Since Nov. 8, 2016, I have stumbled about in a country I do not recognize — a mean and narrow place where toddlers are snatched from their mothers’ arms as they try desperately to find sanctuary, where NATO is denounced but Russia is courted, where the president mocks children, the dead and the disabled to the rapturous cheers of his cult following. The recent impeachment proceedings have left me more profoundly confused.
President Donald Trump has so remade the Republican Party that it, too, is unrecognizable — a clown car of lapdogs whose use of the English language would likely startle even George Orwell. Up is not merely down; gravity no longer exists. Neither do facts.
Trumpists have resorted not only to distortions and fabrications but also to nonsensical demands to show their loyalty to dear leader. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) offered the sole amendment to the articles of impeachment in the House Rules Committee, insisting that Trump’s behavior was no different from that of President Barack Obama. If Trump is to be impeached, Byrne argued, so Obama should have been, as well.
Previously, Byrne, who once seemed sensible, had been at the front of the rump parade that tried to disrupt impeachment testimony by storming a meeting room. He is now seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in a crowded field of Alabama notables, so, apparently, there is no ploy too contrived or stunt too silly to show his fealty to Trump.
On Wednesday, as Congress impeached Trump on two counts, the president’s GOP defenders stood in the well of the House of Representatives to lie, prevaricate and even blaspheme. If the president is looking for a congressman on whom to confer the award for most sickeningly sycophantic, that would likely go to Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who mustered the gall to compare Trump to Jesus Christ.
“Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, keep this in mind,” Loudermilk exhorted. “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats afforded this president in this process.”
There is much that is wrong about that analogy — biblically, constitutionally and, not least, theologically. And it serves as yet another reminder of the speed with which Trumpists have trashed democratic traditions and cheapened civic and religious institutions.
Still, I am taken aback by the collapse of even the appearance of morality among religious fundamentalists. I have never taken their “Christianity” seriously; white Christian fundamentalists have always embraced white supremacy over Christ’s precepts about loving all humankind. Yet, I never expected that they would rapturously embrace the debauchery of Donald Trump.
More astounding has been the revelation that so many of the nation’s powerful leaders don’t believe in the democracy they were sworn to serve. They don’t believe that patriotism requires putting nation over party; they don’t believe that we are a nation of laws; they don’t believe in the separation of powers envisioned by the founders; they don’t care that a foreign adversary intervened in a U.S. election, possibly tipping the scales.
Men such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Attorney General William Barr believe that their tribe should rule — absolutely and in perpetuity. If that brings the United States perilously close to the banana republics they once derided, that’s OK. After decades in which they shouted about the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution, it turns out they don’t believe anything they preached.
Vladimir Putin is certainly pleased. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) repeated a key bit of Russian disinformation on the floor of the House Wednesday, insisting that the impeachment inquiry aimed to stop the investigation “into the corruption of Ukraine interference in the U.S. election in 2016.” That’s a lie that Russia has planted, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Putin, one of the president’s most crucial supporters, has already rolled out the same disinformation machinery he put to work to boost Trump’s campaign in 2016. Endorsing Trump’s re-election, Putin said: “I don’t think Trump will be voted out of power on made-up charges. Democrats lost the last election, and now they want to win by other means.”
I am a stranger in a strange land.