To me, these eight words sum up where we are as a nation today and it’s not a good place to be.
How did we get here? Well, I believe the seeds took root during Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s and grew with the rise of conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and the vicious hardball political tactics of former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Right-wing operatives like these wrote the playbook for the ultra-conservative Fox News anchors in the late 1990s and the Tea Party radicals in 2010. Over time, the anti-government, anti-media rhetoric of the GOP kept getting louder and more unhinged until it spawned Donald Trump, a man whose every decision before, during and after his presidency has been based on how it might affect him politically.
Along the way, Senate Minority/Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) played politics to the hilt in obstructing virtually everything President Obama attempted to accomplish in Congress, including refusing to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland, Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court. McConnell’s middle finger to the president’s constitutional authority was outrageously unprecedented but it perfectly served his dangerously audacious political agenda.
Turns out though, the Republican Party’s back-peddling from democratic norms has been tracked by the V-Dem Institute, an independent research organization that measures how strongly political parties in 169 countries around the world are committed to democracy. The “illiberal index” in its October 2020 report shows that – and I quote – “[T]he Republican party in the US has retreated from upholding democratic norms in recent years. Its rhetoric is closer to authoritarian parties, such as AKP in Turkey and Fidesz in Hungary. Conversely, the Democratic party has retained a commitment to longstanding democratic standards.”
You won’t hear a hint of that report on Fox News, however, nor will that channel put much emphasis the many ways Trump and the GOP have politicized democratic processes, both before the 2020 election and since. Here are just the worst examples.
Recent news reports reveal that Trump attempted to politicize and corrupt the Department of Justice and the rule of law. He pardoned felons Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, among others, simply because they were his friends. The GOP leadership, of course, let him get away with this pure politicization of the pardon process with little comment. An independent DOJ and the rule of law are two of the strongest pillars of our democracy but some Republican politicians see them as impediments to their political objectives.
Without a doubt though, Trump’s reaction to the coronavirus in early 2020 will go down in history as an all-time low for callous and deadly political maneuvering. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead Americans as Trump, his Republican supporters in Congress and the right-wing media recklessly politicized protective masks and vaccinations.
But this is what’s really chilling: Vanity Fair reported in a July 2020 that because the virus at first hit hardest in blue states, the president’s advisors weren’t very concern, specifically Jared Kushner’s team. They thought a national plan to combat the virus was not necessary and that it would be an effective political strategy to blame the Democratic governors. If true, not only was that approach to a crisis wrong-headed and cruel, I believe that it bordered on a criminal conspiracy.
High on the list of the most egregious political acts by Trump and company has to be the Big Lie that the 2020 election stolen from him. In other words, they attempted to brand the election processes as fraudulent and untrustworthy and still are to this day. In Georgia, where he lost, the president called on Republican state election officials to find votes for him. They refused. Trump operatives attempted to prevent certification of Joe Biden’s validly seated electors. They failed. Trump urged the DOJ’s acting attorney general in December 2020 to state that the election was corrupt and leave it to him and the “R congressmen.” He didn’t.
Trump tweets verify that he subsequently summoned a mob to Washington on January 6 to protest the certification of Biden’s win. Then during a speech that morning he urged them to “fight like hell” because if you don’t, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Shortly thereafter he directed them to go to the Capitol.
Can there be any doubt that Trump, and yes, the majority of Republicans in Congress, attempted a coup?
A bipartisan investigation of the resulting insurrection has been soundly rebuffed by Republicans as they try to blame Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the violence. They are making a political charade out of what was probably the most serious threat to our democracy in history.
Trump and his crowd even politicized the U.S. Olympic team, here-to-fore untouchable for anything but praise and full support. Perhaps the most viscous attacks from the right were on world-class U.S. gymnast, Simone Biles, for dropping out of several events due to mental health issues. They called her, among other things, a “quitter,” “arrogant,” “selfish sociopath,” “immature” and a “shame to this country” Hmm, would they have attacked like this if she were white?
Politics is like a drug, once hooked on it, some normally decent people do some undemocratic things. And the bad people like Trump, — well, no act for political gain is off limits to them, which is why they’re an existential threat to our democracy.