It’s hard to work up much sympathy for the hollowed-out husk of a human being that is Mitch McConnell, or Lindsey Graham for that matter. This country is a harder, colder, more meanspirited place because these senators would rather bootlick a bully than stand for the principles they once espoused.
Surely, they know the price of their vassalage. To serve Donald Trump is to lose all self-respect. You lie for him. You cover for him. You hate for him. John Boehner, the former House speaker, has more honor as a mercenary for marijuana than the elected Republicans shoveling dirt over the grave of the Constitution.
But Americans should care about a more lasting and damaging corrosion — the destabilizing of venerable institutions. It’s one thing to corrupt a politician, the natural osmosis of the species. It’s quite another to debase the foundations of a great democracy.
It started on Day 2, when the hapless liar, newly subsidized by taxpayers, tried to conscript the National Park Service into the fantasy that his crowd was the largest ever.
The beloved Park Service survived the encounter with the devil, barely. But now the keepers of our national story are facing an authoritarian president who wants to dominate the Independence Day celebration on the National Mall. He would politicize what has long been a nonpartisan family affair, setting up “the angriest July 4 ever,” as Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia delegate in the House, put it.
After the inauguration debacle, Trump moved on to bigger targets — the judiciary, the military, the press, and the professional class of bureaucrats who have made the United States a model for competence and incorruptibility in the Civil Service.
With William Barr, Trump now has an attorney general who doesn’t care how much lasting damage he does to truth, justice and the American way. His mandate as the nation’s top prosecutor is to carry out Trump’s private vendettas.
Next week, the House will vote on whether to hold Barr in contempt for defying the constitutional role of oversight by the legislative branch. Get used to it. Barr is marshaling the enormous legal muscle of the people’s Justice Department as a political hit squad. He’ll use the law, which he ignores when it suits him, to try to imprison public servants who launched an early investigation of Russian attempts to subvert an American election.
No matter that an earlier presidential quisling, failed Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, could find no evidence of another of Trump’s fictions, millions of illegal voters. Barr’s job is to muddy the origins of the Russian investigation enough to frame career public servants as traitors.
Normally, the courts would be bulwarks against the barbarians. And indeed, many judges have stood up to some of Trump’s most outlandish and illegal behavior. But the Trump effect, turning everything he touches to a cheap commodity, is to denigrate the legal arbitrators as “Obama judges” or “Mexican” judges. You’re with him or against him.
This is dangerous stuff. And it gets worse. The most disgusting of the recent corruptions is the attempt to make the military another extension of presidential vanity. The White House wanted to “minimize the visibility” of the U.S.S. John S. McCain while Trump was in Japan. So, a family name synonymous with sacrifice on behalf of country was covered up so that President Bone Spurs would not be offended. Kim Jong-un has to be jealous.
Following this desecration, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, said the military “will not be politicized.” Sorry. That ship has sailed.
You would think that matters of the soul would be harder for the soulless occupant of the White House to tarnish. After a round of golf last Sunday, a disheveled-looking Trump abruptly showed up at a church in Virginia. The White House said Trump wanted parishioners to pray for victims of a recent mass shooting. Instead, they were asked to pray for Trump. The pastor later said he had been blindsided.
The same cannot be said for the man who oversees the Census Bureau, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. He’s trying to use a mandate of the Constitution, the decennial census, to shore up power in the Electoral College and Congress for the aging white men of Trump’s base.
Any day now, the Supreme Court will rule on Ross’s effort to insert, into the census form that goes out to every household, a citizenship question, something that hasn’t been asked since 1950. It could mean that about 6.5 million people would go uncounted — citizens and noncitizens.
This is a blatant abuse of power and of an otherwise benign government agency, affecting not just the number of representatives or electoral votes each state gets, but also the fate of numerous cities dependent on federal billions in mostly blue America.
We’ve had a census every decade since 1790, after the colonies threw off a king and created a governing document establishing an independent judiciary, a legislative branch that writes the rules of the land, and asserting that no man is above the law. To the present occupant of the White House, it’s only a piece of paper.
Timothy Egan (@nytegan) is a contributing opinion writer who covers the environment, the American West and politics. He is a winner of the National Book Award and author of the forthcoming “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.”
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