7 min readSep 27, 2021


After Robert Kagan’s opinion was published in the Washington Post and the results of the Cyber Ninja audit in Arizona were formally announced, Rachel Maddow invited Steve Schmidt to offer his views during her September 24, 2021 show on whether he believes the country is in or on the verge of a crisis. Leading up to the interview, Ms. Maddow noted that Mr. Kagan is a conservative with whom she disagrees on almost everything. Then she read extensively from his opinion. Below is a link to Robert Kagan’s essay in the Washington Post, Our Constitutional Crisis is already Here.

With his usual eloquence and elegance, Mr. Schmidt gave his analysis.

Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

RM: I wanted you to be here tonight because Steve, as I said, I feel like you have been throwing bullseyes in this proverbial darts match from the very beginning. And I wanted to know if you are, sort of your state of mind, whether you are reassured or comforted at all by the way things took a turn today or whether this feels ominous to you the way it does I think to me and to people like Mr. Kagan writing in the Washington Post.

Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

SS: I think it’s extremely ominous, Rachel. I think we are in a crisis. It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of that crisis. I agree with Mr. Kagan that Donald Trump will certainly be the Republican nominee in 2024. We have an autocratic movement in this country, and one thing is certainly true. The Republican Party of late September 2021 is a profoundly more radical party than it was on election day, than it was on January 6th, than it was on inauguration day. And part of the strategy, and it’s important to understand, you see this with the chaos that could result from the debt ceiling, is they are driving both chaos at the same time they are selling order. All rightwing authoritarian movements always do this. It’s how they come to power. They drive chaos through policies of cynicism, nihilism, and then they promise to restore order with easy scapegoats.

It’s very important, we should never talk about these issues without mentioning that these are minority voters that are alleged to have fraudulently voted. That’s not so much hidden by a dog whistle as loudly screamed by the Trump people and their lawyers. There’s that aspect of it, number one, and two, when you have mainstream leaders, supposedly like Elise Stefonik, imagine someone with the last name of Stefonik, engaging in replacement theory, engaging in white nationalism, white supremist replacement theory, in ads in her Albany district.

This is mainstream. The party is now in open alliance with extremist elements. I include those fascists that you saw outside the Capitol, white nationalists, white supremacist, and a bevy of other extremist groups. Certainly, there’s going to be political violence in this country because the argument that Trump is making and so many of his allies is that civilization is going to collapse because of the hordes of minorities being imported to steal the birthright and the franchise of the American citizen.

It is evil. It is demagogic. It has been done before in history, the stigmatizing of people who are the weakest in a society, to scapegoat and to diffuse the blame from the problems that those that are attacking them, that are responsible for creating in the first place. So yea, we’re in a very dangerous moment, Rachel, in this country and it’s going to get worse.

Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

RM: And Steve, when you talk about that danger and as you describe it increasing radicalization, the thing that stuck with me today about Mr. Kagan’s piece is his critique of the underestimating of this as a threat, the underestimating of the power of this authoritarian movement and the consequence of underestimating which is appeasement. What it has me wondering is what is the opposite of underestimating it, what is the opposite of appeasement, what are the options that are available if we decide to confront this as a country and not take this, to not play this down, to recognize the threat here and the historical echoes that you are describing here in a way that is bone chilling. What does that look like? What is the opposite of appeasement?

Oil on Panel, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

SS: Confrontation. What you did at your show brilliantly was this, and it puts you at the front of a fight that will determine whether we are able to maintain the republic and the front of that fight is the space where the lie is confronted with the truth. And that’s the battleground and it plays out in a million ways. But a democracy cannot survive in a world where the lie and the truth stand equally.

The system that we have is based on a compact that requires faith and belief and trust. It’s how we share power with people that we disagree with. We acknowledge that we live in a complex world where people have different perspectives, and we have to accommodate those views. In the 21st Century I believe that there was a consensus that has unraveled in a startlingly short period of time that you can trace all the way back to the beginning of the country in the name of political power. Also the same people claiming that they are doing it in the name of freedom are saying that the preservation of freedom means maintaining our power, not necessarily abiding the results of the election.

And when you get into that territory, you’re in a scary space, and it’s essential to remember to understand one thing, and this has to be brought forward into the debate: despite all the flaws of American democracy or any democracy, democracies are the only system that has ever existed in the history of humanity that puts the individual human being on top of the power of the state. Every other system subordinates the dignity of the human being to the power of the state for the purposes of the state, often controlled by a self-interested, corrupt minority. So this is the most profound moral issue that you could possibly talk about on any given evening in this country because it goes to the heart of the American idea, the embrace of humanism, of natural rights, of pluralism, and this idea that anybody can be an American, that we can all stand equal, co-equally, in a society under the rule of law where we all get a say and get to participate. And that is what is being vandalized and attacked and successfully so. They are on the march. They are ascendent. They have raised more money than the Democrats. Republicans have tremendous advantages heading into this next mid-term election. We are indeed, as you have pointed out, at a very frighting moment.

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to and Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists is not, however, for the faint of heart.

**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in many traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his artwork. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in and are hers.




Exercising my right not to remain silent. Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.