Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
August 16, 2023
Last night, after a Georgia grand jury’s indictment of 19 people who worked to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, indicted co-conspirator and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani made a statement saying: “This is an affront to American Democracy and does permanent, irrevocable harm to our justice system. It’s just the next chapter in a book of lies with the purpose of framing President Donald Trump and anyone willing to take on the ruling regime. They lied about Russian collusion, they lied about Joe Biden’s foreign bribery scheme, and they lied about Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive proving 30 years of criminal activity. The real criminals here are the people who have brought this case forward both directly and indirectly.”
This morning, Trump posted on Truth Social a promise that next Monday he will present “A Large, Complex, Detailed but Irrefutable REPORT on the Presidential Election Fraud which took place in Georgia,” saying the report “is almost complete.” He went on: “Based on the results of this CONCLUSIVE Report, all charges should be dropped against me & others—There will be a complete EXONERATION!”
It appears the Trump Republicans have fully embraced what Russian political theorists called “political technology”: the construction of a virtual political reality through modern media. Political theorists developed several techniques in this approach to politics: blackmailing opponents, abusing state power to help favored candidates, sponsoring “double” candidates with names similar to those of opponents in order to confuse voters on the other side and thus open the way for their own candidates, creating false parties to split the opposition, and, finally, creating a false narrative around an election or other event in order to control public debate.
The reality, of course, is that the claims that Giuliani, Trump, and their co-conspirators have made in front of the cameras have never stood up in the courts. They have lost time and time again. Just last month, Giuliani conceded in court that he had lied about election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, and Georgia governor Brian Kemp—a Republican—responded today to Trump’s promise of an “Irrefutable REPORT” by saying: “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen. For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward—under oath—and prove anything in a court of law.”
But Trump, and now his supporters, rose to power on their construction of a virtual political reality—pushing the story that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had tried to “bleach” an email server until Americans believed it, for example (while Trump’s own recent attempt to delete security-camera footage after it had been subpoenaed by a grand jury has largely flown under the radar)—and Trump and his supporters continued to double down on that false world first to keep him in power and now to return him to it.
Notably, in 2019, they tried to smear Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden by pressuring newly elected Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter: not to conduct an investigation, but only to announce one because they knew that media coverage would convince a number of people that where there was smoke there must be fire.
That investigation continues in 2023, pushed by a new set of Trump supporters, but with what appears to be the same goal. There, too, actual testimony under oath, like that of Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer, belies all the hyperbolic language with which Republicans are accusing the Bidens of corruption, but in that case, flooding the zone with sh*t, as Trump media specialist Steven Bannon put it, is working.
In cases where it is less successful, they are deliberately tearing down public confidence in our system of justice, arguing that the decision of ordinary Americans on grand juries to indict the former president and his co-conspirators for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election is a sign that the Justice Department has been “weaponized” against MAGA Republicans.
But reality is reasserting itself, not just in courtrooms, but also in the country at large.
Six years ago today, on August 15, 2017, then-president Donald Trump made remarks at a news conference at Trump Tower. It was there that he made the statement that there “were very fine people on both sides” of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few days earlier. He and his supporters later denied he had said such a thing or claimed that it had been taken out of context, although the transcript is pretty clear.
But that was not what Trump was there to talk about that day. He was there to talk about infrastructure and a vision of the country’s economic future.
Trump promised that the Republican policy of slashing regulation, which had been central to the party since 1981 and went hand in hand with tax cuts, would mean “[w]e’re going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking and the permitting process will go very, very quickly…. No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay, while protecting the environment we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways,” he said.
Trump pledged: “We will rebuild our country with American workers, American iron, American aluminum, American steel. We will create millions of new jobs and make millions of American dreams come true. Our infrastructure will again be the best in the world…and we will restore the pride in our communities, our nation…. We want products made in the country…. You have to bring this work back to this country…. I want manufacturing to be back into [sic] the United States so that workers can benefit.”
And yet, that, too, was a fantasy. Trump’s policies did not deliver the economic revival he promised.
Instead, six years later, it is President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who have delivered that revival. They reordered the nation’s economic policies away from supply-side economics back toward the economic policies that guided the nation from 1933 to 1981, and now are taking a victory lap for actually rebuilding infrastructure, creating manufacturing jobs, and bringing supply chains home by investing in ordinary Americans.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed in November 2021, is enabling workers to rebuild the country’s roads, bridges, railroads, and other hard infrastructure. The CHIPS and Science Act has brought supply chains home and spurred investment in the production of semiconductors. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law on August 16, 2022, has created a surge of more than 170,000 jobs in manufacturing and clean energy, doubling the numbers of manufacturing jobs in the year since it passed, as private investment has followed the law’s public investment.
Political theorists constructed political technology as a way to create a false world that would convince voters to elevate a strongman to power. It is not clear what happens when that false world is revealed to be illusory, as it increasingly has been with regard to Trump’s statements.
At the very least, it seems unlikely that his announcement of “a major News Conference” to reveal why all the charges against him should be dropped will be met with the attention such an announcement would have attracted even a few years ago.