Robert Reich: Why American Politics Remains Haunted By The Former Guy – OpEd


The “former guy” was the keynote speaker at House Republican leaders’ recent annual fundraising dinner. He reportedly repeated his big lie, asserting that the “insurrection was on Nov. 3.” He added that the events of January 6, when a violent mob invaded the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election, were a “protest,” and were justified.

On Tuesday night, a federal judge ruled that Congress can obtain the former guy’s White House files related to what happened on January 6. Congress has demanded detailed records about his every movement and meeting on the day of the assault, when he led a “Stop the Steal” rally and his supporters then sacked the Capitol in an attempt to block Congress from certifying President Biden’s Electoral College victory.

The chairman of the congressional committee doing the investigation, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, wants to wrap up by “early spring.” In that case, the committee would need access to the files it has subpoenaed by late winter for that information to be part of any report.

Should the committee find that the former guy instigated or was meaningfully involved in the events of January 6, Attorney General Merrick Garland should move to trigger Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which bars anyone from holding office who has “engaged in insurrection” against the United States. Under no circumstances should the former guy be permitted to run for president again.

Before he came on the scene, most Americans weren’t especially passionate about politics. But the former guy’s MO has always been to force people to become passionate about him – to take fierce sides for or against. When he was president, he considered himself president only of the people who were for him, whom he called “my people.”

He came to office with no agenda except to feed his monstrous ego. Even after the disastrous end of his presidency, his people’s adoration continues to sustain him. So does the continuing antipathy of his detractors. Presidents usually try to appease their critics. He went out of his way to offend them, and still does. “I do bring rage out,” he unapologetically told journalist Bob Woodward in 2016.

In this way, he turned – and he continues to turn – America into a gargantuan projection of his own pathological narcissism. His entire re-election platform in 2020 was found in his use of the pronouns “we” and “them.” In his mind, “we” were people who love him. “They” hated him.

Which presumably is why he took no action as rioters stormed the Capitol. He knew exactly what they were doing. He was repeatedly implored to stop them, but he didn’t because he viewed them as his people, and they were “protesting” what happened to his nation.

Last year at a White House news conference, a CNN correspondent asked him if he condemned the behavior of his supporters in Portland, Oregon. In response, he charged: “Your supporters, and they are your supporters indeed, shot a young gentleman.” In his eyes, CNN existed in a different country. As did the inhabitants of blue states and those who lived in the “Democrat cities,” as he called them.

California was (and continues to be, in his mind) outside his nation — a major part of the other nation, of those who reject him. He sought to reject its request for aid battling wildfires “because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him,” said former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor. In his mind, New York was (and continues to be) the capital of the other nation, which probably contributed to him playing down the threat of Covid-19 in March 2020 when its virulence seemed largely confined to that metropolis. Months later, he claimed the US rate of Covid-19 deaths would be low “if you take the blue states out.” That wasn’t true, but it’s not the point. For him, blue states didn’t count because they were not part of his nation.

To him and his core enablers and supporters, the laws of his nation authorize him to do whatever he wants. Laws that constrain him are illegitimate because they’re made and enforced by the people from the other nation, the people who reject him. Hence his call to the president of Ukraine seeking help with the election was “perfect” — just as it was fine for Russia to side with him in 2016. And it seemed natural for the Justice Department to help him win reelection. They were aiding his nation.

He will never accept the result of the 2020 election because in his mind he wasn’t the president of people who voted against him. As he claimed beforehand, “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”

If he runs for re-election in 2024, it will be to rescue and redeem his nation — and once again make himself the center of America’s angry divisiveness. His megalomaniacal ego wants the nation to come apart over him. That millions of dollars are still being spent invoking him in political campaigns – both in support and against candidates – must delight him no end.

But unless he is prevented from running again, America may still come apart over him.

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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