As daily revelations of deceit and malfeasance shrouding President Trump emerge into broader view, a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions is shredding the nation’s oft-professed civic idealism.
In the most recent example, Americans learned from The New York Times this week that Trump paid no federal income taxes for nearly a decade on business losses that exceeded $1 billion between 1985 and 1994. This blockbuster news confirmed previous reporting that suggested Trump was a billionaire only in his imagination, and rendered moot the argument of his business acumen as a model for presidential leadership. Suffice to say, it was all a lie.
Within the same 24-hour span, Trump invoked executive privilege to prevent release of the full Mueller report, an illegal and imperial decision exerting control over a document which, for the most part, has already been publicly released. Taken together, that’s an impressive day of unchecked trampling upon the rule of law. But it’s just another day in Trumpian paradise.
The president is well past the halfway mark of his term, and his abusive policies are well documented.
The immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, for example, recently raised an alarm, detailing the administration’s abusive treatment of newly-arrived migrants, that “[t]he last two years have been filled with Trump policy after Trump policy in which courts across the country, under judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans, have either ruled unlawful or have been temporarily enjoined given the likelihood of being ruled unlawful.”
To be fair, there are growing calls for the president’s impeachment. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took to the Senate floor Tuesday calling for Congress to begin proceedings to remove Trump from office.
“If any other human being in the country had done what’s documented in the [Robert] Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail,” Warren said, repeating her call made previously on Twitter and during campaign stump speeches.
Another presidential contender, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), also called for Trump’s impeachment, citing evidence from the Mueller report. But most of the Democratic contenders have been more cautious. Their reluctance stems largely from fear over a backlash from Trump supporters who might bristle seeing their hero attacked by progressive presidential candidates.
That fear is shared by House Speaker Nance Pelosi (D-CA), who seems to be inching closer to impeachment. Speaking about Trump’s lawlessness, Pelosi said Wednesday that Trump is daring Congress to make its case.
“He’s becoming self-impeachable in terms of some of the things he’s doing,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Every single day, whether it’s obstruction, obstruction, obstruction, obstruction of having people come to the table with facts or ignoring subpoenas. Every single day, the president is making a case.”
To its credit, the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-16 Wednesday to recommend the full House hold the president-protecting Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to release the full Mueller report and its underlying evidence. Even if the House follows through, the standoff with the White House would take years to clear the courts. Meanwhile, nothing will really change as the administration continues to thumb its nose at the Democratic-led House.
Firing warning shots from Capitol Hill across the White House lawn isn’t going to dissuade this unreasonable and reckless president. Brinkmanship is his game, and he revels in the societal confusion it produces.
What’s worse, Trump knows he has a Get Out of Jail Free card. The incomprehensibly subservient Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has shown little shame, destroying the comity and decorum of the Senate to prop up Trump’s impulsive excesses.
Few can legitimately claim ignorance of what Trump and his enablers are doing. The fact of the matter is, too many Americans know — and dismiss — Trump’s history of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, birtherism, and conspiracy-mongering because … well, I’m hard pressed to understand or explain just why that’s true.
Best answer seems to be that at least a third of the voting public is comfortable with whatever Trump does or says. Remember, this is a man who once boasted he could shoot someone in Times Square and his supporters wouldn’t hold him accountable. So, too, it seems neither will a requisite number within the docile majority of the nation that endures one Trump outrage after another, in passive silence and not pained enough to rouse themselves into oppositional action.
Such an explanation goes a long way to explain why Trump’s misdeeds are relatively unchecked. As uncomfortable as it may be, the most credible explanation rests in the words of the immortal Bard, who wrote in Julius Caesar of the conspiratorial Cassius’ warning to his friend Brutus:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Simply put, Trump runs roughshod over our democratic values because he can. Not nearly enough Americans are concerned or involved to press for change within or outside the political system. There is nothing, and no one, to stop him from wrecking the self-governing foundation of our country.
Our republic relies upon a finely tuned system of checks and balances in Congress and the courts, which in the age of Trump is being whacked out of shape. It also leans on an informed public that exerts pressure on elected leaders to act in the best interests of the nation. To date, public protests against Trump and his abuses have been ineffective and sporadic, not nearly equal to the daily assaults on the nation from the White House.
The relative comfort and security enjoyed by a great many Americans tamps down the occasional eruptions of outrage, in contrast to the weeks of ongoing protests in Venezuela and other countries where citizens routinely and resolutely express displeasure with their leaders.
Without a sustained pushback from concerned civic-minded citizens, there may soon come a moment when this nation is too weak and unstable to sustain itself.
Absent vigorous and peaceful public protests to prod reluctant congressional oversight, Trump and his minions are free — at least, until the 2020 presidential elections — to mock our cherished traditions.