The screams and cursing coming from the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, were the soundtrack to an attempted coup. According to former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson and other witnesses who have testified before the Jan. 6 congressional committee, various fringe Trump supporters, including Sydney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Flynn, gathered to encourage the soon-to-be former president to keep contesting the election results, maybe commandeer the voting machines, maybe declare a national emergency.
Trump was all ears. White House aides, some of whom have testified, were appalled by the spectacle of screaming, foul language and bizarre conspiracy theories bouncing off the walls. Alcohol flowed. That was Dec. 18. A few hours later, when the meeting broke up, Trump tweeted about an upcoming gathering at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that promised to be “wild.” According to published reports and testimony at the Jan. 6 hearings, Giuliani had to be escorted out the White House to be sure he actually left.
Apparently when the president breaks all the rules, it gives others permission to exceed their power, cross boundaries, pander to violent fringe groups and traffic in disinformation. The Trump presidency was rotten, and the stench came from the top.
I think about the disgrace of it all, the absence of decorum and respect for the office of the president. I think, too, of the principled, high-minded individuals who have walked those halls and sat at the president’s desk. Trump and his extremist pals have sullied the space in an unprecedented way. If their delusional and illegal suggestions had been taken, it could have brought down our government. It certainly has changed our America.
I think about all this from an Airbnb house in Maine, down the block from a small cemetery dating back to 1792. That was 16 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence; the Revolutionary War had ended just nine years earlier. The Constitutional Convention took place in the summer of 1787, so in 1792, when people were settled in this area, the Constitution was a freshly minted document, only 5 years old.
This area feels like early America, plain clapboard houses flying the Stars and Stripes, simple plantings and rock walls and stone boundaries. It isn’t difficult at all to walk down this road and imagine how it looked over 200 years ago. I feel connected here to all that is basic and good about our beginnings.
It didn’t take long, however, for news of the “unhinged” meeting in the Trump White House in December 2020, to reach me. We’re on vacation, but I can’t tune out the Jan. 6 hearings, which are investigating the attempted insurrection. It feels like a civic responsibility.
As witnesses come forward and speak to the misinformation, erratic behavior and unprincipled tactics of Trump’s coterie, I realize it isn’t just the rules and laws of democracy that are being undone — it is its very spirit.
The people Trump brought into the Oval Office to advise him in December 2020 are the misfits, the pardoned felons, the purveyors of disproved conspiracy theories. They are the dregs, and they sat where, over time, Churchill and de Gaulle and popes and the king and queen of England and Gorbachev and Rabin once sat. Other presidents sat there, too, some better than others, but no one as amoral and undignified as Trump. That the likes of Giuliani and Powell and Flynn could have access to a president is unconscionable. That they could proffer unproven conspiracy theories and advocate against a legitimately elected new president speaks to the unraveling of our democracy.
The “unhinged” Dec. 18 meeting in the Oval Office went on for hours, according to witnesses. I wonder what would have happened if, while theories of Venezuelan interference in the election were being discussed, our country had been attacked. What if a missile had taken out New York City or a cyberattack had brought down our electrical grid? What if our water supplies had been poisoned or a killer bug had been let loose in the subways? What if? Who would have made the decisions that would lead us in a moment of crisis? Who would have inspired the faith of the people and demonstrated the gravitas and good sense to find a path forward?
That Dec. 18 meeting was gross and shocking and dangerous in so many ways. I hope the Biden team cleaned the carpets and aired out the room.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.