President Trump has had more-scandalous weeks. He has had weeks with more bombshell bad-news stories. But no week has matched this one in revealing the moral and intellectual rot at the center of the GOP. Pandemic intellectual dishonesty and celebration of uncivilized conduct now permeate the party and its support in the conservative ecosystem. Consider what we saw and learned this week:
- Trump in Saudi Arabia disclaims any concern for human rights.
- Trump bullies NATO allies in public (and physically shoves one leader).
- Trump’s budget is built on a rickety scaffold of math errors, economic nonsense and fantasyland predictions.
- Trump’s advisers defend massive cuts to the safety net, coupled with huge giveaways to the rich.
- The Congressional Budget Office score, which the House did not require before voting on a mammoth health-care bill, confirms that GOP leaders falsely claimed they protected people with preexisting conditions.
- Trump’s lawyers contemptuously swat away a request for information relating to his receipt of foreign monies, finding that it is too impractical to abide by his own promise and the Constitution.
- Trump has nothing but praise for thuggish autocrats, including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
- Trump continues to pursue a Muslim ban, repeatedly struck down by the courts as bigotry disguised under the cloak of national security.
- A GOP congressional candidate, conclusive evidence suggests, attacks a reporter and apparently lies about it (he later apologizes for actions he denied less than 24 hours earlier), but party leaders do not repudiate him or demand that he withdraw.
- Jared Kushner, the beneficiary of egregious nepotism, now is a focus of the FBI’s Russia investigation, bringing a once-in-a-lifetime scandal one step closer to the presidency.
- Sean Hannity is forced to stop propagating a detestable hoax about a young man’s murder; Fox News after a week withdraws the original false report without much explanation or an apology.
This is the state of the GOP — a refuge for intellectual frauds and bullies, for mean-spirited hypocrites who preach personal responsibility yet excuse the inexcusable.
Conventional wisdom says that Trump executed a hostile takeover of the GOP. What we have seen this week suggests a friendly merger has taken place. Talk radio hosts have been spouting misogyny and anti-immigrant hysteria for years; Trump is their ideal leader, not merely a flawed vehicle for their views. Fox News has been dabbling in conspiracy theories (e.g. birtherism, climate-change denial) for decades; now Republicans practice intellectual nihilism. Nearly every point of criticism raised against the left — softness on foreign aggressors, irresponsible budgeting, identity politics, executive overreach, contempt for the rule of law, infantilizing voters — has become a defining feature of the right.
Anti-Trump Republicans have debated whether the GOP can be “reformed” or must be abandoned. Where would one even begin to reform a party such as this — and who would lead such an effort? (Sorry, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska cannot themselves run a national party.) It would take a clean sweep of not merely officeholders but also right-wing media outlets to recover anything approaching the intellectual rigor and moral decency conservatives used to cherish.
The country needs two parties and benefits from the ideas associated with classical liberalism (small “l”) — the rule of law (over the law of the jungle), respect for the dignity of every individual, prosperity-creating free markets (including trade), values-based foreign policy. The Republican Party no longer embodies those ideals; it undermines them in words and in deeds. It now advances ideas and celebrates behavior antithetical to democracy and simple human decency. Center-right Americans, we have become convinced, must look elsewhere for a political home.