A little over two months ago, I wrote a bit of speculative fiction, a post aimed at expanding our imagination with regards to how bad this national nightmare could get. It was a scary premise – the notion that the sitting President could simply decide to “lock up” his predecessor – but the two months since that post have made it even more likely, not less, that we will see some version of that banana republicanism before this is all said and done.
As frightening as all of this is though, I fear we’re too defeatist about what can be done to combat this madness. F.A.T. has an extraordinary amount of power, and many media accounts suggest that he is finally figuring out how to wield it. But the U.S. Constitution is custom-built to fight this type of madness, and to surrender to the Fallacy that, “aw hells bells, he’s the President, what can we really do?!?” is simply another failure of imagination, and one that lets an entire generation of cowardly Republican leaders off the hook for failing to act in the face of this raging fire.
APPARENTLY NECESSARY DISCLAIMER: the below is some hopeful, speculative fiction, fiction that, G&R willing, will become a reality before all is lost.
March 20, 2018
GOP Senators Join Democrats to Push Back on Alleged Trump Abuse of Power
Senators Announce Bipartisan Effort to Protect Mueller Investigation, Curb Politicization of Agencies, Strengthen Investigation of Alleged Corruption
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a rare, bipartisan rebuke of Pres. Donald Trump, four Republican Senators stood on the Capitol steps with four of their Democratic colleagues to announce a combined effort to reign in what the Senators’ joint statement referred to as “the most unsettling, undemocratic tendencies” of the Trump Administration.
The Senators outlined five broad categories of concerns, from the Mr. Trump’s perceived chumminess with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his interference with various investigations into Russian aggressions towards the U.S., to allegations of rampant misconduct among the President’s cabinet. The group of Sentators also detailed ways in which the group intended to utilize its bipartisan clout to strengthen oversight, apply political pressure, and pass legislation if necessary to push back on what the Senators perceive as executive overreach.
The announcement from the four Republicans – Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) – represented a dramatic shift, as few in the GOP have been willing to offer more than muted criticism of Pres. Trump to date.
“The President is acting a little like he doesn’t have to play by any rules at all,” said Enzi, citing the Administration’s recent retaliatory actions against federal employees, and reported efforts to politicize a range of federal agencies. “I think a big part of that is that Congress has backed off on its oversight role, and that’s what this [the bipartisan announcement] is about, just stepping up and doing our job.”
While the press conference was ongoing, Pres. Trump fired off a rebuttal via his Twitter account saying, “Stupid fake Republicans (not!) join with crooked Dems to attack there leader! Mueller witch hunt is so stupid! No COLLUSION! THey Republicans have no clue how to MAGA, just standing in are way! Vote them all out in the primary!”
It was unclear what primary the President was referring to – none of the four Republicans are up for re-election in 2018 – but Murkowski responded directly to the President’s tweet at the press conference.
“We’ve all seen the chaos going on at the White House, we’ve all seen President Trump, again and again, acting like certain bedrocks of our democracy just don’t apply to him,” said Murkowski. “If I’m voted out because I stood up to that, I can live with that result. But I don’t think the people of Alaska are going to have any problems with me doing what I think is right for the future of America.”
The Democrats on hand were more vocal in their criticism of the President, but vowed to work with their Republican counterparts to ensure a methodical, fair oversight process.
“We’re dealing with a President who flaunts basic democratic norms, who has shown an unwillingness to defend us against foreign attacks, who seems eager to fundamentally undermine America’s standing as a beacon of democracy in the world,” said Chris Coons (D-Del.). “We’re standing here with our Republican friends to say with one voice that we don’t see any of this as partisan. It’s about protecting America and our democracy, and from [the Democrats’] perspective, we’ve committed that we will not make this about scoring political points.”
The bipartisan group of Senators detailed five categories of conduct by the Trump Administration which it will focus on: (1) concerns regarding the President’s relationship with Russia, and protecting the integrity of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller; (2) broader national security issues, and specifically concerns that the President is eschewing career experts on matters such as North Korea and Iran; (3) strengthening oversight of the Administration, including increasing oversight of other allegations of corruption and misconduct within the Administration, and launching an investigation into allegations of intense politicization of various federal departments; (4) preserving political and democratic norms, which notably included a commitment to returning to historic rules of order in the Senate; and (5) protecting the integrity of American elections.
The Senators on hand stressed that one of their chief prerogatives initially would be to protect the Mueller investigation, which the President has attacked repeatedly in recent weeks.
“There is a whole lot of fire there, everything that we’ve seen come out makes this look like a bigger deal than any of us realized,” said Shelby, breaking dramatically from the Republican line on the Mueller investigation to date. “I believe the President is innocent, but I question what those around him were up to. And if he is innocent, he needs to let this thing run its course.”
Recent revelations in the Mueller investigation include reports regarding alleged widespread violations of privacy by the Trump campaign’s digital team, Cambridge Analytica, reports of more false statements by those closest to Trump regarding relations with Russia during and after the campaign, and reports that Mr. Mueller has subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization regarding its business dealings, including past dealings between Trump and Russia. The President has, in the past week alone, fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson within a day after Tillerson voiced strong criticisms of Russia, announced his intent to fire NSA H.R. McMaster shortly following McMaster’s criticisms of Russia, and continued to delay and defang sanctions against Russia. Late last week, Pres. Trump apparently ordered the firing of former FBI acting director Andy McCabe, an act that Trump appeared to admit, via his Twitter account, was an effort to undermine Mr. McCabe’s viability as a witness in the Mueller probe.
The Senators on hand all stressed that they were deeply troubled by recent events, and particularly the unprecedented action against Mr. McCabe, and that protecting the Mueller investigation was essential. They emphasized, however, that regardless of the result of the Mueller probe, they intended to continue principled oversight of the Trump Administration on a variety of fronts.
“This President is obviously pretty unorthodox, and he’s proud of that, and maybe that is a good thing in some areas,” said Murkowski. “But if we’re not holding him to the same standards as previous presidents in the areas that matter most to Americans, we’re not doing our job.”
The Republican Senators on hand declined to say what, if any, action by Trump would warrant removal from office. They did not foreclose, however, the notion that such action might be appropriate depending on facts that emerge or future actions of the President.
“It’s a responsibility that we have as United States Senators, and a somber one, no matter who is president,” said Enzi, referring to the prospect of exploring impeachment. “I like President Trump personally, I think he’s done some good things, and I don’t think it would ever come to that. But I don’t think you deal with absolutes ever in our line of work.”
The Democratic Senators on hand framed the issue of potential impeachment differently, with Coons noting that the first priority was to “get our arms around” the myriad alleged scandals and crises that have plagued the Trump Administration, and then to assess whether “more aggressive action was warranted.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) added that “nothing was off the table,” and that a time may come where “swift action to protect the United States was necessary.”
Notably, while each of the four Republicans on hand stressed that they still supported Pres. Trump politically, they did not push back on the more pointed language of their Democratic counterparts . . .
… BACK TO OUR DEPRESSING REALITY …
Our nation is rapidly reaching a breaking point, and the fact that the above remains fiction – that we can’t even rely on a bare minimum of courage from even a bare minimum of our Republican “leaders” – shatters me.
I want to note that none of the Republicans included in the above piece of fiction (with the possible exception of Sen. Murkowski) are on the list of individuals who conventional wisdom suggests would be most likely to substantively buck President Trump. This is intentional for two reasons: first, the Republicans who say mildly critical things about F.A.T. – Ben Sasse with his adorable, feckless Tweets, Marco Rubio with his cryptic Bible verses, Cory Gardner with his highly selective, meek outrage, Lindsay Graham with his … who the fuck knows with Lindsay Graham? – haven’t actually done jack shit. Even the guys like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who are supposedly cutting and running from the Senate so that they can stand up and do the right thing in their final days, have so far been paper tigers. So to give them any kind of credit, to presume that they’ll be the ones to step up and show some backbone, seems unseemly in these times.
More importantly though, I chose the above Republicans more or less at random because you never know who will ultimately step up and show courage in times like these. Our imaginations are limited in that way too: every time the President does something beyond the pale, we look to the same usual suspects for Republican pushback, and get the same meek, ineffectual response. But it shouldn’t strain our imaginations to envision any true public servant – even those from the reddest of red states – standing up to a President who behaves in this way. Hell, it would shock me if someone like Mike Enzi – a guy who’s been in Congress since the late 1990’s – isn’t having private attacks of conscience every time F.A.T. shits all over America. You never know from where courage might come, and all it takes is a few Republicans, a few patriots, to start beating back the worst instincts of this President.
At times like this, it is essential to express things plainly: the President is acting wholly like a dictator, this conduct is escalating, and the cowardice of Republicans in Congress, the appeasement of his worst instincts, is feeding and emboldening him. The dueling explanations for F.A.T.’s latest salvo of authoritarianism are either that the walls are closing in, or that he’s simply getting comfortable with the immense amount of power he wields as President. It’s likely a combination of both, which should terrify all of us.
The notion that this madness ends with anything short of historic confrontation looks increasingly silly and naive. This President will not stop, he will need to be stopped. Instead of throwing up our hands, becoming victims a self-fulfilling Fallacy that there’s nothing we can do, we need to allow our imaginations to cut through the shitstorm and recognize that the U.S. Constitution gives us all the tools we need to stop this in its tracks. We need to start imagining true courage, and start demanding that our leaders show it.