David French — a conservative critic of President Donald Trump — argued this week in a newsletter for The Dispatch that Republicans are “building the idiocracy, one word salad at a time” in their attacks on impeachment.
“Idiocracy” is the title of a 2006 comedy which, French notes, is “set in the fictional, dumbed-down America of the future — where President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho rules over a drought-stricken, miserably stupid nation.” And in real life, French asserts, Trump’s defenders “are actively trying to build the idiocracy” for “the sake of defending” him.
French explained how this pattern unfurls as bad news for the president emerges:
If you follow social media in the age of Trump, you’ve likely noticed a pattern. When there’s a report of an alleged Trump scandal, there’s often a brief pause on MAGA Twitter and in MAGA Facebook. One set of defenders waits patiently for the media overreaction, ready to pounce on the first blue checkmark who goes too far or misstates the alleged facts. Another set waits for a credentialed or credible person to toss a word salad for Trump — granting them a ‘well akshually’ fig leaf that they can trot out as a talking point online.
Examples of such pro-Trump talking points, according to French, include claims that he has “a constitutional right to confront the whistleblower” in the Ukraine scandal and is the victim of an attempted “coup” by Democrats who are seeking to overturn the 2016 election results. French observes that while the “overturn the election results” talking point is common among pro-Trump Republicans, that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
“If Trump is impeached and convicted — highly unlikely — it doesn’t ‘overturn’ the 2016 election,” French writes. “Hillary Clinton won’t be president. Every one of the laws, judicial confirmations and regulations enacted during the entirety of Trump’s term would remain in place.”
Trump supporters throwing the term “coup” around, French emphasizes, aren’t even using it correctly.
“A coup is an unlawful, often violent seizure of power,” French explains. “Impeachment is a constitutional process that can’t succeed without the affirmative votes of, first, a majority of the House, and then, a supermajority of the Senate — and every person voting is a person who won an election, also according to constitutional process. Impeachment isn’t the dissipation of constitutional government, it’s the exercise of constitutional authority.”
Another talking point on the “Trumpist right,” French points out, is the claim that under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Trump has the right to confront the whistleblower — a claim that is ludicrous, he says, because the Sixth Amendment deals with criminal prosecutions, not an impeachment in Congress. And French laments that even Steven Calabresi, a conservative legal scholar who teaches law at Northwestern University, has referenced the Sixth Amendment to defend Trump.
“The scope and reach of the Sixth Amendment has been extensively litigated, and it most assuredly does not apply to the House’s impeachment inquiry,” French emphasizes. “One can certainly make a good-faith argument that maintaining the whistleblower’s anonymity is unfair, but to argue that it violates the Sixth Amendment is simply and plainly wrong.”
French stresses that when even respected legal scholars and historians are using ridiculous talking points in Trump’s defense, an “idiocracy” is being established.
“I know that there’s a longstanding tradition of hyperbole in American political rhetoric, but there’s a difference between exaggerations and plainly false constitutional assertions,” French explains. “Moreover, while people expect hyperbole from Sean Hannity or any other screaming Trump defender on talk radio, the same ideas from the pen of a respected historian sends a message that ‘this really is a coup.’ It’s not. It’s not even close.”