Alan Zendell, October 8, 2021
When lawmakers and statesmen still valued integrity, opposition politicians would often resign in protest when they believed their government was acting illegally or about to do something that would damage their country. It was a European tradition that valued principle, honor, and patriotism over personal gain, especially in the U. K. We had one such event in the United States nearly fifty years ago, on October 20, 1973. It was such a rare occurrence that the resignations of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General (Eliot Richardson) and Deputy AG (William Ruckleshaus) in protest of the illegal firing of Special Counsel Archibald Cox, who was investigating Watergate, has since been known as The Saturday Night Massacre.
Thirty years later, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had an opportunity to show the same kind of selfless integrity. He had been the only voice in Bush’s Cabinet to openly oppose the invasion of Iraq. Instead, he addressed the United Nations, presenting sketchy Intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist. Would Powell’s resignation have prevented the invasion and possibly avoided twenty years of pointless war? We’ll never know, because that didn’t happen, either.
A second Saturday Night Massacre opportunity arose on January 3, 2021. Then President Trump, raging over his defeat by Joe Biden, called Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue to a senior staff meeting in the Oval Office. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report released today, Trump was intent on replacing Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, another DOJ attorney whose only qualification was his willingness to use the full weight of the Department to overturn the results of the election.
But integrity reared its ugly head again when Rosen, Donoghue, White House attorney Pat Cippolone, and all the Assistant AGs in the Department threatened to resign if Trump persisted, likely saving the nation from the worst constitutional crisis in our history. Cippolone reportedly told Trump his attempts to force states to ignore the will of the voters was a murder-suicide pact, especially in light of former AG, William Barr’s statement that there was no evidence of widespread fraud during the election. The Committee report, which was based on an eight-month investigation, also implicated Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as a key player in the attempt to illegally coerce the Justice Department to overturn Biden’s victory.
Trump’s hold on Republicans who believe they can’t afford to offend his voting base is old news. Trump ranted through his revenge tour, trying to unseat every Republican in Congress who voted to impeach him or who still denies the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Pundits (the same ones who got almost everything wrong in the last two elections) opine about Trump’s political clout, almost as though they’re hyping a pay-per-view audience to shell out big dollars for a heavyweight boxing match.
I remain skeptical. With the furor over social media manipulating users, feeding them lies and misinformation, and skillfully triggering anger and rage to boost interactions on their platforms, let’s not forget that the broadcast and cable media aren’t innocent in all this. They all have biases and they’re all beholden to the sponsors who pay their salaries. They also have a great incentive to engage their viewers and keep them watching, because ratings are everything in that world. They differ from social media only in degree. With Mitch McConnell stalling any sort of progress in Congress, and polls showing President Biden’s approval suffering, the media characterize this very serious situation as a death match among gladiators.
We must take care not to be sucked into the vortex of their hyperbole. Our country is not teetering on the edge of an abyss. Objective eyes see several prominent Trump supporters who understand the risk of being in bed with a dicttorial narcissist backing away to a safe distance. In recent weeks, Trump savaged SC Senator Lindsey Graham, GA Governor Brian Kemp, (suggesting Georgians would be better off with Stacy Abrams,) FL Governor Ron DeSantis, former NJ Governor Chris Christy, and the Republican Arizona legislature. Does that sound like someone who has a secure hold on his base?
Democrats will come together and pass the legislation they need to, because they know not agreeing among themselves will cede control of the Government to Republicans for the next decade. This is their best and probably last chance to keep the promises that made Americans vote for Biden. They’ll get it right eventually because they have no choice.
Much of the country is recovering from COVID, and as more information about Trump’s post-election antics and the January 6th insurrection are made public, his base will erode. Whether because of integrity or fear, no one running for re-election wants to be involved in a suicide pact with Donald Trump.