Andy Schmookler: Trump and the GOP, or, how to treat gangrene

Andy Schmookler

Here are the words of our congressional representative, Bob Goodlatte:

“I have a constitutional duty to follow the truth wherever it leads. The truth in this case leads me to believe that the President knowingly engaged in a calculated pattern of lies, deceit, and delay in order to mislead the American people [and] impede the search for truth… Therefore, I have no alternative but to support articles of impeachment against [the] President…”

It’s refreshing to hear Mr. Goodlatte talking about “constitutional duty,” isn’t it? Especially after watching him put party loyalty ahead of the duties to the nation for so many years.

But wait! That quote is from 1998! The president then was from the other party.

Now, in 2017, as the nation confronts the much larger, and much graver “pattern of lies” – and obstruction of justice – in the conduct of a president of his own party, Mr. Goodlatte is mute.

The presidential lies that led Goodlatte then to speak so piously posed no threat to the nation: they concerned merely a president’s disreputable private conduct, having nothing to do with the powers of his office.

By contrast, the deceit and obstruction from the current president strike at the core of our constitutional order. Trump has been:

  • Denying the unanimous conclusion of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies regarding the Russian interference in our election on Trump’s behalf.
  • Demanding personal loyalty from the director of the FBI, according to officials there — a violation of a fundamental American value that “we are a nation of laws, not of men.”
  • Firing a success of public servants, of proven integrity, involved with investigating possible misdeeds in Trump’s orbit – e.g. Sally Yates, deputy attorney general; Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney with jurisdiction over Trump Tower and money laundering; and most recently James Comey, leader of the main investigation into the Trump/Russia questions.
  • Falsely calling these historically serious matters “a made up story.”
  • Asking the director of the FBI to back off of investigating one of his closest allies, who is also among those apparently most closely tied to the Russians.

None of these, however, have prompted Goodlatte to say anything about constitutional duty.

It could not be clearer what governs Goodlatte’s choices: not “constitutional duty” but partisan loyalty.

If the president is a Democrat, try to destroy him. Never mind how irrelevant are his misdeeds to the need to protect and defend the Constitution.

If the president is a Republican, try to protect him. Never mind how alarming is his pattern of conduct — assaulting the Constitution and the rule of law.

It matters more now, than back in 1998, what Goodlatte chooses. Then just a regular congressman, now — with his party loyalty rewarded with the plum position of chair of the House Judiciary Committee — he occupies the very spot from which any inquiry into impeachable offenses must begin.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Goodlatte, however. With but a few noble exceptions, all the Republicans in Congress are choosing likewise: to protect the president rather than the Constitution they swore an oath to defend.

Back in the days of Watergate (1973-74), the Republican Party was different. That party still had some conscience. That’s why the investigative hearings into President Nixon’s misdeeds were as bi-partisan as they were.

But of conscience in today’s Republican Party, there is no sign. The great majority of these elected Republicans will do whatever is politically advantageous, “constitutional duty” be damned.

Even so, I believe they are calculating their political advantage foolishly.

They seem to believe that Trump can ride this out. Time might prove them right. (But I hate to think of what kind of nation we would then be, if the president can attack our constitutional order and – by deception, intimidation, and abuse of power — get away with it.)

My bet is that impeachment will eventually come.

With so many offenses already visible, and being compounded so regularly; with so many in America (citizens and institutions) activated and mobilized to protect the gift our founders gave us; with the president’s approval numbers so low and apparently still eroding – the pressure to rescue the presidency from this man likely will eventually become irresistible.

And how will it be then for these careerist Republicans, who have maintained too long their connection with this gangrenous president?

With gangrene, the choice is often clear and urgent: amputate the affected part, or the whole body will be infected and die.

And so it is for the Republican Party: the longer it remains attached to this president, the more profound the damage to the party.

More important, the longer they prop him up, the more damage to our nation.

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, and was the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012. His newly published book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – And How We Can Defeat It.”