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Martin Schram commentary: Unpresidented — America in Trump’s final days

Now finally, we realize Trump was veritably pleading with them: “Please lie to me.” So they did. And it made him happy.

In the rush to gush their big reveals about Donald Trump’s tumultuous final days as president, the prize for Best Ballyhoo was won hands-down by the smooth but non-revelatory Discovery+ documentary film “Unprecedented.”
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters at the Save America Rally on the Ellipse on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, near the White House in Washington, D.C.
(Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
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In the rush to gush their big reveals about Donald Trump’s tumultuous final days as president, the prize for Best Ballyhoo was won hands-down by the smooth but non-revelatory Discovery+ documentary film “Unprecedented.”

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Its catchy title turned out to be a truth-in-labeling fit for the unprecedented mega-access the Trump family gifted British filmmaker Alex Holder with. And that access won the documentary its unprecedented super-mega promo spotlight as the House Jan. 6 committee gifted the cable channel by subpoenaing the film as a hearing exhibit.

But make no mistake: Historians will chronicle that patriotic bipartisan panel’s landmark contributions for showing Americans that we must act urgently to fix what has gone wrong with our constitutional republic’s anachronistic Electoral College system. It just doesn’t seem quite as necessary or even valid as it must have back in the horse-and-buggy era. We ought to at least think about talking about rethinking and updating.

Why? Well, some of Trump’s most loyal (and far more conservative) Republican patriots have revealed to us how perilously close we came to having our constitutional republic’s democracy shattered by an unhinged, panicked president. Some feared he seemed determined to use every power lever he could grasp to remain in the Oval Office despite his defeat.

So apparently there was something truly "unprecedented”: In those final days, America was functionally unpresidented.

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This is not a column about political name-calling or point-scoring. It is about understanding that we need to start talking about how we ought to rethink and update our Constitution’s election provisions before our republic can be undone by the worst in our midst. Because this summer’s hearings have shown us that America was not just functionally unpresidented after the 2020 elections, but top officials who were loyal to the presidency feared we were in danger of becoming generalissimo’d — by the unstable, unhinged occupant in the Oval Office.

Let’s rewind and replay what we have learned about our presidency and ourselves:

— In the week before the 2020 election, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was so concerned that President Trump might order the military to take some action to keep him in power if he lost the election that he told the commander of the National Guard to contact him — before acting! — if anyone at the White House got in touch.

— After the 2020 election, Trump infamously pleaded with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to invalidate enough votes to allow him to win the state he lost: “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”

— White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that on Jan. 6, Trump said he wanted the Secret Service to turn off the magnetometer screeners because thousands of gun-carrying supporters wouldn’t enter his Ellipse rally. Trump wanted them to come in with their guns so they could then take their guns to the Capitol when he sent them there after his rally.

— After the Jan. 6 rioters overran the Capitol, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, held a daily conference call with Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss their concern that Trump might try to take other action to prevent an orderly transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. Milley also met daily with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

— On Jan. 12, Milley and his joint chiefs signed a memo condemning the Jan. 6 “attack” on the Capitol and pledging that the military will safeguard America and that President-elect Biden will be their commander in chief on Jan. 20.

And throughout all of this, finally, consider something else we now realize: There is a symbiotic common bond — it’s a need, really — that Trump has shared all along with his Make America Great Again die-hards. While mainstream journalists rush to prove Trump’s pronouncements “lies,” Trump knows his people don’t care — and he knows why. He knows that, deep down, they are pleading: “Please lie to me.” So he tells them what they want to hear. And they flock to hear more.

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Now we know why. We have long seen how he craves — needs, really — to be surrounded with those wacky conspiracy theory promoters. On Dec. 18, 2020, he invited his election fraud conspiracy pushers into his Oval Office to tell him about computer conspirators mucking up our voting machines from halfway around the world.

Now finally, we realize Trump was veritably pleading with them: “Please lie to me.” So they did. And it made him happy.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com .

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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