The opening skit on Saturday Night Live over the weekend wasn’t particularly funny or smart (it never is, and the whole SNL “comeback” business is one of the most mystifying stories of our era), but nevertheless the writers stumbled onto something when they had the Fox & Friends hosts inviting Louis Farrakhan on to join them in their denunciations of the FBI.
Once upon a time, the Republicans were the party of “family values” and “law and order.” But defending Donald Trump has necessitated ditching both of those positions.
Mind you, the old poses were ridiculous. The family-values nonsense was always hypocritical. Evangelicals have higher divorce rates than non-evangelicals; higher even than atheists, in fact! The phrase was little more than a bludgeon to try to impose and enforce a selective morality on the rest of us, and a cynical exercise in vote-getting.
Every so often over the years, some family-values Republican or religious-right leader would succumb to temptations of the flesh. He would confess, endure the ritualized self-abasement, and hand himself over to Jesus, and all would be forgotten. It looked almost self-parodic to those of us outside the magic circle, but at least one could see the logic of it: As long as the person repented, much could be forgiven.
But now that the religious righties are defending Donald Trump shagging adult actresses, without a hint of repentance from him, they have, well, exposed themselves. Their interests and motives are only political. They know very well that they are supporting a man who is not just a fornicator but a serial liar—and who into the bargain probably thinks Deuteronomy is something two women do on camera for his entertainment. The Republican Party should never be allowed to get away with calling itself the family-values party again.
As for law and order, yes, the Republicans were once unabashedly that, it’s true. But to disastrous consequences. The “tough on crime” policies exemplified by the Rockefeller drug laws in New York had a hideous impact for decades, locking away thousands of young and overwhelmingly black men for minor drug offenses while doing nothing to reduce crime. Indeed they made crime worse, as they helped perpetuate an arms race between police and dealers.
And, of course, the other main manifestation of the GOP “law and order” claim was unreserved support for law enforcement—for the police and the FBI. When J. Edgar Hoover was snooping into the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers and other African-American activists, it was Republicans who always had the bureau’s back—that is to say, it was Republicans who always defended violations of these citizens’ civil liberties as defensible and indeed necessary to protect the rest of us.
Today? They’ve gone bonkers. They have truly created an alternate reality. In real reality, the Steele dossier was only part of the case against the Trump campaign, as Devin Nunes’ memo acknowledged. In real reality, the dossier had nothing to do with the Trump Tower meeting where Don Jr. sought dirt on Hillary.
But in the GOP’s alternative reality, they’ve made it all about Steele—which is their only play, because if they can make it all about Steele, they can make it seem like a political hit job.
Trump aside for a moment, the leader of this effort is of course Nunes. He has tons of company, but Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, deserves special mention. He’s leading the charge, for example, to hire a special prosecutor to investigate the special prosecutor. The Department of Justice, by the way, has an inspector general’s office, with 500 employees and a budget of $100 million. It was that IG’s office that discovered the emails of Peter Strzok in the first place, the emails mocking Trump, which led to Strzok’s removal from Mueller’s team. But that’s not enough for Jordan. He needs a Torquemada.
The House intel committee voted unanimously Monday to release the Democratic memo responding to Nunes’. I’ll give them credit for doing that. And it was good to hear four Republican members of that committee say on the Sunday shows that the memo did nothing to undercut Mueller’s investigation. So there are small rays of hope here.
At the same time, though, Nunes says he has five more memos to release. And we will find out this week if Trump will approve the release of the Democratic memo. And finally, the drumbeat for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will just grow and grow. Those four committee members notwithstanding, most Republicans will get out their drumsticks and start banging. You may have seen over the weekend that one GOP congressman, Paul Gosar, said that Mueller and Rosenstein, along with Jim Comey and Sally Yates and Andrew McCabe, have committed treason.
To defend Trump, Republicans are destroying the country’s institutions. I admit to being a little bit surprised. I expected Trump to attack those institutions, and I wrote as much the day he was inaugurated. I didn’t expect the Republicans to be profiles in courage. I expected these so-called religious leaders to rationalize. But I also did not expect them to go to the mat to defend Trump. I expected GOP legislators to nod and wink and parse their words and roll their eyes and duck reporters. I did not expect them to be Trump’s aggressive accomplices in the destruction of the republic—to seek to destroy the FBI in Trump’s behalf.
It’s shocking to watch, and terrifying to imagine how this movie ends.