One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.
Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?
President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.
.. “It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.
.. This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.
.. “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”
.. As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.
.. But at length he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff.”
Republican leaders may dread it, but they will eventually be forced to identify that final area where they keep themselves — or find there is no one there.
“An attack on our country.”
.. But a lawful raid on his attorney’s office and hotel room is what prompted the president to use those immensely weighted words. They’re a signal — make that a siren — of how cornered he feels, how monstrously large his belief in his own persecution has grown and what a perilous situation America is in.
.. Some unrelated swipe at perceived enemies or random assertion of potency by a man who cannot bear any image of impotence and is always ginning up distractions, as both a matter of strategy and a function of temperament?
.. He was telling us, yet again, not to trust our own government. And he was reminding us, in shocking fashion, about his readiness to sell (and buy) fictions if they serve his self-interest, which he reliably puts before all else.
.. Even though Cohen is the apparent focus of their interest, Trump, too, must feel hideously exposed. This is a man who refused, despite intense pressure, to release his tax returns
.. Now information that may be much more private, and much more damning, is in strangers’ hands.
.. Trump, during a meeting that was supposed to be about Syria, went on and on about the “disgrace” (he used that word seven times) of Mueller’s investigation
.. It was the full martyr complex and all the greatest hits in one meltdown. Mike Pence sat stone-faced on one side of him, John Bolton without much expression on the other. It’s hard to imagine either of them having the rapport with Trump to calm him down.
.. There is no Hope Hicks anymore, no Rob Porter, no Gary Cohn, no H. R. McMaster: The ranks of people who either gave Trump a sense of comfort and stability or sought to steer him away from his most destructive impulses have thinned. He’s more alone than ever. He must be more frightened, too.
But not half as scared as the rest of us should be.