The Country, the Constitution, and the President

Flag projected on Donald Trumps face.

A recently posted comment by a CNN analyst, Stephen Collinson, seemed to me to sum up our current state of affairs:

At a time of tribal politics and during a presidency that has evolved into a constant assault on the truth, a President shored up by a loyal party may enjoy impunity no matter how significant the evidence.

To be sure, there was much news in the House Intelligence Committee’s televised impeachment hearing, and significance both in the witnesses who appeared and the testimony they gave. This was the civil service in revolt—the real, day-to-day Deep State that makes the federal government function, and that, in virtually every branch, has been thwarted, stymied, and assailed over the past three years. We heard, essentially, from only one branch, the State Department, whose witnesses defied White House orders to ignore Congressional subpoenas and whose collective testimony not only nailed Donald Trump on the issue at hand, the attempt to extort a baseless investigation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky against Trump’s then-chief political opponent, Joe Biden, but also made clear the complicity of their immediate boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the affair. The suppressed anger and sense of betrayal of Foggy Bottom’s ambassadors, attachés, and policy experts, however, could easily have been replicated throughout the bureaucracy, from an Environmental Protection Agency suddenly charged with endangering rather than protecting the environment, to a Commerce Department whiplashed by arbitrary tariffs and injunctions on an almost daily basis, to a military compelled to abandon allies in the field and, most recently, challenged in the administration of justice on which its honor and discipline depend. What the Intelligence Committee heard from a dozen witnesses testifying on a single subject was less than the tip of an iceberg that reaches down into virtually every agency of government. Not since Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror in the 1950s have our most critical public institutions—including not only the executive branch but Congress and the courts as well—been subject to such attack and abuse.

Even with the enormously bloated powers of an imperial presidency that has over more than two hundred years effectively evolved into the monarchy feared by the Founding fathers, Donald Trump couldn’t have gotten away with the mayhem and misery he has inflicted without the collaboration of the Republican Party, or whatever one should now call the gaggle of politicians now at his beck and call. The Republicans began as the party of anti-slavery; they became the party of enslavement for American workers and the servants of what one of their own, Teddy Roosevelt, called malefactors of great wealth. Their unpopularity, even within the ranks of their own voters, was such that they fell all but unresistingly into the arms of a preposterous demagogue who promised the moon and boasted (just kidding, of course) that he could kill with impunity. Their deal with him has been that they will countenance anything in return for the payoffs—tax gifts to the already super-rich; regulatory rollbacks for polluters and fraudsters; ideologues for the courts groomed by the Federalist Society—demanded by the corporate masters who own them.

If America has its first fascist president in Donald Trump—a suggestion that went viral on Fox News when I made it a year and a half ago—does that, then, qualify Republican legislators, officials, and their committed supporters as a fascist party? Hitler and Mussolini created the parties they led, which were from the beginning identified with them. The Republican Party has been around since 1854; its roots lay in opposition to what, with Native American genocide, was the greatest evil this country has produced; its first leader remains the most admired American in our history. Its decline has been as protracted as its moral eclipse complete. Its fall, too, is unique, for no established political party in a democratic society has ever willingly embraced a leader so openly contemptuous of democracy and the rule of law as such, insofar as he comprehends either idea. Government, Abraham Lincoln thought, ought to be of, by, and for the people. Donald Trump is in every respect the living repudiation of that principle.

Republican legislators, many of them lawyers, understand this as well as anyone else. That makes them worse than Trump himself, who seems constitutionally incapable, if you’ll pardon the pun, of comprehending anything beyond his own interest. Forgive them not, for they know exactly what they do. They know that every day of the Trump presidency has been an impeachable offense, beginning with his violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution against personally profiting from his office on Day One. They know he has fostered violence and racism; they know he has obstructed justice; they know he has broken American and international law; they know he has weakened critical institutions; they know he has defamed and vilified everyone from political opponents to victims of hurricanes in terms such as no responsible head of state has ever employed—no little of it directed at Republicans themselves. They put up with this, indeed protect, abet, and screechingly defend it, because their voting base has now become Trump’s base, and they dare not offend it, much less seek to reclaim it. They have lost their honor, and if American conservatism is to have an honest voice it needs a new party. Ask William Kristol or George Will.

The mess we’re in has many makers, and Democrats must take their share of the blame. Right now, though, they’re all we’ve got to hold Trump and his minions accountable for the gravest crisis of law this country has faced in many years, if not since its very inception. They must press on with impeachment, not limiting themselves to the single matter of Ukraine but creating a fully encompassing bill of indictment. The Republicans will reject it in the Senate, but the case must be made, and the battle for the country’s future joined. Imperfect as all political systems are, that future will be better when we have two political parties that serve some constituency beyond an ever-more rapacious plutocracy, and—who knows?—perhaps, some distant day, even the common welfare.

About Robert Zaller 91 Articles
Dr. Robert Zaller is an American author, playwright, and professor of history at Drexel University. An authority on British political history and constitutional thought, he writes extensively on politics, modern literature, film, music and art. He has been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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