Mellman: Where were the heroes on the infamous Dec. 18?

Dec. 18 has joined the list of days that will live in infamy. 

Unlike Dec. 7 and Sept. 11, this latest addition does not recall foreign adversaries using force against our country. Rather, it featured an “unhinged,” profanity-filled meeting of lawyers violating their oaths by plotting to undermine the very Constitution they swore to support.

“Team Crazy,” as one Trump adviser called it, offered then-President Trump a series of illegal means to prevent the peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of democratic governance. At great length, and reportedly with great vituperation, “Team Normal” batted them each down, but the end result was Trump’s decision to summon the mob and put in motion an insurrection, using violence to stop the transfer of power.  

Some have labeled “Team Normal” as heroes for standing up to the crazies, while others argue they were just doing their jobs. Doing one’s job is not usually an argument against heroism. Fire fighters rushing into a burning building (or into a national park engulfed in flames) are “doing their job,” but few would deny them the appellation of “hero.” 

Our servicemen and -women fight wars as part of their jobs, too, but many are certainly heroic in executing those jobs and win medals for conspicuous gallantry. 

My question about the men of Dec. 18 (and they were mostly men) is somewhat different. 

There is no evidence that Trump suffered some kind of breakdown on Dec. 18 or in the days following. He was the same person before that day as after. 

Every participant in that meeting knew of Trump’s extreme and malicious narcissism. Everyone knew he put self above country, bulldozed over the norms of democratic governance, refused to acknowledge inconvenient facts, had difficulty distinguishing reality from his wishful thinking, was regularly incapable of sound judgment, was frequently incoherent, and otherwise unfit to hold the highest office in the land. 

Trump revealed his many flaws and failings to them regularly. The fact that so many remained in the administration because they worried about the threat to the republic if they were to resign is clear evidence of their intense concern about his fitness.

Yet, what did they do about it before or after Dec. 18?

Approximately nothing, as far as we know. 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, of course, defended Trump during his first impeachment and helped him put off and then avoid conviction in his second.  

None of them stepped forward to say publicly that Trump should be removed from office or prevented from seeking the presidency a third time. None organized an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment before, or even after, Jan. 6, another day that will live in infamy. They kept Trump in office for weeks after he had clearly lost, while he was planning and then goading a violent riot.

During the insurrection itself, White House chief of staff’s aide Cassidy Hutchinson quoted Cipollone as saying, “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. … We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.” 

His primary concern seemed to be keeping the president (and perhaps the larger White House staff) out of trouble. That was his job as White House counsel. 

But where is the concern for the fate of the country and the future of the Constitution? That was his duty. 

Heroes would have gone beyond successfully arguing against illegal acts in a meeting. They would have found ways to bring an early, legal end to this presidency that was already far off the rails, or at least prevented the president from fomenting an attempted coup. 

Some heroism of that kind would have saved us from a national trauma that diminished our standing across the world. 

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.