A Hostile Foreign Power and the End of the Republic

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump and Melania Trump arrive for a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on December 31, 2017.

When the history of America’s final days as a republic is written, it may be fairly said that a hostile foreign power helped elect an authoritarian president with no agenda other than plunder, that the majority of America’s white people took the plunderer’s racist, misogynist bait—and that the Congress of the United States helped him loot the public commons and cover up his likely crimes.

And that’s just the CliffsNotes version.

As the president sets about destroying the nation’s public institutions, Congress is launching investigations of the president’s investigators: the FBI, career Justice Department employees, and the special counsel appointed to investigate the president’s ties to Russian government agents during the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Congress, it seems, would rather investigate the president’s electoral opponent, who is not in power, and not wrecking such institutions as the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Departments of State or Interior. She is not the one slipping loopholes into a tax law that ultimately benefit the president and his family—and the president’s donors. She is not the one taking aim at the free press. That brief belongs to Donald J. Trump and the Congress that has fallen in line to help him with the plunder, knowing they’ll get to pocket a portion of the spoils.

It’s not only institutions that Trump, aided and abetted by his Republican helpmeets, is breaking. The longstanding alliances between the United States and the democratic nations of the world are fraying, strained by the bombast and rhetorical abuse exercised by the president. Democrats, meanwhile, move too cautiously, trying to work the peripheral levers of the machinery of their peripheral power, while the hallmarks of a burgeoning authoritarianism permeate the political atmosphere.

On Tuesday, the president promised to announce “awards” next week for the news outlets he deems to be the most untruthful, noting that he would not include Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in his assessment. This is an attack by a sitting president on the First Amendment. The people may not like it, but they’re not about to go out into the streets over it.

Time was when House Speaker Paul Ryan tsk-tsk’d Trump for his racist rhetoric on the campaign trail. Now Ryan is the president’s best friend. And remember when people thought Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might be something of a check on Trump’s worst inclinations? A little bluster from Breitbart News chief executive Steve Bannon, and McConnell gets the message, delivering an abomination of a tax law.

Consider the case of Orin Hatch, Republican senator from Utah. Once known for being a conservative who could collaborate with Democrats to craft such legislation as the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Hatch quickly rejected any notion of bipartisan action once Trump took office. That prompted his hometown paper to demand that Hatch not run again, citing the senator’s “utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power.” On Tuesday, Hatch obliged the editors of The Salt Lake Tribune, announcing that he would forego a run for an eighth term.

The New York Times reports that Hatch’s exit clears the way for a run by famous #NeverTrump-er Mitt Romney. We’ll see just how #NeverTrump he remains should he gain the mantle of senatorial power.

Yet, however convenient it might be to righteously castigate the complicit Republicans and often-clueless Democrats in Congress, the responsibility ultimately rests with us. Authoritarianism is on the march around the world and at the helm of our own nation, and we’re watching it happen.

When the history of the end of the republic is written, it may be fairly said that a hostile foreign power helped elect an authoritarian president, and the American people allowed him to stay, only to have the riches of the nation stolen from them.

Unless we don’t. There’s no time to wait. Not for Mueller, not for investigations of investigators. Pressure must be maintained every day—until the president either resigns, or is impeached. Full stop.

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