As we noted earlier, among his many unhinged utterances on Tuesday, prompted by who-knows-what (Did someone tell him the Russia investigation isn’t close to being finished?), President Trump decried the “deep state” — a common alt-right boogeyman positing that the government is plotting to dethrone its mad king. Calling his own Justice Department the “Deep State Justice Dept.” and urging it to go after Hillary Clinton, her aide Huma Abedin and former FBI director James B. Comey surely would have been the looniest and most outrageous of the day — if not for his my-nuclear-button-is-bigger-than-your-nuclear-button outburst.
Fortunately, there was a strong push-back. Unfortunately, Republicans didn’t raise a peep. That was left to former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “I think it’s reprehensible to use that phraseology. I guess who that refers to is the career civil servants who are patriots dedicated to the country.” He continued, “I’d point out that when you take the oath of office as a civil servant you swear to uphold the Constitution. It doesn’t say anything about pledging loyalty to this president or any other and if not doing so is what constitutes being part of the ‘deep state,’ I think that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what this country’s all about and what this government is all about and I find that characterization disturbing.” It is also reminiscent of Trump’s pressuring Comey to give him a pledge of loyalty and his meltdown over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Clapper also chastised Trump for threatening political enemies. “The whole issue of a president, this one or any other, reaching out or pointing the finger at someone who ought to go to jail or be investigated is again beyond the pale,” Clapper concluded. “It’s not proper.”
We have yet to hear a response from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — who recently pontificated on the necessity of agreeing upon a common set of facts. We haven’t heard from the Republicans who like to strut and brag about their devotion to the Constitution and the “rule of law.” We haven’t heard from GOP congressional leadership. I’ll save space — we didn’t hear a denunciation from any Republican member of Congress.
In creating a parallel universe of conspiratorial nonsense and castigating those who follow democratic norms as the enemy, Trump continues to erode the office and our democratic institutions. Saying it doesn’t matter what the president says belies decades of GOP harping (correctly) that “words matter” and that devotion to the Constitution requires constant vigilance. Their willingness to keep mum — Because Gorsuch! Because corporate tax cuts! — reminds us why they should not be entrusted with majority control of the House or Senate in the midterm elections. The president’s outbursts therefore should remind us that it’s not only Trump who is unfit to serve, but also his silent enablers in Congress.
Jeffrey H. Smith, who served in multiple departments over decades, voices what elected Republicans will not:
The courts, law enforcement departments and intelligence agencies are staffed by public servants who commit to assuring the health of our democracy. The basic foundation of that duty is independence; it is necessary that they are insulated from political influence. When that independence is threatened by bullying from the White House, in my experience the men and women who have sworn to defend the Constitution do not buckle under. They have not pledged supine fealty to a feudal liege and they dig in harder to do their duty. . . .
Perhaps most troubling is Trump’s habit of making up things to suit his purpose while dismissing as “fake news” facts that he doesn’t like but that are demonstrably true. This is compounded by his attacks on the media as the “enemy of the people,” a statement condemned by retired Adm. William [McRaven] as perhaps “the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
And Republicans remain silent, making a mockery of their own oaths of office. Their cardinal sin — pretending that Trump is emotionally, intellectually and temperamentally fit to govern and could be used for their own partisan ends — is belied by Trump’s daily utterances, whether they are an attack on the institutional norms that block his acquisition of unlimited power or the reckless threat of nuclear confrontation with North Korea. Having made that fatal error, Republicans double down each day as they ignore the assaults on our democracy and the threats to our security. For that, their only path to redemption is to force his quick exit from office, something they surely will not do.