Some may remember the House Un-American Activities Committee that was active during 1950s and 1960s. At the height of the Cold War much attention was being focused on communists in our government, particularly by the alcoholic Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy’s vehicle to conduct vicious inquisitions, however, was the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Assisted by his chief counsel Roy Cohn – later Donald J. Trump’s attorney – McCarthy’s browbeating hearing tactics destroyed the careers of many innocent people who had nothing to do with communists. In fact, it was really McCarthy who was engaged in un-American activities. And over the past quarter century I’ve watched numerous Republican politicians emulate him, as the GOP moved further and further to the right.
Neither party is perfect, of course. But for over two decades, the GOP has been abandoning the precepts that enabled members of Congress to compromise and work together across party lines for the good of the nation. I believe the roots of this sharp-edged ideology can be traced to the 1990s and the leadership of then-Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). His name appears in almost every article I’ve read about divisive partisanship in the House and the dictatorial role of its Speaker.
Gingrich mounted an outright hate campaign against Democrats, encouraging his Republican colleagues to brand them as “traitors, corrupt, sick, radical, and intolerant.” He orchestrated a 21-day government shutdown beginning in December 1995 because President Clinton refused to slash spending for Medicare and Medicaid – and, Gingrich openly admitted, because Clinton made him exit the rear door of Air Force One after a bipartisan flight to attend a politician’s funeral.
Gingrich launched spurious ethics investigations to weaken political opponents and was the driving force behind impeaching President Bill Clinton in 1998 over a sex scandal. He created a playbook for the Tea Party that took control of the House in 2011 and provided examples for the later obstruction strategies of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Yet, I can’t think of any politician during my lifetime who has done more to weaken the pillars of our democracy than Mitch McConnell. He virtually destroyed comity in the Senate by weaponizing the filibuster and using his power as Majority Leader to obstruct President Obama. He even brags about his unprecedented refusal to allow Obama to fill a vacant position on the Supreme Court in 2016. Now, McConnell is blocking critically needed bipartisan election security legislation, inviting renewed Russian meddling in 2020.
True to form, Republican-controlled states have followed the examples of their national leaders. They severely gerrymandered congressional districts in 2011 in an effort to control state legislatures and Congress. After the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted key provisions the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republicans quickly enacted strict voter-ID laws specifically designed to make it harder for minorities and Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots and conducted questionable purges of voter rolls that were intended to disenfranchise minorities. How un-American can you get?
Over the years GOP malfeasance paved the way for a candidate like Donald Trump. While promising to make America great, his conduct is taking the nation in the opposite direction. Trump doesn’t understand that the United States is great because its leaders have fundamentally followed the rule of law for over 200 years and complied with their solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Trump scoffs at these presidential obligations.
Trump has adopted all of the GOP‘s worst anti-democracy tactics and is taking them to a higher level. He doesn’t just bash the media; he calls it the “enemy of the people.” Trump not only skirts the nation’s laws, he treats them as mere guidelines that he can ignore. Recently he admitted that he would take “dirt” on his political opponents from a foreign government and may not inform the FBI. This is not only against the law, it makes a mockery of the Constitution and the ethical standards it requires. But Trump doesn’t care and neither do his slavish Republican supporters in Congress so long as they can retain power.
Trump’s recent campaign kick-off speech in Orlando told us exactly where we are headed with Republicans in control – lies and conspiracy theories. When he wasn’t praising himself – always the crux of his rantings – he was whining about the “deep state” that supposedly perpetrated the Russian ”witch hunt.” And he vilified Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, as if they weren’t fellow Americans, claiming they are monsters who “want to destroy our country.” He smiles approvingly when the crowd yells “lock her up.”
These aren’t isolated incidents by a few Republicans; they are part of a consistent, pervasive pattern in the GOP. It hasn’t been the party of Lincoln for decades but now it is totally the party of Trump, even sanctioning the cruel mistreatment of migrant children at the southern border.
Our nation can’t go on like this, divided and full of anger stoked by a lying, demagogic president and a complicit, power-hungry GOP. Un-American activities by Republicans are leading our democratic republic down a dark, forbidding path toward authoritarianism. If their tactics succeed, the United States of America will cease to be a beacon for democracy-loving people around the world and a haven for those who seek freedom.
Trump is an abomination, but in defending him, the GOP has become the real enemy of the people.
I recommend a thoughtful, (click here) January 2019 article by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) on what ails Congress. Every voter should read this assessment of the “people’s” House.