Cowed Republicans gird themselves for the reign of fear

    In this January 2015 photo

    In this January 2015 photo

    This is the way democracy ends. To quote the poet T. S. Eliot: “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

    Indeed, even though Il Duce of Dystopia will not be crowned for another 30 days, the Capitol Hill Republicans are already whimpering. They are reportedly “shying away from any statement about the president-elect that might possibly be construed as critical.” Why? Because “they’re terrified of arousing the ire of their tempestuous new leader — or being labeled a turncoat by his army of followers.”

    Yes, this is how democracy ends and autocracy begins – with lawmakers “terrified” to speak freely, lest the tweeting Trumpkins and alt-right propagandists lay seige to their souls. In the words of South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, “People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks.”

    We need to understand how profoundly our politics are about to change. We need to understand that the congressional members of the ruling party will soon be under the heel of Trumpthink, and that their fear of reprisal will likely keep them in line. They won’t need to wear T armbands. The chilling effect, and their cowed silence, will be sufficient.

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    As an unnamed editor at the Breitbart propaganda site tells Politico, “If any politician in either party veers from what the voters clearly voted for in a landslide election … we stand at the ready to call them out on it and hold them accountable.” (Note the blatant lie. It was not a “landslide” election, despite what the Trumpthinkers and Trump himself have fake-decreed. Besides losing the popular vote by nearly three million, Trump’s Electoral College margin ranked 46th on the list of 58 elections.)

    The fear of reprisal is very real; several Republicans have already been assailed because they dared stray from fully lionizing Der Leader. Earlier this month, Texas congressman Bill Flores told a conservative conference that some of Trump’s proposals “are not going to line up very well with our conservative policies,” and even though he was equally conciliatory (“Let’s work on the things we know where we’re together”), his initial words were enough to unleash Trump’s flying monkeys.

    A swift attack from Breitbart was amplified on the radio by Sean Hannity; in turn, Hannity was amplified by the tweet-stormers, who told Flores stuff like, “we will burn your career down” and “you can go hang yourself!!” A Trumpthink blogger also weighed in by posting Flores’ office number, which prompted a rash of calls from people who threatened Flores’ physical safety.

    And the fear of Trump’s mob is topped only by the fear of Trump himself. The conservative National Review, which has excellent GOP sources, reports that Republicans fear “a culture of intimidation.” They are “understandably reluctant to preemptively criticize an incoming president who’s popular with their constituents back home  – and who could jeopardize their political careers and livelihoods with a single retaliatory tweet. Indeed, some normally talkative lawmakers agreed to discuss the upcoming Congress only if they were not quoted…One-party rule has a way of silencing dissent.”

    Yup, congressional Republicans are afraid to even put their names on the record. This passage in the Politico piece was attributed to “insiders”:

    “The Republican officeholders see Trump’s unabashed use of his Twitter account to shame critics as the most foreboding threat. During campaign season, he regularly took shots at adversaries, including Marco Rubio (‘Little Marco’), Ted Cruz (‘Lyin’ Ted,’) and Speaker Paul Ryan (a ‘very weak and ineffective leader’). Trump hasn’t gone after any lawmakers on Twitter since the election, but some worry it’s just a matter of time. Eventually, some Republican will feel compelled to challenge his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, or slap companies that move jobs overseas with massive tariffs. And that’s when things will get ugly, insiders predict.”

    What all this portends for the future of free expression and dissent and the unfettered exchange of ideas, I shudder to imagine.

    Meanwhile, the answer to this year’s top trivia question will be: Colin Powell.

    The question: Who finished third in the 2016 Electoral College?

    Yep, three Democratic electors in the state of Washington voted Monday for George W. Bush’s first Secretary of State, hoping in vain that Powell’s name would lure Republican electors away from Trump. I can only shake my head at the irony — OK, the stupidity — of voting for Powell at all.

    Those three Democratic electors were Bernie Bros who got their gigs because Sanders won the Washington state caucus. Bernie spent the primary season pounding Hillary Clinton for her Senate vote authorizing war in Iraq. So what did those Bernie electors do on Monday? They voted for Powell…who helped lay the groundwork for war in Iraq. He went to the United Nations and told a string of untruths about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction — which greased the runup to the war that Bernie loathed.

    Brilliant idea, Bros.

    And so the Electoral College rebellion ended — not with a bang, but a whimper.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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