In a 1789 letter, Thomas Jefferson famously declared, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” Jefferson was one among several of our nation’s founders who abhorred political parties—an artifact of English corruption which they sought to avoid in the newly established United States. They could easily see how parties tend to put factional interests ahead of the greater public interest, and how partisan alliances can devolve into a tribalism that inhibits rational and ethical conduct.
Nevertheless, a two-party system has emerged. So, we are left to hope for two parties with at least some degree of integrity. For example, the excesses of the Democratic Party should be countered by a strong and morally principled Republican Party. But events in recent weeks have clearly demonstrated that our founders’ fears were well advised.
As President Trump has been accused of impeachable abuses of power, his political party has impulsively “circled the wagons” for a vigorous defense of their leader. The “no holds barred” defense that Republican office holders and their television allies have mounted appears to suggest that Donald Trump very much exemplifies their ideals for a leader. So, we are left to wonder, “has the character and the behavior of Donald Trump become indicative of what it means to be a Republican”?
Perhaps we should be reminded of a few indicators of the president’s character and leadership—a description of what Republicans are defending, leaving us to wonder why.
Dishonorable: During his campaign for the presidency, Trump said that John McCain wasn’t really a war hero because he was captured. This revealed that the candidate had little understanding of history, and even less understanding of the concept of honor.
Disloyal: Trump infamously admires despots of all sorts. His favorite, however, has always been Vladimir Putin. When Bill O’Reilly pointed out that Putin often has his critics killed, Trump equated the casualties of war against the United States with Putin’s murders.
Infantile: Trump childishly and publicly mocked a disabled journalist.
Amoral/Arrogant/Criminal: Trump bragged that, as “a star,” women didn’t really mind when he would “just start kissing them” and “grab ’m by the pussy.” We might imagine that such a claim was just harmless “locker-room banter.” But the testimonies of more than a dozen women tell us otherwise.
Immoral/Criminal: During his campaign, Trump paid off a porn star and a Playboy Playmate to keep them quiet about his affairs with them. Not reporting it was a violation of campaign finance law, for which his lawyer was imprisoned.
Foolish/Clumsy: Trump has repeatedly and recklessly exposed classified information, beginning with his infamous meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office.
Shameless: Also in that meeting with Russian officials, we recently learned, he told them he doesn’t really care about their meddling in the U.S. election.
Dishonest: It has become well documented that Trump will shamelessly and repeatedly lie about anything and nearly everything.
Racist/Amoral: Trump’s comments regarding the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and his hiring of Stephen Miller (a well-documented white supremist) to oversee his immigration and refugee policies, are only two indicators among a great many that Trump’s policies are based upon a racist perception of the world.
Vindictive: Trump’s (and other Republican’s) intentional undermining of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement has caused a great many people to lose their health insurance. This was done, not to help people, but because they irrationally despise Obama.
Fraudulent: The Trump Foundation was shut down by the state of New York for self-dealing and other fraudulent activities. The infractions were so egregious that all members of the Trump family are now barred from sitting on the board of any charity in the state.
Gullible/Disloyal: In his infamous July, 2018 Helsinki news conference, Trump revealed that he was more inclined to believe Putin than American intelligence agencies.
Disloyal: Trump has repeated allowed no one else in the room when meeting with Putin, and even confiscated the notes of his interpreter after one meeting. We can only imagine what he is telling Putin that he doesn’t want the American people, or even members of his own administration, to know about.
Criminal: Robert Mueller’s report offered no criminal case for the interactions of the Trump campaign with Russian contacts, but it illustrated that Trump and 18 of his associates interacted with Russians at least 140 times, and then many of them lied about it. Given Trump’s repeated attempts to thwart the investigation, obviously he thought crimes were likely committed. The Mueller report made it quite clear that Trump’s efforts constituted criminal obstruction of justice. Bill Barr can deny it, but over a thousand federal prosecutors say it was criminal, and that anyone else would have been jailed for it.
Shameful: Trump is obsessed with keeping his tax returns and business dealings secret. We have to wonder what he is so very ashamed of—perhaps Russian financing?
Foolish: Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership will serve only to strengthen China’s strategic position at our expense. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, has similarly weakened America’s leadership role in the world.
Foolish Betrayal: Trump’s withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, at the request of Turkey, was a betrayal of an American ally. It significantly damaged American credibility and, therefore, national security. Of course, it strengthened Putin.
Amoral: Trump recently pardoned two war criminals and restored the rank of a third, over the objections of the Pentagon and his own Defense Secretary. Trump was told that it would weaken morale within the ranks and American credibility around the world. But Trump saw some unprincipled bonehead on FOX News advocating for it, and that’s where he gets his shallow and fallacious understanding of the world.
Gullible/Deluded: We recently learned that Trump genuinely believes the government of Ukraine hacked the Democratic party server (not Russia) and also worked against him in the 2016 election. He believes this because Putin told him so, and because (as Putin well understands) Trump’s fragile ego needs to believe it.
Impeachable: No rational man or woman of integrity could fail to recognize that Trump committed the explicitly impeachable crime of bribery when he held out a White House meeting and military aid in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into Joe Biden and into a conspiracy theory that is the product of Russian disinformation. It was a betrayal of an American ally for the personal benefit of Trump and to the strategic benefit of Putin. If America is to be a virtuous nation, it cannot act approvingly.
Admittedly, some Republicans don’t like Trump. But they support him because they like his policies. They like his immigration policies. They like his deregulation. But mostly, they like his tax cuts, and they suppose that low unemployment and the growing economy are the result. What they overlook, however, is that while tax cuts, deregulation, and increases in spending will boost the economy, it is only in the short term and at great expense to the future—at the expense of our children and grandchildren.
The federal budget deficit now exceeds a trillion dollars per year. So, when the next recession comes, and it will, we are left with fewer options to mitigate the effects. It could lead to a deeper and longer recession, maybe even a depression.
Similarly, deregulation comes with long-term costs—costs for our children to bear. Regulations are enacted for a reason—to protect us from unscrupulous and reckless actors and to preserve resources for future generations.
Regardless of public policy, however, the most disturbing thing about current events is how the Republican Party has morphed into a cult of the personality of Donald Trump, taking on his worst character traits. A cultish dishonesty has overtaken the party, leaving us to wonder if, like the followers of Jim Jones and David Koresh, Republicans might very well be following their leader into perdition.