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The crisis


We talk a lot about Murc’s Law on this blog — the media-driven idea that only Democrats have agency, while Republican behavior is treated as some sort of law of thermodynamics, as opposed to a matter of choice. We’re also fond of the Green Lantern metaphor, which makes fun of the concept that politicians have some magical power to do things that they in fact don’t have the power to do. Also, too, we speak of the Bully Pulpit: the delusion that life is like a Hollywood movie, in which the president can give a speech that’s so rhetorically powerful that people like Mitch McConnell are shamed by the wave of public sentiment it elicits to do the right thing after all. Etc.


This evening I turned on MSNBC and watched Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland express deep concern about whether his Republican colleagues were going to keep an open mind as jurors in the Senate trial of the President. At one point he went as far as to say that Mitch McConnell had “raise[d] serious questions whether he will be objective in carrying out the responsibilities of the Senate or whether he’s going to try to stack the deck in favor of the president.”

My point here is not to pick on Ben Cardin. This is one example of rhetoric you can hear from many Democrats and most Senate Democrats. It’s just the example that is ready at hand. But it is terrible and completely pathetic.

It is grievously irresponsible to be expressing “concerns” that Republicans may not do their job and uphold their responsibility as Senators. Republicans have made crystal clear that they understand the nature of the President’s abuses of power and that they will not only protect him from the consequences of his actions but, in an effort to do so, bend reality to pretend that it is in fact fine and even admirable for a President to use extortion to force a foreign power to intervene in a US election. To see Republicans do this in the open and not state that fact clearly is a total abdication of responsibility. . .

Republicans have made their intentions crystal clear. It is an abdication of responsibility not to state this clearly. Republicans have already decided to protect a lawless President from constitutional accountability. They’ve betrayed the constitution and their oaths. This is a point to make consistently over and over and over again. Because it is true. If some Republican Senator decides to change his mind and the right thing they are welcome to do so.

Perhaps Cardin and others are too squeamish for that language or too wedded to Senate collegiality. I’m sure many Republican colleagues are amiable enough people when you meet them at the congressional gym. But language does not need to be hot to state clearly where the facts of the matter stand. There’s nothing to be “concerned” about. Senate Republicans have made very clear there is no level of lawless behavior from this President that they will not defend. The public needs to know that. It needs to be said over and over. To say anything else, to express hopes this or that doesn’t happen when it already has happened only signals a damaging, demoralizing and shameful weakness.

This seems to me exactly right. Cardin’s comments — which as Marshall notes are more or less typical of the rhetorical position of most powerful Democrats, especially in the Senate — are simply a flat-out denial of the actual situation.

The leaders of the Republican party in the Senate have said that the impeachment of Donald Trump is a sham, and therefore they will not respect the process mandated by the Constitution. And they are saying this not because they claim there is no merit to the charges that the House is voting out against Donald Trump, but because they have decided to give Trump impunity to act outside the law without consequence. This is not hypothesis or hyperbole: this is what they are saying, clearly, openly, without ambiguity.

This is also the essence of authoritarianism. It’s not the threat of authoritarianism: it’s the thing itself, now, here, not in Germany in 1933, or Italy in 1922, or whatever other parallel is too hysterical and alarmist to cite, given that it goes without saying that America is so very exceptional that it can’t happen here, because of the Wisdom of the Framers, or because we’re God’s very special extra-favorite country, or because we just can’t bear it so please stop talking that way.

It can happen here. It’s happening now.

Would it be a good idea for the leaders of the Democratic party to at this point simply announce they are not going to participate in this charade any further? Would it be possible to organize some sort of day of mass national protest against the authoritarian overthrow of our legal system? (Because again, that’s what’s actually happening right now).

I don’t know. I do know that talking as if what’s happening isn’t what’s happening is making things worse.

And so is saying nothing at all (Hi Barack. What’s up these days? Para-gliding with Richard Branson in Fiji again? Sounds nice!).

I’m increasingly getting the sense that waiting for next November is like waiting for Godot. Because the enemies of liberal democracy aren’t waiting. They’re here now.

And since I’m in full Cassandra mode: a quick little trip down memory lane.

Four years ago. It might as well be four centuries.

. . . Both Sides part infinity.

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