If the GOP Is Wise, It Will Dump Trump Now


From my vantage here in Chicago, I can sense the forces in favor of Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office building among Republicans on Capitol Hill.  Even as David Brooks has insisted that impeachment is a political mistake, even as Tamara Keith and other analysts see political “tribalism” as ineluctably binding Republican legislators to President Trump, one can read events as building toward a directly opposite result, and one very liberating and propitious for all the perplexed Republicans now “hiding in the tall grass,” uncharacteristically quiet and desiring at all costs to avoid the press.

One sign of a change in Republican sentiment is that vocal defense of the President has stopped.  Until lately, leading Republicans have eschewed impeachment as a spurious partisan maneuver, insisting in the face of the Democrat-led initiative that the president is innocent of any action meeting the Constitution’s definition of an impeachable offense (“treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors”).  Since September 19, however, when word of the President’s efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into giving him political dirt against Joe Biden began circulating, the White House has itself supplied prima facie confirmation of Trump’s determination to use his official powers for personal ends.

With remarkable speed, the president has moved from doing wrong in private to openly testing the proposition that he can do no wrong. He has breezily defended his actions as a matter of “style.”  He has gone so far as to make public statements at odds with his Constitutional duties and responsibilities, denying the legitimacy of, and declining to cooperate with, the House impeachment inquiry, and railing against the “phony” emoluments clause.

The President has moved onto dangerous new ground, all but thumbing his nose at anyone who would insist that he adhere to the Constitution.  This was the significance of Mick Mulvaney’s open admission of a quid pro quo: Trump expects his fellow Republicans to tolerate his dirty dealings and “get over it.”  As though the Constitution is something to go beyond.

Everyone who passed civics grasps that Trump is violating federal election laws.  Once fair elections go by the boards, nothing will be left of the republic, either.

As public servants who have their own oaths to uphold, their own powers to wield, Republican lawmakers can hardly fail to notice how Trump is blossoming into a fearful liability: a president without fealty to their own political needs or principles, an interloper who, having cannibalized their once “grand” party, is intent on desecrating its remains, as in his disastrous unilateral decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and abandon the Kurds.  Trump wants Republicans to do more to defend him.  Yet why should congressional Republicans remain loyal to a president deviating so wildly from his Constitutional job description, which is to execute the will of Congress and respect its laws?

Republicans are supposedly afraid of cutting Donald Trump loose.  What, really, would the downside be?  After Trump’s removal from office, the very conservative Mike Pence would be the incumbent president.  Trump’s much-talked-of base supposedly wouldn’t like this, but let’s face it, this is something no one can know.  What will Trump be, when the amplifiers are turned off?  The Republican Party is still lousy with political talent (much of it in abeyance).  Boosted back into a commanding position through a gutsy act of patriotism, the GOP could find redemption, enjoying a new and more broad-based popularity.  It could even remake itself in time to beat the Democrats in 2020.  Nikki Haley, anyone?  She’s on a long list of Republican alternates published the other day in the Rolling Stone.

Image: Black and white screen-shot of Donald Trump just before his inauguration,
© 2019 Susan Barsy

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“If Republicans Ever Turn On Trump, It Will Happen All At Once” (FiveThirtyEight)

Political change

Walk the walk (DNC 2016) screenshot by Susan Barsy
A return to ‘normalcy’ after the US presidential election is unlikely.  Many of us are tired of the campaign, tired of the endless opining, poll numbers, and tweets.  Tired of the candidates and the unpleasant prospects they embody, we long for the closure of election day.  Election Day!  What then?

Underneath the candidates is an undeniable weakness in both parties.  Over a hundred GOP leaders have said they will not support their party’s nominee.  Yet Mr Trump was chosen through a much-contested primary, in which voters failed to coalesce around any of Mr Trump’s numerous challengers, rejecting both moderates and conservatives.  Moreover, disgruntled Republicans subsequently failed to rally around an alternative, despite a protracted explicit attempt that Mitt Romney led.  Leading Republicans know what they’re against.  But what are they for?

The Republican problem isn’t a lack of talent.  It is a lack of a unifying, majoritarian ideology.  This is why disaffected Republicans have proved unable to bolt (as they did, for example, in 1912, when the Progressives, disaffected with President Taft, broke away to support Teddy Roosevelt’s effort to retake the presidency).  Republicans as a group don’t agree on what they stand for, having honed their identity as the party of ‘no.’  Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?  I don’t think so.

Less remarked on is the disturbing weakness of the Democratic party.  In an election cycle playing out as an epic battle of personality, the idea that the Democrats are just as beleaguered as the Republicans is inadmissible.  Yet the Democrats are arguably as benighted.  They bank too much on identity politics, while relying on a concept of the role of government that has scarcely been updated since the 1960s.

Besides the staleness of their ideology, Democrats are turning people off with their record of poor governance in some cities and states.  Here in Chicago, corruption and egregious mismanagement are synonymous with Democratic rule.  I personally have grown disaffected with the state’s Democrats, who as a group have not come out in favor of reform and government efficiency.

At the national level, Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile want citizens to think that the practices of the DNC and the Clinton Foundation are nothing to be concerned about; yet this is the very attitude that voters find unacceptable and disillusioning.  Who believes that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would ‘run a tight ship’?  The Obama Administration has been a model of probity; but a Hillary Clinton White House?  Hardly.

Besides winking at corruption and coasting along on a raft of outdated and expensive ideas, the Democrats suffer from a striking dearth of junior leadership and grass-roots organization.  When will their next generation of leaders appear?  It’s appalling to consider that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rahm Emanuel were, until lately, their brightest stars.  The most admirable and powerful figures in the party are all senior citizens, which augurs well from the point of view of experience but augurs a bumpy leaderless period ahead.

Thus, despite the all-but-extinguished condition of the Republican party, it is doubtful whether the Democrats will win control of the Senate, let alone the House.

The systematic weaknesses plaguing both major parties indicate that the nation is heading into, but scarcely concluding, a period of partisan re-alignment.  The ugly factionalism that is so distressing for citizens to witness and that poses a grave threat to stable federal governance is likely to continue for some time.  When major parties die, it can take a while.  In the short-term, the parties’ problems will cause widespread anxiety and confusion.  Ultimately, reorganization awaits the emergence of clean new leaders with viable modern ideas.

Image: “Walk the Walk” (DNC 2016).
Screenshot by Susan Barsy.

Note: this post has been modified from its original version.

Trump’s rise signals a full-blown political crisis

American primitive (La Brea diorama), by Susan Barsy
We are living through the 2016 presidential election.  Someday, perhaps next year, perhaps decades from now, we will try to recall just what it was like.  What was it like, when Donald Trump, in his bid for the presidency, claimed the Republican nomination and precipitated widespread political turmoil?

This is an experiential question, historical yet subjective; it’s not a question of fact, social science, or policy.  Therefore we will each be entitled to our own truths, however aberrant or incompatible.

Meanwhile, the very multiplicity of our views, which will never agree, adds to the confusion of what we are experiencing, the uncertainty of how it will all end.  Where is the nation heading?  What will happen to its party system?  Whose judgments and actions will prove to have been most insightful and right, a question whose importance will grow retrospectively, furnishing a yardstick for identifying who in our generation is most discerning, most trustworthy.

Watching and listening to a Trump-obsessed nation and being part of that nation ourselves, nets some insight into past political upheavals, particularly rise of Hitler in early 20th-century Germany.  The abiding mystery of Nazism is how the German people could have empowered someone so aggressive and hateful.  How could they have been so mistaken as to repose trust in someone so utterly inhuman, so indifferent to world order and prevailing norms?  From the perspective of August 2016, it’s more understandable how masses of citizens could end up giving too much power to a dangerous leader.

Something similarly unpredictable is happening in American politics, something for which we all bear responsibility, yet we aren’t completely sure what it is or how bad it will be.  And we don’t agree on what we should do.

Three conditions are combining in the United States, creating widespread and practically leaderless confusion.  Together, they amount to a dangerous political crisis, threatening a constitutional government we normally think of as stable and strong.  A disillusioned electorate cognizant of its powerlessness and vulnerability, a weak unresponsive leadership class, and the appearance of an unknown but charismatic ‘political savior’: there you have the recipe for political catastrophe.

All three elements—the frustrated expectations of American citizens, an outmoded and out-of-touch political establishment, and Trump’s charismatic authority—must be addressed to move beyond this dangerous political crisis.  Unfortunately, a rotten political system is difficult to replace or reform overnight.  Our parties are filled with self-seeking prima donnas.  Creatures of party, they’ve lost touch with the people.  They farm out the task of deciding what they believe in, relying on experts to formulate their positions.  Collectively, in their quest for personal power, the leaders of both political parties are failing the people of the United States.

Anti-Trump forces comfort themselves with the notion that, if only Hillary Clinton will win, the United States will ‘be okay.’  Thank goodness the people who are demanding change at any price are not quite a voting majority!  This theme organizes much political discourse.  The experts, who deliver so much in the way of political anesthesia, tamp down our anxiety with a never-ending stream of surveys and polls.  Meanwhile, Trump, with his stark directness, soldiers on defiantly, feeding his electrifying certainties to millions of mesmerized followers.  Trump and the popular discontent he energizes will remain a threat until his opponents unite and respond to the people’s needs by forging an appropriate yet superior ideology of change.

Image: A diorama showing
the inimical relation between two extinct species
at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum in Los Angeles.
Author photo.