A dangerous virus is rapidly spreading that threatens grave danger to those afflicted. I’m talking, of course, about Trumpism. Even moderate exposure renders Republicans unable to discern lies from truth, often causing them to mistake scandalous revelations for a nothingburger.
Case in point: Recently surfaced audio that appears to capture Donald Trump referencing then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch struck those resistant to Trumpism as yet another bombshell. To Republicans (all of whom have been exposed), however, it was just Trump being Trump.
In case you missed it, the audio seems to capture Trump instructing former Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to “take her out.” Put aside the fact that this sounds like a mob-like euphemism for doing more than simply removing Yovanovitch from her post (during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump also eerily said of Yovanovitch, “She’s going to go through some things”).
Yovanovitch was a problem for Trump precisely because she was seen as an anti-corruption fighter who would stymie Trump's efforts to enlist help digging up dirt on the Bidens.
To a person resistant to Trumpism, such a revelation (merely the latest shoe to drop during his impeachment trial!) might suggest that at least some Republicans would vote to remove him from office. But this latest revelation was dismissed (or greeted with a yawn) by those not inoculated against Trumpism.
The problem is, this is a degenerative affliction. Left untreated, Trumpism can progress from attacking corruption-fighting U.S. ambassadors to attacking genuine war heroes. One such case sprung up on Thursday night, when Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn fell victim by denigrating the patriotism of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
“Adam Schiff is hailing Alexander Vindman as an American patriot,” Blackburn tweeted. “How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America’s greatest enemy?”
Blackburn was referencing the theory that Vindman was responsible for leaking details of Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky to the whistleblower. Whether Vindman did that is unproven. What is proven, however, is that Vindman was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and wears more hardware on his chest than Blackburn probably even knows exists.
The fact that Donald Trump has done more than almost anybody to praise Vladimir Putin and badmouth Americans, including our intelligence agencies, which include hundreds of people who are risking their lives abroad for their country, proves that irony is dead for a political party that thrives on projection.
To be sure, nobody is expecting Blackburn to be a hero in this impeachment trial, but the depressing fact is that she represents the mainstream of today’s GOP, whose symptoms include hypocrisy, blind loyalty to Trump, repeating unproven conspiracy theories, and mean-tweets.
Indeed, a real outlier would be somebody who is willing to condemn this sickness. At the Trump casino, the house always wins.
Never mind the question of whether even four Republicans will vote for calling witnesses and documents (which should be easy and obvious)--or whether 20 of the 53 Senate Republicans might vote to convict a guy who is obviously guilty. We are left wondering whether even one might break from the herd. Just as Diogenes was looking for an “honest man,” I’m starting to wonder if even one Republican is immune to Trumpism.
So why does Trump engender such fear and loyalty? The most defensible reason for sticking with him may be that he delivers for his base.
One timely example of this came on Friday, when Trump became the first president to address the National Right to Life March in Washington, D.C., in person.
As someone who is sympathetic to this humanitarian cause (yes, that is my belief), I can understand the temptation conservatives may feel to want to reward Trump’s symbolic nod to our values by looking the other way on his transgressions.
That helps it spread.
Even if supporting a cause you believe in justified ignoring an impeachable act, there are two conservative insights that, I think, explain why this is still a tragic mistake. The first is that ideas have consequences (the title of conservative scholar Richard Weaver’s most famous book), and the second is that culture is upstream from politics (an observation that was popularized by conservative Andrew Breitbart).
The sad truth is that Donald Trump has injected some very bad, if consequential, ideas into modern Republican culture. These ideas included denigrating the weak and vulnerable (whether that’s a disabled reporter or immigrants—not exactly consistent with a “culture of life”) and tearing down respected ambassadors and highly-decorated patriots who refuse to bow to Trump’s cult of personality.
Donald Trump’s vulgar worldview has gone viral. Trumpism isn’t just mildly contagious, it is now an epidemic. The entire GOP has been infected.