The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The core mission of the GOP is now to defend abusers

Columnist Ruth Marcus says White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is as much of a disgrace as the former staff secretary whose spousal abuse Kelly covered up. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Amanda Carpenter, former speechwriter for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), had this to say on the subject of the Trump White House’s protection of Rob Porter:

“They protect abusers . . . If you are willing to defend someone who hurt someone in this fashion you have no boundaries, you have no respect for the law.” She was speaking of the White House, which she rightly says has the primary mission to defend someone who bragged about assaulting women (and possibly obstructed justice and received aid from Russia in winning an election), but the same is true at this point of members of the entire GOP. They are, as we have noted, abusers in every sense of the word and in every aspect of the presidency and leadership of Congress.

They abuse the privilege of serving by hiring utterly unqualified and morally reprehensible characters. They abuse the privilege of the bully pulpit by spinning conspiracy theories (as Sen. Ron Johnson has done on two separate occasions).

They abuse their access to classified material by using it to smear the FBI and hobble an investigation into both an attack on our electoral system and a pattern of conduct that amounts to obstruction of justice, in the eyes of many ordinary Americans and legal scholars.

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The GOP-led Senate abuses its power to advise and consent (after shredding the remainder of the filibuster) by rubber-stamping utterly unqualified judges, a Health and Human Services secretary with a record of questionable stock transactions, an attorney general who misled the Judiciary Committee as to his contacts with Russians, an Environmental Protection Agency director who doesn’t believe climate change is a problem and a commerce secretary with a bushel of conflicts.

President Trump abuses the office by keeping his business holdings, enriching himself, refusing to disgorge foreign emoluments, hiring his children who themselves have conflicts and refusing to disclose his own tax returns. The GOP-led House and Senate abuse their offices by permitting this.

The GOP-led House and Senate abuse the legislative process by rushing to vote on bills that their members do not understand — while denigrating the neutral umpires who score the bills (the Congressional Budget Office).  They abuse language by saying a tax cut heavily weighted toward the rich and corporations is a “middle-class tax cut.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan appears ready to abuse his position as leader of the entire House, a coequal branch of government, by refusing to put on the floor a bill with overwhelming support.

The joint report from Protect Democracy and Stand Up Ideas, entitled “The Republic at Risk,” sets forth six categories of abuses perpetrated by Trump (whom the GOP has aided and abetted):

Politicizing independent institutions (“He has tried to undermine the independence of the Department of Justice and the FBI and may have obstructed justice in an attempt to stop an inquiry into whether he and his aides colluded with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. He has also weakened the federal bureaucracy — threatening perceived enemies, pushing to gut agency budgets, leaving an astonishing number of government positions empty, and seeking to further undermine trust in public servants by accusing them of disloyalty or bias.”)
Spreading disinformation (“He has attempted to discredit the press, harassed reporters, threatened to change libel laws and subpoena journalists, and dismissed any source of information — however nonpartisan — that he perceives as unfavorable to him personally. He has also spread lies indiscriminately and disputed objectively provable facts.”)
Amassing executive power (“Mr. Trump has done his best to enfeeble this system, undermining checks and balances by viciously attacking the judiciary, treating Congress as a subordinate branch of government by withholding information and demanding it act according to his will, and punishing states that have opposed his policies.”)
Quashing dissent (“Mr. Trump has demonstrated virtually no tolerance for those who disagree with him. He has threatened political opponents with imprisonment, fired or threatened to fire government officials who criticize him or his policies, pressured private employers to restrict the speech of their employees, and cultivated an atmosphere of fear that prevents many from speaking out against him.”)
Delegitimizing communities (from equating immigrants to murderers to trying to normalize neo-Nazis to smearing victims of sexual harassment and abuse)
Corrupting elections (“Since taking office, he has continued to undermine the legitimacy of elections, exaggerating the prevalence of voter fraud, refusing to condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election, and neglecting adequate measures to prevent its recurrence.”)

However, the point, as Carpenter eloquently made clear, is that the GOP at every turn has enabled and encouraged Trump — by refusing to exercise oversight, joining in the disinformation campaign, declining to censure him and/or attacking the media. Just as White House chief of staff John Kelly says Porter is a man of great integrity, Republicans praise Trump as a successful president, an admirable leader of their party.

Those who say “But nothing horrible has happened!” or who claim Trump has been contained should read in its entirety an extraordinary essay by Jacob Levy, which ends with this admonition:

“Ignore the tweets, ignore the language, ignore the words” is advice that affects a kind of sophistication: don’t get distracted by the circus, keep your eye on what’s going on behind the curtain. This is faux pragmatism, ignoring what is being communicated to other countries, to actors within the state, and to tens of millions of fellow citizens. It ignores how all those actors will respond to the speech, and how norms, institutions, and the environment for policy and coercion will be changed by those responses. Policy is a lagging indicator; ideas and the speech that expresses them pave the way. Trump has spent a year on the campaign trail and a year in office telling us where he intends to take us. Some people want to follow; some think the destination is, well, a pretty disgusting hole. But if you don’t want to follow, stopping up your ears with a hearty “la la la I can’t hear you I got a tax cut” is profoundly unrealistic.

In other words, people who abuse others, who know no boundaries, cannot be trusted with power.