Republicans lavished praise on President Donald Trump at a White House event on Wednesday to celebrate the passage of their “tax cuts for corporations and plutocrats” bill through both the House and Senate. They later posed for their mug shot of who is responsble for this crime for future historical reference.
“Well, let me just say Mr. President, you made the case for the tax bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.”
Um, this tax bill is the only legislative “achievement” of the GOP this year. The Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle included his own unconstitutional blockade of President Obama’s nomination for the Supreme Court last year so that the GOP could install conservative justice Neil Gorsuch this year, and the ongoing GOP court packing scheme with judges who are rated unqualified to serve on the bench. The withdrawal of Trump nominees Jeff Mateer, Brett Talley and Matthew Peterson this past week, considered too unqualified even by the GOP’s low standards, is just the latest assault on the judicial branch. Trump judicial nominee who struggled to answer basic questions pulls out. McConnell threw in repealing government regulations for good measure, a favorite GOP talisman, but most of those regulations are in the admininstrative review process and public comment phase, not repealed merely with Trump’s signature.
Next up was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who praised Trump’s “exquisite presidential leadership.”
“Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership,” said Ryan, who has fought to overhaul the tax code for much of his near-two decades in Congress. “Mr. President, thank you for getting us over the finish line, thank you for getting us where we are.”
The GOP’s alleged boy genius took out The Big Book of Adjectives and “exquisite” is what he came up with? Has he been living in a cave this past year? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Later in the event, one of Trump’s top congressional allies, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, took his turn to speak. And he one-upped all of his predecessors in his effusive praise of Trump.
“This president hasn’t even been in office for even a year and look at all the things that he’s been able to get done by sheer will in many ways,” he said. “I just hope that we all get behind him every way we can and we’ll get this country turned around in ways that will benefit the whole world, but above all benefit our people.”
He said Trump, “who I love and appreciate so much,” is on track for one of the greatest presidencies in history.
“We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen,” he said, adding. “Maybe ever.”
Who knew that Orrin Hatch could be an even bigger ass-kisser than Mike Pence? In Cabinet meeting, Pence praises Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight.
What this demonstrates is that the Party of Lincoln, the Republican Party is no more. It has surrendered its soul to the personality cult of Donald Trump, a man-child authoritarian who is undermining our democratic norms, institutions and the Republic.
Eliot Cohen, a top official in President George W. Bush’s administration, and his fellow conservative Max Boot, both men lifelong Republicans and historically minded policy intellectuals, have castigated former friends inside the party they’ve both now renounced as “Vichy Republicans” for collaborating with a president they believe is not fit to hold office. ‘He Would Probably Be a Dictator by Now’.
“Look,” Boot responded, “the good news story of the first year of the Trump presidency is that there are checks and balances…. Trump as a personality type is probably no different from a Mussolini, a Peron, a Chavez. And if you were operating in Argentina or Italy, he would probably be a dictator by now. But luckily, he’s not operating in those countries.”
So why are formerly sober Republicans surrendering to the personality cult of Donald Trump, a man-child authoritarian with dictatorial tendencies? Michelle Goldberg explains at the New York Times, Fifty Shades of Orange:
At a televised cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Donald Trump, as is his custom, called on his appointees to publicly praise him. In a performance that would have embarrassed the most obsequious lackey of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Vice President Mike Pence delivered an encomium to his boss, who sat across the table with arms folded over his chest, absorbing abasement as his due.
“I want to thank you, Mr. President,” Pence said. “I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America. Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.” The president thanked him for his kind words, and Pence replied, “Thank you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”
It was a neat summation of where the Republican Party is at the end of the first year of Trump. There’s been a synthesis, in which Trump and establishment Republicans adopt one another’s worst qualities. Trump, who campaigned as a putative economic populist — even calling for higher taxes on the rich — will soon sign into law the tax plan of the House speaker Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams. The majority of elected Republicans, in turn, are assuming a posture of slavish submission to Trump, worshiping their dear leader and collaborating in the maintenance of his alternative reality.
Some of this might be strategic; everyone knows Trump is susceptible to flattery. But in many cases — certainly with Pence — it seems sincere. In a recent Atlantic profile of the vice president, McKay Coppins wrote that Pence’s faith mandates obedience to temporal as well as heavenly authority. When he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, Coppins wrote, “he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump.” From a secular perspective, Pence, like many other Republicans, appears to be a person inclined to authoritarianism.
Erich Fromm, a German-Jewish psychoanalyst who fled Nazism, described authoritarian personalities as simultaneously craving power and submission. “The authoritarian character loves those conditions that limit human freedom; he loves being submitted to fate,” he wrote. Fate, in his formulation, can be the laws of the market, the will of God, or the whims of a leader. According to Fromm, authoritarians might make a show of valuing freedom and independence — watchwords of the American right — but long to be ruled by a stronger force.
Viewed this way, it’s not surprising that religious conservatives have been among Trump’s most ardent fans. Certainly, it’s understandable that people on the right would try to get what they can out of this president. But the relationship between Trump and many Republicans increasingly looks less like a marriage of convenience than a sadomasochistic affair.
Even as Trump’s poll numbers fall, most Republicans in Congress only cling to him more tightly. At a White House celebration on Wednesday, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, spoke of his “love” for the president, who he described as “one heck of a leader.” He added, “We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.” Either Hatch really believes this, or he believes in the utility of unabashed sycophancy. Neither possibility suggests he will be an ally in preserving democracy.
The mounting authoritarianism of the Republican Party under Trump is particularly blatant when it comes to the Russia investigation. It’s not just that Republicans are covering for the president, or are acting as if electoral collusion with Russia, a country most Republicans used to regard as an enemy, was no big deal. Several members of Congress, as well as platoons of pundits, are also participating in the ludicrous fiction that there was a pro-Hillary Clinton conspiracy afoot in the F.B.I., an entity led by a succession of Republicans and described by one agent during the election as “Trumpland.”
It is true, of course, that Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agent, was removed from Robert Mueller’s investigation this summer because he’d texted a colleague, with whom he was having an affair, about his horror of a Trump presidency. For the sake of appearances, it’s a good thing that Strzok was reassigned. But what’s gotten lost amid Republican shrieking is that this incident reflects at least as poorly on Trump as on the agent. Strzok, after all, was privy to the investigation of Trump’s Russia connections before almost anyone else, and as Del Quentin Wilber of The Wall Street Journal wrote on Twitter, he was “flabbergasted” by what he saw. His texts directly contradict Trump’s claim that the Russia investigation is “fake news” cooked up by bitter Democrats to explain their loss.
If Republicans were as loyal to the country as they are to the president, they’d want to know exactly what had Strzok so alarmed. Instead, according to Politico, Devin Nunes, Republican of California and leader of the House Intelligence Committee, is running a secret inquiry into anti-Trump bias at the F.B.I. and Department of Justice. The goal, Politico reports, “is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement.”
It is, as they say, not normal for erstwhile law-and-order Republicans to attack the F.B.I. for being overzealous in its pursuit of Russian subversion. Nunes’s inquiry appears similar to Trump’s voter fraud commission, invented to substantiate right-wing fantasies about Democratic vote rigging. The point, in both cases, is to flesh out a lie rather than find the truth. Hannah Arendt once wrote of this sort of policy-as-disinformation: “Totalitarianism will not be satisfied to assert, in the face of contrary facts, that unemployment does not exist; it will abolish unemployment benefits as part of its propaganda.”
For the past year, a lot of us have assumed that Republicans are putting up with Trump out of fear of their base or lust for tax cuts. We’ve imagined that beneath our mutual partisan loathing lies some remaining shared commitment to liberal democracy. Maybe that’s true, and Republicans will display new independence once tax reform is signed, particularly if support for the president keeps dwindling.
But there’s another possibility, which is that a critical mass of Republicans like being in thrall to a man who seems strong enough to will his own reality, and bold enough to voice their atavistic hatreds. Maybe Trump is changing Republicans, or maybe he’s just giving men like Pence permission to be who they already were.
We are living in dangerous times. We must defend our democratic Republic against the “creeping fascism” of Trumpism, a kleptocracy of authoritian oligarchy based on the Russian model that Trump so deeply admires.