- “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” – George Orwell, 1984
- “Just remember what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what is happening.” — Donald Trump
- “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” — George Orwell
In a sublime episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The Masks,” Robert Keith (father of Brian Keith) plays Jason Foster, an elderly man who summons his unpleasant family to visit him as he dies. He has generously provided for them in his will, but with the proviso that they have to wear grotesque masks until midnight that evening. After much grumbling, they agree. The clock strikes midnight and Foster dies. Gleefully, his family removes their masks only to learn that, as Orwell suggested, their faces had grown into them. So it shall be with today’s Republican leadership and Cabinet with the mask provided by Donald Trump. It is the face of a profoundly dishonest and fearful man.
On Monday, December 9, the independent DOJ Inspector General released his report that demolished the right-wing canard and Russian talking point that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election. Apart from the patent absurdity that such a powerless country could have implemented such a plan, the evidence for such a plot had been widely and universally debunked.
Nevertheless, within minutes of the release of the report, US Attorney General Bill Barr contested it. Within minutes of that, US Attorney John Durham, Barr’s handpicked inspector of all things Ukrainian, echoed Barr’s concerns, stating that he was likely to reach different conclusions.
These statements are unprecedented. It is particularly troubling that Durham, who had enjoyed a nonpartisan reputation, has chosen to comment on the IG investigation before his own is complete. The statements clearly were designed to fit to the will of Donald Trump, and although their attempt to destroy the truth may succeed, their faces are being transmuted (Barr’s transformation was already well underway). Today, Barr gave a wide-ranging interview in which he claimed he did not know whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. At every opportunity, he gave life to conspiracy theories, including the ridiculous DNC server story. This is despite the fact that as leader of the Justice Department, he had access to the same information as the Inspector General and the FBI. Looks like Trump got his Roy Cohn.
This follows a two week period in which two US Senators, John Kennedy and Ted Cruz, appeared on Meet the Press to promote Putin’s Ukraine propaganda. Chuck Todd, who is not known for challenging his guests, appeared aghast and pushed back on both occasions. The lies continued during the House impeachment hearings, promoted among others by Devin Nunes, who later turned out to have communicated frequently with both Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani. This trio, along with Trump, appear to have formed a nexus to promote Ukraine conspiracy theories to a gullible Republican base. It is critical that these operatives please Trump, because if they tell the truth, he will suffer a narcissistic injury and will — horror of horrors — tweet at them.
The Republicans in the body politic who do have the guts to stand up for the truth have been few and far between. Mitt Romney is one of them. He’s old enough, has enough credibility, and as a first year senator has sufficiently low electoral risk to do so safely. Another is FBI Director Chris Wray, who immediately drew criticism for his effrontery in the form of a Trump tweet.
It is not clear what will happen to Wray. It would probably be unwise for Trump to fire him, given the response the Comey firing drew. But that was in 2017. In the 2019 environment, the masks have been on for 2 additional years and the faces of those wearing them have changed a great deal. Precedent has become a word without much meaning in the Trump era.
The behavior of Congressional Republicans since the 2018 midterms has been a profile in cowardice. With the possible exception of Romney, they been in sycophantic lock-step with their dear leader. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the impeachment hearings. Here we were treated to the spectacle of unending motions and parliamentary inquiries with the sole purpose of interfering with the hearings. They would not stop talking when these were shot down, and they would attempt to shout over the Chairs. They also issued blistering jeremiads against the unfairness of the process, despite the fact that they had helped set the rules being used for the hearings when they were in power. And worst of all, they continually raised conspiracy theories and disregarded proven facts. Among the most vitriolic were those who had best grown into the Trump mask: Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, Matt Gaetz, and Louie Gohmert.
At the same time, Rudy Giuliani, who is under multiple investigations, has thumbed his nose at those and his clear implication in the Ukraine scandal. He has made outrageous statements and charges. Let it not be forgotten that shortly before the 2016 election, he gleefully stated that there were tricks up the Trump’s team sleeve. Three days later, the Comey memo dropped. The timing couldn’t have been better for Trump, who was facing his own problems in light of the Access Hollywood Tape. Rudy IS the mask.
And, of course, there’s Fox News. It’s almost not worth going into their complicity and duplicity, but it’s unending. However, Tucker Carlson deserves a special mention for his stated desire to see Russia triumph and his preference for Russia even over the “far-left Democrats.” As to Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, and Sean Hannity, the less said the better.
The election remains inadequately protected. Mitch McConnell, another mask bearer, has steadfastly refused to allow the consideration of election protection bills passed by the House (in addition to the 250+ bills he has locked up in his legislative graveyard). It is hard to have much faith in the process, especially given the massive voter suppression efforts in place in some of the states.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for any sort of freedom to survive in a system in which truth is not respected. In the absence of shared reality, there is no reference point other than those who are in power. This is particularly problematic when the leaders are authoritarians. Yet the assault on the truth is happening among elected Republicans, those in the White House, and Fox News. The liars have been given their masks and their faces are growing into them. And it shows who they are.