Donald Trump is the human id on legs. That much has been plain for ages. Excess is his middle name. With multiple bankruptcies, betrayals of trust, and a coterie of shady associates, he is the last person an America with any common sense (and sense of decency) should have granted the powers of the presidency.
Water under the bridge. What now?
After the Mueller report’s detailed evidence of Trump’s obstructing justice, after two weeks of congressional witnesses to Trump’s conspiracy-theory driven self-dealing with Ukraine, the president’s enablers are just as entrenched in their support. Their response is a blizzard of bad faith, violations of their oaths, and a collective hands-over-ears shouting of “la, la, la, la, la….”
It may be too early to tell what toll testimonies before the House impeachment inquiry may have had on Trump’s support in the Senate. The testimony was at times vivid, must-watch TV. It seems American attention spans are not as short as predicted. The complicated plots of long-running serialized dramas may have done just the opposite and primed viewers for immersive experiences and binge-watching.
At New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan celebrates Fiona Hill after binge watching her testimony from last week. Admiring her ascension from plebeian roots in northeast England, Sullivan — not a flaming lefty — found himself with a deeper respect for such unsung keepers of the American faith. Immigrant women, he observes, can show an even deeper devotion to the country’s ideals than those native born:
And to see how these people have had to endure a president this deranged, this indifferent to the truth, this craven toward the enemies of the United States because they can be assets for his domestic political purposes is to experience the appropriate amount of anger toward the damage he has done. It feels like a moment to me.
It may be slow to sink in for the less tuned-in just where Trump is taking our beloved country. But like a slowly unfolding TV conspiracy, it may yet.
“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest. And also politics. Trump’s conservative critics and those on the left may need to ally themselves to defeat this threat to the republic, lest Trumpism rewrite the Constitution to serve the lowest common perpetrator.
Brett Stephens (like Sullivan, no liberal icon) writes in the New York Times that it is not just the particulars of the Ukraine affair that indict Trump, but where the country is headed under his administration:
… the president’s highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine.
It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine. The judgment Congress has to make is whether the American people should be willing, actively or passively, to go along with it.
“It” is a national makeover into a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy from which Ukraine now is struggling to free itself. Trump would embraces its principal features: criminalizing of political differences, using public office as a shield against criminal prosecution, and “the netherworldization of political life” in which conspiracy theories drive policy.
The Trump cult is already corrupting law itself and the unitary executive theory conservatives have cultured since the time of Reagan. Conservative lawyers from the group Checks & Balances argue Attorney General William Barr’s expansive view of presidential power is a corruption of the original concept. The group includes George T. Conway III, husband to White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, and a vocal Trump critic. Charles Fried of Checks & Balances and Harvard Law School argues “the executive branch cannot be broken up into fragments,” and that Barr’s reading goes too far:
While that branch acts as a unified expression of a president’s priorities, with the president firmly at the helm, “it is also clear that the executive branch is subject to law,” Mr. Fried said. “Barr takes that notion and eliminates the ‘under law’ part.”
Trump campaigned on “promises to torture the nation’s enemies and kill their families,” writes the New York Times Editorial Board. His pardons of U.S. service members for war crimes sanction murder and brutality and a reject a system of military justice based in a body of international laws the United States labored to put in place. The New York Times Editorial Board calls Trump’s actions morally indefensible:
A nation has to know that military action being taken in its name follows morally defensible rules — that soldiers do not, for instance, kill unarmed civilians or prisoners.
To excuse men who have so flagrantly violated those rules — to treat them as heroes, even — is to cast the idea of just war to the winds. It puts the nation and veterans at risk of moral injury, the shattering of a moral compass.
On Planet Trump, compasses always point to Himself. Whatever actions increase his fortune or bolster his warped self-image are justifiable. Actually, “justifiable” has no meaning there. Justice requires standards of behavior to which Trump believes himself exempt. His attorney general is happy to oblige.
Sullivan found himself angered that public servants like Hill must endure “a president this deranged, this indifferent to the truth, this craven toward the enemies of the United States.” It felt “like a moment to me,” he writes, seeing them testify with dignity against the “blizzard of bluster, misinformation, gaslighting, [and] conspiracy theories” that represent a “malignancy at the heart of our democracy.”
There are no atheists in foxholes, they say. And in this fight to save the republic from sinking into Trumpification, perhaps no partisans. Only those who hold true to the values and principles Trump and his enablers further defile every day they control the levers of power.