Thursday night on his MSNBC show, Chris Hayes offered up a provocative thesis for why the House Republicans appear to be ready to shut down the government. Yes, there’s their general raging hatred of government and desire to blow the place up. But there is also, Hayes noted, a very specific reason: It’s an attempt to spare Donald Trump from prosecution.
This isn’t coming out of Hayes’s head. No, it’s coming out of Trump’s head. He “truthed” the other day on Truth Social: “A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month. Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State.”
Where do I start? First of all, there’s the usual fascist projection. This is Trump telling us what he plans to do in a second term. He will weaponize the government, close the border, and treat half the country as enemies of the state. He’s basically told us as much already. He did close the border for a while back in 2020 when the pandemic hit. That was a decent excuse (several countries closed borders for a time). If there’s a next time, he won’t need an excuse, he’ll just do it. And as for treating half the country as enemies, he basically signals that in every speech he gives.
Second, it’s blatantly unethical if not outright illegal. Once a prosecutor has brought charges, you can’t just defund his office because you don’t like what he’s done. But there are no rules anymore with Republicans, who are proving the point in Wisconsin, where they’re trying to oust a recently elected liberal state Supreme Court justice because they don’t like the fact that she appears likely to rule against them on a gerrymandering case, which would mean they couldn’t rig the state House and Senate the way they’ve been doing for years. We’ve now reached the point where if they don’t like outcomes or possible outcomes, they just seek whatever means they can to cancel them.
But third … well, here’s the thing. And this is hilarious. A government shutdown would not end the four Trump prosecutions! Two of them, of course, are being undertaken at the state level, in New York and Georgia, so Congress has no power over those at all. And the two federal ones, both led by Jack Smith, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Florida, are protected from any shutdown. In the past, reports NBC News, federal criminal matters have been exempted from government shutdowns. A Justice Department memo from 2021—long before Trump was indicted anywhere, so presumably written not with him specifically in mind—states that in the event of a shutdown, “criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.”
Of course, that’s just departmental policy, not a law, so Republicans are looking for ways around it. Representative Andy Clyde—the guy who called January 6 a “normal tourist visit”—is seeking to add amendments to the appropriations bill to remove all federal funding from all three prosecutors (Smith, Fani Willis, and Alvin Bragg). Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene want to defund Smith. And Jim Jordan (of course) wants legislation dictating that the department can’t spend money on “politically sensitive” investigations.
Can these people possibly get more corrupt? (Don’t answer that.) But this is what happens when reality is turned on its head. Trump has created a “reality” that is the direct opposite of real reality. In real reality, ample evidence exists to suggest that Trump committed serious crimes, and he tried, right in front of our eyes, to lead a violent coup against the United States. But in Trump reality, it’s all McCarthyism.
It’s not even clear that Trump actually believes this. He says it. But who knows what he believes? He has lied so regularly for so many years about so many things, and so frequently contradicts himself, that his brain doesn’t even hold what you and I normally think of as beliefs. So with respect to him, who knows.
But with respect to Republicans, I think we know. Very few of them believe this garbage. As Mitt Romney told McKay Coppins recently, GOP senators regularly criticized Trump behind his back and once “burst into laughter” after he left the room. The House is more extreme than the Senate, so maybe a dozen of them really believe Trump’s narrative. But most don’t. And yet they say it and say it and say it, with conviction.
Let’s remember the bigger picture here when it comes to a government shutdown. It hurts people. It hurts the economy. But it hurts people and communities who count on the government to be doing the things it says it will do. Those people are Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. Republicans don’t care.
And let’s remember the bigger picture with respect to democracy. When one of two political parties is led by people who either (a) genuinely believe a fascist interpretation of reality or (b) don’t, but pretend to out of fear of a strongman and his well-armed followers … well, if that party takes power, democracy is kaput. We’ll find out soon enough how much of the country cares.