If you haven’t had your daily dose of petulant surreality, swivel over to read this astounding editorial at what used to be America’s paper of record. This curious effusion warns that “The G.O.P. will not be able to postpone a reckoning on Donald Trump’s presidency for much longer.”
Oh, dear. Are things as bad as that? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. And you know that it is really serious because the cri de coeur not only appears in the leaky flagship of the legacy media (I won’t name it if you don’t mind) but also it appears under the solemn byline of “The Editorial Board.”
Silence, please! The important people are about to speak. Pay attention!
The sobbing editorial is called “The Crisis of the Republican Party,” but it might have been better titled “Whistling Past the Graveyard.”
I always wonder exactly who is the intended audience for such high-and-mighty imprecations. They appear to be addressed to “the GOP,” to “conservatives” (those who still have a “conscience,” i.e., those who have mutated into progressives), to “Republicans.” Here is your last chance, such columns seem to shout, we’re warning you. You are tearing the republic apart (you know they’re upset when they start talking about “the Republic”: I think they’re trying to remind you of Rome circa 44 B.C.).
“The problem with politicians who abuse power isn’t that they don’t get results. It’s that the results come at a high cost to the Republic [right you are, Cicero!]—and to the reputations of those who lack the courage or wisdom to resist.” O tempora, o mores. “The courage or wisdom to resist”—and who, exactly, would be the exemplars of those virtues?
But, really, such columns cannot seriously be intended for conservatives. Any real conservative would simply snort contemptuously should he encounter such out-of-touch hysteria. No, I suspect that such pieces are really meant to buck up the progressive troops, much as a besieged general on the brink of losing the war puts on a brave face and urges his men to fight on. “Rally round, boys. Forget that the Bad Orange Man is surfing on the best economy in decades, that unemployment is at historic lows, especially for the people we’ve been exploiting for—er, especially for our loyal minority constituency, that real wages are rising, that our military is stronger even as the country is extricating itself from costly foreign entanglements: forget all that, put it out of your mind. Remember that Donald Trump tweets mean things about people whom we like.”
No column titled “The Crisis of the Republican Party” can hope to achieve liftoff without the aid of the historic bad man Joseph McCarthy, senator from Wisconsin, scourge of Commies real and imagined, poster child for leftist vituperation. And sure enough, the authors of this desperate address wheel him out right at the beginning. Back in the McCarthy era, you see, Republicans had a “conscience.” Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine stood up to the baddie McCarthy and appealed to the “better angels of her party” (yes, they really make this allusion to Lincoln). Not that Senator Smith thought her protest would garner immediate results: “sometimes the point is just to get people to look up”—you know, up there to the morally elevated eyrie where members of this editorial board nest and cluck and brood.
But mention of Joe McCarthy is just a rhetorical throat-clearer. The gravamen of the admonition centers around the man they love to loathe, Donald Trump. In order to communicate the full, skin-crawling mendacity of this column, it is necessary to quote at some length. Exordium:
The Republican Party is again confronting a crisis of conscience, one that has been gathering force ever since Donald Trump captured the party’s nomination in 2016. Afraid of his political influence, and delighted with his largely conservative agenda, party leaders have compromised again and again, swallowing their criticisms and tacitly if not openly endorsing presidential behavior they would have excoriated in a Democrat. Compromise by compromise, Donald Trump has hammered away at what Republicans once saw as foundational virtues: decency, honesty, responsibility. He has asked them to substitute loyalty to him for their patriotism itself.
Decency, forsooth! Honesty! Responsibility! How “decent” was it of this wretched newspaper to forgo even the appearance of impartiality in its reporting on Donald Trump, how “honest,” how “responsible”?
Such handwringing oration is merely the runway for a long bill of particulars. I love it when the Editorial Board ticks off its indictments, because they never do it without flying far, far above the plain truth. The idea, I suspect, is to substitute assertion for fact in a rushed and very loud voice, hoping that velocity and volume will distract from the tendentiousness of your assertions. Hark:
Mr. Trump privately pressed Ukraine to serve his political interests by investigating a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as by looking into a long-debunked conspiracy theory about Democratic National Committee emails that were stolen by the Russians. Mr. Trump publicly made a similar request of China. His chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said publicly on Thursday that the administration threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine if it did not help “find” the D.N.C. servers.
These attempts to enlist foreign interference in American electoral democracy are an assault not only on our system of government but also on the integrity of the Republican Party. Republicans need to emulate the moral clarity of Margaret Chase Smith and recognize that they have a particular responsibility to condemn the president’s behavior and to reject his tactics.
These paragraphs are worthy of a Mary McCarthy Prize. McCarthy once said that everything Stalinist screenwriter Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, including “and” and “the.” So it is here.
The president did not “privately” press Ukraine about anything. He acted in his capacity as president of the United States to ask the Ukrainian president to help investigate Ukraine’s role in the effort, undertaken by assets in the U.S. intelligence community and the Clinton campaign, to destroy first candidate Trump and then President Trump. It’s not “conspiracy theory,” let alone a “long-debunked” one, it is a fact. The focus was, and is, on interference in the 2016 election, the concerted effort by deep-state actors to intervene in the peaceful transfer of power and scuttle the election of someone duly elected in a free open and democratic election.
Nor did Donald Trump do anything wrong in bringing up Joe Biden and his corrupt son, as anyone who looks into the case has to acknowledge. Talk of “attempts to enlist foreign interference in American electoral democracy” are rich when the Clinton campaign enlisted interference from the Brits, an Australian, a shadowy Maltese professor, and the Ukraine. Great Alinksy! Talk about accusing your opponents of wrongdoing that you are committing yourself.
To appreciate just how far aloft from planet earth the Editorial Board has drifted, ponder this anxious prayer:
Yet Republicans will not be able to postpone a reckoning with Trumpism for much longer [Oh, really?]. The investigation by House Democrats appears likely to result in a vote for impeachment [Does it?], despite efforts by the White House to obstruct the inquiry [What efforts?]. That will force Senate Republicans to choose. Will they commit themselves and their party wholly to Mr. Trump, embracing even his most anti-democratic actions, or will they take the first step toward separating themselves from him and restoring confidence in the rule of law?
Gee, I wonder. Will the Republican-controlled Senate support an extraordinarily successful president or give in to the ravening maenads in the House who have not been able to reconcile themselves to Donald Trump’s election. Talk about tough questions.
You can always tell when the Editorial Board thinks it is being really serious. It’s then that they wheel out the semi-colons.
Thus far in office, Mr. Trump has acted against the national interest by maintaining his financial interests in his company and using the presidential podium to promote it; obstructed legitimate investigations into his conduct by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and Congress; attacked the free press; given encouragement to white nationalists; established a de facto religious test for immigrants; undermined foreign alliances and emboldened American rivals; demanded personal loyalty from subordinates sworn to do their duty to the Constitution; and sent his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, around the world to conduct what could most charitably be described as shadow foreign policy with Mr. Trump’s personal benefit as its lodestar.
In fact, being president has been awfully expensive for Donald Trump. He has lost upwards of $1 billion in net worth since taking office. As even Robert Mueller explicitly acknowledged, Trump did nothing to obstruct the preposterous Mueller investigation, an inquiry the president rightly denominated a “witch hunt” that was hatched by the Obama White House and nurtured and abetted by people in the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and Clintonland.
Trump hasn’t “attacked the free press,” he has merely fought back when attacked, a novel response from conservatives that has infuriated the Left, which loves attacking its opponents but is always surprised when they respond in kind. Trump did not establish a “de facto religious test for immigrants.” On the contrary, he has endeavored to make it more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States. Trump has not “undermined” foreign alliances, he has strengthened them. Ask Vladimir Putin, or Kim Jong-un, or the Iranian mullahs, or President Xi if Donald Trump’s policies have “emboldened” them. I am not even sure what the comment about Rudy Giuliani is supposed to mean. Probably, it’s what an amusing man once called “thru text,” words of a certain emotional or political valence that communicate a feeling but no facts, no argument.
There’s more that could be said about this bit of nervous rhetorical play acting. But the bottom line is this: Although the column is called “The Crisis of the Republican Party,” the real crisis is the utter politicization of the increasingly distraught legacy media. The election of Donald Trump challenged their cozy understanding of the world, turning it upside down.
Adding insult to the injury of that existential assault is the fact that Donald Trump has been wildly, spectacularly successful. He has made America more prosperous, more secure, less harried by bureaucrats, and freer in their ability to practice their religion. What we are witnessing with such gems of hysterical mendacity are the pathetic death throes of a discredited political franchise and its rapidly disintegrating narrative.
Soon, very soon, the reports of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the U.S. Attorney John Durham will be published. Attorney General William Barr will make good on his promise to get to the bottom of the biggest political scandal in our history. Then we’ll see the indictments and prosecutions and, probably, a spate of convictions.
The Editorial Board will howl. But it will be the impotent howl of one who has been exposed and humiliated. The evangelist Matthew spoke of fletus et stridor dentium: “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Unpleasant, of course, but richly deserved.