Posted by: maboulette | March 16, 2017

No Respect for Civic and Governmental Institutions


The day Donald Trump took office it was argued that what was new and frightening here was that he had no respect for the civic and governmental institutions of this country. This had never been true of a president before, at least in the modern era. George W. Bush’s administration twisted facts to get their war in Iraq. But even Dick Cheney understood that it had to appear as if everything was above board, as if the intelligence agencies were arriving at their conclusions independently.


Trump and the people advising him just don’t care. He is interested in our institutions only insofar as they can be used to help Trump. And the flip side was on display several weekend ago in his reckless Saturday morning tweets about Barack Obama. He’ll say anything about anyone without giving the slightest thought to how those words might damage these institutions and demoralize the people within them.


Because not only did he accuse Obama of something dreadful and illegal, with no evidence to backing the charge, but he also accused the law-enforcement and intelligence communities of conspiring with the outgoing president to do something obviously illegal. Only a person with no respect for any of those institutions could make such a charge.

But let’s talk about the Republicans.

When will they stand up to this guy? With one lone exception, most Republicans’ responses over the weekend were pathetically weak. Let’s start with this especially lame one, from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. After saying he knew of no evidence to support Trump’s claim, it must have struck him that someone in the White House might get mad at him, because he added: “It doesn’t mean that none of these things have happened, just means I haven’t seen them yet.”

Others sounded less malleable but essentially were little better. Lindsey Graham has built up a lot of cred in this department, and understandably so, because he’s been a pretty tough Trump critic at times. But this, at a town hall over the weekend, where he obviously didn’t want to face a chorus of catcalls, was from weasel town: “I’m very worried that our president is suggesting the former president has done something illegal. I’d be very worried if in fact the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign governments. It’s my job as United States senator to get to the bottom of this.”


No, it’s your job to say that unless he has evidence that he is ready adduce yesterday, a president of the United States has no business saying anything like this.


And here’s erstwhile stand-up comic Marco Rubio: “I’ve never heard that before. And I have no evidence or no one’s ever presented anything to me that indicates anything like that… But again, the president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to.”


The lamest of all was House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who vowed to look into Trump’s claims. Yes, this is the same Devin Nunes who said recently that his committee will not look into any claims that Trump may have spoken with former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn about the latter’s contacts with Russia. Likewise, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said that while he’d seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim (that’s the part of his comments that was more widely picked up), he also added that his committee would take a “hard look” at Trump’s allegations.


The only statement by a Republican that was even somewhat informed by principle was the one issued by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. He used far sharper rhetoric than any of his contemporaries to put the burden on Trump to deliver some proof: “The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more attention.” He demanded that if there was a court order authorizing a wiretap of Trump, the president obtain a copy of it and show it to the public or at least to the Senate.


This is what despots do. In the olden days, when a despot said X committed a crime, poor X was usually led away to the pen. That can’t happen here today. We think. Or can it? If Republicans don’t take a stand—not in defense of Obama, but in defense of our civic institutions and norms—we may yet find out.


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