The first and most obvious question is whether it even occurred to Donald Trump that his planned secret Sept. 8 Camp David summit with Taliban representatives was maybe a little too close to the anniversary of the date when the Taliban helped murder 2,700 Americans in the most devastating attack ever conducted on U.S. soil.
And the answer is, of course it didn’t occur to him. What was Sept. 11, after all? Since it wasn’t about Trump, it was just another day to him. Actually, no—if anything, it was a good day in Trumpworld, because as you’ll recall, his immediate reaction to the collapse of the towers was to note that he now owned the tallest building in lower Manhattan. As the days went on and the media coverage only intensified, he no doubt came to resent the existence of such a major news event that was not about Trump.
And from Republicans, the usual crickets. Here was Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt on Meet the Press Sunday morning when Chuck Todd asked him what he thought about Trump inviting the Taliban onto American soil, smiling, if you can believe it, as he spoke: “By the time I knew they were going to be stepping foot, they weren’t stepping foot, so I didn’t have to deal with that.” Wow. When they build the Blunt memorial someday in Kansas City, those are surely the words that will be emblazoned across the frieze!
Want to take a stab at imagining what they’d be saying if Hillary Clinton had tried to pull this off? Inviting Taliban leaders onto the very American soil they helped attack, less than a two hours’ drive from where the passengers of United Flight 93 took that plane down in Pennsylvania, and into a high-security presidential compound, no less? And expecting American taxpayers to foot the bill for their lodging and food?
Lindsey Graham, lately seen smiling next to Geert Wilders, the Dutch neo-fascist who tweeted the photo and then deleted it (couldn’t possibly have been at Graham’s request!), once stopped one or two ticks short of accusing Barack Obama of treason for wanting to move prisoners from Gitmo to supermax prisons on the U.S. mainland. If Hillary had planned such a meeting, Graham and about 40 other Republicans would have demanded not just impeachment, but a criminal trial for treason.
Trump is all the things we’ve all been saying for years—a selfish, boorish child, a psychopath, a congenital liar, and a madman who gets more Lear-on-the-heath with each passing week. But the more dangerous madness is the one afflicting Republicans. It is they, more than Trump, who are putting this republic in peril. Why more? Because Trump doesn’t know better. They do.
You sometimes hear people say, on cable news shows or what have you, things like, “Oh, of course, privately, they know he’s bonkers.”
This is often said in a tone suggesting that the speaker intends it to be reassuring: don’t worry, they’re not that stupid, they know. In fact, it’s the opposite of reassuring! It’s far worse that they know and still behave like this. If they really didn’t grasp that Trump is a threat to the republic, at least their treacly public apologetics would be genuine. The fact that they understand the threat and say nothing, keeping the truth from the people they purport to serve, is immeasurably worse.
I’m sure you had the same thoughts I did last week as we watched 21 Tories tell Boris Johnson to stick it up his punter. Many of these people were very prominent figures. Amber Rudd was the sitting work and pensions secretary. She sent a scathing letter to No. 10 Downing Street denouncing Johnson’s kicking the 21 out of the party, writing: “This short-sighted culling of my colleagues has stripped the party of broad-minded and dedicated Conservative MPs. I cannot support this act of political vandalism.”
Justine Greening had been the education secretary under Theresa May. She wrote: “I don't believe that the Conservative Party will offer people a sensible choice at the next election in respect of the fact that Boris Johnson is going to offer people a general election that faces them with the choice of a no-deal or Jeremy Corbyn. That is a lose-lose general election for Britain.” Kenneth Clarke, who’s been a Tory MP for 49 years, called Johnson “disingenuous”—to his face, during question time.
But the best statement that I saw, came from Dominic Grieve, another MP and a former attorney general. Check this out: “I’m appalled that a prime minister, a conservative prime minister, who says he’s a conservative, should be behaving in this fashion. We’re a party that upholds the rule of law, upholds our constitution. He’s been in the process of trashing the constitution, and he now says apparently he would break the law. This is just… it is actually ridiculous, it is shaming… It’s like a 4-year-old having a tantrum, and it’s actually disgraceful behavior. It’s quite astonishing, and it again highlights the extraordinary nature of this prime minister, and, I’m afraid, his unfitness for office.”
Every one of those words applies at least equally to Trump. But can you imagine any Republican saying them?
Johnson may yet wreck British democracy. If he crashes the U.K. out of Europe on Oct. 31 against Parliament’s wishes, their system will be tested as it never has been in modern times. But if that happens, at least history will record that some members of his own party stood up and said no, you will not destroy our system in my name.
One can argue that we’re not at the crisis point here that they are over there, with the Brexit deadline looming. At the same time, one can’t deny that we’ve been in a slow-boiling crisis since Trump took office, and that the water is just getting hotter and hotter, and some deadline, some crisis, some major act of presidential sedition, is inevitable. When that moment arrives, what will Republicans do?
I think we know. There won’t be two brave souls, let alone 21. And the irony is, our Republicans have more power over Trump than Conservative MPs have over BoJo. As we saw, Johnson has the power to kick them out of the party. Trump lacks this power, although undoubtedly the key lesson he took away from watching last week’s events in London, provided he had the attention span to focus on them, is that it sure would be nice if he had it, and Ronna Romney McDaniel surely agrees.
We saw an inspiring example last week of what happens when people decide to defend their system of government and their constitution (albeit an unwritten one in their case) against a demagogue. Yes, they acted at great personal cost. But people who take moral stands always do. They help keep democracy alive. American Republicans are strangling it.