for the good of the country.”

         I have snippets of commentary from the right-wing echo chamber. Hannity bloviating on this and that. Rush Limbaugh making Trump’s re-election his dying wish. Lou Dobbs saying he can’t believe Trump lost. How could the greatest president in the history of the United States lose? And Rudy Giuliani touting lawsuits that never came to fruition.

         On his last day in office, Trump was still bobbing and weaving to avoid saying Joe Biden won the election. Nicolle Wallace watched his Farewell video like she wanted to spank him. “All he has to say is one sentence. He has to say, ‘I lost fair and square. All this was a lie. I really, really liked playing president. But I lost. That’s it.’”

The Anchor

         There are in every generation, news broadcasters who capture the mood of the nation. With just the right tone and timber, and an instinct for saying the right thing at the right moment, they anchor our recollection of the times. Brian Williams has done that for me, especially on the day the House voted to impeach Trump for a second time.

         “This President will now leave office having lost the House, Senate and White House. Having lost re-election. Having lost the popular vote twice,” he said. “As of today, and as children will be taught in schools for the rest of our days, Donald John Trump of Queens, New York, becomes the first president in our history to be impeached twice.

         “The man who warned us we would get tired of winning has now lost everything. His place in history has now been cemented. The man we heard on tape trying to rig the outcome of an election he lost. The man whose malfeasance, malpractice and enablers will forever be linked with an American death toll now approaching 400,000 souls. Trump will now be tried as an ex-president, a real gut check of the gutless, the ultimate test of the Republicans who sold out their names and offices to become the party of Donald Trump.”

The End

         Mitch McConnell will never forget the lie that almost brought down our democracy. Trump’s delusional belief that he could not lose. The web of conspiratorial theories he wove about election fraud were just his way of covering up the fact he ran a half-assed campaign for an office he was ill-equipped to hold.

         But the lies he told aren’t the worst part. They’re just a way of keeping score. Donald Trump has a lot of clubs in his bag, and he’s left a lot of divots in America as he played his way around the presidency. He’s mean, stupid, selfish, insensitive, uninformed, and unfit to be president. And in the end, all those failings rose to the surface.

         It’s like I told you. He’s an asshole. 

 


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