A quis­ling and his en­ablers

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP/ED - Paul © 2018, New York Times News Ser­vice

This is not a col­umn about whether Don­ald Trump is a quis­ling — a politi­cian who serves the in­ter­ests of for­eign masters at his own coun­try’s ex­pense. Any rea­son­able doubts about that re­al­ity were put to rest by the events of the past few days, when he de­fended Russia while at­tack­ing our al­lies.

We don’t know Trump’s mo­ti­va­tion. Is it black­mail? Bribery? Or just a gen­er­al­ized sym­pa­thy for au­to­crats and ha­tred for democ­racy? And we may never find out: If he shuts down the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Repub­li­cans re­tain con­trol of Congress, the cover-up may hold in­def­i­nitely. But his ac­tions tell the story.

As I said, how­ever, this isn’t a col­umn about Trump. It is, in­stead, about the peo­ple who are en­abling his be­trayal of Amer­ica: the in­ner cir­cle of of­fi­cials and me­dia per­son­al­i­ties who are will­ing to back him up what­ever he says or does, and the wider set of politi­cians — ba­si­cally the en­tire Repub­li­can del­e­ga­tion in Congress — who have the power and con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion to stop what he’s do­ing, but won’t lift a fin­ger in Amer­ica’s de­fense.

It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the fight Trump is pick­ing with our al­lies isn’t about any real con­flict of in­ter­est — be­cause they are not, in fact, do­ing the things he ac­cuses them of do­ing. No, Canada and Europe aren’t im­pos­ing “mas­sive tar­iffs.” A vast ma­jor­ity of U.S. ex­ports en­ter Canada tar­iff-free, and the av­er­age Euro­pean tar­iff is 3 per­cent. These are sim­ple facts, not dis­putable is­sues.

So Trump is jus­ti­fy­ing his at­tempt to de­stroy the Western al­liance by ac­cus­ing our al­lies of mis­deeds that ex­ist only in his imagination.

The same thing may be said about his claim that Canada’s Justin Trudeau some­how be­trayed him and un­der­mined the Group of 7 sum­mit. In re­al­ity, Trudeau’s re­marks at the end of the con­fer­ence were re­strained and con­ven­tional, sim­ply as­sert­ing that he would de­fend his na­tion’s in­ter­ests. The Trump rage-tweet that fol­lowed was re­spond­ing to an in­sult that, like those “mas­sive tar­iffs,” ex­ists only in his imagination.

But that’s Trump, a man whose pres­i­dency has been marked by around seven false state­ments per day in office. What about his of­fi­cials?

Well, they have been act­ing like the courtiers in the old story about the em­peror’s new clothes. (The em­peror’s new hair­piece?) If the boss says some­thing whose fal­sity is ob­vi­ous to any­one with eyes to see, they’ll claim to be­lieve his ver­sion.

So Larry Kud­low, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s chief econ­o­mist (ac­tu­ally “econ­o­mist,” but that’s an­other story) went on TV to de­clare that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back.” Peter Navarro, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s chief trade ex­pert (“ex­pert”) went even fur­ther, re­peat­ing the stabin-the-back line and declar­ing that Trudeau faces a “spe­cial place in hell.”

Re­mem­ber when peo­ple used to imag­ine that Trump would be re­strained by of­fi­cials who would put some check on his worst im­pulses? Maybe that hap­pened for a few months, but at this point he’s en­tirely sur­rounded by syco­phants.

Still, Amer­ica isn’t a monar­chy — not yet, any­way. Congress has the power to check a pres­i­dent who seems to be be­tray­ing his oath of office. It can even re­move him; but short of im­peach­ment, there are many ways mem­bers of Congress could act to con­strain Trump and limit the dam­age he’s do­ing.

But Congress is con­trolled by Repub­li­cans. And their re­sponse to a pres­i­dent whose ac­tions are man­i­festly not just un-Amer­i­can but anti-Amer­i­can has been ... a few sad tweets from a hand­ful of sen­a­tors who are un­happy about Trump’s be­hav­ior but not will­ing to do any­thing real. Most Repub­li­cans haven’t even gone that far: They’re just silent.

Why are Repub­li­can politi­cians un­will­ing to dis­charge their con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties? Rel­a­tively few of them, one sus­pects, ac­tu­ally want a trade war, let alone a breakup of the Western al­liance. And many of them, one also sus­pects, are well aware that a de facto for­eign agent sits in the Oval Office. But they are im­mo­bi­lized by a com­bi­na­tion of ve­nal­ity and cow­ardice.

On one side, tax cuts for the rich have be­come the over­rid­ing pri­or­ity for the mod­ern GOP, and Trump is giv­ing them that.

On the other side, the party’s base re­ally does love Trump, not for his poli­cies, but for the per­for­ma­tive cru­elty he ex­hibits to­ward racial mi­nori­ties and the way he sticks his thumb in the eyes of “elites.” So any Repub­li­can politi­cian who takes a stand on be­half of what we used to think were fun­da­men­tal Amer­i­can val­ues is at high risk of los­ing his or her next pri­mary. And as far as we can tell, there is not a sin­gle elected Repub­li­can will­ing to take that risk.

What all this tells us is that the prob­lem fac­ing Amer­ica runs much deeper than Trump’s per­sonal aw­ful­ness. One of our two ma­jor par­ties ap­pears to be hope­lessly, ir­re­deemably cor­rupt. And un­less that party not only loses this year’s elec­tion but be­gins los­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, Amer­ica as we know it is fin­ished.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

White House chief eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low (left) and Na­tional Se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton lis­ten to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence June 9 at the G-7 sum­mit in Canada.

Krug­man

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