All Republicans and other conservatives would no doubt be wise enough never to hand the keys of their new muscle car to their unruly 14-year-old. Republican Senators, however, have proven willing to prostitute themselves to the president, delegating virtually unchecked power to earn favors or to avoid political punishment. One might legitimately question their wisdom or even their patriotism in vesting the president with such extraordinary authority, especially an erratic or untrustworthy president. With the spineless attitude of GOP legislators, customary safeguards have been laid aside, effectively discarding our previously proud American assertion that no one is above the law.
These are politicians who’ve enjoyed a lifetime preaching patriotism and other important values that conservatives have often implied are theirs alone. Each time Republican officials give away more of the Senate’s or House’s Constitutional obligations, their behavior—even if treated as only a one-off lending of those car keys—sets a new normal which this president is eager to nudge to the next level.
I’ll not enumerate frightening, even indecent presidential actions here. They are many and obvious, all covered in daily news, editorials, and op-eds (plus my previous posts). Any voter unable to list Trump’s totalitarian moves by heart merely reveals he or she has decided that taking such risks with what the Founders bequeathed us just doesn’t matter. Time for Republicans to shut up about patriotism, deficits, low tariffs, and “fair” hearings, for they’ve lost the ability to evangelize on or even to discern such concepts.
Let me turn to one aspect of the recent Soleimani action: So far Americans have no explanation of what constitutes “imminent.” Congress has long made a reasonable judgment that the president should have more latitude to take actions he or she might otherwise not have if a dangerous situation is imminent. A president with no commitment to truth and fact might fudge on this distinction. Characteristically, Trump’s assurance to Congress and the nation was meaningless and suspect—meaningless due largely to his perpetual lying and his disdainment of any limits on executive authority—just as was his consolation that the assassination would make the Middle East safer.
That may eventually be proven accurate. I’m not qualified to judge that calculation. What we can be certain of is that throwing a rock at a hornet’s nest will bring on a flurry of unhappy and, given Trump’s transactionalism, unconsidered side effects. What I am qualified to judge is this: it is risky to trust Trump, anyone who works directly for him, or supportive Senators.
Trump lies consistently and unceasingly about small and large matters alike. Especially when events are moving fast and the fog of conflict multiplies life or death matters, surely it would be important to trust our president. Senate Republicans are aware of these things (some have personally felt the president’s sting) but have simply decided not to acknowledge awareness even to themselves. Thus does Trump’s duplicity regularly determine the dishonesty of officials who choose to honor their relationship with Trump more than obligation to the nation.
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In the face of those things, let us consider an even larger issue than they. Although it is clear that Trump’s misbehavior and that of those closely around him do grave damage to our country almost daily, we regularly overlook that much of that same behavior harms the world at large. It is painful to consider the damage we’ve done to America’s world leadership, a role of which most Americans have been proud and which much of the world has welcomed. No small amount of it, in fact, has been to the credit of responsible conservatives.
Pity, for the world loses as America becomes more intimate with anti-democratic regimes, shows that our treaties can’t be trusted, spreads amateurish conspiracy theories, worries about the growth of our zero-sum mental smallness, and makes a laughingstock of our international posture and competence. This corrosion of our country is not due to “conservative values,” but in part to loss of prudence and wisdom that improved national governance in earlier decades by the Republican party.
We squander our ability to influence the world for good as if we’ve no recognition of national noblesse oblige. The United States is failing to lead the world morally, technically, and economically, as its capability would once have enabled and its awareness would once have motivated. But more than any of these degeneracies is one that will finally overwhelm everything else.
It’s as if we mistakenly and carelessly think we’d given that hazardous son a plastic toy Ferrari, but it had turned out to be the dangerous real one. To examine the consequences, however, we must think even beyond misuse of national authority in America. For even more challenging than what I’ve discussed above is the massive and deadly matter of climate change that threatens to devastate the human race, yet is officially ignored and thereby worsened, not just by America, but by the world at large. Under Trump’s imitation leadership and in general the pettiness of American party politics, the power of the United States is largely unavailable to address increasing threats to humanity’s future.
Allow me to deviate for a bit: We know for a person’s ability to address physical challenges requires basic skills and strengths to aid him or her often as much as knowledge of the specific challenge. For example, consider spending a week by yourself on a mountain trail. Having broadly applicable strength, problem-solving skills, and good health will make your adventure a more pleasant experience. A nation among nations is more capable of seeing to its defense and to helpfully aid other nations if it deals well with its public systems, educational preparation of citizens, fair administration of justice, and other necessities.
Then consider how America’s helpfulness to Ukraine’s path toward democracy has been gravely damaged by America’s own inability to get it right at home. It is in this way that the current American conduct of federal government at the highest level including workable immigration, treatment of health care, political dysfunction in the presidency and Congress, and inattention to well developed norms can render the country inadequate to pursue its own perfection and to contribute to he world as much as it can.
The “indispensable country”—whether we ever deserved the title or not—should be standing with the world in taking wise actions to address humans’ next and perhaps greatest predicament. We are naïvely coasting along with little sense of the enormity of the issue. To take aim at the really critical threats, we must not only get past little political fights, pleasing the offended, insufficient legal practices, and even international hegemony struggles. We must grow wiser as a species than to clutter our ability to distinguish big matters from small. Hotly contested niggling matters command our time and commitments and misdirect the evolving necessities of life on this planet . . . if later there is to be human life on this planet. To repeat, America not only disregards the threat of climate change, it intentionally denies it.
I do not believe it to be an overstatement to say that behavior of our species may well doom us to remain appallingly on the wrong side of history—insipidly working against humanity rather than for it. In this worldwide challenge in which even strong, wise leadership may be insufficient,
America has decided not to lead.