Profiles in cowardice: The Republican congress

In a recent column in Progreso on the tax bill, I called the Republican Party “a party without a conscience.” What the Republicans have been doing—or refusing to do—since I wrote that only reinforces my conviction.

There are so many provisions in GOP-style “tax reform” that are morally bankrupt from a Christian standpoint—and from every other religious tradition or moral philosophy—that one is tempted to think that it is the work of a satanic cult. Provisions like raising the tax rate for those making less than $10,000 a year while lowering rates dramatically for huge corporations. Provision like abolishing deductions for medical expenses that are critical for the very ill. Plus, dozens of other provisions that are an affront to common decency and fairness.

But today’s Republican Party not only lacks a conscience regarding the human consequences of the kind of brutal social and economic injustice they champion. They also lack the courage to stand for what’s obviously right objectively rather than for what is right ideologically. They lack that guts to say that the king has no clothes.

Recently, for instance, Congressional Republicans failed to give Trump a collective Bronx cheer when, after acknowledging and apologizing for the infamous Hollywood Access tape in which he brags that it is easy for a powerful man like him to grab a woman’s genitals at will, he wants to cast doubt on whether it was even his voice on the tape. Similarly, he has revisited the damnable lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, which he also previously admitted is not true. The Republican silence was deafening.

Republicans lack moral fiber because they just want to believe and, more importantly, to win at least one major battle in Congress after a year of failure and futility and thereby save their skins in the next election.

Trump’s rewriting of history is reminiscent of Stalin’s writing Trotsky and many others out of Soviet history. Stalin was photoshopping people out of the picture long before there was Photoshop. It’s a good thing Trump does not have the totalitarian control to do as Stalin did and make it stick. Because when it comes to Trump, counting on scruples is a fool’s errand.

But it is a fool’s errand too to count on Republicans not yet insane to check Trump’s madness. This is even more worrisome than Trump himself. All the authoritarians in the world have stayed in power because of the complicity and the cowardice of true believers, sycophants, and cynical opportunists who will profess belief in whatever is convenient. And that, in a nutshell, describes today’s Republican Congress.

The rare appearance of a moral spine among a GOP leader, as Mitch McConnell showed briefly when he said that Alabama gubernatorial candidate Ray Moore should withdraw from the race after multiple accusations of serious sexual misconduct, was quickly followed by furious backpedaling. Now McConnell is saying don’t ask me, it’s up to the people of Alabama. The attitude of Trump, who has endorsed Moore, and McConnell seems to be that if Alabama elects a pedophile they are good with that—if he is a conservative Republican.

Even the so-called moderates like Susan Collins of Maine have shown scant courage. Collins wants to leverage her key vote on taxes to preclude its use to undo Obamacare and to savage Medicaid. Worthy objectives, but what about the massive unfairness of the tax bill as a whole? Silence, acquiescence.

Donald Trump deserves all the scorn that he gets but the Republican Party deserves more blame than it gets. It has become the party of the predators (Trump, Moore), the cheerful fanatics waging a scorched-earth class war on behalf of the rich (Paul Ryan), and the powerless and pathetic few deluding themselves that they are saving the Titanic and their souls by rearranging the seats on the ship’s deck (Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins).

The key to the Republican’s moral cowardice is their unacknowledged awareness that the hard, hard core of their party, the ones who always vote, organize, contribute money, and raise hell in the media, social and otherwise, is decidedly reactionary. They are people who, decades after enactment, don’t accept the legitimacy of the progressive income tax, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, or reasonable control of weapons.

Some of these folks think the wrong side won the Civil War, and many more are not reconciled to the changes wrought by the civil rights movement. They are as much or more furious about the parallel movements the civil rights movements helped spark—the women’s movement, gay rights, Latino identity, even disability rights.

The core political commitment of these people, who Republican politicians believe they cannot alienate and survive, is Trump right or wrong. For them, Trump really can do no wrong because he is the only politician willing to subscribe and espouse what they believe. For them, a worldview antithetical or even significantly different from the reactionary one they hold is nothing but political correctness. Trump is the first modern politician who genuinely gets and stands with their take on what is wrong with America. Because he is one of them. Thrashing Mexicans, mocking a disabled reporter, attacking LGBT rights, hounding immigrants, it’s all there, part and parcel of who Trump is. It is a Machiavellian political strategy that comes naturally. His venom sounds authentic because it is. That’s why his die-hard supporters think he is honest, despite the blizzard of lies he constantly spouts.

Here is the dirty little secret behind Republican cowardice. They raised a baby python and it has now become a monster able to squeeze them to death and swallow them whole. Donald Trump is the monster’s master. They cross him at their mortal peril.

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