The United States is coming undone. It is dis-united. Its citizens are bitterly divided along a widening chasm, each side believing the other is despicable; its democratic institutions are under assault; its ideals of equality and respect for the rule of law, once so widely admired around the world, are now ignored, even scorned, by some of its highest-ranking officials.
I had always believed that only a shooting war could tear us apart in this way, but I was wrong. Our civic fabric is being ripped to shreds, lacerated by a petty and divisive president and the people who enable him.
President Donald J. Trump has launched a full frontal assault on the rule of law, belittling the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ignoring the Department of Justice, intimidating (and firing) senior law enforcement officials who attempt to hold him to account. The latest example is his determination to release a one-sided and harshly partisan memo, despite pleas from the FBI director not to do so.
The memo, composed by staffers for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) — a Trump lapdog — is another attempt by the president and his team of lackeys to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The most significant part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry focuses on whether any members of Trump’s campaign — including Trump himself — colluded with Russians to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances. Apparently, top Republicans and White House staffers have descended into panic as Mueller’s probe draws closer to the president.
However, the FBI fears that the release of the memo, some of which is based on classified information, may threaten national security. You would think that would matter to the so-called patriots in the GOP who put so much emphasis on saluting the American flag. But Republican voices who object to Trump’s release of the memo are few and muted.
Then there was the president’s contentious State of the Union speech, which had laughably been billed in advance as a unifying bit of oratory. Ah, not so much. While Trump did utter the word “bipartisan” several times, the policies he bragged about were those that thrill only conservatives: tax cuts that benefit the richest Americans most, another blow to Obamacare, the dismantling of environmental regulations.
And that was the milder stuff. By the middle of his speech, the president had released his inner Trump — taking an unnecessary swipe at (mostly black) athletes who kneel during the national anthem, using the case of the tragic murders of two teenage girls by Latino gang members to suggest that most immigrants are dangerous killers, and repeating his demand for a wall along the southern border to stop “criminals and terrorists.” Those weren’t dog whistles. Those were full-throated rallying cries of racism.
Once upon a time, there would have been legions of Republicans standing up to counter Trump’s dangerous tyranny and bigotry. During his presidential campaign in 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) silenced a supporter who insisted that opposing candidate Barack Obama was not born in the United States. But McCain has since been sidelined by debilitating brain cancer.
When President Richard Nixon tried to place himself above the law during the Watergate investigation, several high-ranking Republicans stood to defend the U.S. Constitution from his despotism. When Nixon tried to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than carry out the president’s tyrannical orders. (Nixon eventually found a lackey to do his bidding: Solicitor General Robert Bork.)
Where are the Republicans who would defy such an order from Trump? While Democrats have pushed for a bill to protect Mueller, GOPers have seemed less than eager to go along. Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray may find himself in Trump’s crosshairs for the crime of standing up to him on the Nunes memo.
If you are still waiting for the president to pay a price for his despotism, you will likely be disappointed. He remains popular among Republican voters; more than 80 percent approve of his performance, according to Gallup.
Historians are already debating whether Trump will eventually be judged the nation’s worst president. I have a more depressing question: Will he be our last?