2020 Election, GOP, Pandemic, Trump

War on Government…

As a world-wide pandemic silently sulks its way across the globe pulling the international economy into recession or worse, it has become increasingly clear that Americans are facing a political, societal and economic crisis unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. 

It looks kind of interesting. It’s not

And for better or worse, it’s going to be up to individuals, a few insightful business leaders and a relative handful of courageous political leaders to chart the course forward. Our politics is broken, perhaps fatally. Half of the political leadership class is captive to willful misinformation, conspiracy theories, disdain for science and expertise of every kind and devoted to the kind of government that shutdown the White House office responsible for coordinating the response to what we now call COVID-19.

The Republican Party has been fighting a “war on government” since Ronald Reagan infamously labeled government the cause of our problems, not the answer. Whether he intended to or not, and Reagan was less ideological than almost anyone in the GOP today, at his 1981 inaugural the heir of Barry Goldwater heralded the establishment of a new Republican philosophy that continues. There are essentially two Republican policies: tax cuts for the wealthy and unlimited spending on the military. Everything else, perfectly highlighted by Donald Trump’s incomprehensible inability to anticipate and counter a killer pandemic, is expendable, or unnecessary. 

When in 2018 our blustering incompetent president shuttered the National Security Council office devoted to preparing for the next pandemic there was nary a ripple of concern. Trump has been lying this week, as every week, saying he had nothing to do with the decision, but videotape has now surfaced where he brags about this epic leadership failure. 

“Some of the people we’ve cut they haven’t been used for many, many years and if we ever need them we can get them very quickly and rather than spending the money,” Trump said at the time. How has that been working out? 

Some times a picture really is worth a thousand words

Some astute observers of American politics can remember all the way back to the early days of the Trump regime when Steve Bannon, Trump’s government hating senior strategist, boasted that his job was the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning, as Fortune magazine pointed out, “weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.” Bannon’s bombast and stupidity doesn’t look so good these days. 

Indeed, as Beth Cameron, a leader in the White House pandemic office that is no more, wrote recently “it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response. What’s especially concerning about the absence of this office today is that it was originally set up because a previous epidemic made the need for it quite clear.”

Put another way, Barack Obama created the office in 2014 to combat Ebola and did so effectively, so Trump did away with it four years later because he could. 

This utter disdain for expertise and common sense has become the defining feature of the Republican Party and you can see it from Washington, DC to Boise. Congressman Russ Fulcher defaulted to the GOP playbook that tax cuts will cure a pandemic when he was one of 40 House Republicans who voted against emergency legislation to address sick leave for the millions of Americans who are without it, a move considered by health experts as a key strategy to contain the spread of the virus. 

“First of all, government shouldn’t be mandating to businesses how they pay their employees, in my view,” Fulcher said in explaining his inexplicable vote. “And secondly, that’s going to put some small businesses out of business.” 

Fulcher advocated tax incentives, not “hard mandates” from the government. The rookie congressman will soon enough discover that “hard mandates” are precisely what is required along with massive government spending that preserves jobs and enhances the ability of health care providers to meet the crisis. 

Fulcher is the perfect embodiment of a head in the sand political Neanderthal, a dim partisan functionary tethered to right wing ideology rather than real world realities. The same can be said of the Republican dominated Idaho Legislature that is stumbling to adjournment worried not about strategies to protect the sick and those who will be, but devoting its closing hours to passing legislation to prevent transgender females from participating in athletics, making sure Idaho can outlaw abortion when the Supreme Court makes that possible and twice defeating an already inadequate higher education budget.

Legislators debated how many ideologues fit on the head of a pin. Local school boards and mayors got to work.  

As the Washington Post noted earlier this week: “For weeks, many on the right, including Trump, minimized the virus, if they considered it at all. Even in recent days, as much of the world shuts down to try to stop its spread, some Republicans mocked what they saw as a media-generated frenzy.

“Their reaction reflected how the American right has evolved under Trump, moving from a bloc of small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, science, the news and federal warnings.”

It is so transparently telling that Trump’s Oval Office speech last week where he made his first faltering effort to get in front of the danger the pandemic represents to all Americans was written by two incompetent ideologues – Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller – guys with no experience whatsoever in the subject at hand. Trump and his speechwriters were practicing public relations, and badly to boot, not engaging in crisis management or presidential leadership. 

Kushner, Miller and Bannon: the Three Stooges of the modern Republican PartyLA Times photo

There are so many mileposts over the last three years that might have flattened his unique curve of presidential malfeasance – the GOP dismissal of Russian election interference and the investigation that exposed it, Trump’s gross mismanagement of foreign policy and ignorant, heartless approach to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, the kids in cages on the southern border, the hate filled tweets and ugly insults, the Senate Republican willingness to ignore the president’s clear efforts at Ukrainian blackmail – but all now fade into our collective rearview mirror. 

We are left staring straight ahead at what will likely prove to be the worst American crisis since World War II, coupled with the worst economy since the Great Depression all presided over by a man no serious Republican would hire to manage a car wash. 

Trump and Republicans didn’t create the pandemic and the economic meltdown. They merely furthered a notion of government and political irresponsibility that made such a nightmare possible and they labeled it all “American exceptionalism.” But, of course, the only thing exceptional is the ignorance and selfishness. As the writer Howard Bryant says, “We replace destruction with exceptionalism: it could never happen here.” Yet, it has. 

There are tough days ahead. We’re in unchartered seas. Personal and mostly non-governmental institutional initiative coupled with charity, decency and honesty will be essential. When we emerge on the other side America will be a different place. 

We’ll be either a stronger, better, more decent people without Trump and a lot of his enabling Republicans, or we won’t. America will begin to get well, or our sickness will deepen. No one will save us but us. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

  • I found this piece by Adam Garfinkle in The American Interest fascinating and I hasten to add I don’t agree with everything he says, yet he carefully and persuasively makes the case that the handling of the Trump impeachment was an American disaster. Read the whole thing.
  • American and world airlines are in a deep dive. (And I complained to Alaska Airlines this week about the carriers flight change policy in this time of turmoil, so I am hardly an uninvolved bystander.) And we should all brace ourselves for the big – BIG – cost of propping the air carriers up. Here’s why it matters and why the government should extract some concessions.
  • There are a number of viral – pardon me – videos making the rounds recounting the president’s earlier discounting of the cornoavirus. This one about Fox News is, well, stunning.
  • And…a serious and seriously funny guy, Dave Pell, has re-written a few lines of famous poetry for the Age of the Virus.
  • Thanks for reading…and sharing. Wash your hands.
GOP, Impeachment, Trump

Vichy Republicans…

You might have thought the modern Republican Party had reached its nadir back in 2016 when the party’s presidential candidate attacked an American Muslim family whose military officer son had died during a car bombing in Iraq.

It was widely reported at the time that Donald Trump’s attack, particularly on the Gold Star mother of a dead American military officer, “drew quick and widespread condemnation and amplified calls for Republican leaders to distance themselves from their presidential nominee.” Hardly any Republican leader did so.

Khizr Khan, who’s son Humayun was killed serving in the U.S. Army ten years after September 11, 2001, was attacked by Donald Trump.

The assault on the Khan family came, of course, after Trump had vilified John McCain, the Navy veteran, Vietnam POW, Republican senator and presidential candidate. It’s been downhill ever since.

Not only have Republican elected officials refused to “distance themselves” from the president, they have, as the ongoing House impeachment inquiry makes crystal clear, joined Trump in his fever swamp of threats, lies, political vilification, gas lighting and hatred directed at various groups and individuals.

In real time last week, the president himself bashed a nonpartisan, career Foreign Service officer. And earlier this week, the White House and many congressional Republicans openly questioned the loyalty of a decorated career military officer. Earlier the president had publicly slammed a foreign policy aide to his own vice president.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, attacked by Republicans for pointing out Trump’s impeachable behavior. Vindman is an immigrant, Jewish and a combat veteran

“This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush told the New York Times. “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff — especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

The ghost of Joe McCarthy — and McCarthy’s loathsome henchman Roy Cohn, once Trump’s personal attorney — inhabits the modern GOP. When the president slanders people in his own administration or those who dare to differ with him, the attacks bring only deafening silence from cowed conservatives. This servility brings to mind nothing so much as the craven acquiesce of Vichy collaborators in France after the 1940 French surrender to Nazi Germany.

The stains on the character of these cowardly opportunists, like the shame that continues to cling to long-dead French politicians who dishonored their country for personal advantage, will be remembered long after their petty political careers are a footnote to history.

At the ultimate moment of reckoning, the collaborators accepted personal dishonor rather than courageous principle. That is the bottom line on the modern Republican Party.

Scholars who study the rise of authoritarian leaders have identified a “playbook” that defines how politicians with dictatorial aspirations behave. As Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the human rights center at Dayton University, wrote recently, “Democracy is in trouble.” And in fact, the upward arc of democratic governments around the world may well have peaked in 2008 and is now surely in decline.

“The mainstay of today’s authoritarianism,” Inglis says, “is strengthening your power while simultaneously weakening government institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries, that provide checks and balances.

Trump has repeatedly embraced authoritarians like Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin

“The key is to use legal means that ultimately give democratic legitimacy to the power grab. Extreme forms of this include abolishing presidential term limits, which was done in China, and regressive constitutional reforms to expand presidential power, like in Turkey.”

During his chaotic presidency, Donald Trump has repeatedly denigrated the pillars of American democracy. He’s vilified judges who rule against him. He labels a free press that attempts to hold him accountable “the enemy of the people.” He has hammered the intelligence community because it hasn’t agreed with Vladimir Putin.

While Trump once proudly proclaimed that “my generals” surrounded him, they are now all gone. James Mattis, the Marine four-star Trump called “just a brilliant, wonderful man” became, after he quit over a disagreement with the president on the Syria cut and run policy, “the world’s most overrated general.

Trump’s capture of the Republican Party is total and the moral and intellectual rot behind that takeover is complete.

Trump this week pardoned three men deemed criminals by the military justice system, a move that horrified believers in a system that holds Americans accountable for war crimes, including senior officers who put their careers on the line to voice their disapproval. Not a single Republican uttered a peep of protest.

The case being made in lame defense of the president on charges that he obstructed justice and abused his authority in the Ukraine affair is truly the height of Vichy Republicanism. The evidence is clear, confirmed by people inside the White House, that Trump employed, indeed ordered, an extortion scheme involving his personal lawyer to try and force a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent. Yet the president’s collaborators, including the entire Idaho congressional delegation, twist themselves into knots; debasing the truth and themselves in service of this would-be despot.

Devin Nunes, a leader of the fever swamp, conspiracy theory embracing GOP
(Credit Image: © Ron Sachs/CNP via ZUMA Wire)

This is how democracy comes apart: party over principle, personal interest ahead of national interest and collaboration before common sense.

In order to believe that the president of the United States did nothing wrong in soliciting foreign help in an attempt to smear a political rival, Vichy Republicans have to ignore the clear public comments and unmistakable actions of our emerging despot.

In an interview with ABC last summer, Trump said: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent’— oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” During his campaign he called on Russia to continue its attack against his opponent by finding her emails. His actions in Ukraine are just clear.

The president has no trouble seeking any political advantage, no matter how odious and he has completely co-opted Vichy Republicans — or sufficiently neutered them — so that most all of them think all this is just fine.

Many of them know it is not just fine, but collaboration is more convenient than the cold, clear truth. Their dishonor will remain even as a functioning democracy is diminished. What a legacy.

GOP, Trump

Corruption in Plain Sight

The ultimate danger of the Trump presidency, even beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences of the recent abandonment of northern Syria to the Turks, Russians and ISSI, has always been that Trump will completely and permanently warp the simple notion of facts and destroy the idea of acceptable political behavior. 

There was always going to be days of reckoning with the rabble-rousing, norm busting, and corruption pushing president. Those days have now surely arrived and the ultimate question has been framed for Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation. 

“It is no longer a question of whether this happened,” the veteran and very measured Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote this week concerning he latest revelations about the Ukraine shakedown. “It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”

That is the question for Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson. Also a question for Gov. Brad Little and all the other Republicans who have shelved their sensibility about ethics, while bowing at the Trump alter.

As my friend David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University, wrote this week on Twitter: “Imagine the following: Churchill, calling FDR: ‘We could really use some help here to stop the Nazis…’ FDR: ‘Winston, sure thing – but not until you give me some dirt on that bastard Dewey.’” David was factiously, of course, referring to the unthinkable: Franklin Roosevelt withholding critical aid to Great Britain in exchange for shaking down the prime minister for help defeating his 1944 Republican opponent. 

Unthinkable, at least until Trump created a shadow State Department, put the criminally incompetent Rudy Giuliani in charge and used a Portland hotel operator who gave a $1 million to his inaugural fund as his messenger. All this – the illegality of seeking a political campaign favor from a foreign leader, the rogue foreign policy, the fundamentally venal corruption – is right there in plain sight. 

Trump corruption was also glaringly on display with the president’s decision to award the upcoming G-7 summit of leaders of major industrial nation to his own Florida golf resort. Under intense pressure from among others Mike Simpson, who admitted it was getting a bit difficult to defend such blatant Trump corruption, the president backed down. Of course he blamed Democrats and the press and dismissed Constitutional prohibitions against his sleazy behavior as “phony.” 

Donald Trump in his element at his Doral golf course in Florida.

So, why exactly was it difficult for many Republicans to condemn such corruption? The president awarded a huge contract to himself after all, which in a simpler, more ethical time would have been the very definition of improper, self-dealing. The fact that the Constitution directly addresses such misconduct ought to have made reproaching Trump an easy call. And, of course, the president never admitted his scheme was wrong, just that it had been criticized.   

Imagine if Gov. Brad Little owned a hotel in downtown Boise rather than a ranch. And imagine that he ordered all visiting Republicans or traveling state employees to stay at his hotel. Would that be improper? 

Or imagine that House Speaker Scott Bedke owned a printing business rather than a ranch. And then imagine that he ordered all state agencies to do their printing with his business. Would that be corrupt? 

That type of scandal would be spread across every front page in Idaho. There would be demands for investigations and calls for resignation. Yet, some Republicans actually defended Trump’s corruption before he cut off the limb they crawled out on. 

“It may seem careless politically,” said North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, “but on the other hand there’s tremendous integrity in his boldness and his transparency.”

Forehead hit table. 

And there was Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s “economic development defense” of Trump corruption. “Anything that draws a major event like that to Florida is not something I would discourage,” Rubio said. 

That’s a far cry from the Rubio of 2016 when he was warning fellow Republicans about Trump. “On issue after issue, what he’s saying to people isn’t true,” Rubio said then. “It’s called a con job. And we’re not going to allow a con artist to take control of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.” 

Yes, yes we are. In fact, we have. 

I would never have imagined that Mitt Romney would have become the keeper of the Republican soul, but that is precisely what has happened. Virtually alone among major GOP officeholders, Romney clearly has a conscious and clearly knows that character must still count in public life. 

The Atlantic’s profile of Mitt Romney positions the former presidential candidate as the “ethical hall monitor” of the modern GOP

“Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth—those are not private things,” Romney told journalist McKay Coppins who wrote about the Utah Mormon recently in The Atlantic. “If during the campaign you pay a porn star $130,000, that now comes into the public domain.” 

Romney told another interviewer this week, “We certainly can’t have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is, after all, against the law.”

The House impeachment investigation will grind on and there will certainly be more – perhaps many more – revelations of corruption, illegal activity, dishonesty and debasement of the truth. The Giuliani cesspool alone will provide enough content for two new seasons of “Law and Order.”  

The question is this: what do we do about it? Do members of the Idaho delegation continue to accept this profound level of corruption at the very top of the American government? Will they continue to be party to resetting the ethical sideboards for future presidential behavior? Will they uphold their oath to “protect and defend” the Constitution? Will they finally realizing that defending the indefensible is just too hard? 

The days of reckoning are here. And, if irony had not died when Donald Trump moved into the White House, we could shake our heads at the fact that the president proclaimed this week “National Character Counts Week.” 

“May we never forget that our Nation is only as strong as the virtue and character of our citizenry,” Trump’s proclamation read. He obviously forgot the line about the “virtue and character” of the president. 

GOP, Idaho Politics

Delusional…

Idaho Republican elected officials, with a couple of notable exceptions, seem unable to control, let alone influence their party. In political terms, the inmates have taken over, once and apparently forever, the GOP asylum.

The GOP state central committee elected a new party chairman last week and the rank and file chose as their new leader the guy who lost the Republican nomination for governor last year to Brad Little. At the 2018 convention, he refused to explicitly endorse the man who is now governor. “We should unite as a party behind the nominees, but we should never forget that 63 percent of our party voted for change,” Raul Labrador said.

Labrador: Called Trump a “whiner” and questioned his temperament, but that was before it became impossible for a Republican to speak the truth about their leader.

Actually, fewer than 33 percent of GOP primary voters voted for Labrador in 2018, but now he is the change the party has apparently been waiting for, as well as the organizational face of Idaho Republicans just a year after one of the most divisive primary fights in recent Idaho history.

Memorably, former Republican Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said of the GOP primary in 2018: “I’ve been around elections for 45 years, and this is the most negative gubernatorial primary I’ve ever seen.”

Well, Ben, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

And also memorably, Labrador said, as he is wont to do, something nonsensical after his two-vote victory over former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. “It’s amazing how close it was, and it tells us how our party is divided and united,” he said.

Divided and united.

And as Labrador famously said in Lewiston a couple of years ago,“Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,” either.

Here’s the best evidence of division: Gov. Little was nowhere in sight for the GOP summer confab and had no candidate in the hunt for the chairmanship of the party. It was undoubtedly wise of the governor to avoid all this party business. He had no chance to win and a big chance to lose and lose embarrassingly. Still it’s just short of astounding that a guy elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote seven months ago hardly gets a mention while his party elects his chief rival.

Other prominent non-entities: Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and the one routinely adult member of the Idaho delegation, Congressman Mike Simpson.

As Boise State Public Radio’s James Dawson noted, Congressman Russ Fulcher, the latest darling of the far out right, received a standing ovation from central committee members, as did the militia-endorsed, white supremacy flirting Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, while five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and House Speaker Scott Bedke did not.

Idaho’s Lt. Governor: the symbol of the GOP’s cozy embrace of the alt right fringe

It’s clear the rank and file of the Idaho GOP has consumed the Kool-Aid of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party and no one dares — at least publicly — to take issue with the Emperor and his lack of clothes. In the modern GOP, up is down, objective reality is unreliable, all news is fake and a lie is just an alternative fact.

Labrador campaigned for chairman by showing off a photo of himself with Trump, while Bonneville County Republican Party Chairman Mark Fuller, re-writing history on the fly, claimed that “Raul unapologetically supported President Trump while others were waffling or outright hiding.”

That ignores the by now historic mash-up tape of Labrador trashing Trump during the GOP primaries in 2016 while the then-congressman was supporting first Sen. Rand Paul and then Sen. Ted Cruz. Labrador called Trump “a whiner,” questioned his temperament and wondered “is that the kind of person that we want running the United States of America?”

That tape, you may recall, made its way — perhaps at Little’s behest — to the Trump White House where it seemed to have headed off a Trump primary endorsement for the man who now chairs the Idaho party.

In fairness to the new chairman, he did stick with Trump during the “Access Hollywood” tape expose and ultimately fell in smartly behind the man he once didn’t think was suitable to run the country. It took Labrador a while to get bought, but once there, he stays bought.

Poor Tom Luna. The best he could do in his pre-election pitch to central committee members was to feature a photo of himself with Donald Trump Jr.

The modern Republican movement — it’s no longer correct to call it conservative — is a fact-free personality cult, where if you profess loyalty to all Trumpian values, you can stay square with the GOP base. Not even a tiny bit of deviation is permissible.

You can trace all this, including the embrace of a would-be autocrat who has shredded virtually every long-established Republican value, to the culture that has been created in the party by all the whoppers Republican leaders have been telling their base for a generation or more.

Tax cuts for the wealthy strengthen the economy.

Affordable health care is a socialist plot.

Labor unions are evil.

Paying teachers a decent wage is unaffordable.

Or, this one repeated by Labrador last weekend: The party has to be united to defeat Democrats, or as he said “the real enemy.”

The ultimate question, of course, is what will Chairman Labrador do with his new position atop a united and divided Republican Party? It’s hard to see him as a uniter. He’s more a bomb thrower from the fringe. Will he pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the job or seek the spotlight on hot button issues that play to the Tea Party base of the party? Will he support the conservative pragmatism of Little and Simpson or will he use his new position to prepare another run for governor?

There was a certain crazy symmetry that Idaho Republicans anointed as their leader the loser of a GOP primary who spent his time in Congress trashing the national party leadership, often warring with Simpson and itching to take on a mainstream conservative such as Little. Meanwhile, the president – the only real thing other than a casual dance with white supremacy that unites Idaho Republicans — was off in Asia creating, as Bloomberg noted, a few good days for authoritarian leaders.

A Republican Party able to embrace Raul Labrador, Vladimir Putin, a murderous Saudi prince, a brutal North Korean dictator, crippling tariffs whacking major elements of the Idaho economy and the daily antics of a reality show presidency really isn’t both divided and united, whatever in the world that means.

The word that comes first to mind is delusional.

Boise, GOP, Human Rights, Politics

Focus…

It is often said – and correctly so – that we live in tumultuous times. Our devices spew forth a never-ending avalanche of information, much of it of dubious veracity. The “news cycle” is non-stop, populated by presidential tweets and cable news talking heads that aim not to inform, but mostly seek to agitate and “win” the narrative story line of the day. 

The wheat is easily lost in the chaff. Disinformation and misinformation flourish. It can seem impossible to keep up or make sense and it is increasingly likely that we miss the important, while overwhelmed by the irrelevant. 

Here are three stories that hit my screen in the last week, stories that seem to me to demand urgent attention and comprehensive political action.

The Brookings Institution rolled out a study of four U.S. cities last week, Boise included, that is both fascinating and sobering. In a nutshell the study finds that Boise’s economic engine, the principle power behind Idaho’s sustained economic growth, is fragile and subject to collapse. 

Boise: Prosperity may be fleeting

The goose that laid the golden egg for the Idaho economic has been high tech, but Brookings starkly notes, in language you rarely hear from Idaho policy makers, that the goose is ailing. Hewlett Packard, which once employed 7,000 in the Boise Valley, now has 1,500. Micron, the homegrown success story, has half the 12,000 workers it paid at its peak. And, “despite Idaho’s generous state subsidies and a long local history as a darling firm in Boise, Micron chose Manassas, Virginia for its newest expansion, a $3 billion dollar investment expected to create about 1,000 jobs.”

“Recent economic growth has primarily come from non-tradable service sectors rather than from growth-sustaining, export-driven sectors,” the Brookings researchers said. “Population growth resulted in part from retirees who drive housing prices, but who have less incentive to fund public goods such as education and workforce development.” 

And, not surprisingly, at all levels Idaho’s woefully inadequate educational system is in no way ready to support the kind of jobs that can continue to fuel the state’s economic growth. The Brookings study said “the Idaho Department of Labor projects 49,000 unfilled jobs by 2024, 36,000 of them in science, technology, engineering, and math,” but that the state produced only 2,000 graduates in those fields in 2016. Little wonder decent jobs flow to places with better educational stories to tell. 

Idaho’s much ballyhooed efforts to improve college graduation rates have been a demonstrable failure. As Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Reichert noted recently, “With a completion rate mired at 42 percent, Idaho has made little progress toward the 60 percent threshold.” Even if Idaho some how sees a dramatic improvement in college completion rates it likely can’t meet high-tech needs that Reichert said “might take a completion rate approaching 80 percent.”

The second story, with a Spokane dateline, might not seem all that connected to the Brookings study about the state’s fragile future economy, but it is. Associated Press reporter Nicholas K. Geranios’s story was about how far-right extremist groups have never really left northern Idaho and eastern Washington despite the fact that two decades ago, the high profile Aryan Nation’s compound near Hayden Lake was wiped off the map. 

A street sweeper follows a parade led by white supremacist Richard Butler, riding in car with megaphone, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2000, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Aryan Nations leader Butler filed for bankruptcy on Monday, Oct. 30, days before he was to relinquish control of his 20-acre compound to satisfy part of a civil rights lawsuit. (AP Photo/Tom Davenport, File)

Idaho’s national image, with direct impact on the state’s economic vitality, has too often in the past been linked to white supremacist and hate groups. It still is and, at some level, support for those on the dangerous fringe has gone mainstream, or at least what passes for mainstream, in the region’s Republican Party leadership. 

“In the county that is home to Hayden Lake,” Geranios wrote, “Republicans last month passed a measure expressing support for U.S. entry of a prominent Austrian far-right activist who was investigated for ties to the suspected New Zealand mosque gunman.” 

The woman who made the request of Kootenai County Republicans “was a big promoter of the hoax known as ‘Pizzagate,’ telling her online followers Hillary Clinton and other high-profile Democrats were involved in satanic rituals and child sex trafficking tied to a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant.” That conspiracy theory, completely debunked of course, is still being widely promoted by various right wing media outlets. 

That Republican Party officials would traffic in such nonsense is cause for profound concern and should immediately be repudiated from the highest levels, including from Gov. Brad Little. That GOP leaders haven’t disowned such behavior will only encourage more extremists to be more extreme.

The third story is related to the second. The London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) made a deep dive into various efforts to influence the recent European Union elections by what it called “tactical adoption of the ‘Putin playbook’ by non-state actors, from far right online militias to populist parties in their use of automated influence operations.” In other words, far right actors are continuing with renewed determination to undermine democratic institutions in Europe and, as special counsel Robert Mueller made crystal clear this week concerning Russian interference in the 2016 election, also in the United States. 

ISD is a collection of business, academic and political leaders dedicated to pushing back against those who are “promulgating hate, division and conflict.” The group succinctly described the methods, including campaigns aimed at “distorting the political debate through the promotion of outrage, amplified by social media (often inorganically) and exploiting the traditional media’s desire to appear impartial to seize the agenda.” 

In Europe the groups “build up their own highly partisan media channels” and they “take aim at the courts, forcing judges to retire early as in Poland and Hungary and pack the courts with compliant officers.” 

“Public officials that don’t toe the new regime’s line are sidelined or replaced” often with a campaign of “smearing and intimidation, as happened to the Hungarian central bank governor.” 

If you don’t believe the very foundations of representative democracy are under assault you’re not paying attention. Which closes the circle back to persistent inadequate attention to education. Without better education at every level, combined with knowledge of how to discern facts from disinformation, we risk being overwhelmed by our tumultuous times. 

We must focus on what’s important. 

—–0—–

(This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune on May 31, 2019)

GOP, Immigration, Trump

A State of Emergency…

The only conceivable path Donald Trump has to re-election next year is to continue to fire up faithful fans by invoking his dystopian view of a nation threatened by an immigrant horde determined to storm the southern border and wreck havoc on America. It is the one constant theme of his presidency and the overriding theme of his State of the Union speech this week, a speech laced with words like bloodthirsty, sadistic, venomous and chilling.

Trump has perfected the politics of resentment, fear and scapegoating that Republicans have been shoveling ever more aggressively toward their “base” since Barry Goldwater invoked “extremism in defense of liberty” more than fifty years ago. 

Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address.

That the image of the “lawless state of our southern border” is at odds with the facts hardly seemed to bother cheering Republicans in the House chamber Tuesday night. Republicans have largely embraced Trump’s resentment theory of politics, which is exemplified by his demonization of refugees and immigrants, while they have simultaneously tied the party’s future to Trump’s frayed coattails. 

The overheated rhetoric about border threats, of course, also clashes with Trump’s claims about the strength of the American economy and his calls for unity, the issue that members of Idaho’s congressional delegation chose to emphasize in their reaction. 

By general consensus of fact checkers the biggest whooper in Trump’s speech was his claim that a border wall built during the George W. Bush administration had reduced violent crime in El Paso, Texas. But, the actual statistics show that violent crime in El Paso – one of the safest larger cities in America – had actually plummeted before the barrier was constructed. Such twisting of reality helps explain why those who represent the border, Texas Republican Will Hurd for example, reject Trump’s wall as a waste of money, an ineffective simplistic symbolic fix for a complex problem. 

The U.S.-Mexican border at El Paso, Texas

While Trump did attempt the rhetoric of bipartisanship in the face of another looming government shutdown over funding the wall he offered no path out of the political dead end he himself has created. He avoided mention of the declaration of a national emergency, a tactic likely illegal and surely to be immediately challenged, but he left that explosive option on the table. 

That Republicans actually tolerate talk of a declaration of national emergency over Trump’s failure to secure a policy objective that he could not accomplished when his party controlled Congress is Exhibit A in how completely the GOP has abandoned common sense, old fashioned conservatism and the Constitution. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently actually said Trump “must” invoke emergency powers to construct a border wall “if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal.” 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch also seems resigned to a Trump strategy that will include a national emergency. Risch predicted recently to KBOI radio’s Nate Shelman that the president’s Constitutional overreach was likely to happen, and apparently that is just fine with him. 

“I think that the President has figured out that (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) is not going to give the President a dime for the wall,” Risch said. “They hate this president so badly, that they won’t do anything for him, or give him anything that makes it look like a victory, so they are not going to vote for it. They’re happy with the shutdown.”

That is typical of Risch’s constant partisan gaslighting – the super partisan blaming others for partisanship – as well as his acquiescence to all things Trump and it begs the question conservative columnist George Will asked recently about Graham and could have asked about Risch. 

“Why do they come to Congress, these people such as Graham,” Will wrote recently. “These people who, affirmatively or by their complicity of silence, trifle with our constitutional architecture, and exhort the president to eclipse the legislative branch, to which they have no loyalty comparable to their party allegiance?”

Once again history provides some perspective if we’re willing to understand what is at stake. In the early 1970s, in a true bipartisan effort, Senators Frank Church of Idaho, a Democrat, and Charles Mathias of Maryland, a Republican, worked for months to craft legislation – the National Emergencies Act – ensuring that Congress and not a president will define and supervise a true national emergency. The two senators co-chaired a Special Committee on the Termination of National Emergencies, determined to unwind generations of presidential emergency declarations dating back to the Great Depression. In their view such open-ended exercise of one-person power created vast opportunities for Constitutional overreach by the kind of president the nation now suffers. Their subsequent legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate. 

Senators Frank Church of Idaho

Church and Mathias, apropos of the current moment, were, as constitutional scholar Gerald S. Dickinson wrote recently, “acutely aware of and sought to prohibit a future president from taking advantage of the emergency powers for partisan and policy purposes.”

In testimony before a Senate committee in 1976, Church said the president “should not be allowed to invoke emergency authorities or in any way utilize the provision of [the National Emergencies Act] for frivolous or partisan matters, nor for that matter in cases where important but not ‘essential’ problems are at stake.” He might have been talking about “the wall.” 

Church, as his biographers note, believed containing a president’s ability to invoke a national emergency was one of the Idahoan’s proudest moments, an affirmation that Congress, armed with the Constitution, can and should stand against the overreach of a would be autocrat. 

We shall see where all this is headed, but make no mistake Congress can halt the national emergency nonsense and doing so would be a profoundly “conservative,” not to mention Constitutional thing to do. 

As for Risch and others like him in Congress don’t expect them to protect congressional prerogatives or stand up to a demagogue. When he recently became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position Church once held, he proudly proclaimed that he would be no Frank Church. On that much, at least, his is absolutely correct. 

(Note: This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune.)

—-0—-

Foreign Policy, GOP, Trump

Two Things About the Mattis Resignation…

  Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

–Resignation letter of General James Mattis

————

The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is being seen, as it should be seen, as not merely a senior Cabinet member leaving after losing a policy battle, but rather as a fundamental repudiation of the worldview of an American president. 

The resignation has stunned Washington, shaken our allies and, for the first time in the first two years of his chaotic presidency, caused significant numbers of elected Republicans to stir themselves to something approaching opposition.

The push back comes too late however. The damage is done. The work to re-establish American moral and political leadership across the globe will take a generation to repaired, if in fact it can be repaired.

Two things about Mattis’s resignation strike me as historically significant. 

Mattis and Trump

First, a principled resignation from public service has rarely, in fact hardly ever, been a feature of our politics. The only resignation in modern times that comes close to what Secretary Mattis did yesterday was the resignation of then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1980 in protest of President Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages held in Iran. That resignation, quietly made before, but not publicly announced until after the ill-fated rescue mission failed, was mentioned in the first three graphs of every Vance obituary when he died in 2002.

In other words, Vance, like Mattis, told the president of the United States that he was so fundamentally opposed to an administration’s policy that he could no longer serve. 

This kind of resignation (as I have noted before) occur with some regularity in other western democracies. Key officials, for example, have been fleeing Theresa May’s government – 19 high profile resignations so far this year – over the British prime minister’s handling the Brexit mess.

Anthony Eden, then the British foreign secretary, resigned in February 1938 after a dispute with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain over the best approaching to dealing with Benito Mussolini.

French President Emmanuel Macron has recently suffered the resignations of several high ranking officials in his government, one of whom spoke publicly of Macron’s “lack of humanity,” a line that could just as well apply to Trump.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Here’s hoping that the Mattis resignation over a serious matter of principle – of course, Donald Trump broadly ignored Mattis’s advice on a range of issues, not just Syrian policy – begins a new phase in American politics where serious people quit rather than work in an environment that debases their judgment and their sense of patriotism.

As for the argument that Mattis has provided what little adult supervision exists in the Trump Administration, and that he stayed so long in the face of so much chaos in order to protect the military and the world from the worst of Trump, I just don’t buy it.

You only provide the kind of supervision Trump needs (but won’t accept) if you are effective. In the main, the retired Marine Corps general, was not all that effective when it comes to policy. He opposed the decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump did it anyway. He opposed the senseless and constant Trump criticism of NATO allies. Trump kept it up. He even lost on the question of who should head the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Trump rejected his favored nominee. Even when Trump refused to acknowledge the importance of the late Senator John McCain’s career, Mattis publicly did so, but without offering even a mild rebuke to the president’s petty meanness.

The best outcome of Mattis’s resignation could be that the impact of his action will jar Washington Republicans out of their get-along/go-along Trump stupor and cause, at least some of them, to provide real oversight and substantive checks on the president. Mattis presumably could have stimulated this outcome months ago. Now, at last, he has. Maybe, just maybe, a corner has been turned in the reality TV series that the American presidency has become. 

Mattis resignation letter

The second takeaway for me from this historic moment is simply the head spinning reality that this foreign policy and national security chaos is taking place in a Republican Administration. The laws of politics and the orientation of our political parties has been turned completely upside down. The same Republicans who lamented, often with good reason, the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign and defense policy now own the most dysfunctional presidency in modern times. 

Republicans were once able to savage Democrats as “weak” on national security and eager to retreat from world responsibilities. That story line is now completely reversed thanks to Donald Trump.

Republicans who once based a good part of their brand on a clear-eyed reality about America’s role in the world have now embraced an ignorant, uninformed foreign policy that has trashed the post-war international order, facilitated the ambitions of China to further dominate the Pacific, emboldened authoritarian dictators, faked its way through North Korean talks about nuclear weapons and made Vladimir Putin the happiest man to occupy the Kremlin in a long, long time. 

Historians will write about this Republican collapse of rationality for generations to come, as well as those who aided and abetted it. While I suspect General Mattis will be mostly a footnote to this history, remembered more for his resignation than his accomplishments, one phrase in his resignation letter should be the jumping off point to assess why the GOP has fallen so far so fast. A fundamental reason for this debacle is simply the wholesale abandonment of fact-based competency in favor of the ranting and ignorance of a man totally unfit for the office he holds.

“Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies … Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” 

Associated Press coverage of Trump’s Syrian decision.

The key phrase in Mattis’s letter came as he explained his belief in the importance of international alliances and the need to oppose the evil intent of what he called “malign actors and strategic competitors.” Mattis based his opinion, he said, on insight gained, and this is the key phrase, “over four decades of immersion in these issues.”

In their hearts and minds most elected Republicans know that Donald Trump is an ignorant buffoon totally out of his depth. They must pray every night that he will not have to confront a real international crisis.

To allow Trump to get and keep the job he has many Republicans have suspended belief in the importance of “immersion” in reality. The GOP has traded competency and rationality for power and party. And that train wreck continues to unfold in real time.

Many Republicans have been relying on a guy like Jim Mattis to keep this careening locomotive on the tracks. Now, what do they do?

GOP, Idaho Politics, Russia, Trump

Moral Rot…

My weekly column from the Lewiston Tribune 

———–

In the wake of the latest revelations about the president of the United States the extent of the intellectual and moral rot of the modern Republican Party has – again – come into sharp focus. A party that once built a brand around “family values” has decided that Donald Trump’s involvement in a scheme that paid off a porn star and a Playboy model to hide affairs shouldn’t be treated as criminal.  

The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, no squishy liberal, says the party – leadership and followers – is guilty of “outsourcing our moral, our political judgment to legalisms.” 

The new GOP brand: moral relativism. 

Senator John Thune

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, dismisses Trump’s involvement in felony campaign finance violations, crimes that Trump’s one-time lawyer Michael Cohen will serve jail time for, as essentially a paperwork mistake. “These guys were all new to this at the time,” the senator says and besides what’s a little hush money to quiet a scandal during a presidential campaign. “Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to campaign finance issues,” Thune says. 

Or this from Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, a pillar of propriety on everything but presidential misconduct: “President Trump before he became president that’s another world. Since he’s become president, this economy has charged ahead … And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true.”

You can search high and low for any Republican concern that Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State and CEO of Exxon, said recently, “So often the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”

Few Republicans have bought more heavily into the party’s moral and intellectual rot than the Idaho delegation. After a brief flurry of indignation when Trump was caught on videotape bragging about assaulting women the get-along-go-along Idahoans have been pretty much lock step with Trump and they generally decline to say anything even remotely critical regarding his behavior.

Senator Jim Risch is the worst offender. 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch 

Risch, soon to be carrying Trump’s water as the high profile chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the administration’s handling of the brutal murder of a Saudi national who was also a columnist for the Washington Post. The CIA has concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder, a position Trump refuses to accept presumably because it would cause him to have to do something that might upset oil prices or more likely his own business interests. 

In an interview with the editorial board of the Idaho Falls Post Register last week, Risch said that he had reached a conclusion about who was responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but that he couldn’t discuss it without revealing classified information. That is simply an absurd statement. Other senators in both parties have laid the responsibility directly at feet of Mohammed bin Salman, but as the Post Registernoted “on all questions having to do with bin Salman’s direct responsibility, [Risch] deflected,” obviously in deference to Trump.

Meanwhile, as the New York Times has reported, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been counseling his Saudi pal, the crown prince, “about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.” Or as one wag put it “the president’s son-in-law is giving the Saudi prince some tips on how to get away with murder.”

Trump deference – or better yet servile submissiveness – is a pattern with Risch. In the face of much evidence that North Korea’s dictator snookered Trump during talks in Singapore in June Risch has helped maintain the fiction that Trump knows what he is doing. Risch has backed administration policy in Yemen where the Saudi’s, with U.S. help, have bombed the country back to the Stone Age. By some estimates 85,000 children may have already died in Yemen, with as many as 12 million more people on the brink of starvation.

Risch, with a seat on the Intelligence Committee, has been almost completely silent on Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, speaking only to dismiss its importance. “Hacking is ubiquitous,” Risch said in 2017 before adding, “Russia is not, in my judgment, the most aggressive actor in this business.”

We now know that at least 14 individuals with direct or close ties to Russia, from the Russian ambassador to the lawyer who set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, made contact with Trump’s closest advisors, his family and friends over an 18-month period and during the campaign. We also know, while Trump’s story continues to shift, that special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted a busload of Russian agents and gained convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, former national security advisor and many others. The investigation goes on, more indictments loom and Risch seems to care not at all. 

When the senator made his Faustian bargain to support Trump after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape emerged he said he had no choice but to support the con man his party had embraced. “Without any options other than to abandon America to the left or vote for the Republican nominee, as distasteful as that may be, I will not abandon my country,” Risch said. In reality, by ignoring and excusing the inexcusable, he has put party loyalty above both his country and our Constitution. 

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post put a fine point on this kind of moral rot when he wrote recently of Trump, “Once he’s no longer president — perhaps in 2021, or perhaps even sooner — everyone who worked for him, supported him, or stood by him is going to be in an extremely uncomfortable position.” 

GOP, John McCain, Trump

It Was All So Predictable…

          Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, made the extraordinary admission in court on Tuesday that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.

        “I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016, Mr. Cohen said.

New York Times, August 22, 2018

—————-

         “We just learned longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity in the Michael Cohen probe, becoming the latest figure close to President Trump to cooperate with investigators. Weisselberg follows Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, David Pecker and, of course, Cohen. Pecker, like Weisselberg, had immunity; the others got plea deals.”

Aaron Blake, The Washington Post

—————-

I composed most of what follows before we got the news early Saturday that Arizona Republican Senator John McCain had lost his fight with cancer. McCain, a flawed, often cantankerous politician of the old school, was also amazingly self-aware, a pithy, independent SOB who was tough and smart and funny. It seems strangely appropriate, as sad as it is, that John McCain left us just as Donald Trump, a man who has repeatedly disparaged this genuine American hero, has begun his decent into utter disgrace.

John McCain on the presidential campaign trail. October 28, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

This week, to remember Winston Churchill’s famous line, is not the end for Trump, perhaps not even the beginning of the end, but almost certainly the end of the beginning.

One remarkable thing about Donald Trump’s historic debasement of the American presidency, perhaps the most remarkable, is how completely predictable it was. It was all there to see from the very beginning. Now the only question is how much more damage this profoundly corrupt and ignorant man will do before he’s done, because it is increasingly clear that he will be done.

A characteristic of too many people intimately involved in politics is the ability – or the willingness – to suspend belief in the cause of a partisan victory, no matter the cost. That kind of suspension of belief is an absolute hallmark of the Trump Era and what the man has done to the Republican Party. Normally sane, sober, serious Republicans – many of them in the know from the get go – nevertheless made a devil’s bargain, accepting Trump as their leader in exchange for the hope and expectation of political gain.

Now these Republicans, finally coming to grips with the consequences of suspending belief about their leader, are well down the path toward the chaos and defeat that was all too predictable. If there is any political karma many of them will get precisely what they deserve come November.

The warning signs of where Trump would take Republicans and the country are almost too many to recount – the racially charged announcement speech with references to Mexican rapists, the clown car cast of jokers surrounding the campaign – Steve Bannon, Carter Page, Don, Jr., Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen – the mentally touched boasts, over the top superlatives and need for ego gratification (who talks like that?) and the “only I can fix it” policy pronouncements. All this nonsense was devoid of basic common sense and immune to even elemental fact checking, but Republicans from Paul Ryan to local legislators lapped it up.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, now convicted of tax fraud and facing trial on more charges

When Trump promised to release his tax returns and then didn’t his explanation was as much a sham as a diploma from Trump University. The obvious question was simply “what’s he got to hide?” Plenty it would seem. It was well known that American bankers had long refused to do business with Trump and now his long-time lawyer and chief financial officer have flipped, helping, it would appear, to peel back the multiple layers of corruption that will eventually drive Trump and the political party he now owns over a cliff.

Republicans, at least most of them, have long known that he was a conman, a grifter, and as Melania and the rest of us now know he’s a shameless and constant liar about absolutely everything. None of it was a surprise. None.

Some Republicans have taken to saying the president’s growing body of critics suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” but they have it just backwards. Those who somehow convinced themselves that this profoundly flawed individual would somehow pull off the responsibilities of the most difficult job in the world were the truly deranged ones. His life, his businesses, everything he’s touched amounts to one big con. The derangement was thinking a life-long wise guy, a liar and cheat straight out of central casting fit for an episode of The Sopranos, would change at age 70. No one, of course, really believed the office would change the abhorrent behavior, the boorishness, the cruelty or the racism. Trump is studiously ignorant. That won’t change.

The “unindicted co-conspirator”

Now, as James Fallows wrote recently in The Atlantic, Republicans “confront a president who has been named in a felony guilty plea as having directed criminal activities. (It didn’t get this far or this crystal-clear with Richard Nixon.) Who is routinely discussed as a potential security risk by his own military and intelligence-agency officials. Who ridicules their former Senate colleague for not bending fully to his will as attorney general. Who is manifestly unable to contain his impulses and resentments, while holding a job whose most important qualification is temperamental control. Who …

“… The list of “who”s could go on, and any one of those 51 senators could complete it. But not a one of them will take a stand against this man, with a vote. Some give speeches. Some write op-eds. Many are “concerned.” Talk is something, but talk is not a vote.”

Devoid of empathy, imbued with a mean temper and an even nastier mean streak Trump was not the least bit prepared for the presidency and virtually every Republican who finally, sometimes reluctantly, but always with full knowledge, embraced him knew it. They knew all that has happened in recent days was not just possible, but likely. They knew even under the best case that a Trump presidency would be a certain kind of crappy show, a roiling cesspool of narcissism and self-interest. Yet, they have gone along settling for a tax cut for the best off and a Supreme Court that will be much more conservative than the country; going along all the way to seeing him implicated by his own lawyer in a felony meant to deceive voters about just what he is. The con man is now the “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Now what do Republicans do? They took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but they won’t even authorize a subcommittee to investigate porn star hush money that was designed to minimize political damage days before a presidential election.

“It’s getting a little ugly,” Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican and next year’s presumptive GOP whip told Politico in what must be the most understated thing to come out of South Dakota this year. “Most of us need to work with the president where we can to move our agenda … it’s definitely a fairly big sideshow.” Right.

Trouble is “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” – Section 4, Article 2 of the United States Constitution – is a bit more than a sideshow. We knew all this was going to happen. It has. Now what?

————–

What a remarkable contrast between the beginning of last week and the end. The week began with two men close to the president confessing to and convicted of felonies and the man with likely the most intimate knowledge of Trump’s “business empire” began cooperating with prosecutors. Meanwhile, the president verbally assaulted – yet again – his own attorney general (and seems close to firing him) for refusing to interfere with an investigation into Trump’s campaign and personal conduct. Hardly a cricket is heard from elected Republicans.

The week ends with bipartisan tributes to Senator McCain, a crusty, candid, principled Republican who repeatedly stood up to Trump, called out Vladimir Putin and suffered multiple insults from a man who couldn’t carry his briefcase or come close to matching his courage.  In the scope of seven days we have all the proof we’ll ever need of the extent of the intellectual and moral rot that has overtaken the Grand Old Party.

Yet, Congressional Republicans know, and their tributes to McCain make clear, what they should be doing. The Arizona senator should be their model. That he is not is a national tragedy.

GOP, Trump

Democracy Dies Amid all the Lying…

“We are in a strange place. I mean, it’s almost, it’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it? And it’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly, of the same party.”

— Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), quoted by The Hill.

—————-

Of all the astounding things that have happened since Donald J. Trump took office – the serial lying, the trade wars, the bizarre North Korean summit, the gruesome separation of asylum-seeking parents from their children at the U.S. border, the Scott Pruitt scandals, the indictments, the embrace of despots and the savaging of allies just to name a few – the most astounding thing is how easily Trump has co-opted an entire political party. There is simply no parallel in American history.

Trump salutes a North Korean general

Republicans, most quaking with political fear that crossing Trump or pushing back on his myriad outrages will get them the Jeff Flake treatment have, of course, only themselves to blame. They let an amoral, lying charlatan capture their party and imperil our democracy. Still, amid the craziness, it is an amazing thing to watch the destruction of the Republican Party in real time.

For years most Republicans have chosen to tolerate and then embrace the crazy La-La Land of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, conspiracy theories and systematic denial of obvious truths. Most of the Republican base finally came to embrace the racist notion that the 44thpresident of the United States is a foreign-born Muslim.

————

       “There is no seeming consequence to the president and lies. And if we accept that as a society, it is going to have incredibly harmful consequences in the way that we operate going forward, based on the construct of the Founding Fathers.”

Rep. Mark Sanford, defeated for re-election because he wasn’t Trumpian enough

————

The intellectual rot, as Steve Schmidt the GOP strategist calls it, is truly stunning. A tiny handful of principled conservatives – Schmidt, Charlie Skyes, Michael Gerson, Jonah Goldberg, David Frum and Bill Kristol most prominently – have called out this foolishness, but Republican intellectuals appealing for GOP sanity is a lost cause in the Age of Trump.

Steve Schmidt now says he is a non-practicing Republican and he wonders if the party, even after Trump, can ever find its way again. And Charlie Skyes, a conservative with a sense of gallows humor, titled his latest book How the Right Lost its Mind.

The answer to that question is simple: It all began with lying, half-truths, fabrications, blind anger and disdain for the arts of governing.

Romney was for it before he wasn’t…

Rather than offering serious alternatives Republicans chose to demonize Democratic efforts to address the health insurance crisis, turning tail on the very policies one-time GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraced as governor of Massachusetts. They spent decades bemoaning spending and debt then passed a massive tax cut for the most well off Americans arguing that their policies won’t balloon the debt and actually help the middle class. The truth is precisely the opposite.

Republicans have doubled down on climate change denial by putting a corrupt grifter in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. They savaged, then abandoned an international agreement to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and now hold their breath hoping to get an agreement as tenth as good with North Korea.

The Republican base now thinks better of a murderous North Korean dictator than of Nancy Pelosi. Let that sink in. And Trump’s efforts to destroy generations of foreign policy consensus regarding NATO, the G7, etc., while celebrating dictators from Moscow to Pyongyang will have lasting impact.

A Republican Party of Ronald Reagan that once celebrated world leadership now celebrates a guy who is on his third national security advisor, his second secretary of state and insists on “happy talk” intelligence briefings because he won’t read his homework. One former senior intelligence officer told the Washington Post that “Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally.”

He barely listens, and won’t read.

In the GOP’s La-La Land one-time critics in the Congress are cowed and running scared. Even worse are the true believers, people like Idaho’s Jim Risch who would have levitated over the Capitol had Barack Obama taken a meeting with the North Korean dictator, handed over concessions and gotten nothing at all in return save a photo op.

Risch, who regularly brags of his many conversations with Trump, dismisses any concern about the president as being the product of “tremendous hate and vitriol against President Trump from the other side in this town.” This isn’t your father’s GOP. It is a cult of personality built on lies, unethical misbehavior, craven love of power and – did I mention – lies?

Lindsey Graham, once verbally assaulted by Trump as a lightweight, now Tweets birthday wishes to the president who called the murderous North Korean dictator “a funny guy” who he trusts. The GOP intellectual rot begins in such fevered brains.

“I trust the president,” Senator Graham told CNN. “I like the president. I trust him in terms of trying to do things that are big and matter. Here’s what I’ve got. I’ve got a relationship with the president at a time when I think he needs allies.”

Republicans steadfastly refuse to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, while putting a white supremacist in charge of the Justice Department. Meanwhile, at the state level the GOP perfected the ancient art of gerrymandering allowing most House Republicans to pick their voters instead of the other way around and in the process making voting much more difficult for millions of Americans.

Needing an issue to enflame the nativist base of the party they now own an immoral, barbaric, un-American policy that separates kids from parents seeking asylum in the land built by immigrants.

Fearing – and likely knowing – that Trump is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg they trash the American justice system and consider the Republican special counsel investigating Russian interference in our politics as some dark “deep state” conspirator.

To repeat for emphasis Robert Mueller is a registered Republican, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and a man of sterling personal qualities and professional ethics. The president of the United States repeatedly labels his work “a witch hunt” and guys like Graham and Risch smile and pray not to get a primary challenge.

Reaping the Whirlwind…

Republicans officeholders have been working on handing the country over to Donald Trump for a generation. They have valued power over principle, polarization over policy. They have been lying to their base for so long that, not surprisingly, people started believing the craziness. Now Trump owns them. They are afraid of losing an election or slipping out of power and they have fully acquiesced to his lies, his personal and moral dishonesty, his dangerous and deranged foreign policy, his racism and, most troubling, his ever more obvious authoritarian ambitions.

Last week Trump told Fox & Friends, the nut job echo chamber that feeds his gargantuan ego, that his new North Korean friend is “the head of a country — and I mean he’s the strong head. He speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same.” Later Trump said it was just a “joke,” but that same “joke” has been used in the past to discount the kind of language that authoritarians regularly use.

The nut job echo chamber…

The journalist Andrew Sullivan says Trump is “openly living in his own disturbed world” where whatever he says is true and whatever contradicts his truth is “fake news.” And the Republican Party, witness the comment from the party chairwoman, has accepted this new reality.

“Anyone that does not embrace the Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake,” says Ronna McDaniel. By the way, Ms. McDaniel for a long time used her maiden name – Romney – until Trump said he didn’t like it – she’s Mitt Romney’s niece – so she quit and now has a name approved by the Great Leader.

“The party of free trade has gone protectionist,” writes Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico. “The party of spreading freedom and never negotiating with dictators is now full of praise for chumming it up with Kim Jong-un. The party of fighting deficits has blown a trillion dollar hole in the budget. Family values and moralizing have been replaced by porn stars and Twitter tantrums. Trump goes to war with the G-7, and the sum of the Republican reaction is a statement from John McCain and a few comments on Sunday TV from Maine Sen. Susan Collins.”

Democracy Dies With Lies…

Democracy Dies in Darkness is the new motto of the Washington Post, a newspaper that daily tries to sort out the various strains of wretched weirdness that is the Republican Party, but the newspaper motto gets at only part of our problem. Democracy actually dies when lies dominate the daily political discussion, when ethics get ignored and when principle has no place.

There is an authoritarian playbook

I’m reading a new book on an old story, how the Weimar Republic in Germany collapsed amid the lies and nationalism and racial hatred that ushered in the darkest period in modern history.

Historian Benjamin Carter Hett writes that a crazed Austrian postcard painter figured out the essential truth of the authoritarian long before we got Donald Trump.

“To sink into the minds of average people,” Hett writes, “a message [or a lie] had to be simple. It had to be emotional – hatred worked well – not intellectual. And it had to be endlessly repeated.”

No Collusion

Crooked Hillary

Witch Hunt 

Fake News 

There is an authoritarian playbook, well worn and often remarkably successful. The would be authoritarian lies about everything to the point that enough people no longer care about the truth. A free press is put to the torch. Convenient enemies – immigrants, Muslims, any opponent of the leader – are daily attacked. The rule of law is subverted. Financial and ethical norms are ignored.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently: “Every time Trump extends his ludicrous, ridiculous, and insulting reality show for another season, and every time the Republican Party echoes every delusion within it, there’s a big temptation to give in, give up, or look away. A numbness soon takes over. So many of my friends are turning off and tuning out, their decency reflexes exhausted with the pace of the indecency.”

This is where we are, fellow Americans.

Captured by an unhinged, lying, racist president enabled by a minority of the country thrashing about in a fever swamp of nationalism and rage, while elected members of a political party fearful of their leader, goes along to get along. What’s a little lying compared to a Supreme Court packed for a generation? Personal corruption – no big deal we got the tax cut. A deeply flawed psychopath in the White House, sure but he’s our psychopath

It’s the lies, my friends, it’s the lies. The postcard painter knew the path to power. Lie bigly. Lie always. Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie to demonize the other side. Lie to discredit the press. Lie to protect your privilege. Lie often enough, loudly enough and pretty soon no one knows what to believe and the authoritarian has his day. It has happened before. It is happening again.

More on The Death of Democracy next time.