If Only Trump Had Been Stopped From Grabbing America’s Steering Wheel

If the Jan. 6 rioters weren’t going to be pointing their guns at him, then he didn’t care that they were armed.

There may be no better distillation of Donald Trump’s narcissism.

Apprised of the intensifying danger, aware of the potential destruction, he wanted to join the rioters at the Capitol, where he could behold and savor the havoc that he was able to wreak. So he tried to wrest control of the presidential limo from the Secret Service agent who was driving it.

There may be no better metaphor for Trump’s reckless attempt, from the beginning of his presidency to the end, to steer the country in whatever direction he pleased. The rules of the road, fundamental safety, the airbag of the Constitution — none of that mattered. All of it took a back seat to his whims.

These fresh glimpses of Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6, 2021, came from the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, the star witness of a sudden, special hearing of the Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday afternoon. Trump has already pushed back at it, suggesting that it’s made up (gee, when have we heard that before?) and that she’s a nobody (his preferred, shopworn put-down) who had access to nothing (again, sound familiar?).

But in a low-key manner, Hutchinson provided a high-voltage account of Trump’s conduct that day, one that some observers believe may at long last provide a path to his criminal prosecution.

I don’t know about that. Trump’s track record as an escape artist is as indisputable as it is infuriating, and the hearts of those of us who yearn for some accountability have raced like this before.

Regardless, Hutchinson’s portrait of him was devastating, all the more so for her unadorned vocabulary, straightforward delivery and steady manner. You don’t need opera when the libretto is this sordid. You just need the goods, and she had them.

Hutchinson, 25, was an aide to Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the time, and in being almost constantly at his side, she was frequently at the president’s. I called the glimpses of Trump that she provided fresh ones, and in their detail, they were.

But they were otherwise confirmations of what we generally knew, what we were long ago confronted with, which is the transcendent self-absorption of the 45th president, its cowardly indulgence by so many of the people around him and the subjugation of the country itself — its traditions, its stability, its supposed values — to that madness.

Her witness account was the Trump presidency and Trump’s pathologies in miniature, because so was Jan. 6. And as she watched the events that day unfold, she saw that Trump was concerned, yet again, about crowd size above all else.

He gazed out at the swarm of people he’d be addressing and spotted something unconscionable, something unendurable: empty spaces. That’s why, she said, he demanded that even the armed protesters be waved through, so that the television cameras and history could capture the intensity with which he was worshiped, the full scope of his sway.

And what were Meadows and many other of Trump’s enablers doing? Looking away, then looking for a way out. As Hutchinson’s testimony also showed, they were well aware of the potential for violence that day and of the possibility that the president’s own words — the script he intended to use — would increase the odds of it.

But while some of them expressed their fears of that, others just blocked it out. Talk about metaphors: Hutchinson described how she at one point approached Meadows to update him on the deteriorating situation. He shut his car door on her.

And later sought a pass. That was another part of her testimony that was just, well, perfect. She said that Meadows, like so many others whose actions contributed to the bedlam that day, requested a presidential pardon afterward. And why not? If Trump never had to answer for any wrongdoing, why should any of his sycophants?

And if Trump so seldom told the truth, why should they? Hutchinson’s testimony contradicted Meadows’s earlier claim that the president never intended to go to the Capitol that day. And Peter Alexander of NBC News tweeted late Tuesday that a source of his was raising doubts about Hutchinson’s steering-wheel story.

Maybe she has it wrong, though Trump himself at one point gave an account to The Washington Post that in part matches hers. She seemed to me entirely credible, largely because the Trump she depicted is the only Trump I’ve ever observed: tyrannical and temperamental, heedless of the wreckage all around him, brimming with resentment, swollen with rage, fixated on his own glory and perverse in his definition of that.

She was clearly appalled by his behavior and chilled as she watched, in her words, “the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”

“It was un-American,” she said, and that was the only part of her testimony that gave me pause. I’d like to agree with her. But after these past years — and all the ugliness that the Jan. 6 committee has illuminated — I’m just not so sure.

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