Remember that during Trump’s first impeachment trial — the one over soliciting help from a foreign power to destroy his political enemies — Jordan insisted that Trump was really trying to fight corruption. Yes, and the Watergate break-in was actually muscular maid service. In service to Trump, Jordan’s strategy is not to distort, bend or spin the truth. His rhetorical technique is to bellow absurd lies at the top of his lungs in the hope no one else can be heard. His selection — blocked, thank goodness, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — was a malicious choice, by a hollow leader, of a detestable partisan, in a treacherous cause.
There is also no doubt that all Trump’s thoughts and prayers are with the violent rioters of Jan. 6. In a newly released interview with The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Trump insisted that he spoke to a “loving crowd.” “Personally, what I wanted is what they wanted,” he said. “They showed up just to show support because I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before.”
Sometimes, politicians get so lost in the bramble and fog of their own lies, they don’t even notice a damaging confession when they make one: “What I wanted is what they wanted.” There is, of course, no single will of a large crowd. Much depends on the way it is handled and the outcome of its anger. We don’t judge the nature of the mob storming the Bastille by the ones in back who had a deep respect for public property. We judge a mob by the fervor of the ones in front, by how many they can carry with them, by the intention they have, by the corporate actions they take and by the manner in which they are led.
“What I wanted is what they wanted.” The ones in front were the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and at least nine other extremist and racist groups that wanted to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the functions of the federal government. From the scale and nature of the indictments, we know that plenty of regular Americans got carried along into acts of destruction and violence.
The general purpose was not peaceful protest. The crowd was gathered in Washington by the president with the specific intention of intimidating members of Congress (and the vice president) to abandon their duties and support a coup against the Constitution. Their leader stoked their anger, sent them marching to Capitol Hill, refused to intervene when the violence began and then gave their work a warm benediction.
There are good and bad instincts in every crowd, as there are in any person. The high purpose of political leadership is to appeal to the better instincts of citizens in pursuit of a common good. In that task a leader can persuade, inform, inspire, cajole, compare or even, sometimes, satirize and chastise. What leaders should not do is incite the worst instincts of citizens in a selfish or destructive cause.
At the 1968 convention in Chicago, the conflict between law enforcement and protesters was chaotic and violent. The Democratic nominee that year was Hubert Humphrey, a good man with insufficient skills to master the moment. But it turns out that being a good man can matter in a crisis. Humphrey used his convention speech to quote Saint Francis: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.” He also drew a line:
“And winning the presidency — and listen well — winning the presidency is not worth a compact with extremism.”
Compare that with: “What I wanted is what they wanted.” Trump’s worst instincts magnify his followers’ own. In his Republican Party, support for civil disorder is now used as a fundraising tool. Excusing civil disorder is a loyalty test. But the worst comes when civil disorder is a political weapon. Unless some sharp turn is made, this is where American politics may be heading. Because Trump has made his compact with extremism.