The rot in our po­lit­i­cal foun­da­tion

The Washington Post - - POWER POST -

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 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 past 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 put out by her of­fice 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 sex­ual preda­tor Roy Moore, the Alabama Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date, and to dis­credit main­stream jour­nal­ism. Thanks to metic­u­lous re­port­ing, The Post ex­posed the ap­par­ent ef­forts by 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 (many 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.

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