By Frank Bowman
As many others have observed, the longer the Trump era continues, the more we become desensitized to almost-daily assaults on basic norms of republican government and the rule of law.
Today, the person in the White House issued a Tweet that, in any previous era, indeed even a year ago, would have summoned an avalanche of condemnation from every corner of the civic and political world. He said:
Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……
In short, Mr. Trump is saying — openly, plainly, overtly, with no tinge of embarrassment or shame — that the United States Department of Justice should not indict crooked politicians if they are of the same party as the president.
The fact that the two congressmen in question are, without serious question, as guilty as it is possible to be — Duncan Hunter stole at least $250,000 in campaign funds and spent it on himself and his wife, and in 2017 Chris Collins was photographed committing insider trading while on the White House lawn — cuts no ice with Trump. The idea that the job of the Department of Justice is to prosecute the guilty regardless of party is as far beyond Trump’s comprehension as the particulars of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Every component of the federal government exists only to serve him. The Justice Department exists to punish his enemies and sweep the sins of his sycophants under the rug. And he no longer bothers even to pretend otherwise.
Let us be absolutely clear on one point — No other president in the history of these United States has ever publicly said anything remotely approximating Trump’s outburst today. So far as we know, only one other president has privately entertained such views … and when they became public knowledge in the Watergate scandal, he was forced to resign to avoid impeachment.
But as sure as eggs is eggs, the response from Republicans to this historic repudiation of a bedrock principle of American governance will be … silence.
And even among Trump’s opponents, outrage will be muted. Because one can sustain fury, even when fury is merited, only so long. And the outrage will be fleeting. Because, since Trump knows nothing he says or does will evoke even a muted whimper of protest from the organization formerly known as the Grand Old Party that now cringes at his feet, tomorrow will bring a new abomination that will supplant memory of today’s. He is slowly — no, not slowly, but with frightening speed — warping our collective sense of tolerable behavior in public office, indeed of right and wrong itself.
Should Democrats win control of Congress in November, and should they be disposed to consider impeachment, this is where their attention should focus. Not, for heaven’s sake, on whether he paid off two women of doubtful virtue (and even more doubtful discrimination in their choice of personal companions) to keep them quiet. Not on whether Trump did or didn’t know in advance about the dodgy Trump Tower meeting with the Russian envoys. The central impeachable offense here is not personal immorality, or incidental violations of this or that statute, or even an obvious willingness to accept electoral assistance from a longstanding national foe. All of these are evidence of Trump’s primary impeachable offense, but are not the offense itself. The core of any impeachment effort must rest on Trump’s daily destruction of the norms of behavior that make constitutional government possible.
Since 1640, when Parliament impeached the Earl of Strafford for his efforts to elevate royal prerogative over the common law and substitute the will of the monarch for the judgment of Parliament, it has been an impeachable offense “to subvert the ancient and well established form of government … and instead thereof to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical way of government.” That’s what we face in the United States in 2018. And we need to be bold and honest enough to do something about it.
NOTE: Since I first posted this yesterday, the Republican response (with the single exception of Sen. Ben Sasse R-Neb., who is not running for reelection) has, as predicted, been … silence.