A referendum on democracy itself is on the ballot


Let’s be perfectly clear: if a Democratic president had done what Donald Trump is currently doing in foreign policy, that president would be the subject of an impeachment proceeding right now as we speak. Republicans would have drafted an article of impeachment for treason, without doubt. But as always, IOKIYAR.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times sums it up nicely. Trump Tries to Destroy the West:

President Trump is trying to destroy [the Western] alliance.

Is that how he thinks about it? Who knows. It’s impossible to get inside his head and divine his strategic goals, if he even has long-term goals. But put it this way: If a president of the United States were to sketch out a secret, detailed plan to break up the Atlantic alliance, that plan would bear a striking resemblance to Trump’s behavior.

It would involve outward hostility to the leaders of Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Specifically, it would involve picking fights over artificial issues — not to win big concessions for the United States, but to create conflict for the sake of it.

A secret plan to break up the West would also have the United States looking for new allies to replace the discarded ones. The most obvious would be Russia, the biggest rival within Europe to Germany, France and Britain. And just as Russia does, a United States intent on wrecking the Atlantic alliance would meddle in the domestic politics of other countries to install new governments that also rejected the old alliance.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Trump is doing every one of these things.

He chose not to attend the full G-7 meeting, in Quebec, this past weekend. While he was there, he picked fights. By now, you’ve probably seen the photograph released by the German government — of Trump sitting down, with eyebrows raised and crossed arms, while Germany’s Angela Merkel and other leaders stand around him, imploring. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, wears a look of defeat.

No wonder. The meeting’s central disagreements were over tariffs that Trump has imposed for false reasons. He claims that he’s merely responding to other countries. But the average current tariff of the United States, Britain, Germany and France is identical, according to the World Bank: 1.6 percent. Japan’s is 1.4 percent, and Canada’s is 0.8 percent. Yes, every country has a few objectionable tariffs, but they’re small — and the United States is not a victim here.

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The tariffs aren’t a case of his identifying a real problem but describing it poorly. He is threatening the Atlantic alliance over a lie.

If you need more evidence, look at his tweets after leaving the summit. Close readers of Trump’s Twitter feed (and I don’t envy that title) have learned that he often accuses others of committing his own sins. [Trump engages in psychological projection more than any other politician in American history.] On Saturday, he called Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, “very dishonest and weak.”

While Trudeau and other historical allies get disdain, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and various aspiring authoritarians are bathed in praise. Trump and his aides have promoted far-right politicians in Germany and elsewhere. In Quebec, he made excuses for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and argued that Russia should be readmitted to the G-7. Jay Nordlinger, the conservative writer, asked, “Why is he talking like an RT host?” — RT being Russia Today, a government-funded television network.

I don’t know the answer. But it’s past time to take seriously the only explanation for all of Trump’s behavior: He wants to destroy the Western alliance.

Maybe it’s ideological, and he prefers Putin-style authoritarianism to democracy. Or maybe he has no grand strategy and Putin really does have some compromising information. Or maybe Trump just likes being against what every other modern American president was for.

Whatever the reason, his behavior requires a response that’s as serious as the threat. As the political scientist Brendan Nyhan pointed out, this past weekend felt like a turning point: “The Western alliance and the global trading system are coming under the same intense strain that Trump has created for our domestic institutions.”

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For Trump’s fellow Republicans, it means putting country over party. A few Republicans, like John McCain [and Jeff Flake], offered appropriately alarmed words in the last two days.

“To our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t,” McCain said in a tweet on Saturday.

“Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party,” Flake said in a separate tweet on Sunday, reacting specifically to White House adviser Peter Navarro’s comments.

Now members of Congress need to do more than send anguished tweets. They should offer legislation that would restrain Trump and hold hearings meant to uncover his motives.

But will Donald Trump’s enablers and fellow travelers in the GOP leadership put country before party? Steve Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist and advisor to John McCain in 2008, in a series of blistering tweets doesn’t think so.

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The craven “cowards and servile supplicants” in the GOP leadership are cowering before The Personality Cult of Trump:

Forget policy. Forget ideology. Forget hating Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi. From Indiana to Arizona to Ohio, the name of the game for Republican candidates this primary cycle has been to flaunt their Trump love. And woe unto anyone deemed insufficiently smitten.

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Assuming that American democracy endures, a party organized around a single extreme personality seems like a brittle proposition. But Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican psyche is unusually powerful by historical standards, because it is about so much more than electoral dynamics. Through his demagogic command of the party’s base, he has emerged as the shameless, trash-talking, lib-owning fulcrum around which the entire enterprise revolves.

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Such timidity is hardly surprising. Mr. Trump’s favorability rating among Republicans is at 87 percent — the second-highest rating within a president’s party at an administration’s 500-day mark since World War II. (George W. Bush was slightly higher following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.) The absence of Republican criticism of Mr. Trump, in turn, serves to reinforce his popularity, creating a cycle cravenness that has now made it risky for even the staunchest of conservatives to question Mr. Trump.

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A week ago, John Boehner, the former House speaker, neatly captured the state of his party during a policy conference in Michigan. “There is no Republican Party,” he told the crowd. “There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Not napping, deceased. As I have argued many times, the GOP is a host body that has been hollowed out by its parasitic far-right fringe. Radical extremists hijacked the party brand name to give ready legitimacy and acceptance to their extremist agenda under the Republican Party brand name. Their extremist agenda is far removed from traditional Republican Party values and principles. “This is not your father’s GOP.”

David Leonhardt concludes:

For American voters, it means understanding the real stakes of this year’s midterm elections. They are not merely a referendum on a tax cut, a health care plan or a president’s unorthodox style. They are a referendum on American ideals that are older than any of us.

It is a referendum on democracy itself on the ballot.