The Department of Homeland Security has a motto: “If you see something, say something.”
Well, we’ve seen quite a bit over the last month and Republicans in Congress have said next to nothing.
The Russian government has interfered with our election. There is evidence that President Trump’s campaign team had unsavory discussions with Russian officials throughout the campaign. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, negotiated sanctions with Russian officials during the Obama administration, and lied about it to the FBI. And through it all, the party of Reagan and Eisenhower has turned a blind eye.
It is odd that the same people who fought tooth-and-nail to ensure everything was kosher at the executive branch during the Benghazi ordeal have determined the prospect of Russian interference in the United States government can be overlooked. In the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, House Speaker Paul Ryan supported “investigative efforts following where the evidence leads.” With Flynn, however, Ryan felt confident that the “administration [would] explain the circumstances that led to this.” Representative Ken Buck (R – Colo.) said of Benghazi, “Lady Justice doesn’t see black or white. She doesn’t see male or female. She doesn’t see rich or poor. But soon, Lady Justice will see Hillary Clinton.” Lady Justice does, however, see Democrat and Republican, at least according to Senator Rand Paul (R – Ky.). Responding to calls for investigations into the Michael Flynn situation, Paul said “it makes no sense” to spend “our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.” Representative Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah.), a Benghazi zealot, has assured us that the Flynn situation will “take care of itself.”
National security is apparently now partisan. To some extent, this willingness to turn a blind eye can be chalked up to ‘politics as usual.’ Democrats certainly gave President Obama less scrutiny than they would have given a Republican president. And if it were just the Michael Flynn situation, perhaps Americans would be served well to focus on moving on. But it is not just Michael Flynn.
It’s inauguration day crowd sizes. It’s “three million” illegal voters. It’s the “Bowling Green Massacre.” It’s “alternative facts.” It’s “fake news” It’s Swedish terrorism. It’s “I did not have communications with the Russians.” It’s wiretapping. Blatantly false and unfounded statements stream out of the office once held by Lincoln and Roosevelt at an unprecedented rate. One can only hazard a guess as to what George Washington and his cherry tree would make of all this.
Some Republican lawmakers have spoken out against Trump’s antics. Senator John McCain (R – Ariz.) has sensibly called out Trump time and time again. Surely, though, McCain is not the only one who sees these problems. Why has no one else spoken up? Are the Republican powers now so pro-Trump that only a 35-year veteran of Congress is able to weather the political consequences of speaking out?
Surely, most Republicans politicians must recognize the ridiculousness of Trump’s antics. They are not speaking out, presumably, because they fear a backlash. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has already threatened State Department officials who voice dissent: “they can get with the program or they can go.” If this is being said in public to non-partisan government employees, what is being privately said to politicians in Trump’s Republican party? How far does Trump have to go in order to draw widespread criticism from Republicans? The threshold seems to keep getting pushed further and further back.
The obvious political mechanism to force GOP action is, of course, the voters. If Republican supporters begin to voice widespread concern, Republican candidates will be forced to listen. But in what situation would Republican constituents voice true concern? It is here that Trump’s charges of “fake news” bring up a serious problem.
News reporting can cause significant change in public opinion. Before Watergate, Nixon had an approval rating of 63 percent. After Watergate, Nixon’s rating dropped to 24 percent. But if the newspaper that reported on Watergate, the Washington Post, had been discredited in the eyes of Nixon supporters and Republicans by being called “fake news,” there is no telling whether the scandal would have influenced public opinion, exposed Nixon, or eventually led to his resignation.
If Republicans continue to either validate these charges of fake news or stay silent on the subject, there is reason to believe that even news reporting comparable to Watergate will be thrown out as “fake” or attributed to liberal media hysteria. Trump’s accusations of “fake news,” which have striking similarities to Hitler’s accusations of a Lügenpresse (lying press), have prevented the mechanism of public opinion from reaching normal political outcomes because large segments of the public no longer trust the sources that they have historically relied on.
Of course, not all Republicans have bought into the concept of fake news. Some denounce parts of Trump’s agenda but support the idea of a unified Republican government. Others have been taken aback by the conduct of the White House over the last few weeks but still are willing to see what happens.
Many are still holding on to the Republican Party of a few years ago, or even a few months ago. But Ryan is no longer just the charming and spirited Wisconsin family man who wants to lower taxes and decrease government spending. Ryan is now a political leader who has made a conscious decision to be silent in the face of a president who is actively eroding democratic norms that this country has worked for hundreds of years to build. In not standing up to Trump, Republican leaders are enabling him. History books will not weigh equally calls for a lower corporate tax rate with decisions to support silence in the face of demagoguery.
At airports, if you see something suspicious, you are supposed to say something. The same principle should apply to democracy. Who knows how oddly shaped the unattended bag will be that finally forces Ryan and Mitch McConnell to say something, or if it will ever come. But there’s a lot of suspicious activity going on in Washington right now, and if Republicans don’t speak up soon, who knows if they ever will.