Perhaps Donald Trump’s greatest — most significant, anyway — accomplishment since he took office has been transforming his felonious incompetence into a political issue, even though as systems collapse around him, the void(s) left behind impact the entire country, party affiliation notwithstanding. The question Republican lawmakers must answer is clear: What happened? How did you lose what had been your “conservative” mojo, or was it all an illusion in the first place? Spoiler alert — it was an illusion.
We’ve reached a point where the modern version of the GOP is willing to tolerate a level of criminality that would make Nixon blush; the kind of wealth disparity that would turn Reagan enviously green; a body count Bush-Cheney couldn’t hope to duplicate with 20 wrong-country invasions; and a level of white nationalism not seen since Reconstruction. The interesting thing is that Trump didn’t create this mess. He’s simply taking advantage of a situation decades in the making.
For the cherished “base,” those with cult-like devotion to the president who have been carefully nurtured for the last 40 years, the GOP Kool-Aid has become a staple of a far right, Food Pyramid: high in red meat fat, low in nutritional value but, boy, does it taste good! Although there were major problems with this strategy all along, it took a totally unmodulated president to drag them unvarnished out of the shadows where staunch Republicans hoped they would remain forever. That’s the beauty of a dog whistle, it’s undetectable to the human ear.
When a bold GOP plan for a “permanent” congressional majority meets an unhinged narcissist, who sees such mission statements as endorsing the worst his grandiosity has to offer, we have beltway pundits worrying Trump will not go quietly if Nov. 3 doesn’t give him a second term. The bad news is that he’s already not going quietly, setting the stage for a constitutional crisis the likes of which this country has not seen since the Civil War. While this terrifying scenario unfolds, the party of Trump, the once proud and principled Republicans, have chosen to sit this one out.
But the startling abdication of any responsibility at all begs a variety of questions, none of which congressional Republicans appear ready to answer any time soon, but their whistling past the graveyard silence speaks volumes. After vigorous and often deceitful, full-throated defenses of Trump’s transgressions — multiple obstructions of justice in the Russia probe and blackmailing a foreign power to meddle in the 2020 election — they have largely muzzled themselves as the president seems bent on digging a mass grave big enough to include both himself and the GOP’s Senate majority.
Although there are nearly four years of evidence that Republicans have either ignored or defended their party’s descent into the quicksand of evangelical zeal over all things Trump — including the most outrageous conspiracy theories — we need only review the last couple of weeks to see precisely the kind of things they’re willing to tolerate and perhaps some of the reasons why. It all begins with the intoxication of political power in Washington, DC.: You either have it or you don’t and once you’ve acquired it, you want to hold onto it at any cost.
Since The Atlantic’s disclosure, corroborated by multiple news agencies including Fox, that the president has disparaged fallen soldiers as “losers” or “suckers,” a barrage of negative revelations, coupled with an HHS official’s Facebook self immolation, have hobbled Trump’s reelection effort as the White House once again circles the wagons to defend the indefensible. In “Rage,” Bob Woodward’s second book about the president, POTUS is heard on a phone call admitting he knows exactly how deadly COVID-19 is while simultaneously assuring Americans it was no worse than the flu.
Michael Caputo, the spokesman for the agency that oversees the CDC, who pressured scientists to adjust their weekly bulletin to align with the president’s falsehoods, accused those scientists of “sedition” while warning of “left wing hit squads preparing for armed insurrection” and a “resistance unit” inside the CDC. And then, he got really weird: “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me”... Joe Biden will lose but “refuse to concede”... Trump will not stand down at the inauguration and then the “shooting will begin.” His only accurate point was that he thought his “mental health was failing.”
We find ourselves at a point where nearly every word uttered by either Trump or his apologists is prefaced with “baselessly” or “without evidence” while much of the rhetoric is combustible, citing the Second Amendment as means to a logical end. Just as we approach 200,000 and counting COVID-19 dead, the president and GOP appear criminally undaunted by the body count and ready for even more. As QAnon “deep state” insanity trends on social media gaining a dangerous foothold, Trump’s only acknowledgement is “I understand they like me very much.”
The tragedy in all this is that nothing Donald Trump has said or done appears to have any impact on his supporters, who use herd cognitive dissonance in order to simply let it all go. GOP lawmakers face a different sort of conundrum: Whether they believe the president’s blasphemy is immaterial. They’ve painted themselves into a political corner between staunchly supporting the president and possibly going down with the ship; or finally telling the truth, but losing the base, and definitely going down with the ship.
They’d better hope Trump isn’t in charge of the lifeboats.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.