Despite Trump’s efforts, the US is not the banana republic he wishes it to be. Yetby Sam Tanenhaus / November 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The case against Donald Trump is growing. As October ended, Robert Mueller, the independent counsel looking into collusion with the Kremlin, brought indictments against two Trump campaign officials. The big fish was Paul Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign just before the national convention, when Republican insurgents tried to deny Trump the nomination. Manafort’s obligations to Russian creditors may have compromised him, Trump and his party. They could explain why at the time of the convention, the party’s Ukraine policy was “gutted,” according to reports. A second campaign official, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Russians. Other names are likely to follow. Michael Flynn, who lasted a mere 24 days as Trump’s National Security Adviser, could be next. In other circumstances, impeachment hearings would be under way. But the Republicans control all three branches of government, and Trump controls them. Never mind his approval ratings, the lowest in seven decades, his hold on his base is solid, and many of these voters despise the party establishment. Every time a mainstream Republican criticises Trump, he is punished swiftly. Exhibit A is the Arizona Republican senator, Jeff Flake. He opposed Trump’s election, and explained why in his book Conscience of a Conservative. In the Senate, he condemned Trump’s “reckless, outrageous, undignified behaviour.” It won praise from Democrats—and ended Flake’s career. Up for re-election in 2018, he was trailing one primary opponent, Kelli Ward, a pro-Trump state legislator called a “nut” by other Republicans, not least for her habit of letting lobbyists write laws she sponsors, many of them attempts to repeal federal gun laws. Flake fell so far behind in the polls that he gave up. “It’s still very much Trump’s party,” Flake told me. “The number one issue for Republican primary voters isn’t the economy, taxes or regulation, or even immigration. It’s ‘are you supporting Trump?’” Why are Republicans rallying behind Trump? Because in their minds they have no choice. “Having failed to stop Trump when he was eminently beatable,” wrote Ross Douthat of the New York Times, “Republican politicians are unlikely to throw up a serious challenger [in 2020] now that he has consolidated partisan support.” Less than four in 10 Americans say they like Trump, but a majority of Republicans adore him. He destroyed a decrepit, self-interested Republican Party and remade it in his own image of vengeful populist wrath. This nihilism has been building for years—think of Congressional flame-thrower Newt Gingrich, and “hockey mom” Sarah Palin. Trump is heir to both and has outdone his teachers in the politics of destruction, which is all that’s left of the Republican Party. Remove Trumpism and it is a hollow shell. The capitulations get starker by the day. The editorial pages of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal and his cable network, Fox News, are virtually house organs of the Trump White House. The Journal’s editors suggested that the culprits of the Russia saga include Democrats and the FBI, and called for Mueller’s resignation. One Op-Ed even suggested Trump could issue a pre-emptive blanket pardon. This was too much for former Republican lawyer, John Yoo, who wrote the notorious “torture memos” for Bush Jr. Citing his own history as “someone who supported the broadest reading of executive power,” Yoo predicted this “would prompt congressional moves toward impeachment.” The irony is that the author of Mueller’s investigation is Trump himself, who sacked FBI director James Comey, then blurted out on television this was because Comey was looking into “this Russia thing.” In Trump’s mind, Comey should have acted as his personal lawyer, rather than as top policeman. In a banana republic, that would make perfect sense. But the US is not yet a banana republic, despite Trump’s efforts. “The firing of Mueller or pardoning of those indicted is a line we just can’t cross,” Flake told me. Then again, the history of Trumpism has been one of lines crossed, re-crossed and finally erased. The question now, as he threatens to extinguish the rule of law, is how far one of America’s two great parties will go to help him do it.