It’s May Day, and this was a Mayday all right. May 1, 2019 will go down as one of the dark days in the history of this republic.
You think that’s overstated? Then tell me another time when an attorney general went before a committee of the United States Senate and lied like that to protect a lying president. The day after being caught in another whopping lie as we learned about the existence of Robert Mueller’s letter taking issue with the way Bill Barr had characterized the Mueller Report, which Barr had lied about to Congress previously.
And—tell me another time when the members of one political party participated in the protection racket quite like that. Why did Lindsey Graham think it was cute or cheeky to utter the word “fucking” at the beginning of this hearing? Fine, he had the excuse that he was quoting something. But that isn’t why he did it. He did it to de-dignify these proceedings. To signal to viewers that they didn’t need to take this hearing seriously. And, he did it for an audience of one. You think Orange Julius didn’t chuckle when he heard Graham go down in the gutter?
I could go on in this vein. Barr was wall-to-wall dishonest and appalling, the way he tried to deflect questions by niggling over a small matter, picking a tiny nit, running out the clock, wearing that “but I’m the Attorney General” cloak of slightly bored superiority.
But instead, let’s step back and look at it like this:
The Republican Party started life as a grand and admirable thing. Our anti-slavery party; our conscience. Its leader was assassinated, and in short order it became the party of Wall Street, and it remained that for a century, though it always contained within it conservatives, moderates, and even some liberals.
Then, starting in the 1980s, it lost the liberals. Then, in the 1990s, it started to lose most of the moderates, as right-wing issue and interest groups and Koch money began to define what constituted “conservatism,” pushing it ever-further rightward so that today it really isn’t even conservatism, but just a collection of grievances that they can use to piss off enough white people to stay in power.
Bill Barr came of political age in this period. He was a young, right-wing legal hotshot at the time of originalism, the Federalist Society, the rise of the right-wing arguments about a strong executive.
Lindsey Graham came of political age in this period. He was first elected to the South Carolina state legislature in the 1990s defeating a Democrat, and then just two years later made it to Congress, beating one of those post-civil rights-era Dixie Democrats who, throughout the 80s and 90s, were turned out of office by Republicans who were pushing their party, and their region, much farther to the right than it had been.
Their apologetics today are the natural consequences of their having marinated in these juices of resentment and rage for all the years they have. It’s what the party has become. And of course it’s the party that produced and elevated a gangster like Trump. It’s all of a piece.
It’s one of the greatest political quotes of all time, from philosopher Eric Hoffer; I’ve used it before and I’ll use it again: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Barr and Graham were around I suppose to just catch the tail end of the movement phase. But mostly, they matured in Washington during the business era.
But then, in late 2015, when it became apparent the party was actually probably going to nominate Trump, came the racket phase. And Barr and Graham have adapted to it with, we must confess, a kind of evolutionary impressiveness, like bedbugs that have developed an ability to repel pesticides. And not just them, of course—every single one of them.
And all of it along the way—every racist dog whistle, every Rush Limbaugh rant, every false, out-of-thin-air accusation against Bill and Hillary Clinton, every lie about easily liberating the people of Iraq, every accusation that the rest of us hated freedom, every “joke” about Obama serving fried chicken, every disgusting attack on immigrants and gay people and you name it—has brought us to this point. Brought us to today, when a sitting attorney general said in effect to the American people whose interests he is supposed to be defending, “No, I truly do not give a fuck. I’m up here for the president, and that’s that.” And naturally, we learned three hours after he left the Senate chamber that he will not deign to appear at the House, where the questioning would likely be tougher.
Trump is a uniquely diseased man, it’s true. But what kind of political party nominates, celebrates, venerates, and takes political bullets for a uniquely diseased man?
So after today, if we didn’t before, we see now with a new and oddly liberating clarity where this is headed. It’s 18 months until Election Day. They may well be the most consequential and frightening stretch in the history of the country, or at least since Reconstruction.
This racket known as a political party will try to pervert the law in ways we’ve never seen. Reverse the meaning of every word we know. Trump is screaming that he’s the victim of a “coup.” What he is doing, of course, is perpetrating a coup, against the Constitution, with the eager help of Barr and Graham and all the rest of them. Trump is an idiot, but on some intuitive level, he’s a smart man, smart enough to know that to get away with staging a coup, the very first thing you have to do is to accuse your opponents of trying to stage one.
Barr and Graham and Mitch McConnell and everyone else around knows that they’ve thrown in, and having thrown in, they can’t throw out. Survival will require every kind of lie you can imagine, especially and exactly the lie of accusing their foes of that which they are doing themselves. And before this is over, they’re all going to be in on it.