And those who know better — the right-wing pundits who write the cockeyed rationalizations and twisted pseudo-history in defense of white nationalism and bizarre conspiracy-laden columns, and the lawmakers who propound one specious argument after another in defense of a president who betrayed his country — bear huge moral responsibility for the destruction of rational, fact-based politics.
Let’s imagine a world in which conservative elites and politicians behaved responsibly. Instead of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a bright and supposed pro-defense congresswoman, seeking to unmask the whistleblower and declaring there is no harm in extorting Ukraine to do Trump’s political dirty work if it eventually got the aid (because the plot was uncovered!), imagine if she said something like this:
“It is entirely unacceptable to use the power of the presidency to extract political and partisan benefits, most especially if the leverage used is withholding of national security aid that protects an ally against Russian aggression. It is a betrayal of our country. I will examine the witnesses to determine their credibility and accuracy and probe whether the orders for such action came from President Trump. I will not participate in efforts to bully or intimidate the tipster who rang the alarm to warn us of a possible betrayal of U.S. national security interests and the presidential oath of office.”
She might not stop Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) from ranting and raving, but she could drain him of plausibility and support for his antics, and encourage other Republicans to act honorably. The hunger to retain power and the promise of a career in some post-Trump universe if she doesn’t rock the boat now apparently override common sense and decency. Rather than encourage good behavior, she gives cover to the worst elements in her party and degrades her office, her party and the nation’s politics.
Consider if, for example, all the right-wing columnists and Fox News personalities ceased spinning tortured rationalizations about why solicitation of bribery is fine if the bribe is not obtained; repudiated attempts to defame and threaten the whistleblower; called out attempts to smear Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others as “deep state” hatchet men; and refused to repeat the falsehood that Ukraine was unaware its aid was being held up. Imagine if they challenged Nunes and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on crackpot conspiracy theories about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election (contrary to the unanimous view of U.S. intelligence officials and Republican-appointed Cabinet officials). It would disable, if not stop, the antics and force Nunes, Jordan and others to grapple with the facts and the seriousness of Trump’s offenses.
Without the Stefaniks, the House leadership, the Senate Republican sheep and the deeply dishonest conservative media, neither Trump nor his congressional allies could avoid accountability. They would be deprived of their safe space. Wehner writes, “The Republican Party will not be a great or good party until those who lead it and those who constitute it straighten their backbone, live in greater dignity, and live within the truth.” I would go further: A Republican Party and support system that operate without backbone, dignity and truth deserve our consistent, emphatic condemnation.