Don’t read the rest of this sentence if you are obscenity-sensitive, but: Let’s discuss the phrase “fuck around and find out,” which has been in circulation for the past three years or so. (That’s per the site Know Your Meme, which isn’t sure exactly where it came from.) The alliteration makes it satisfying to say aloud, and the idea of foolishness being righteously punished makes it satisfying to think about. (The me reaping/me sowing tweet has a related appeal but is more self-deprecating.)
However, since around 2015—or perhaps even earlier, depending on your feelings about whether unpopularity and public scorn were sufficient punishment for the individuals responsible for the Iraq war and the 2008 financial crash—the people in the United States who have done the most prominent f—ing around haven’t done much finding out. The biggest example of this is Donald Trump, whose ability to avoid the consequences of his own actions over the course of two impeachments, a special counsel investigation, and other official inquiries has become the subject of its own famous online saying.
What’s more, the Republican Party that encouraged and enabled Trump—as well as his many imitators and supporters—appeared, until about a month or two ago, to be a safe bet to win both chambers of Congress in November’s midterm elections. This remained true for some time even after Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans handed down a widely unpopular ruling that allows for the total criminalization of abortion.
But! Since late July, there has been a wave of activity—electoral, political, and prosecutorial—that one could describe as tending toward just deserts for bozos. Consider:
• On July 22, a jury found longtime Trump adviser Steve Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. (He is set to be sentenced in October.) On Sept. 8, Bannon was indicted in New York state on money laundering and conspiracy charges related to his involvement with a nonprofit organization called “We Build the Wall,” whose founders claimed to be raising money to build sections of U.S-Mexico border wall—like, on their own, privately—but allegedly used it to enrich themselves personally instead. Bannon was indicted on similar federal charges in 2020 before Trump issued him a preemptive pardon. There’s no pardon coming his way this time, though!
• On July 27, Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they had reached an agreement to support a “budget reconciliation” bill called the Inflation Reduction Act. The bill, which advanced a number of longtime Democratic priorities related to climate change and health care, went on to be passed into law with 50 votes in the Senate plus the tiebreaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, as is allowed under the chamber’s current rules for reconciliation bills but not for others.
Most of the IRA does not have anything to do with comeuppance or “finding out,” but there are two aspects that do. One is that the bill directs $45 billion in funding to the Internal Revenue Service for “enforcement” operations against individuals who cheat on their taxes, which, in the opinion of this writer, qualifies generally as righteous retribution given how well served that group was, both administratively and spiritually, during the Trump presidency.
The other is that Democrats may have tricked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell into giving Republicans permission to support another major bill—the CHIPS Act, which passed with 64 votes—by behaving as if they had abandoned their effort to pass a reconciliation bill. (McConnell had claimed he would not support CHIPS if reconciliation were still a possibility.) There has not been any reporting confirming that Manchin and Schumer meant to bait-and-switch McConnell, but if they did, it would have been a long-deserved turnabout for someone with such a long history of bad-faith negotiating and dishonest public posturing.
• On July 28, the Atlantic published a piece about the results of recent GOP-voter focus groups held by a Republican named Sarah Longwell. Longwell said the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings had convinced a majority of the voters she spoke to that Trump would not be able to win a presidential election if he were to run again. While this outcome is admittedly one that Longwell supports personally—she is a leading internal GOP critic of the ex-president’s—my colleague Jeremy Stahl has since noted that her observations are backed up by the results of other recent polls, both nationwide and in key states, which have found Trump’s potential 2024 Republican primary support trending downward.
• On Aug. 5, in a trial delayed by years of legal stalling tactics, a jury in Texas found Alex Jones liable for the harassment that two parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre were subjected to because of Jones’ repeated claims that the shooting never took place. Jones may ultimately end up owing less than the $49 million in total damages he was ordered to pay by the jury, but he also faces two other lawsuits involving other victims’ families.
• On Aug. 8, the FBI raided the grounds of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in Florida in what subsequent reporting has portrayed as an escalation of a fairly patient and long-running effort to get him to return top-secret documents pertaining to national security matters. (Even ex-presidents who do not allegedly store such documents in a hall closet near a hotel swimming pool, as Trump allegedly did, are not permitted to keep them in their possession.) Concurrent reports have said that a grand jury is actively investigating the White House’s role in Jan. 6, which would mean the Department of Justice may seek criminal charges—which the House’s Jan. 6 committee cannot file itself—against Trump or other former high-level officials.
• On Aug. 15, an April video posted by Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet “Dr. Oz” Oz began recirculating online in which the TV doctor complains about the price of “crudité” (a 10-cent word for a vegetable appetizer platter) at “Wenger’s” (the name of a grocery store that does not exist but resembles the real chain names Wegman’s and Redner’s) in an effort to channel regular-guy and -gal anger about inflation.
We are including the video in this list to represent all the various questionable strategic choices and public statements that, according to polls, have combined to put a host of GOP Senate candidates in winnable races—Oz, Georgia’s Herschel Walker, Arizona’s Blake Masters, and Ohio’s J.D. Vance—in danger of losing and, thus, costing Republicans their chance of taking the chamber. What those four candidates have in common is that they were endorsed by Donald Trump while running in contested primaries, seemingly on the basis of how bombastic and crude they were willing to be (and in Oz’s case, because TV flimflam guys apparently have a code of mutual respect). Trump and the GOP primary “base” did a lot of fucking around this year.
• On Aug. 23, two men were found guilty in Michigan of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because they were upset about rules she had put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (In the pandemic’s early months, Trump encouraged protests against Democratic governors nationwide, many of which were attended by armed members of far-right militias. In April 2020, he posted the phrase “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” on Twitter.)
• Also on Aug. 23, the Democratic candidate in a special election in an upstate New York House district Joe Biden won by 2 points in 2020 won his race against a well-regarded Republican challenger by … 2 points. In other words, Democrats were about as strong in that district as they were in November 2020, when they won the House. With the caveat that it’s still more than six weeks until Election Day and special elections tend to turn out a small and not necessarily representative fraction of voters, this was the latest in a series of results, seemingly set off by the Supreme Court Dobbs ruling (which overturned Roe v. Wade), that suggest Dems still have a chance of not losing control of the House in November.
• Speaking of which: On Aug. 31, Alaska elections officials announced that “pro-fish” Democrat Mary Peltola had won the state’s special election to replace the late Rep. Don Young in Congress for the duration of the year. Slate is not so crass and partisan as to suggest that any Democrat beating any Republican constitutes karmic justice, but Peltola didn’t just defeat any Republican; she defeated Sarah Palin, who was attempting a political comeback and who is to the MAGA era of no-substance asshole politics what John C. Calhoun was to the Confederacy.
So, it’s been a pretty good run lately for Justice. However, a number of caveats apply:
• Trump and his advisers haven’t even been charged yet, much less brought to trial, much less convicted, for any Jan. 6–related crimes. The House’s Jan. 6 committee hearings have depicted Trump as reckless and negligent in his role assembling the crowd that stormed the Capitol, and they made a strong case that he should have known his “legal” team’s work to keep him in office was fraudulent. But it hasn’t yet presented direct evidence that he or anyone close to him knew his supporters in militias and street gangs planned specific acts of violence.
• There are burgeoning signs that the Oz–John Fetterman race in Pennsylvania is tightening and that Herschel Walker will defeat Raphael Warnock in November in Georgia despite running a campaign that rarely makes the news for anything besides incoherent garbling and secret children. FiveThirtyEight still has Republicans as 3-in-4 favorites to retake the House, and the Upshot is cautioning that a number of the states in which Democrats are doing well in polls are those in which 2020 polls overestimated Democrats’ chances.
• The subatomic particles and multidimensional fields of which our universe is woven are neutral and merciless arbiters of cause and effect. While some believe in a God or spiritual flow that rewards good and punishes evil, others argue God died during the 19th century and that we are condemned to live in the shadow of his funeral procession for the rest of eternity. Frankly, the latter group has a pretty persuasive case.
So, as tantalizing as it remains to believe in an autumn of consequences—to hope that a state of fairness can be achieved here, under heaven, beneath a gray and windy sky—it could really still go either way. Eventually, ahem, we’ll all find out.