It’s hard to recognize history in the making when you’re living in the moment, but perhaps you’d agree with my instinctive belief that our national nightmare is now entering a more dangerous phase.
Granted, it was clear that history was made on the day that nearly 63 million people – be they naively oblivious, or feckless, or well-meaning but credulous, or pining for someone who could “run government like a business,” or just plain racist – inexplicably hired a demagogic sower of disinformation, an open admirer of Russian despotism, an aspiring autocrat who exuded contempt for our democratic values. Many of us recognized the obvious and clanged the warning that this guy was a clear and present danger, but alas, as the satirist Jonathan Swift remarked nearly 300 years ago, “There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.”
Millions of Americans, living in the moment, doing their jobs and raising their families, have likely ignored or tuned out his slow-motion trampling of democratic norms and the rule of law. But the moves he has made in recent days, happening in plain sight, clearly signal that he is thirsting to liberate himself from all institutional restraints; put simply, he’s testing the cowed congressional Republicans to see how much he can get away with.
He’s systematically shedding the so-called adults who sought to keep him leashed, the ones who rightfully call him a moron. Plus, over the weekend, he celebrated the firing of FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe – whom he had harassed on Twitter since the summer of ’17, denigrating McCabe as “a Comey friend” – in an obvious attempt to smear McCabe’s reputation because he fears McCabe will be a corroborating witness for fired FBI director James Comey in Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice probe. (Indeed, McCabe said this weekend that he has been “singled out” because of “the events I witnessed in the aftermath” of Trump’s firing of Comey.)
Most importantly, Trump’s sustained campaign to drag McCabe through the mud is essentially a dry run for launching open warfare against Mueller – especially since Mueller has now subpoenaed financial records from the Trump Organization, thus crossing Trump’s “red line.” The moment of reckoning draws ever nearer.
Did congressional Republicans rise up en masse to protest Trump’s vindictive treatment of McCabe – most notably, the decision to deny McCabe his pension, an obvious warning to other feds that crossing Trump has consequences? Nah, Republicans barely uttered a peep; the party that once prided itself on law and order has gone belly up for lawlessness. Rest assured, Trump has duly noted their quiescence.
Trump’s most recent tweets about the Russia investigation reek with flop sweat – if McCabe wrote any memos after his meetings with Trump, they’re surely “fake memos”; and moreover, “the Mueller probe should never have been started” – but cornered animals typically lash out in desperation.
Yes, some Capitol Hill Republicans said yesterday that it would be darn bad if Trump tries to oust Mueller (for starters, by firing Mueller’s supportive supervisor, Rod Rosenstein), but it was a paltry protest. Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy said that Mueller should be left alone, but he also said “I’m not sure the House can do a lot.” John McCain and Jeff Flake spoke up for Mueller, but Trump doesn’t care what they think. Lindsey Graham said that Mueller should be allowed “to do his job without interference,” but he and his fellow senators have made no substantive moves to protect Mueller via legislation. Paul Ryan, the spineless House speaker, said through an aide that “Mueller and his team should be able to do their job,” but offered nothing beyond words.
What Trump knows about policy and governance could fit in a thimble, but he has an instinctive understanding of brute power. It doesn’t matter that a landslide percentage of Americans now oppose him; he’s solely focused on the roughly 35 percent who love him and process his serial lies as some kind of higher truth. As long as the Republican base remains faithful – stoked by Fox News and the rest of the Mueller-hating Trump-enabling media – most Republicans in Washington won’t stand up for democratic values.
One would think that the recent electoral shocks – like last week’s election of a Democratic congressman in a red Pennsylvania district that Trump won by 19 points – and the threat of a blue wave in November would prompt Republicans to wake up to the risks of lashing themselves to Trump. As Republican strategist Ed Rogers noted last week, “The Republican party is facing a 12-alarm fire.” But no. And thus the illness that plagues our institutions continues to spread; in the opinion of two respected legal experts, “We are definitely in a period of sustained constitutional infection.”
We’re living this history, but how will it end? John Brennan, the 25-year CIA careerist and ex-CIA director, appears to be optimistic. On Saturday morning he tweeted at Trump in language than would be astonishing in a normal era: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you.”
OK. Care tell us how?