Last week was an extraordinary week. Yet again, the nation was exposed to powerful and irrefutable evidence that it is governed by a President who lacks the temperament, qualities, and character to lead the nation.
Early in the week, Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2018), painted a grim portrait of a Presidential Administration that is gripped by distrust, engulfed in chaos, and struggling to carry out even the most basic responsibilities of governance. Later in the week, as Hurricane Florence bore down relentlessly on the Carolinas, President Trump suddenly launched a fresh revisionist crusade to erase from the historical record the enormous catastrophe Hurricane Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also entered into a plea agreement that entailed full cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, triggering a fresh round of furious tweets from the President attacking the “fake media,” “17 angry Democrats,” and a “rigged Russian witch hunt.”
On the other side of the nation’s capital, with a few exceptions, there was largely silence. There were no examples of substantive leadership from House and Senate Republican leaders.
Today, the nation suffers from a bad situation in which the federal government has been rendered by Congressional abdication into what is functionally a two-branch government—comprised of the executive and judicial branches. In the short-run, such a government can produce increasingly bad policy. In the long-run, this situation is incompatible with republican government. It invites the rise of an all-powerful President capable of subverting the will of the people or an unelected judicial branch that assumes the roles and responsibilities that had been vacated by the legislative branch.
The Republican Party was once worthy of support. Its roots included the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It stood unapologetically for human liberty at home and abroad. It steadfastly pursued a global foreign policy that aimed to promote security and prosperity for the nation and all of its allies. It advocated harnessing the unsurpassed power of free markets to foster prosperity and raise the standard of living. Under President Donald Trump, that Republican Party no longer exists.
The Party that bears the “Republican” name stands for none of those principles. It is an increasingly hollow entity built on little more than fear. It fears an increasingly diverse electorate and seeks division and voter suppression. It fears a free press and regularly tolerates a President who maligns journalism and journalists. It fears the pursuit of truth and seeks to embrace conspiracy theories that undermine the Department of Justice’s law enforcement activities. It fears the truth itself and conveys or embraces misleading or patently false information at an unprecedented rate.
This is not the Party of Abraham Lincoln. It’s the kind of Party Lincoln would have shunned. This is not the Party of Reagan. It’s the kind of Party, Reagan would have written off as having left him. This is not a Party that embraces the nation’s founding principles and ideals. It’s a Party that embraces ethno-nationalist populism that is antithetical to those principles and ideals.
Today, even as its base narrows from the flight of Latinos, suburban women, college-educated voters, among others, its anti-intellectualism grows more severe and its slavish loyalty to President Trump deepens. As Trump’s core base holds, a lazy, dysfunctional, and inept Republican-led Congress maintains its present course.
Were he here today, John Adams would have recognized the disease that is now consuming the rotting carcass of Donald Trump’s Republican Party. In a letter (Founders Online) to the “Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay,” dated February 6, 1775, Adams observed:
When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers and destroyers press upon them so fast that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon [the] American constitution is such, as to grow every day more and more encroaching. Like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour. The revenue creates pensioners, and the pensioners urge for more revenue. The people grow less steady, spirited and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependants and expectants, untill virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, frugality, become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality, swallow up the whole society.
This is what’s happening with today’s Republican Party. Aside from the examples of a seemingly vanishing handful of elected leaders, including Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and perhaps a few others, the House and Senate have silently yielded to the President. That capitulation is near total. It extends both to matters of policy and principle.
In doing so, they have lost the capacity to resist an amoral, impulsive, and chaotic President. That the Republican Party once supported free trade, fiscal prudence, and truth has long been abandoned by its elected leaders. Protectionism, rising fiscal deficits, and a tsunami of misleading information from the White House is now the order of the day.
The Republican majority’s dependence on Trump for their political fortunes—the analogy of “revenue” and “pensioners” that Adams discussed—has nurtured what amounts to widespread moral and intellectual corruption. One witnesses such corruption in the campaigns now being waged in various parts of the country, especially in battleground races.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is fighting for political survival in deep red Texas, provides perhaps the most visible example of a man who essentially abandoned his principles and gave his political soul to President Trump, along with Trump’s ethno-nationalist populist movement. Now, he finds himself dependent on Trump, not his own political record, for his electoral fate. He has even resorted to sending mailers aimed at frightening constituents into funding his floundering campaign (Newsweek). His campaign has become an example, to borrow from Adams, of one that has been swallowed up by “foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality.” It is, in effect, almost a mirror image of Donald Trump and his Presidency. It is anything but what has defined Texas and its rich legacy.
At this point in time, it is possible that the severe bout of “Trumpitis” that has sickened the Republican Party may be beyond cure. However, the nation’s republican framework most definitely is not beyond cure. That framework can still be saved from the contagion that has stricken the Republican Party. Even as the Republican-led Congress has disappeared from the American political landscape in terms of offering leadership, it remains within the power of the nation’s people to do so.
The November 6 mid-term election offers just such an opportunity. That election will be a referendum on whether the nation should remain a society governed by rule of law. But that’s not all. This past week illustrates that it will also be a referendum on what kind of nation the United States is or seeks to be.
The first step toward national recovery would be a decisive electoral rejection of the morally and intellectually corrupt Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. The combination of that majority’s historic abdication of Constitutional responsibility and unsurpassed supine loyalty to Donald Trump in place of the national interest renders them undeserving of a governing mandate. A fresh government that enjoys the broad support of the nation’s people can begin the national turnaround process. That process cannot begin too soon.