Since his Senate trial, President Trump has been on a rampage: firing and humiliating witnesses who testified under oath; attempting to micromanage the sentencing of convicted crony Roger Stone (while smearing the jury forewoman and trying to bully the judge); elevating the unqualified and partisan U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, to the post of acting director of national intelligence; and attempting a purge (after installing another unqualified crony, Johnny McEntee, to head the White House Presidential Personnel Office) of Republican appointees deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump.

Most shocking, the president fired the acting DNI apparently in retaliation for briefing Congress about Russia’s apparent interest — yet again — in helping Trump win the election. The Post reports:

A senior U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers last week that Russia wants to see President Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests, according to people who were briefed on the comments.
After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. The intelligence official’s analysis and Trump’s furious response ­ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

There are several key points to keep in mind as we watch an unbowed Trump complete the transition to authoritarian cult leader.

First, the people responsible for this state of affairs, the total breakdown of democratic governance, are Senate Republicans (and Trump apologists still in office and in the media). The foolish hope that Trump had learned his lesson from impeachment — as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wanted us to believe — or that the voters (in a compromised election) could handle all of this — as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) argued — has predictably given us an utterly unrestrained, vengeful president who is shredding the capacity for self-governance. To vote Trump out but leave the Senate in Republican hands would be a travesty; to leave Trump and keep the Senate in Republican hands would be unimaginable. Trump and Republicans are willing to turn the country into a banana republic run by partisan hacks.

Second, since loyalty to Trump is the sole condition for holding positions of authority (and one of the conditions of being a loyalist is to be no better informed or decent than Trump), the result is not only an administration of doormats but also an administration of incompetent doormats. We fret that Grenell might goose or suppress intelligence to help Trump, but he is also utterly unprepared and lacks credibility to deal with other threats to the United States from terrorists or hostile nations. Does anyone trust him to discern and accurately relay information about, for example, a massive cyberattack? A crackdown in Hong Kong?

In this vein, no one should feel confident that the administration is remotely capable of addressing what could become a pandemic. The Post reports that 14 Americans infected with the coronavirus were flown home over the objections of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The U.S. State Department had promised that no one with the infection would be allowed to board the planes. ... In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers. ...
The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.

Does anyone have confidence that decisions such as these are being made by the best-qualified experts? That notion is sadly laughable in an era in which Trump lackeys, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who has misled the country about the threat posed by Iranian Quds Force Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the negotiations with North Korea), hold critical posts.

The problem is not “merely” corruption but also the quality of people willing to operate in an administration rife with corruption. The idea of merit disappears, as does the goal of competence, when the singular mission is veneration of the president. The risk of a true calamity goes up dramatically. (For someone obsessed with the stock market, Trump might note that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is plummeting on coronavirus news. If only we were confident that the administration has a handle on an international threat of this magnitude.)

Third, Democratic presidential contenders advocating for a policy revolution or big, structural change are increasingly out of touch. We have no capacity, even if it were desirable, to launch major initiatives or fundamentally change entire sectors of our economy with a government that is discredited, hollowed out, incompetent and corrupt. The next president, as unsexy as it sounds, must be a competent and ethically pristine figure in order to repair our government. Candidates who have no conception of the task ahead and no interest in the hard work of running government are unsuited to the challenge we now face. Candidates whose purpose is confrontation and revolution lack the good sense and skill set to restore functional democracy.

Corruption, cruelty and incompetence define authoritarian states precisely because everything revolves around elevation of the leader and destruction of critics. Democrats must recognize and be able to explain that. The task is not revolution, but fumigation and toxic cleanup.

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