The Greatest Threats We Face

Alan Zendell, June 20, 2018

The greatest threat to America is not North Korea. It’s not Iran. It’s not radical Islamist terrorism. It’s not gun violence, the millions of people who can’t afford healthcare, or Social Security potentially going bankrupt. It’s us.

An inflection point is a moment in time that signals when positive trends turn negative or vice versa. 2016 was such a point for our nation. We all knew our corrupt government was trapped in the polarized swamp of gridlock, and there was no quick fix for the divisiveness that was threatening to unravel decades of progress at leveling the playing field for all Americans.

We know from science that order can be maintained only with constant vigilance because the universe abhors stability. Indifference and indolence are seductively benign, but no less deadly for not being overtly menacing. 2016 was a moment in time when resolve and determination might have headed off entering the slippery slope we’ve been on since then, but despite the fact that many of us saw where we were heading, we just stared in fascination like watching a train go off the rails in slow motion.

2016 showed once again that our obsolete electoral college system is a clear and present danger to the republic. Changing it will be a long, laborious process, but its evil cousin, gerrymandering, ought to be fixable. When the Supreme Court unanimously chose to duck the issue earlier this week, it was another victory for the forces of chaos. The diverse court of nine justices decided without dissent, that gerrymandering wasn’t their problem, and that the parties involved ought to be able to work it out themselves.

Gerrymandering is one of the greatest threats to our democracy. But it’s clear that unless they are forced to change their ways, politicians will continue to use voting majorities to exacerbate divisiveness and partisanship, violating the principle that every citizen has a right to equal representation. One of the cases on which the Supreme Court punted was a Wisconsin voting map that a lower court had already ruled unconstitutional. Because of the way the people in power drew district boundaries, the party that received 61% of the vote in a statewide election won only 49% of the legislative seats.

When children fight, things only get resolved when the adult in the room steps in. With respect to gerrymandering, the adult in the room is the Court. It would be nice if partisan politicians could work out their differences, but counting on that only makes the slope more slippery.

Yesterday may have been an inflection point in our history in more ways than one. When President Trump was asked why he speaks so admiringly of Kim Jong Un, he talked about what a strong leader the North Korean dictator is. When Kim gives an order, there’s no argument, no disagreement. “That’s what I want,” Trump concluded. That’s quite an admission for someone who has sworn to uphold our Constitution.

It’s not exactly a revelation that Trump craves absolute power and cannot tolerate any form of dissent. When other people or other countries won’t play by Trump’s rules he picks up his marbles and goes home. He walked away from the Trans-pacific trade agreement and the Paris accords on climate change, and appears to be doing the same thing with NAFTA. He insults our allies and ignores our partners in Canada, NATO, and the EU. When he doesn’t get what he wants he stamps his foot like a five-year-old and throws a Twitter tantrum.

He treats the other two branches of our Government the same way. His zero tolerance policy on immigration has resulted in the spectacle of thousands of children being separated from their parents at our borders. Yet he blames Democrats for the problem. Using the twisted logic of a would-be dictator, the Democrats are to blame, because they won’t roll over and rubber stamp Trump’s demands on immigration.

Trump’s executive orders are using immigrant and refugee children as hostages to get the immigration changes he wants. It’s now clear why, despite the insults and attacks Trump has leveled at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he hasn’t fired him. Trump knew when he appointed Sessions that there was no one more rabid in his anti-immigration sentiments.

Remember when the media were filled with recriminations over ISIS using innocent women and children as human shields? What Trump and Sessions are doing is different only in that there are no bullets and bombs tearing those children apart. When we ask ourselves what poses the greatest threats to our nation, the erosion of values that we see symbolized as we march children into detention centers must surely rank at the top of the list.

When I look back at yesterday I see us at a tipping point. We can still change things, but if we sit idly and watch the way we did in 2016, we may regret our inaction for decades.

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Life After Singapore

Alan Zendell, June 13, 2018

Now that things have percolated for a day, it turns out that I do have some thoughts about the Trump-Kim Summit.

Ever since Ronald Reagan used the phrase “Trust but Verify,” it has been America’s mantra for all subsequent disarmament negotiations. It’s actually the literal translation of a Russian proverb, which, given President Trump’s admiration for Russia’s leadership, makes his reaction to Kim Jong Un even more shocking than it sounds on its face.

When asked if he could trust Kim to keep his word when he pledged to denuclearize North Korea, Trump said. “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt … I don’t have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time.” As the Washington Post’s James Hohmann noted in today’s “Daily 202” newsletter, that’s eerily reminiscent of when George W. Bush “peered into Vladimir Putin’s eyes, saw his soul and concluded that the Russian leader was trustworthy.” We know how that worked out.

Prior to the Singapore Summit, Trump told us it would take him about one minute to size up Kim and know whether he could trust him. He assured us that as the master deal maker he is, he would know right away if a deal was possible, and he promised to come away with one that would be a win for America. When the summit was over, Trump completed his circular reasoning by assuring us that he had accomplished what he said he would. Bush once declared victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier. We know how that worked out, too.

Is that why the entire world isn’t cheering? Why is the other world leader who has the most to gain from a genuine rapprochement with North Korea, South Korean President Moon reacting as if he was slapped upside his head with a two-by-four?

I was surprised by the level of skepticism expressed by people who really understand the key players and their history. I felt it too, but I cautioned myself not to let my fundamental dislike for our president influence me too much. I care very deeply about the future I’m leaving for my grandchildren, and if Trump could actually do what he promised, I’d have to tip my hat to him like everyone else.

But now that the dust is settling, things are becoming clearer. Trump watchers have often said he may not be the ultimate deal-maker he touts himself to be. Any professional negotiator will tell you that a good deal is one that lets every party walk away feeling like he or she won something, but that hasn’t been the case with most of his deals. Trump has his name on a lot of buildings, but he’s achieved that by trampling a lot of people, and ruthlessly cutting his losses and running whenever things went south. He was schooled by the best in the art of shifting blame and using his money to settle court battles.

He thinks he can buy Kim off with the promises of riches, and says Kim wants to do the right thing for his people, as though Kim would be following the example he, Trump, has set. But there is no evidence either that Trump has ever cared much about anything except making money and increasing his own power and influence, and even less that Kim would ever be  inclined to be motivated that way.

There is no evidence that Trump came away from Singapore with anything of substance that benefits either America or its allies, and if this deal falls apart, Trump can’t just pay off an aggrieved plaintiff and walk away. We’ll all be paying for a long time. The only country that seems to have immediately benefited from the talks is China, which quickly resumed its profitable trade relationship with Kim, without waiting to see if he was going to follow through on his promises. Does that give the wily Kim much incentive to fully denuclearize?

Trump eagerly committed to ending joint military exercises with South Korea and laid the initial groundwork for withdrawing our forces from the south. Both are things he campaigned for since long before becoming a presidential candidate, claiming they wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most military professionals disagree and were shocked by what they saw as a one-sided concession, but for Trump it felt like a win because he appeared to get his way on a contentious issue, when the “experts” all said he was wrong. It might make Trump feel like a King, but the main beneficiary of his decision will again be China, which loves the idea of American troops leaving the region.

While we got empty promises from a distinctly evil, untrustworthy dictator, there was one other winner in Singapore. Vladimir Putin now claims that he was right all along in telling Trump that only direct talks with Kim would reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. Is it possible Putin also understood that Trump’s arrogance would be no match for Little Rocket Man?

Mel Brooks famously said, “It’s good to be the King.” Let’s hope that works out better for Trump than it did for Louis XVI.

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Trump on the World Stage

Alan Zendell, June 12, 2018

No, I’m not writing about the Trump-Kim Singapore summit. You’ve already heard enough from pundits who know a lot more than I do about it, yet despite that, no matter who is espousing wisdom, it seems to boil down to, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

However, something else is becoming clear in light of the last few days of Trump-style diplomacy. For months, those very same “experts” have been shaking their heads in wonderment. Why, they ask, does Trump treat our adversaries with so much respect, often warmly praising them, while he is so crudely offensive to our allies? If we simply pose the question differently, and I think more accurately, the answer becomes clear.

The issue isn’t adversaries versus allies as much as strength and power versus weakness. Since the day he was inaugurated, Trump has clearly demonstrated a craving for unfettered power and authority. He chafes whenever he’s reminded that he shares power with the Congress and the Judiciary, so much so that he seems to have nothing but contempt for the Constitution he swore an oath to defend.

That really shouldn’t surprise anyone, given what we know about his narcissistic nature and his utter disdain for rules and norms. He had a moment, yesterday, after his meetings with Kim Jong Un, which was both disarmingly honest and so arrogant as to defy words, when he acknowledged that six months from now he might have to accept that he was wrong to trust his gut feeling about Kim’s good faith. But then, as if remembering who he is, Trump added, “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” And therein lies the answer the pundits have been seeking.

In Trump’s mind, being a leader means never having to admit he’s wrong. It means always finding a way to claim victory, even when he loses. It means never having his word or authority challenged. He may personally decry the murders carried out by Kim’s henchmen, the lack of individual rights in North Korea, and the false commitments made by decades of North Korean regimes, yet at a different level, Trump craves autocracy and admires Kim’s ruthless control of his enemies. Trump thinks he should be entrusted with godlike power, which only he would know how to wield benevolently for the good of everyone.

Look carefully at the leaders he seems to respect, and ask yourself what they have in common: Kim, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All very different in nature, they are alike only in that they rule with virtually absolute power, at least until the next coup brings one of them down. It’s that power that Trump lusts after and makes him admire, perhaps even adore them as leaders.

Compare them with the leaders he treats with contempt: Justin Trudeau, Teresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel. What they have in common is that they all represent some form of constitutional representative government. They must stand for re-election, put up with vocal and outspoken opposition, and accept they will not always get their way. When Trump looks at them he sees only weakness, which angers him and causes him to disrespect them. The elected leaders of our traditional allies are not the kind of people Trump wishes they were, nor are they people he aspires to emulate.

Perhaps the best example is Moon Jae-in, the current president of South Korea. He too must stand for election and in his country, leaders are actually impeached − in fact that’s how Moon became president. He’s polite and soft-spoken, which to Trump makes him seem even weaker than the others. Consider how he treats Moon. When Trump initially canceled the Kim summit, he didn’t even have the courtesy to alert Moon ahead of time, although Moon did more to assure that it would happen than anyone. And yesterday, when Trump promised Kim that there would be no more war games with the South Korean military, Moon was again blindsided.

It’s no wonder that Trump thinks he should be allowed to wage a trade war all by himself. He thinks he’ll win easily against our allies because he has no respect for them. And he thinks he will win against our adversaries because he is certain that they view him as their equal and will therefore have to negotiate in good faith with him, and of course, no one can negotiate deals like Donald Trump.

So there you have it, pundits. Donald Trump’s treatment of foreign leaders is a direct measure of the degree of autonomy they wield at home. It has nothing at all to do with morality, honesty, criminality, or humanity. It’s all about Trump’s worship of absolute power.

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King Donald

Alan Zendell, June 6, 2018

The frightening but inescapable reality is that in 2016 we elected a president who thinks he’s a king. More likely, he simply doesn’t know the difference. Schooled in the world of business and mentored by experts in the shadiest ways of achieving his ends, he still hasn’t grasped that it’s far more difficult to get away with overstepping legally established boundaries than trampling people in civil court where money generally rules.

But this isn’t just semantics – it’s dangerous. We fought a revolution to escape being governed by an absolute monarch, and people who cheer Trump on when he’s guilty of these excesses forget the lessons of history. His base doesn’t mind when he attacks Muslims, immigrants, judges he disagrees with, the “liberal” media, or his political opponents. They even cheer him on when he goes after the FBI and the rest of his own Justice Department.

It’s ironic that a large segment of his base believes Trump when he tells them he’s fighting to protect them from the tyranny of a corrupt system. What could be more corrupt than a small group of people wielding absolute power who are answerable to no one? That’s exactly the kind of despotism our founders freed us from when they overthrew the yoke of King George III.

There’s yet another irony here. As described on history.com, while George III was portrayed as an “inflexible tyrant…Parliamentary ministers, not the crown, were responsible for colonial policies,” though the king could have overruled their decisions instead of endorsing them. Today, in America, we have the reverse situation: a president who believes his power is absolute with a Congress that is too cowed politically to exercise its constitutional responsibility to apply required checks and balances.

But we’re starting to see cracks in congressional indifference, or cowardice as its harshest critics might put it. Last week, I noted that Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is not running for re-election, defended the FBI’s investigation of allegations of Russian interference with the election in defiance of the president’s assertion that they illegally spied on his campaign. Today, another prominent Republican, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said he agrees with Gowdy that the FBI’s actions were appropriate, and the president’s accusations are without merit.

Perhaps the strongest indication that congressional Republicans have not completely abdicated their responsibility to defend our institutions was Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement that there is nothing to support Trump’s claims. Ryan is also leaving the Congress, but publicly implying that Trump is wrong is a clear departure from his typical refusal to say anything to challenge the president’s authority.

The issue that may finally cause Republicans to stand up to the president is trade. Trump seems to be on a one-man crusade to fight a trade war with adversaries and allies alike. But the tariffs he has announced have stirred up considerable discomfort among his own party. Free trade has always been a consistent plank in Conservative platforms, and many Conservatives in Congress are feeling heat from their constituents, much of which is fueled by the Koch brothers. If fear of losing their seats in November is what has prevented them from confronting Trump until now, they may be trapped between the classic rock and hard place.

Long-time Conservative Senator Bob Corker, who has also decided not to seek re-election, is working on legislation to negate what he described as the “president’s abuse of the powers granted to him under a National Security Waiver.”  The intention is to push back against tariffs and the inappropriate use of laws that were never intended for the purposes Trump is applying them. In a lengthy phone call, today, the president angrily insisted that Corker back off from trying to curb his power to wage a trade war. Corker responded, “I am a United States senator, and I have responsibilities and I’m going to continue to carry them out.”

This is a very hopeful first step in curbing Trump’s march toward autocracy. Read the history of the post-World War I Weimar Republic in Germany, which functioned effectively for fifteen years until Adolf Hitler seized dictatorial powers and subverted it to his own ends. Hitler could only have done that with the compliance of an ineffectual Reichstag (legislature). If that doesn’t set off alarm bells, you’re in a coma.

Still not convinced that Trump will grab every bit of power he can until someone stops him? Consider what unnamed White House sources have described as his obsession with pardons. Presidential pardons were intended by our founders as acts of forgiveness, not attempts to intimidate enemies or encourage people who committed crimes to remain silent to protect the president. But Trump’s total disregard of propriety and rules, combined with his boundless narcissism make presidential pardons irresistible to him.

As one commentator put it today, the presidential pardon is the last remaining holdover of the British monarchy system, an opportunity to yield absolute power that no one can challenge. Is it any wonder that King Donald is so enamored with the process?

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Above the Law?

Alan Zendell, June 4, 2018

Three years after he resigned the presidency, Richard Nixon sat for four televised interviews with noted journalist David Frost. At one point, Frost asked Nixon, “Would you say that there are certain situations…where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal?” Nixon replied, “Well, when the President does it that means it’s not illegal.”

Donald Trump’s legal team like to refer back to that interview to remind people that Trump is not the first president to make the argument that he can do things that are illegal without liability for prosecution. Nixon went on to remind Frost that where the president is concerned there are other remedies: he must stand for re-election, he must obtain funding authorization from Congress, and he can be impeached.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Guiliani made a similar argument last weekend while discussing whether the president has the legal right to pardon himself. Nixon had raised that question too, and in an August 5, 1974 opinion, Mary Lawton, Nixon’s Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote, “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.” She also noted that the president had the option to declare himself unable to continue in office under the 25th Amendment, which would allow the Vice President (as Acting President) to pardon him.

The issue of the president pardoning himself arose out of the debate over whether he could be indicted for committing illegal actions while serving in that office. That question had also been previously addressed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. On October 16, 2000, Assistant AG Randolph Moss wrote, “…all federal civil officers except the President are subject to indictment and criminal prosecution while still in office; the President is uniquely immune from such process.” This decision was in support of a Justice Department ruling, the previous year, “…that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

In the same vein, Nixon had told Frost that sometimes a president must order actions that are technically illegal in the interests of national security, in part to shield subordinates who are charged with executing those orders. That’s important, because it defines an extremely narrow context in which illegal acts taken by a president might be appropriate.  It’s even more important now, because President Trump’s view of presidential power and authority seems to suggest the president can do anything he pleases with complete impunity. Even Nixon never made such a claim.

Neither of the Justice Department’s policies cited above has been tested in court, and they place no restrictions on the scope of the Mueller investigation. Mueller’s charge from the Deputy Attorney General includes the investigation of anything arising from the initial question of possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election campaign.

All this is currently being discussed because, as Guiliani candidly admitted, the president’s legal strategy is that even if Mueller finds evidence that Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, he cannot be indicted or prosecuted. Guiliani says the only remedy would be impeachment, and that would throw the entire discussion into the political arena of the 2018 mid-term elections. The assumption is that a House of Representatives dominated by Republicans would never impeach the president, but should the balance of power shift to the Democrats after the election, that might change.

The president’s strategy counts on assuring that Republicans retain control of the House, which is problematic for two reasons. First it ignores the fact that it was Nixon’s own Republican party that forced his resignation by telling him they were prepared to impeach him for obstructing the Watergate investigation and attempting to cover up his own involvement in a number of illegal actions. There might just be enough integrity in the current Republican-controlled Congress for the same thing to occur if Mueller’s final report is sufficiently damning.

But by far, the more important point is that permitting a president to act with impunity, regardless of the technicalities of what the Constitution intended, is a slippery slope that must ultimately result in disaster for our nation. It’s clear that the spirit of our Constitution requires a president who does not have ultimate, unrestrained power who is not above the law. No president can be allowed to disregard all of the established norms of behavior, procedures, and common decency that have protected us from tyranny for two-and-a-half centuries.

Guiliani appears to be saying, “Let the voters decide,” and perhaps he’s right. In the end, it’s our responsibility. We created this monster, and it’s up to us to shackle it.

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Trade Wars

Alan Zendell, June 1, 2018

It seems that Donald Trump was serious when he said trade wars are good, although his chimeric, narcissistic nature suggests that we should not infer anything specific until it actually happens. Talk is cheap, and it’s worth even less when successive statements continually contradict each other,

Trade war talk has been on again, off again since the day Trump announced his candidacy for president. Initially it consisted of vitriolic verbal attacks on China and its leaders, but rapidly expanded to include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), basically an all-out assault on the concept of free and open world trade.

Although establishment Republicans were horrified by these positions, one by one, they caved in and got in line, as the Trump juggernaut gained steam. The conventional wisdom was that to some degree, Trump was just pandering to disgruntled voters who felt they’d been left behind by the establishment wings of both parties. Surely he’d never follow through on all his outrageous threats and ideas, would he?

It’s hard to know what goes on in the mind of Donald Trump though it’s clear that he’s driven by the belief that he’s better than anyone else at “fixing” the country. Casting himself in the role of the hero America needed to be great again tapped into simmering anger and resentment in what came to be known as his base. Unfortunately, much of that anger and resentment was racist, ultra-nationalistic, and xenophobic, which gave his base a rabid, explosive quality.

Perhaps Trump meant all those things he said. Maybe he wasn’t only pandering. Or maybe he created a symbiotic monster that he can’t escape. Maybe his lust for power is so great that the fear of losing his base is now the only thing driving him. His base feeds on the slurs and insults he throws out at the people Trump tells them are responsible for everything they’re angry about. And he in turn feeds on their adoration. It’s an addictive cycle that might be impossible for a megalomaniacal narcissist like Trump to break.

Maybe that’s what made him decide to follow through on his trade war threats. No other explanation makes any sense. We’ve already heard from American soybean farmers, beer makers, and whiskey distillers that Trump’s tariffs will raise their costs and reduce their profits – that is, if they don’t ruin their businesses completely. Everything gets more expensive when diesel and gasoline prices rise, and Trump’s policies on trade, Iran, and the environment could combine to form a perfect storm that triggers an inflationary spiral in energy costs. And all that may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage he can do at home.

But what of the rest of the world? Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian today, expressed the concern of many of our European allies: “Trump’s trade war threatens global peace.” He views Trump’s tariffs as a declaration of war against Europe, and gives voice to a growing belief that “the disruption that [Trump] has deliberately inflicted on Europe marks a turning point. It declares us America’s enemies.” That’s not just rhetoric. Europeans have felt the brunt of Trump’s America First populism since the day he took office and now worry that they can no longer depend on a strong Atlantic alliance.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs writes that “Trump is rapidly destroying American global leadership, alliances, and interests.” His tariffs on steel and aluminum appear to be a direct assault on Canada and the European Union, and his continuing insults directed at Mexico serve no purpose other than red meat for his political base. Professor Sachs laid out what he sees as the consequences for such actions: “Harming our closest allies … and provoking retaliation cannot possibly deliver higher wages, better jobs, or an improved trade balance. Trump’s latest notion to slap tariffs on German automobiles would be even more damaging geopolitically.” The EU will fight Trump in the World Trade Organization’s trade court, though it would surprise no one if Trump told them to go to Hell.

For no explicable reason, Trump seems to take particular delight in targeting Canada. Canada? Pretending to be interested in re-negotiating NAFTA, he has imposed a condition that he knows Canada cannot accept, though its value to the United States other than political is hard to discern. He now insists that any revised NAFTA agreement contain a five-year sunset clause, which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said Canada would never accept. Trudeau further labeled Trump’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum “totally unacceptable,” saying retaliation against the United States is necessary.

We haven’t heard words like that coming out of Canada since the French and Indian War.

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Gowdy, the FBI, and the Justice Department

Alan Zendell, May 30, 2018

It happens over and over again. Republicans in Congress who intend to run for re-election feel inextricably tied to President Trump politically, though many, perhaps most, find his words and behavior despicable. We’ve seen the cycle play itself out several times this year as one after another, they realize they no longer have the stomach to serve this way. Constantly bombarded by high disapproval numbers over Congressional dysfunction and gridlock, it’s not difficult to understand why so many talented professionals would want to return to careers that were more satisfying and productive.

It no longer seems remarkable that the moment they make the decision to leave the Congress their loyalty to Donald Trump evaporates like a wisp of steam. We saw it with Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, among others, and now we see it with Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. A staunch Tea Party Conservative, Gowdy was no friend of either the Obama Administration or Hillary Clinton. Chairing the House Select Committee on the tragedy in Benghazi, he attacked Clinton relentlessly for more than two years, and even recommended that she be prosecuted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

He wasn’t a strong supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy for President, but ultimately got on board when Trump won the nomination, and he has publicly been a loyal if not vocal supporter of the president. But now that he has decided to leave the Congress, the lawyer and former prosecutor could no longer remain silent about Trump’s unceasing attacks on the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

Agree with his politics or not, and I don’t, one has to respect his integrity. Once again, a conservative Republican of conscience has come forward to debunk what he sees as the destructive actions of a self-serving president who recognizes no boundaries of decency and seems not to care about the damage he does to our basic institutions to further his own ends.

Gowdy wasted no time in defending the FBI against Trump’s attacks. In a Fox News interview, he said he was “convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.” He further noted that Trump himself said the FBI needed to investigate any possibility that someone in his campaign might have colluded with the Russians.

Gowdy’s remarks on the network Trump loves were a clear repudiation of the president’s claims that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt. They also contradicted the baseless assertion by the president that the FBI had inserted a spy into his campaign to undercut his election. The remarkable thing is that these revelations do nothing to move those red state Republicans in Congress who still have to stand for re-election. Their fear of the mindless devotion of Trump’s base continues to compromise their integrity and prevent them from carrying out their Congressional mandate to serve as a check on excesses by the Executive Branch.

We hear many predictions of a looming constitutional crisis as a direct confrontation between Trump and Mueller approaches. Trump’s recent hiring of Rudy Guiliani as his chief attack dog has only exacerbated the situation, as he freely admits in interview after interview that Trump’s attacks on Mueller and the FBI are purely political appeals to his base. Guiliani dodges questions about any evidence that might support Trump’s attacks, instead explaining that the matter is not a legal proceeding but a direct attempt to influence public sentiment.

In the end, Guiliani concedes, the real issue is whether the president can or will be impeached, and in that arena, laws and rules matter less than approval ratings in red states with House seats up for grabs next November. Guiliani is correct about that, which only makes Trump’s behavior more despicable. As the president has always said, the only thing that matters to him is winning. Not the Constitution, not the integrity of our law enforcement agencies or our Justice Department, and not the protection of our democracy that he has sworn to defend.

This close to the election, it seems unlikely that any Republican who wants to keep his or her seat will speak out against the president, no matter what concerns they may express in private. And that is probably the worst indictment of this president’s behavior. Now it’s up to the voters. Will there be enough of them willing to defeat the Trump sycophants who care more about their careers than the future of the country?

Let’s hope so.

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