A Man Without Grace Meets a Party Without Conscience
Just one week into the Trump presidency, Republicans have already shown they are unwilling to stand up to the worst of his instincts.
Donald Trump is off to quite a start.
He sits atop a globally despised kakistocracy whose first 24 hours included historic opposition marches around the country (and indeed around the world) and top White House flaks beclowning themselves and eviscerating their credibility with shouted lies and the absurdity of “alternative facts.” The first week of the Trump administration included revelations that the president of the United States personally ordered the head of the Parks Service to produce pictures of his sparsely attended inaugural that might mitigate the humiliation of the day he grandly declared a “Day of Patriotic Devotion”; and evidence that he spends much of his time obsessively live-tweeting cable TV news.
Trump is an erratic figure – seemingly fragile, consumed by his own unpopularity and desperate to somehow exceed Barack Obama in public acclaim. He appears trapped by his campaign’s most extreme promises, and locked in the clutches of bigoted ideologues like Stephen Bannon, who push him to follow through on his most demagogic vows: to strip tens of millions of Americans of their healthcare, string a wall across our southern border, cancel multilateral trade pacts and ban Muslim students, families, visitors and refugees from entering the U.S.; a policy that is already causing companies like Google to recall their employees from America. Never mind that the first three of those things will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars (otra vez: Mexico is NOT paying for any wall) and in some cases their health and perhaps their lives, and the fourth is both unconstitutional and morally obscene.
If Trump is a man without grace, his daily outrages would not be possible were he not surrounded by men and women without honor. And indeed, the diminution of the Republican Party is perhaps the saddest part of this sorry spectacle. Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence used to ++oppose a Muslim ban++ http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/ryan-trump-muslim-ban-224312 as unconstitutional and repugnant. Now they smile and nod and consent as a ban on visitors from majority Muslim countries is implemented – one that will ultimately impact people of all faiths from those countries, and which somehow skips countries where previous attackers have actually come from, but where Trump and his family happens to have business interests.
Republican lawmakers fret behind closed doors about the devastating impact of ripping away tens of millions of Americans’ healthcare, yet in public they grin along and say nothing; or duck their constituents and head for cover out the back door.
American civil servants and scientists are being gagged, long-serving diplomats dismissed from their posts, and the institutional memory of our federal government shoved out in an ideological putsch by the new administration, while GOP Senators refuse to lift a finger in protest. Instead, they approve each of Trump’s billionaire cabinet nominees, after pretending to dress them down for the C-SPAN cameras.
They sit around the table at a White House luncheon, grimacing in stale silence while Trump fantasizes about millions of phantom “illegal voters” who kept him from winning the popular vote; as if Republicans haven’t spent decades spinning the same fables about “voter fraud” to justify enacting draconian voter ID and other restrictive laws that keep people of color from the franchise.
Far from acting as a check or balance on the White House, the Party Men and Women of the Grimacing Old Party are content to fiddle while the amateur administration descends into chaos. Men like Speaker Ryan are too married to their ideological determination to dismantle the social safety net to let a little thing like an unraveling president, who’s tossing away allies while racing to get on the phone with Vladimir Putin, trouble their spotless minds.
Republicans bow and scrape before Trump, as he insults the CIA – not allowing its staffers to sit down and then claiming a standing ovation; and carting in ringers, then foisting their applause off on the men and women who serve their country in ways Trump, with his five Vietnam draft deferments, never even contemplated.
They stand silently by while he proposes tariffs on Mexican imports that they know would devastate American consumers, rips apart a Pacific trade pact he clearly doesn’t understand, empowering China in the process; and proposes his vicious Muslim ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
As far as Ryan and Jason Chaffetz – Trump’s self-appointed congressional masseuse – the preening Marco Rubio and the cynical Mitch McConnell are concerned, the country can burn, so long as they get their tax cuts for the super-rich, their oil company friends can rip apart the American heartland unimpeded by environmental concerns, and their insurance company pals get to wriggle out of covering people with pre-existing conditions.
If the Republicans have cast aside shame, they can at least be comforted that they are not completely alone.
The Democrats have proved themselves to be an ineffectual and weak opposition. Senate Democrats have belatedly vowed to oppose Betsy DeVos for education secretary, following a popular outcry that followed numerous Democrats, including progressive heroes like Elizabeth Warren, meekly approving Ben Carson for a position for which he is most assuredly not qualified: that of HUD secretary.
Seeming to ignore the roaring message sent by millions of Americans who participated in protests both before and after the inaugural, Senate Democrats have shown none of the fight exhibited by civil rights leaders, citizen activists and House Democrats. They seem to be whiffing on such awful nominees as foreclosure king Stephen Mnuchin, Putin pal Rex Tillerson and neo-confederate would-be Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, as if there would be any political price to pay for voting “no” on each and every one. It’s as if the core constituencies of the Democratic Party – notably African-Americans and others who rely on the soon-to-be gutted Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department – are unimportant, while (luckily, by the way) teachers unions continue to hold at least some sway.
Democrats are languishing without a leader, while they wait for their much-belated DNC chairman’s vote – one that may be too little, too late. They’re pitifully congratulating themselves for not being hypocritical, due to their absurd vow to work with Donald Trump wherever they can; a plan that can only ensure him more power.
We, the media, have also proved unequal to the task of dealing with Donald Trump. The Washington press corps continues to be pelted with lies in the daily press briefings, with little in the way of a comprehensive strategy to combat them. Reporters laugh along with Sean Spicer’s jokes and share space with right wing blogs (who typically get the first question.) Editors continue to produce tweet-to-headline transfers, fishing for the elusive Trump “pivot.” And while some exceptional journalism has come out of Trump’s first week, helped in no small part by the leaky sieve that is the cacophonous White House, it’s easy for even the vaunted media to become overwhelmed by an administration that has declared us the “opposition.”
Worst of all, Bannon, the most repugnant of the White House lot, was given a New York Times platform to rant about who should speak, and who should be quiet in America. As if anyone needs or cares to have his permission.
Every day of this administration feels like a hellish year. And we’re not even two weeks in. We have yet to have the first Black Lives Matter protest put down with extreme prejudice by the new “Justice Department.” We have not had our first tranche of government data whose veracity we cannot trust. The administration has not yet lied to us about a Keystone pipeline leak that leaches oil into the water or food supply, or demanded federal number crunchers invent impossible employment data to buck up Trumpian claims of a job-creating miracle. And no city mayor has faced down federal forces demanding that they produce their undocumented men, women and children, or their Muslim residents for deportation. But it feels like that’s what’s coming. And it will be worse than you think.
At this point, there is only one entity left who can reverse this awful course; and it is the American people; or rather, those not still under Trump’s populist spell. Only they stand a chance of reining in the White House madman, whom the fates and 77,000 Rust Belt voters handed the nuclear football.
Voters can stop the unmitigated disasters that a Trump administration can and will inflict on this nation and the world. Starting this year (in Virginia and New Jersey) and next, they can elect governors and mayors who will protect their citizens and replace their feckless representatives with congressmen and Senators who will assert their Article 1 authority. That goes for Democrats, who must field candidates willing to stand up to the administration, and Republicans willing to seat “country over party” primary challengers for the bootlicks hiding behind a president with sub-40 percent approval ratings. Voters can pay special attention to their state legislatures, and elect representatives and secretaries of state who will protect, rather than abrogate, their right to vote.
Nothing short of a voters rebellion over the next two years can yield for the country, or what’s left of it, any hope of restraining a man who has made it clear that he intends to use the presidency for two things: first, to enrich himself, his family and his friends, and second: to build a giant, moving, breathing monument to his own wounded, desperate and bloated ego.
Here’s praying the American people come through.