“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.” — James Madison
A wretched situation, indeed. Because, whereas many of the Republicans in Congress – McCarthy, Boebert, Gohmert, Gosar, Taylor-Greene, Brooks, Paul, Cruz, Tuberville, etc. – are liars, stupid, or nuts, not all of them are. Mitch McConnell, though a liar, is a genius at perverting everything Democrats are trying to do to help average Americans: which happens to include most of his red-state constituency. He can’t be ignorant of the damage he’s causing; by that, and by closing his eyes to Trumpism. Destitute in virtue, rich in avaricious cowardice, he remains silent; the poster boy for the impending crisis.
Everyone who cares about America’s future must read the recent dissertation in the Washington Post written by Robert Kagan, actual conservative and member of America’s most respected and balanced think tank, the Brookings Institution. Titled “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here,” it’s a frigid dose of reality. If you profess love of America and its form of government, read it, as an act of patriotism. That includes Trumpists, professors for sure. (Non-subscribers have access to a limited number of articles.)
The opening quote of this column, above, also begins the essay. It continues: “The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves…” Later: “… Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary... Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022…”
Kagan’s analysis of why Trump can do no wrong in the eyes of his supporters, why cowardly Republican leaders fear him, and what it means for democracy, rings true. Justifying red state legislatures’ efforts to legalize overturning disliked election results, unwavering belief in his “stolen election” lie is at the heart of it. A trumpet, heralding the political apocalypse.
The more Trump’s lies are pointed out, the more his cultists love him. “The events of Jan. 6 … proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms…,” writes Mr. Kagan. Said a capitol-rioting woman, he reminds us, “We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.” “Just,” she said. Just.
More convincingly and eloquently, Kagan echoes what I’ve written many times: that Madison, et. al., figured they’d created the checks and balances necessary to prevent authoritarianism. Then, though, there were no political parties. If they arose, they surmised, it’d be limited to some states; and, whereas a psychologically unfit deceiver like Trump might become popular locally, national appeal was impossible. Wrongly, they assumed an informed electorate. White, male, and landed, to be sure; but well-enough educated to rebuff demagoguery. Modern Republicans have put that fantasy to rest. Our forefathers were tragically mistaken.
Nor could they imagine today’s rightwing wholesale rejection of the backbone of democracy: elections. Accepting outcomes. Instead, it’s willingness to burn the country down (figuratively, mostly, so far), including threats to poll-workers and their families, to maintain their personal privilege, dismissing the impact on our future. Virtuous it isn’t.
If legislating away free and fair elections is Trumpism’s most obvious threat, anti-mask/anti-vaccine activism is vivid proof of the loss of American idealism for a third of the country and ninety percent of Republicans. All-but-inexplicable susceptibility to transparent lies. Overarching disinterest in understanding the avarice behind them, uncaring how their selfish, misguided, manipulated refusals harm others. (Obvious statement: had American virtue been more present among Trumpists, mandates would have been unnecessary.)
Republicans love to claim Abraham Lincoln as their own, while ignoring his ethos: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” Speaking of Whom, they also claim exclusive rights to Jesus. Which makes sense only if they believe the Sermon on the Mount is fake news. Also fake: Republican Secretaries of States’ attestations to a fraud-free election. And that Arizona thing.
Nothing can convince Trumpists they’re being lied to: about the election, CRT, masks and vaccines; glaring, dangerous, and deeply cynical as those lies are. If Mr. Kagan is to be proved wrong, it’ll be when people like Mitch McConnell and actual conservatives, caring nearly as much for America as for themselves, find the courage to disavow Trumpism and the corrosion at its core. Now or never. Like climate change. Time has all but run out.