Stefanik Turns Grievance Into Performance Art

Elise Stefanik, born shortly after I was admitted to practice law, was considered a rather pedestrian upstate New York moderate Republican congresswoman when she was first elected to office in 2015, which meant she faded into the crowd. She apparently aspired to bigger things, so went full Trump. For her loyalty, she was made House Republican Conference Chair, replacing the traitorous Liz Cheney. And she’s still climbing.

Representative Elise Stefanik, a member of the House Republican leadership and an ally of former President Donald J. Trump, filed an ethics complaint Friday attacking the judge presiding over Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial, the latest salvo in a right-wing war against the case.

The letter regurgitates the arguments made by Trump and his New Jersey real estate lawyer, Alina Habba. While they haven’t prevailed before Judge Engoron, perhaps some arguments will move the Appellate Division when the case reaches the First Department. Perhaps not. But a letter to the Judicial Conduct Commission from some third party complaining that the judge is biased because one side is losing will be tersely dismissed with good reason. Assuming there’s any merit to the complaint, the process is to first get the decision reversed, then grieve.

The Judicial Conduct Commission, as its counterparts in other jurisdictions, has become the new collateral point of attack for judges who say or do things that angers the unduly passionate. When some judge becomes the target of the mob on twitter, whether rightly or wrongly, random people file grievances against judges, both burdening the commission staff and annoying the people trying to perform the commission’s work seriously. Any idiot can send in a grievance, and many idiots do.

But this isn’t just some random idiot, but a congresswoman. And this isn’t any random congresswoman, but the leader of the House Republican Conference. And yet, Elise Stefanik has seized upon the tin-foil hat tactics of the randos to demonstrate her support for her leader. Perhaps Trump or someone in league with him asked Stefanik to play the fool. Perhaps she made the decision on her own, feeling as if she hasn’t sufficiently demonstrated her devotion. After all, he’s still going to need a vice presidential running mate, particularly if he serves as President from Prison. Somebody has to sit at the Resolute Desk and spin around in the chair.

In the past, the idea of grieving a judge during the midst of an ongoing case would have never occurred to any sane person. Not only was it utterly pointless, and then doubly so when the complainer wasn’t even the person involved in the case, but it was the sort of act that marked the complainer as a clueless dolt. After all, who else would do something so ridiculous?

Now, however, it serves another purpose, as demonstrated by Stefanik’s putting the entirety of her letter on the twitters for all her adoring followers to see. It provides her with a stage to show her deep devotion to Trump. And it provides a stage for her to perform for Trump, just in case he cares about someone other than himself, no matter how unlikely that may be.

The taint of engaging in nonsensical performance art might once have made someone in the position of Stefanik look like a clueless fool. No more. For one thing, few people in her target audience are aware of just how ridiculous and inappropriate her complaint is, and so they take it with the utmost seriousness because they’re good members of the tribe and kvell over any action taken in support of their fearless leader. For another thing, there is no longer any shame to be had by members of Congress, MAGA or otherwise, by engaging in the sort of conduct that would have made one a laughingstock amongst one’s peers in the past.

In the process, unfortunately, our already imperfect judicial system is left to be twisted into a system even worse than it is. Attacking judges has become an American pastime, in which Trump still holds the title but others like Sheldon Whitehouse provide stiff competition. Nobody wants to improve the quality and integrity of the judiciary anymore, but merely tear it apart for its own transitory benefit, to win this one case at the cost of the institution.

And if you were of the view that it was all Trump’s fault for his Supreme Court picks, or Clarence Thomas’ fault for loving his RV too much, it’s become commonplace to blame the judiciary (or, as Ari Melber says, “the undemocratic judiciary” as if there were or should be any other kind). Whether this silly grievance will earn Stefanik passing notice by Trump, enough to enable her to never return to the cow pastures of Troy, New York, remains unknown.

But that it informs Trump lovers (and haters) that this is a way to help their savior is obvious. And the system just gets stupider, worse and overburdened, as the groundlings applaud Elise Stefanik for her bold support of Trump.

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