Someday, and given the pace at which events move these days I suspect it won’t be that far away, history will begin to render judgments on how people responded to the Trump era. To Republicans, she will not be kind.
Amidst heated competition, the booby prize yesterday went to Speaker Paul Ryan, best actor in the blockbuster film “He’s Just New to This.” Oh is that so? Tell us please, Mr. Speaker: precisely how much justice is a newbie to Washington allowed to obstruct?
The hanging question after James Comey’s testimony is the same question that hung emphatically in the air before the testimony and will continue to befoul the atmosphere until someone says enough: When will the Republicans—forget that; any Republican—take a stand against this madness? Two things are clear to anyone whose brain hasn’t been jellied by too much time spent under a MAGA hat. One, President Trump is in deep, deep trouble; even Fox News acknowledged that, playing far more defense than offense yesterday afternoon as James Comey’s testimony ended.
And two, this man shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oval Office. He has no respect for law, tradition, norms; anything. His stench attaches to anyone and anything in his orbit, and he eventually drags it all into the moral sewer in which he resides. With respect to the people who’ve decided to attach themselves to him, that’s fine; that moral sewer is exactly what Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus and Steve Mnuchin—and yeah, even H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, unless they get out fast—deserve. More unfortunately, the Trump smell is getting on the Constitution of the United States. And Republicans know it.
I was talking with a Democratic lawmaker the other night. Not a bomb-thrower. Do they know, I asked; in their private moments, do the Republicans understand the combustible cocktail of ignorance, narcissism, and disregard for anything but his own glory that reposes in what passes for this man’s soul? Oh, yes, came the answer. They know. But for now, they’re afraid of his voters. And so we get excuse-making like Ryan’s, and embarrassing lines of questioning like that of Idaho Senator Jim Risch, who bravely got Comey to confess that Trump only said “hope.” We wish Risch a long and fruitful life, but we wish him one in which he is forced into a daily and grueling wrestling match with his conscience over that supine performance.
Meanwhile, the real Republican reaction to the Trump era happened on the other side of Capitol Hill, where the House voted, while Comey was giving the senators private testimony, to pass some ridiculously named financial “reform” act that would basically gut the Dodd-Frank bill. Because, you know, the meltdown happened because Wall Street was too regulated.
There are, it emerges, two essences of Trumpism. The first essence emanates from everything about the man himself. The crookedness, the rank stupidity, the rank cu-pidity (now there’s a rhyme you don’t get to deploy very often), the thoroughgoing corrupt smallness of the man in every way. That’s the Trumpism that was on the dock today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that, with the right combination of justice and luck, will someday be on trial, figuratively and literally. This is an essence that blinds his true believers, who see every defect as evidence of his greatness.
The second essence of Trumpism is the effect it has on those who know better but haven’t the courage to say so. They see this cancer, recognize it privately for what it is, but nevertheless ask themselves: What can I extract from it before it captures the whole body?
Repeal Dodd-Frank! Stack the Supreme Court! And repeal the Affordable Care Act. Pay attention to this one, folks. I’m told the Senate is about to move on this, and once it moves, it will move fast. I don’t understand Senate rules all that well, but there’s something about a Rule 14, which allows the Senate to skip the normal committee-approval process.
That’s what Mitch McConnell is planning on doing with the Senate’s version of Obamacare repeal/replace. No committee hearings. A mere 20 hours of debate. A passing of the bill in about two days from the time McConnell says “Hey, we have a bill!” And from what I hear, the bill is awful, McConnell is about to do this, and he has the votes.
Would Republicans have repealed Obamacare in a Rubio or Cruz administration? Sure they would have. But my argument is that they wouldn’t have done it quite this brazenly or sleazily. They’d have at least faked observing some congressional norms. But Trump, by his mere presence, has driven them toward greater brazenness and sleaziness. The reason is simple: They know that with a president under investigation and a reasonably serious threat of indictment, and in the high 30s and falling fast, they’d better grab what they can while they can.
This would not have been the case with a normal conservative president. A normal conservative president would be in the high 40’s, maybe even low 50’s, and would not be under so consuming an ethical cloud. With a normal conservative president, they would have observed the historic norms, more or less. They’d have produced awful and regressive legislation, but in process terms, they’d have been kind of respectful of tradition. But now, in Trump’s Washington, there are no rules.
Except that maybe there are. And eventually, he’ll learn those rules the hard way. But it will take some Republicans to step up. History is wondering: Who?