Brimming with self-righteous protest, Congressional Republicans have angrily rejected the clear and compelling case that their president has committed impeachable offenses. Can they really believe that Trump wasn’t trying to extort a foreign government for his personal domestic political purposes? Or that if he was, it’s no big deal? Can they really believe that Trump’s stonewalling of the impeachment investigation, refusing documents and testimony, is anything but a gross breach of the separation of powers, a rejection of Congress‘s constitutionally mandated role? (Not to mention an admission of guilt—could Pompeo, Mulvaney, et. al. testify without incriminating the president and without perjuring themselves?)
Asking such questions is somewhat akin to asking the question I have posed repeatedly: are Trump’s many falsehoods conscious lies, or does he actually believe what he says? Ultimately, I think Trump’s routine mendacity is a reflection of his extreme narcissism: truth counts for nothing; self-aggrandizement, everything. It’s different for his Congressional water-carriers. Most of them aren’t narcissists, but they are ideological zealots. Zealots are capable of great feats of self-delusion. The Cause their leader serves is more important than any abuses he has committed, so the abuses cannot be real. Is it any surprise that people who refuse to recognize the irrefutable realities of climate change are capable of pretending away the realities of Trump’s offenses against democracy? It’s not ego but ideological zeal that drives the Republicans’ self-delusional indifference to the truth.
Well before Trump came on the scene, the GOP had ceased behaving like a typical American political party that respects the basic norms and boundaries of our democratic system. It had become a party of the radical right, determined to wage all-out war against its ideological foes. Under Trump’s charismatic leadership, it has become a radical right-wing personality cult. Democrats need to say this over and over again. They need to say that we cannot have a decent politics in this country until the Republican Party as it exists today is crushed.
It’s true that people don’t like to hear such talk. They don’t like gridlock in Washington and they tend (inaccurately) to hold both parties equally responsible for it. Polls show that many Democratic voters (but not so many Republican voters) value bi-partisanship and compromise. And of course, compromise will occasionally be possible, but only occasionally. The way to get around the nostalgic yearning for bi-partisan compromise and comity is to make a pan-partisan argument: we need a responsible conservative party, which can come into being only with the repeated, crushing defeat and consequent transformation of the GOP. As he does so often, Paul Krugman gets it just right:
Modern Republicans are irredeemable, devoid of principle or shame. And there is….no reason to believe that this will change even if Trump is defeated next year.
The only way that either American democracy or a livable planet can survive is if the Republican Party as it now exists is effectively dismantled and replaced with something better — maybe with a party that has the same name, but completely different values. This may sound like an impossible dream. But it’s the only hope we have.
Krugman is correct—there is no reason to expect this will change if Trump is defeated next year. But it will be an absolutely necessary start.