2020 Election, Impeachment, Trump

No One Left to Lie To…

The Senate has stumbled its way through Donald Trump’s trial and having acquitted the president Republicans are urging us to “move on,” but before we do – and for the sake of the historical record – this episode demands one final assessment of what is left in the wake of impeachment. 

Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander tried to employ a Solomon-like splitting the difference on Trump. Alexander admitted Trump’s misdeeds – “It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation – and described his obstruction – “When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law,” but then Alexander said never mind

Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Trump did it, but then voted to acquit the president (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Reporter Tim Alberta, author of the best book yet on what has become of the Republican Party, offered the best take on the Alexander method: even though he is retiring Alexander fears Trump’s wrath and cowers before the angry MAGA mob. “I’m just explaining the reality for these Rs,” Alberta said. “They feel trapped, most of them—and retirement isn’t the escape we might think.” 

No member of Idaho’s all Republican delegation is retiring, of course, and none offered even the mildest rebuke to the president’s actions in soliciting election interference – in the second straight election – from a foreign government. They could muster no hint of indignation that the president systematically obstructed Congressional examination of his actions. They wanted to hear no witness to the law breaking simply because they knew that hearing from a John Bolton or a Mick Mulvaney would open a wound so deep and so gaping that it would bring down this entirely corrupt administration.

Whatever happens next, Mike Crapo, Jim Risch, Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher now own. By ignoring historical levels of presidential misconduct and participating in a show trial that would have made Stalin proud they have sanctioned more of the same from their leader. Those Republicans like Maine’s Susan Collins and Iowa’s Joni Ernst who believe Trump will be chastened by his ordeal live in an utter fantasyland. 

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein put it correctly: “The most likely outcome of the impeachment trial will be that congressional Republicans are even less likely to confront Trump on his behavior, at least as long as it doesn’t threaten their policy preferences. And this will have the consequence of making those Republicans who do believe Trump did something wrong even less important within the party. Instead, it will further empower Fox News, the House Freedom Caucus, and others on the right who act with disdain for constitutional government.” 

You may recall that the president last year ordered that the White House subscription to the Washington Post be cancelled, but he had a copy handy this week for use as a prop

Or as journalist Peter Baker writes, “Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.”

Others, including journalist Gabriel Sherman, have written this week of Trump’s desire for “revenge” against his “enemies,” the key chapter from his never varying playbook, that calls for going “after people who crossed him during impeachment.”

This reality is simply that Trump runs his solely owned Republican Party by fear and intimidation and that fact is central to understanding the impeachment response of Idaho’s four cowed and callow federal officeholders. They are unwilling to confront presidential misconduct because they know they risk the ire of the president and his angry followers. This fear demands they willingly ignore historic misconduct. 

Historians will spill a lot of ink explaining how we got here and how acceptable presidential behavior has been so dumbed down that we now see the once proud “law and order” Republican Party reduced to covering for a serial liar who they know will offend again, and likely offend even more grievously. 

While this is a Republican mess of the first order, Democrats share some responsibility for where the country finds itself and not because they correctly investigated and proved – as Senator Alexander and others now admit – Trump’s lawlessness. No, Democratic culpability dates back two decades to a time, as is now clear, when Bill Clinton should have been forced to resign or been removed

David P. Schippers is now forgotten to most Americans. He deserves to be remembered, as his words from December 1998 still strike an eerie chord. Schippers was a burly Chicago lawyer, a Democrat, who headed the Clinton investigation for the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee, in and of itself a remarkable footnote to history. 

David Schippers, the Democratic lawyer who prosecuted the case against Bill Clinton in 1998

“The president,” Shippers said of Clinton, “has lied under oath in a civil deposition, lied under oath in a criminal grand jury. He lied to the people, he lied to his cabinet, he lied to his top aides, and now he’s lied under oath to the Congress of the United States. There’s no one left to lie to.”

The Republican House impeached Clinton, of course, but the Senate, influenced by the Clinton spin that the case was just about sex and not about perjury and obstruction of justice, refused to convict the man who possessed, as Christopher Hitchens colorfully wrote, “a rust-free zipper.” 

“As a pair,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Gary J. Schmitt wrote this week, “Clinton’s acquittal and Trump’s will set a bar for removal that suggests ‘a little’ wrongdoing by a president will be judged okay. Whether this low bar is what the framers had in mind is an entirely different question.”

Of course the founders wrote impeachment into the Constitution for precisely the kind of offenses Bill Clinton and Donald Trump committed. To suggest otherwise is to gaslight Hamilton and Madison and all the rest who risked life and fortune to create a system where a lying, cheating despot would not be allowed to rule. 

Republicans will rue the day they refused witnesses, sanctioned blatant disregard for the rule of law and invited what they must know will be ever more unconcealed corruption. An entire party, and in particular senators like Crapo and Risch, tied themselves in rhetorical knots addressing not the obvious facts of the case, but the procedure, while claiming in their best Orwellian manner that they were “following the Constitution.”

Trump engaged in “an appalling abuse of public trust,” Utah Senator Mitt Romney said as he claimed for himself if not for his party a modicum of honor in voting to convict the president of his own party. Romney’s courage and honesty stand in contrast to the appalling political opportunism of the Idaho cowards. 

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Suggestions for further reading:

  • Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum writes that Republicans are deluding themselves if they believe they can put the Ukraine scandal behind them because, Frum says, “with Trump, the next crisis is always just ahead.” Frum writes for the The Atlantic, which incidentally is producing some of the most outstanding journalism anywhere these days.
  • Another outstanding piece here from The Atlantic’s Mckay Coppins, who writes of Mitt Romney’s decision to follow his conscience rather than Trump.
  • While many of us have been focused on the impeachment matter the rest of the world has been making news, including the January 31st exit of the UK from the European Union. I was impressed by this piece from John le Carre, the famous author of spy novels. He hates Brexit.
  • And…an interesting new book by an outstanding historian Diana Preston, who has produce a fascinating day-by-day account of the historic Yalta summit at the end of World War II.
2020 Election, Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Trump

The Senate on Trial…

You may have heard a number of references this week to the Senate impeachment trials of two former presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, both of whom, given the long verdict of history, likely deserved to be convicted. Neither was, of course, and Donald Trump almost certainly will not be convicted either. 

“The proceedings there look like a flimsy excuse for a trial,” David Graham wrote in The Atlantic, “and they are. But under the surface, a series of real trials is going on. Vulnerable senators sit in the dock, the jurors are voters, and the verdicts won’t come back until November.” 

“A flimsy accuse for a trial…”

While the serially lying president is technically on trial for abuse of power and his corrupt obstruction of Congress, additionally it is the Senate itself and individual senators on trial and among the accused are Idaho’s get-along by going-along Trumpians, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. 

Neither Idahoan did anything this week to warrant the high public trust that voters have repeatedly bestowed upon them and their craven political opportunism may yet bite them. By repeatedly rejecting the notion that the Senate should actually conduct a trial of the president as the Constitution demands, Crapo and Risch have put the interests of the Republican Party – not to mention their own interests – ahead of the truth. 

Both men voted over and over again not to seek witnesses or documents that the Trump White House has systematically refused to produce. This knowing disregard for information that could either convict or exonerate Trump may prove to be an effective strategy to prevent the truth from catching up immediately with the president, but the known unknowns of what is to come, a steady drip, drip of harmful revelations, should bring shivers to what is left of the spines of Crapo and Risch. 

Risch also unintentionally provided what will both be a lasting image of Trump’s impeachment and a metaphor for his own bootlicking in service to the president. Since still cameras are not allowed in the Senate chamber an old-school sketch artist for the New York Times captured Risch in pen and ink, head buried in hand snoozing at length during the trial’s opening day.  

New York Times artist sketch of Idaho Senator Jim Risch sleeping during the Trump impeachment trial in the Senate

Ironically, Risch’s afternoon nap came at the precise moment the Senate was debating whether to require the production of documents from the State Department, the agency of the federal government that Risch’s Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to oversee. It is worth noting that not once in the first year of his chairmanship has the napping Risch required an appearance before his committee of the Secretary of State who is positioned squarely at the center of the Ukraine scandal that engulfs Trump’s presidency. So, Risch’s sleeping is more than a metaphor it is a pattern.  

But set aside the comparisons to the racist, bullying Johnson in 1865 and the womanizing, dissembling Clinton in 1999, the true historical analog to the current Trump trial happened in 1954. In December of that long ago year of the Eisenhower presidency the United States Senate actually acquitted itself very well by condemning the outrageous conduct of one its own – the junior senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy. 

As much as Trump’s presidency reminds us of Richard Nixon, another vulgar Republican who at least had the good grace to confine his bigotry to private conversations and eventually had the decency to resign the presidency short of being impeached, Joe McCarthy is Trump’s true political ancestor

McCarthy, as the superb new documentary in the PBS American Experience series makes clear, based what became his celebrity and his Republican power on a lie. McCarthy rode the fiction of widespread communist infiltration of the federal government all the way to the top much as Trump rode the lie about Barack Obama’s citizenship to his own takeover of the GOP. Both men are bigots: McCarthy an abuser of homosexuals and “elites” in the entertainment world, while Trump attacks any critic, but particularly immigrants, Muslims and African-Americans like the black listed athlete Colin Kaepernick or Congressman John Lewis

McCarthy was a bully. Trump is, too. Both count the repulsive Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s Senate aide and Trump’s long-time lawyer, as a godfather. Each attacked and skillfully manipulated the press and intimidated fellow Republicans into support or silence. Each tapped into something dark and sinister in the American psyche, the uncommon willingness to embrace the paranoid and ego driven impulses of a blustering demagogue. But there the parallels end because in 1954 the Senate, unlike today’s Senate, did something about McCarthy

Utah Republican Arthur Watkins’ investigation led to McCarthy’s 1954 censure by the Senate. Naturally McCarthy attacked him

Led by Republicans who had had enough of McCarthy’s nonsense – a hero of the story was Utah Republican Arthur Watkins whose role in bringing down McCarthy featured in the first paragraph of his obituary twenty years later – 67 senators condemned McCarthy, as one biographer has noted, “for obstructing the business of the Senate, impairing its dignity, and bring the entire body into dishonor and disrepute.” 

Yet with Trump Senate Republicans can’t muster the guts to even seek let alone confront the truth. As journalist Susan Glaser wrote the Trump defense team, much like the president, is “loud, intemperate, personally nasty, ad hominem, factually challenged, and often not even bothering to have a tenuous connection to the case at all.” The word “Ukraine” did not pass their lips. 

A Senate on trial and found wanting may well have even longer-term consequences for the increasingly fragile American experiment than ignoring the crimes of an individual president. Once the sideboards of Constitutional constraint where the legislative branch holds to account the executive are chopped into kindling the whole structure weakens and slides toward collapse. Have no doubt that is happening. 

In 1954 when Senate was on trial along with Joe McCarthy, Idaho’s then Republican senators, like Crapo and Risch today, took the path of party loyalty rather than institutional honor. Herman Welker, a one-term Idaho senator who if he is remembered at all is remembered as “an unflagging supporter” of his pal McCarthy, was one of 22 Senate Republicans – Idahoan Henry Dworshak was another – who refused to sanction McCarthy. 

“I wonder,” Welker said after the McCarthy censure, “if we did not injure the reputation of the Senate more than we could have in any other way.” Welker’s prediction was blindingly wrong and history honors not him, but those like Arthur Watkins who defended the honor of the institution. 

For Crapo and Risch it’s one thing to be a knee-jerk partisan, but an altogether more serious matter to be a wrecker of great institutions in service to a criminal president. 

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Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Simpson, Trump

The GOP Prairie Fire…

In his scathing takedown of the modern Republican Party – How the Right Lost Its Mind – the conservative former Wisconsin radio talk show host Charlie Sykes ponders – and worries – about the state of American politics. 

“Did I – did we,” he asks of fellow conservatives, “contribute to this prairie fire of bigotry and xenophobia that seemed to grip so many on the right? How did the elites miss the signs of division that turned to schism that became a veritable civil war? Did we play with fire, only to see it spread out of control? Did we ‘make’ Donald Trump? Or is he merely a cartoonish bizarro version of conservative values?” 

“Sometime in the last decade, conservative commentator Matt Drudge began linking to a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. By doing so he broke down the wall that separated the full-blown cranks from the conservative media, injecting a toxic worldview into the Right’s bloodstream. The conservative movement never recovered.

Charlie Sykes in “How The Right Lost Its Mind.”

Sykes, like many other observers of our crazy, divided political moment, trace the decline of American democracy to the rise of the so-called Tea Party midway in Barack Obama’s first term. 

“You can’t fix crazy,” former John McCain strategist Steve Schmidt says in a remarkable new edition of Frontline on PBS that tracks the arc of our division. “And the fact of the matter is you had a fair number of crazy people who started getting elected to the Congress on the Tea Party wave who there was no dealing with.” 

One of the Tea Party arrivals with the Class of 2011 was, of course, former Congressman Raul Labrador. Labrador quickly embraced the nihilist politics of The Freedom Caucus and became one of its leaders, challenging the leadership of then-Speaker John Boehner, as reporter Tim Alberta recounts in his book American Carnage

Labrador infamously helped orchestrate the government shutdown in 2013 – you can’t fix crazy – hoping to force a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Somewhat reluctantly Labrador came into the orbit of Trump World after the sketchy real estate developer became the last Republican standing in 2016, but then he went all in. 

Raul Labrador, the former Idaho Congressman elected with the Tea Party class of 2011, helped lead the Freedom Caucus and the GOP off a political cliff.

“Right now,” Labrador told Alberta for his 2019 book, “they’re (the GOP base) happy with Trump,” but Labrador predicted strong blowback should the national debt explode (it has), the immigration crisis remain (it has) or if working wages didn’t improve (they haven’t). 

But it looks as though Labrador, now quietly laboring in the Idaho GOP vineyard as party chairman, underestimated – as many have – the extent of Trump’s wholesale remodel of the Republican Party. The long term crisis for the GOP – and for the country – and the extent of the moral and intellectual degradation of the Grand Old Party requires looking not at the Labradors or at a Jim Jordan, the histrionic Ohio congressman, or even Doug Collins, the Georgia congressman who recently accused and then apologized for saying Democrats were coddling terrorists. 

Sadly, indeed tragically, a real accounting of who has fanned the present prairie fire rests with the handful of elected Republicans who truly know better, including Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, and who have willingly failed to mount an effective pushback against what conservative writer Kevin Williamson has called “a big market for servility.”

Simpson, an affable, capable, serious legislator who learned his brand of get something done politics in the Idaho Statehouse, has never been a bomb thrower. He openly disdained the craziness of the Tea Party and the guerilla tactics of the Freedom Caucus. When Labrador was bashing John Boehner, Simpson was supporting the speaker and the House as an institution. Before his election in 2016, Simpson said Trump was “unfit to be president” and he could not support him. 

Idaho’s Mike Simpson (center) in happier days working with the Obama Administration and conservation groups to protect Idaho wilderness. Simpson’s been critical of Trump, but at every critical stage as gone along with the president.

To his credit Simpson has called BS on the Trump Administration a few times. He said the Republican response to Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to redirect congressionally authorized funds from the Pentagon was hypocrisy and Republicans would have rightly raised hell had a Democrat done something similar. 

“I mean I’ll be real honest,” Simpson said at the time, “if Obama had done this Republicans would be going nuts. That’s just the reality.” But then Simpson went along with the president who is poised to again raid the Pentagon budget

A year ago when Trump undercut members of his own administration and backed out on an immigration agreement Simpson said the president couldn’t be trusted not to renege on any commitment. “The one thing you’ve got when you come into this place is your credibility,” Simpson said, “and once you lose it, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. He’s lost it.” But then Simpson went along with the president. 

Even farther back, six months into the Trump presidency in 2017, Simpson expressed his frustrations with the president in comments to Politico. “I don’t even pay any attention to what is going on with the administration because I don’t care,” Simpson said. “They’re a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction.” 

As reporter John Bresnahan wrote at the time, Simpson went on to say, “Quite frankly, I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the (Trump) family knows what the truth is.” Then Simpson went along with the president. 

“It’s all just a bunch of bullshit,” Simpson said on the first day of the Trump impeachment inquiry and then admitted he had not read the testimony of career diplomat William Taylor who provided one of the first detailed accounts of Trump’s effort to shakedown the Ukrainian government in order to smear former vice president Joe Biden. And then Simpson went along with the president and voted against articles of impeachment labeling Trump’s sordid mess a political hit job by Democrats. 

But wait. Now comes Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani pal, who earlier this week turned over records to the House of Representatives that appear to show, as the Washington Post reported, that “Ukraine’s top prosecutor offering an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.” Other newly released records seem to show that Trump knew of these efforts and sanctioned them.

Mike Simpson has had a long political career, an often-distinguished one, but now he confronts a harsh reality, what Steve Schmidt calls the “guts-and-courage crisis in American politics.” By going along with Trump when he knew what a destructive force he would be not only to his party, but also to the country, Simpson has become the problem.   

“So we’re a country that now is willing to accept serial lying,” says Charlie Sykes, “that’s willing to accept overt racism; that’s willing to accept a president of the United States who behaves in a way that we would not find acceptable from any corporate executive, any other community leader. So what does that say about us?” 

And what does it say about Mr. Simpson? 

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Impeachment, Trump, Watergate

Country or Party?

Two old-school Republicans from Washington state have been in the news recently. And the political careers of William Ruckelshaus and Slade Gorton offer a stark reminder of just how far the modern GOP has descended into a culture of lies, corruption, conspiracy theories and general incompetence.

Ruckelshaus, who died last week at age 87, is rightly remembered, as the Seattle Times said in an editorial, “as the upright Cabinet figure who served under two Republican presidents as an effective Environmental Protection Agency leader, and resigned when President Richard Nixon asked him to sign off on firings to block the Watergate investigation.”

William Ruckelshaus sworn in 1970 as Nixon’s EPA director. He later quit rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire the special counsel investigating the president.

As the current Congress grapples with the immensity of President Donald Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, it’s worth remembering that in another time with another corrupt Republican president, Ruckelshaus, a lifelong Republican, stood for principle and honor. He refused to be a part of Nixon’s efforts to cover up the Watergate affair and discredit those investigating the wrongdoing. Ruckelshaus quit rather than be an enabling toady. We know it today as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

It is little surprise that Ruckelshaus’s courage in 1973, when he defied a president of his own party, ended up being the first paragraph of his universally praiseworthy obituaries.

Ruckelshaus was also a Republican conservationist, a species now as rare as a Snake River salmon. His tenure as EPA director was marked by pragmatic, balanced approaches to protecting the environment. He was neither an apologist for industry nor the Sierra Club, but a professional who understood that you could protect the environment and still engage with care in the business of a modern economy.

Just days before Ruckelshaus’s death, the last Republican senator from Washington state, Slade Gorton, a very conservative guy, published an op-ed in the New York Times. In typical Gorton no-nonsense language, he wrote: “To my fellow Republicans, I give this grave and genuine warning: It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors.

Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton: Impeachment is justified.

“History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable. Fifty years from now, history will not accept the position that impeachment was a referendum on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It must be a verdict reached on the facts.”

Gorton’s conclusion: “There are multiple actions on this president’s part that warrant a vote of impeachment.” He urged fellow Republicans to use the House process and a Senate trial to find and act on the facts. And as Ruckelshaus did nearly 50 years ago, Gorton said it was time for Republicans to “put country above party.”

Yet, instead we see a blizzard of obfuscation, a storm of conspiracy theory-spinning, a downpour of misinformation and a near total willingness on the part of Republicans to absolve Trump of the most impeachable conduct since Nixon ordered Ruckelshaus to fire a special prosecutor.

And Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation is quietly poised to go all the way with their corrupt leader. No amount of evidence and plainly observable conduct will deter the Idaho four from ignoring their oath of office in support of their personal political standing. Indeed, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch along with Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson have gone beyond merely ignoring presidential misconduct to actively abetting it.

Risch is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee that produced a bipartisan report identifying Russia operatives as the guilty parties exploiting state-level election systems and engaging in a vast disinformation campaign in 2016.

“Masquerading as Americans,” the committee’s report says, “these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States. This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal, ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the U.S. presidential election.”

And, of course, it was done at Vladimir Putin’s direction to assist Trump’s election. Based upon Trump’s public statements — “Russia, if you’re listening” — and the conduct of his son and chief advisers, Trump clearly welcomed the foreign interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in 2016. Republicans endorsed the finding and then ignored them.

Have you seen any member of the Idaho congressional delegation talking about this? Quite the contrary.

Risch said in February he wasn’t worried about Putin, calling Russia “the most overrated country on the face of the planet.” Meanwhile, Russia, with Trump’s assistance, has strengthened its position in the Middle East, meddled in the Brexit process in the United Kingdom, continued its war against Ukraine and furthered its ambition to weaken NATO.

Or has any Idaho member pushed back when House Republicans, and at least one GOP senator, invoked a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by the president and his most fevered supporters that Ukraine is actually the bad actor here?

Again, quite the contrary. Fulcher has been actively trafficking in the Ukraine smokescreen that Trump really cared about investigating corruption in Ukraine, even though the only “corruption” he’s ever concerned himself with involves Joe Biden and his son. Not a single piece of evidence has emerged regarding the Bidens, but that hasn’t stopped Fulcher from spinning the testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland to suggest it exonerated Trump when it did precisely the opposite.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sondland said before the House Intelligence Committee. “With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

Fulcher, on his Twitter feed and echoing Trump, seized upon Sondland’s reported phone call with the president where, according to Sondland, Trump denied any quid pro quo in withholding aid to Ukraine in exchange for doing “a little favor” by announcing an investigation of a political rival. Fulcher is content to take the word of a fabulist president against a mountain of evidence to the contrary, and in fact new reporting indicates there is ample reason to believe that Sondland’s call with Trump never happened.

The Idaho four have really only two options: Conclude that all the evidence — the record of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, phone records, every single witness, the obstruction on testimony and documents and what there is to see with our own eyes — is incorrect, or they can conclude that the engineers of the Ukraine shakedown are lying.

Actually, there is a third option: Pull a Slade Gorton and a Bill Ruckelshaus and really search for the truth. But to do that you would have to put the country first.

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.

Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Trump

It Will Get Harder…

The Trump defending Idaho congressional delegation was reminded yet again this week of the dangers involved in shielding a president who can’t tell the truth and won’t let most of his subordinates even try. 

Spoiler alert: Defending the president is only going to get more difficult; more difficult by the minute. 

An unlikely villain with Pacific Northwest roots emerged fully this week to vastly complicate the calculus for Trump defenders and expand the abuse of power allegations that ensnarl the White House. A widening cast of characters ranging from the Secretary of State to Rudy Giuliani to Roger Stone, a guy who went on trial this week for lying the Congress about interactions with WikiLeaks and Russians in 2016, is now involved in scandal and cover-up. 

Gordon Sondland, the Northwestern at the center of the Ukraine extortion scheme

The old Sopranos television series offered a no less motley collection of mountebanks, grifters, crooks and sycophants. 

A star witness this week turned out to be a guy named Gordon Sondland, owner of a chain of boutique hotels in Portland and Seattle, who, clearly afraid that he was starring down a perjury charge, told House investigators that he had “refreshed my memory” since first testifying in the Trump impeachment inquiry in October. Sondland is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

As Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss wrote, Sondland’s “recollection needed help: The transcript of his initial, October 17 testimony shows Sondland used the phrase ‘I don’t remember’ 36 times and ‘I don’t recall’ another nine times.” 

On November 4 Sondland’s memory recovered and he produced revised testimony confirming there was a quid pro quo – better descriptions might include the word extortion – that connected Ukrainian aid to Donald Trump’s desire to see a political opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, investigated by a foreign government. What’s more Sondland admitted he personally delivered the extortion promise.

Ukraine: So much trouble for Trump, the GOP … and Ukraine.

Republicans will continue to use the “angels on the head of pin” approach to all this by saying Sondland did not specifically connect the quid pro quo to Trump personally. Stay tuned others will make the connection. And make no mistake this is the very definition of abuse of power.

It turns out Sondland is a classic character in Trump World, a transactional namedropper with a fondness for the gaudy and grandiose. Mostly a financial supporter of Republicans, Sondland has also made significant contributions to Democrats, including the Portland mayor who just decided to hand over the $16,000 Sondland gave him to non-profit groups, including ironically one pushing for impeachment.

Sondland originally supported Jeb Bush for president in 2016, but when Trump won the Republican nomination he scrambled to get on the right side. Sondland was scheduled to host a Trump fundraiser in Seattle during the campaign but abruptly pulled out when Trump trashed the family of a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq. It was a momentary speed bump in his plans. 

After Trump won Sondland donated a cool $1 million to the inaugural committee and angled for an ambassadorial job and finally landed the plush position at the European Union. The job comes with a nice house in Brussels that Sondland immediately began to redecorate using $1 million of U.S. taxpayer money. 

Sondland had, of course, no previous government or diplomatic experience and is demonstrably unqualified for the post he holds. Nevertheless, the Senate confirmed him on a voice vote after a pro forma hearing. It turns out $1 million buys a lot in politics, both prestige and, in Sondland’s case, big trouble. 

Since Ukraine is not part of the EU, Sondland’s involvement in the Ukraine affair is almost certainly due to his having expressed undying loyalty to Trump and a willingness to implement the president’s basest desires.

“His behavior in all this tracks perfectly with his personality,” an Oregonian who knows Sondland told me. “He wanted to be relevant to Trump so he made himself useful to Trump and Rudy. He is 100% transactional with no scruples. This all fits.”

Now that Sondland his rolled his quid pro quo hand grenade into the middle of the impeachment investigation, Politico reports that, “Republicans are starting to turn on him.” After speaking to a host of Republican lawmakers about Sondland, Politico said he was variously described as “a lackey, a chest-thumper and a rube. Of course, perhaps that’s because he turned on the president.” 

Of course none of this will move the most loyal of Trump defenders, the faction of the Republican Party that former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly calls “spineless politicians rotten to the core without virtue, without any level of human integrity, devoid of self respect … Without courage and without the moral compass to recognize their own malevolence.” 

Still the Sondland memory refresh this week vastly complicates the Republican defense of Trump. They’ve tried the argument that the process is unfair, they’ve tried smearing career foreign service officers and career military people, but to defend the president now they must admit that demanding a quid pro quo from a foreign leader in order to influence domestic politics does not constitute corruption and abuse of power. Trouble is it does.

It will get harder to defend Trump.

Some Republicans – I’m thinking of Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Russ Fulcher – will have little trouble justifying such presidential behavior, but what of Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson? Are they really willing to go there? Are they willing to sanction presidential behavior they would completely reject if the other party had done it? 

Crapo, after all, voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Simpson is a pragmatic institutionalist who you know in your heart of hearts loathes Donald Trump for a host of reasons. Simpson serves in Congress because he wants to do important things not because he enjoys covering for a charlatan who looks more and more like a common crook. 

And there will be more, including public testimony soon from William Taylor, a career foreign service officer who has been the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and whose earlier testimony (under oath) confirmed the quid pro quo. 

The day is fast approaching when Idaho’s members of Congress will need to reflect profoundly on the oath they took, hand on the Bible. That oath was to protect and defend the Constitution, not to protect and defend Donald Trump. 

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