“Look how they’ve hurt people,” Trump told his supporters Tuesday night in Hershey, Pa.. “They’ve destroyed the lives of people that were great people, that are still great people. Their lives have been destroyed by scum. Okay, by scum.”
Please pause here. “Scum” was the word used twice by the president of the United States about those who dedicate their lives to battling wrongdoing and lawlessness. And because he is Trump, the response involved mostly shrugs and head shaking.
When this presidency began, it was commonplace to write off fears that our political and journalistic systems would eventually “normalize” the president’s abuses. The worry was that however strong our system might have been in the past, we would come to accept behavior that had never been acceptable before.
This is exactly what has happened. When the House unveiled impeachment articles on Tuesday, a large share of the reporting and commentary was about the political risks facing Democrats for insisting on something that would once have been uncontroversial: It is a chilling threat to freedom and to democracy for the commander in chief to use his power to press a foreign government to investigate a political opponent.
Not long ago, the hopeful — and also the complacent — were certain that such a thing could never happen here. But it has happened here.
And the Republican Party — including many of its leaders from whom we once expected better — has reacted not with horror but by closing ranks around their petulant, abusive leader, accepting from him behavior they would have rightly denounced from any other president.
For years now, Team Trump claimed that an honest examination would prove “deep state” conspiracy theories. In probing possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign, the FBI was “spying” as part of a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, undertook just such an inquiry. As he explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, his office found that the FBI’s investigation “was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.” It “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” lay behind the FBI’s actions.
This, of course, did not matter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). He announced his conclusion before the hearing began to “CBS This Morning.”
“When he says that there’s no evidence of political bias or political motive — everybody involved in this investigation hated Donald Trump,” Graham said. “They wanted to bring down this president. I really believe that.” Graham’s beliefs mattered more than a 434-page report, the product of almost two years of work.
Worse were Barr’s attacks on his own department’s inspector general and his furthering of Trump’s conspiracy theories — Barr called the FBI’s effort to unmask Russian influence a “travesty” — along with a highly unusual public statement from Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham.
Handpicked by Barr to undertake yet another investigation of the Trump investigation, Durham said his office had advised Horowitz that “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” Horowitz said Wednesday he was “surprised” by Durham’s statement in light of his own interactions with him.
As for Trump, he attacked his own appointee, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who said he accepted Horowitz’s conclusions, including criticisms of his own agency. Trump wasn’t happy, tweeting about Wray: “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI.” This was either a threat to fire Wray or an attempt to pressure the director to think twice about any future steps that might hurt Trump’s image. One way or the other, it was a corrupt effort to, well, put the “fix” in.
Slowly, gradually, but inexorably, our country is accepting the unacceptable. We thought we had a consensus about basic norms that protect freedom and self-government. That consensus has been swept away by Republican partisans who value political power over the constitutional liberties they have always claimed to revere above everything else.