It is very ominous that some Senate Republicans have ceased to defend Attorney General Jeff Sessions against the egregious assaults of the president. As Andrew Sullivan writes:
A republic cannot be governed by a man who acts like a mafia boss, following mafia rules. The minute that happens, the corrosion begins. Every day such a crook holds the highest office in the land represents yet another crack in the law of the land. If this figure decides to wage an actual war on the rule of law, and retains the solid support of his own party, all bets are off. And it is a staggering fact that in the wake of this week’s verdicts and Trump’s responses, no Republican leaders have yet decisively called their president out, and no right-wing media outlet has sounded any kind of alarm. It has fallen to Jeff Sessions to issue a statement defending the DOJ.
To give us a hint of what’s coming, yesterday Senator Lindsey Graham, who had previously ruled out firing Sessions entirely — “there will be holy hell to pay” — announced a shift in his position: “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice … Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” On the same day, Senator Grassley also suggested that, after the midterms, his committee could find time to hold hearings for a new AG — one who would inevitably be tasked with firing Mueller or killing the investigation.
Jeff Sessions and the support he enjoys in the GOP-controlled Senate is the only thing standing between the corruption of the Justice Department. If some Republican senators are no longer willing to defend Sessions, and instead want some patsy whose allegiance is to Trump, not the law, we are indeed in dangerous territory.
Peter Beinart had an interesting piece in The Atlantic the other day, theorizing that for Trump backers, the word “corruption” means something different than what it means for others. Excerpts:
In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”
Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.
The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.
Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense. Since 2014, Trump has employed the phrase rule of lawnine times in tweets. Seven of them refer to illegal immigration.
I’m not sure that I buy that, but I can’t dismiss it outright. I can’t find a better explanation for why so many on the Right roll over and accept anything Trump says or does, no matter what principle he violates.
I got into a discussion with a diehard Trump-supporting friend the other day. I mentioned that it was a shame to watch Rudy Giuliani, who did so much good in the 1990s and on 9/11, destroy his reputation. My friend agreed with me, and agreed that a public man should always stand for the truth, no matter what. I couldn’t figure out why my friend was so eager to agree with me, until on further questioning, I realized she didn’t get that I was talking about Giuliani’s shilling for Trump. When that became clear, she quickly changed the subject.
It is possible to believe that the current political and culture order has been corrupted in some fundamental way, and to believe at the same time that Donald Trump is no enemy of that corruption, but in fact is a product of it. I think that is manifestly obvious. The same corruption infests the Left. It consists of believing that truth and righteousness is what advances the cause of one’s own tribe. Many of the same left-liberals who quite properly call out Trumpists for their own hypocrisy will turn around and say, for example, that black people cannot be racist, because racism is solely a function of power. Under both corrupt schemes, right and wrong depends entirely on who benefits from the outcome. If this isn’t corruption, what is?
One of these days, Trump is going to be out of office, and a progressive Democrat will be in power. On what grounds will Republicans resist that Democrat when he or she behaves like Trump does? Will Democrats behave like so many Republicans, and sell out their own convictions for the sake of power? Of course they will, and when the Republicans down the road get back into power, they’ll be Trumpists without Trump. Damon Linker wrote an interesting piece this week on the naivete of analysts who believe that demonstrating Trump’s amorality is sufficient to cause his backers to turn on him.
And let me not get too much on my high horse here: given how hostile so many on the Left are to religious liberty, I cannot personally rule out voting for Trump in 2020, despite the fact that I believe he is a menace to the rule of law. To vote against Trump will almost certainly mean voting for a president who will turn the power of the state on people like me. That still might be the decent and correct thing to do, and if so, I hope I have the courage to do it. But it’s a hell of an ask.
Trump is not just a cause, but an effect of deeper causes. This is how people become incapable of self-government. This is how republics die.