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Trump takes the stand
Turning public proceedings into a circus is Donald Trump’s superpower
Let’s start by celebrating some big wins:
Democrats took control of the state House and Senate in Virginia in a solid rebuke to Republican Governor Youngkin, his proposed 15-week abortion ban, and any remaining presidential ambitions he and his donors may have had.
Moms for Liberty candidates were largely defeated in school board races nationwide. It turns out that most people don’t want far-right extremists running our communities and schools. Candidates backed by Moms for Liberty lost at least 70% of their races, even in red states and districts.
And the victory closest to my own heart, Governor Andy Beshear, was reelected in Kentucky. Given that Andy enjoys a 60% approval rating, I’m not terribly surprised. However, I love seeing the political establishment realize what CARD readers have known since 2020 when I first wrote about his daily COVID-19 briefings and the meme culture around them. Besehear is the most underrated politician in America. At least he was.
I mainly want to remind folks to savor and celebrate the momentum. Saving Democracy is a marathon, not a sprint, and next year will be another slog. I remain bullish about 2024, but if you need more assurance, Simon Rosenberg’s Hopium Chronicles is always worth a read.
Trump takes the stand
Now to our main story: Donald Trump took the witness stand this week, not in one of the four criminal cases against him, but in a Fraud trial against the Trump Organization in New York. The Judge overseeing the case already determined that Trump and the company committed fraud, and this next phase is to help him determine what penalty the Trump organization will pay. The stakes are high. Donald Trump could be fined hundreds of millions of dollars, and he and his sons could be barred from running a business in New York.
Turning public proceedings into a circus is Donald Trump’s superpower - whether or not he’s on the witness stand. I remember watching him during the primary debates in 2015. He had this way of keeping the camera fixed on him -- by rolling his eyes, saying things like “wrong,” or just making faces as his opponents talked. Every candidate on those stages was trained on how to talk when it was their turn to answer, but only Donald Trump knew how to keep the attention on him when it wasn’t.
True to form, Donald Trump made the most of his time. He vented to the news cameras outside the courtroom before going inside and again afterward. Trump’s performance on the stand was combative. Judge Engoron repeatedly scolded Trump and urged his attorneys to control their client, but it didn’t deter him. Trump attacked Engoron as well as NY Attorney General Leticia James repeatedly while on the stand. His attorneys opted not to cross-examine him, though they might call Trump a defense witness.
This week, I’ve also been reading Rachel Maddow’s latest book, Prequel, a deep dive into American Fascism power-building in the 1930s, and a continuation of her podcast Ultra, which I recommended last year. Both the book and podcast are worth a read and offer some compelling stories with parallels to our current age, but one incident that lives my head rent-free is the Justice Department’s attempt to try a Nazi spy ring and associated American collaborators for Sedition in Federal Court.
The prosecution believes the trial will take 2-3 months. But the defendants, aided by an inexperienced judge, turn the courtroom into a circus and extend the trial to over seven months. The trial only ends when the Judge dies in his sleep, and the Justice Department opts to dismiss the charges rather than start all over again. When Ultra first came out last year, neither the Oath Keepers nor the Proud Boys had been convicted yet, and there was a genuine concern that the Justice Department hadn’t had much historic success with sedition charges. Thankfully, a year later, that’s no longer the case. The January 6 defendants couldn’t recreate the chaos of previous sedition trials, but if anyone does a modern version, it’s Donald Trump.
I watched some of Trump’s testimony with great interest. Because with so many upcoming trials, we’ll likely see a lot of Donald Trump courtroom drama over the next year. And I expect these proceedings will inevitably become a part of Trump’s campaign strategy. Since we know Trump can’t draw the same crowds or media attention to his rallies these days, and he’s removed himself from Twitter and the GOP debates, court proceedings are one of the surefire ways Donald Trump has to generate earned media. And since he’ll be the focus of these trials, Trump won’t have to worry about competing with Joe Biden or anyone else for oxygen.
As a criminal defendant, Donald Trump doesn’t have to testify in his own defense. It’s unclear if we’ll see him on the witness stand again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.
You Can't Shame People Into Defending Democracy (Oliver Willis)
A good reminder from Oliver. Especially if, like me, you hear people grumbling about Biden, and your instinct is to start lecturing. I always like to remind myself that it’s a good thing for Biden, or anyone holding power, to hear dissent and grievances.
Mark Sumner breaks down what a second Trump precedency would mean for America, mostly using Trump’s own words. Because Trump and his allies are pretty open about what their agenda is.
We had municipal elections in Seattle this week. Even in solid blue states where no one believes election fraud conspiracies are taking place, election workers remain under threat as this news story shows. Sadly, I think this will get worse in 2024, not better.
I had a wonderful time in Chicago, spending the week with my Obama Leaders cohort and attending the Democracy Forum. I loved meeting and connecting with inspiring people I might never have met otherwise. Then, on the last night, we celebrated the 15th anniversary of President Obama's election. I spent some precious time with old friends and mentors who encouraged me early in my career and continue to be dear friends all these years later.
I didn't realize how much I needed all of that. I've been on autopilot since Dad died this summer, grinding to keep it together and get everything done. At some point this week, I realized I felt like me again for the first time in who knows how long. It's good to be back and feel some fire in my belly again.
If you want to get a sense of what the week was like, the Obama Foundation has a highlights video covering everything. They really did plan all the events all at once. It was impressive:
Take care, and I’ll talk to you next week!