Disgrace is a do-it-yourself project, one that’s easy to initiate but impossible to erase.
That truth frames a week or so when the worms turned. Turned state’s evidence, that is. Three of Donald Trump’s legal cronies acknowledged the crimes they had committed as part of Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election from Joe Biden.
On Tuesday we saw Jenna Ellis tearfully plead guilty to a no-prison-term felony, even while pretending that her only real failing was not thoroughly checking what she was told by others. (Read: by top Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.)
Spare us. Ellis is 38, not 15. She accepted and spread utter and obvious lies, without qualms.
Before her, it was Kenneth Chesebro, a 62-year-old Harvard Law School-educated attorney who like Ellis obviously knew better than to believe the lies Trump was spreading. He pleaded guilty to having conspired with Trump legal enablers and fellow indictees John Eastman and Giuliani to put forward a fake Electoral College slate in Georgia (as well as other states). According to his lawyer, Chesebro never believed Trump’s Big Lie. Not only that but, as Chesebro himself acknowledged in an email, the phony-slate scheme was so illicit that it “could appear treasonous.”
Last Thursday, it was 68-year-old Sidney Powell, simultaneously the most imbecilic in the wild-eyed voting-machine nonsense she spewed and the most self-assured in spouting it.
Add to that list former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who ABC News reports has some sort of immunity deal with federal special counsel Jack Smith. According to ABC, Meadows has conveyed to Smith that he repeatedly told Trump there hadn’t been any significant voter fraud in the election.
Most of this news came during the same week that former Trump fixer Michael Cohen outlined in New York state court the way he had, at Trump’s direction, vastly inflated the value of his then-boss’s assets.
Now, it’s no secret that Trump has long been an inveterate liar. But why were the others willing to aid, abet, and further his lies?
For Powell, it was obviously the seductive chance for a pedestrian pettifogger to achieve national prominence — even if doing so meant making assertions she knew were spun from whole cloth.
For Chesebro, it appears to have been the opportunity for a Harvard-trained lawyer who thought surpassingly well of himself but had not achieved the professional prominence or status of many of his classmates to suddenly leapfrog them. A crypto-currency windfall freed him to pursue the proximity to political power on the right that he had failed to realize on the left.
For Ellis, it was the allure of hopscotching the country as part of Trump’s comically named “elite strike force team” (a team that lost virtually every lawsuit it filed), a role that let her burnish her fanciful claims of constitutional law expertise.
Meadows’s Faustian bargain was always obvious. Previously relevant only as a fringe player, a House Freedom Caucus practitioner of political brinksmanship, he was, as Trump’s chief of staff, suddenly at the center of things. He didn’t just bask in that unaccustomed relevance. He came to value it over his own integrity, a calculation that had a certain logic about it, since probity had never numbered among his defining qualities.
These Trump loyalists forfeited the sorry dregs of their not-so-sacred honor in the pursuit of prominence, proximity to power, and influence. What they actually traded, however, was the anonymity that accompanies mediocrity for public disgrace — and in the case of Ellis and Chesebro, for felony status.
Notably, even as the former president’s schemers were admitting the crimes they committed as part of his election-theft effort, House Republicans were making fealty to Trump’s Big Lie a litmus test for leadership. His honest vote to certify Joe Biden’s election is part of what sunk the speakership hopes of Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota.
As Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, explained: “I couldn’t support a speaker of the House that didn’t object” to certifying Biden’s election.
Nor could any number of others who truckle Trump. And so, on Wednesday, Republicans elected as the new speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, whose status as an election-denier is beyond dispute.
This is the public face of MAGA America, a realm populated by mendacious mediocrities.
Discerning Americans need to realize the point at which we’ve arrived and impose a litmus test of their own. They need to reject every candidate for public office who won’t renounce the Big Lie.
By that simple act, they can help reverse this country’s sad, soporific slide toward authoritarianism.