WASHINGTON – Great nations and proud democracies fall when their systems become so corrupted that the decay is not even noticed – or the rot is written off as a normal part of politics.
President Donald Trump has created exactly such a crisis. He has not done it alone. The corrosion of norms and values began long before he propelled the nation past the edge, and his own party is broadly complicit in enabling his attacks on truth, decency and democratic values.
In fact, Republicans are taking full advantage of the bedlam Trump leaves in his wake. They are using a twisted process to push through a profoundly flawed tax bill with scant scrutiny.
The convoluted proposal is so generous to the wealthiest interests in the country and so damaging to significant parts of the middle class and the poor that GOP leaders know it would not survive extended debate.
They dare not take on Trump because doing so might derail the pursuit of what are now their party’s only driving purposes: court packing, the care and feeding of the privileged, and the gutting of federal social services and regulation. This, too, is a form of corruption, a refusal to face larger questions when partisan political victories are at hand.
We are so inured to the chaos and the lying that characterize Trump’s presidency that we see each outrage as little more than another passing episode on an ongoing cable news drama.
But events of just the last few days should remind us that the longer this president is in power, the weaker our country will become.
On Wednesday morning, the nation learned that it has a president who traffics in fascist propaganda – and I am not using the “f” word lightly. Trump retweeted three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos of unknown accuracy put out by an ultra-right British group called Britain First.
Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was horrified and did not mince words in a statement criticizing Trump for distributing “hateful narratives.” She added that “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect.”
We’d like to think that the United States is also a nation of decency, tolerance and respect. We can’t make this claim while Trump is president.
In the meantime, we learned how low the right will sink to advance the interests of accused pedophile Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate candidate, and to discredit mainstream journalism. Thanks to meticulous reporting, the Washington Post exposed the efforts of conservative activist James O’Keefe to bait the paper into publishing a false account that Moore had a sexual relationship with a woman when she was 15 and encouraged her to have an abortion.
Please think about this: These conservatives are defending the sanctity of life by setting up a woman to lie about having an abortion. In the effort to bring down fair-minded journalism, nothing is sacred. It is another case of corruption, and at an astonishing level.
Recently, my friend (and Brookings Institution colleague) Benjamin Wittes issued a widely-noted series of tweets arguing that the left and the right needed to engage in a “temporary truce” to confront the emergency Trump represents and “unite around a political program based on the protection of American democracy and democratic institutions.”
I could not agree more. As a liberal, I salute the anti-Trump conservatives (most of them writers) who understand the threat the president poses and have spoken out unequivocally and bravely.
But here’s what also needs to be recognized: At the moment, political power in our elected branches (and, in effect, in the Supreme Court) is held by Republicans and conservatives. They are using Trump to push through outlandish policies on taxes and health care. They are lauding Trump’s executive orders that scuttle regulations safeguarding consumers, workers and the environment. They are ecstatic about his filling the judiciary with his, and their, allies. Progressives cannot be asked to pretend this isn’t happening. We’re a long way from a “truce.”
It is an unfortunate fact that the corruption Trump exemplifies has seeped deeply into the Republican Party and substantial segments of the conservative movement. The burden is on the responsible right to dismantle the permission structures that are allowing Trump to wreck our democracy, despoil our values, and endanger our standing in the world. Otherwise, the people will have to do it themselves by voting his Republican enablers out of office.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.