Schwab: As Republicans back down, voters must now step up

The GOP has passed on its last chance to confront a demagogue; the choice ahead should be clear.

By Sid Schwab / Herald columnist

Trump’s impeachment will be remembered for establishing that 250 years of constitutional governance can be erased in three. That the party which elected Abraham Lincoln can choose and excuse a despot wannabe. And that when he behaves predictably —raging, lying, ignoring the law, encouraging anger and fear and victimization like every successful dictator in history — that party, when it still had a chance, will look away, cowering.

Impeachment and Trump have shown that the world’s longest-standing democracy is capable of capitulating to an authoritarian bully. If there’s still time for responsible, forward-looking citizens to take America back from the mob-king, they won’t come from today’s Republican Party.

Several Republican senators agreed what Trump did was bad. Rubio even admitted it was impeachable. Yet, except for Mitt Romney, they abdicated their responsibility to our nation. Why? Reflected power. Cash. But, mostly, fear. For their careers, of course; and, because Trump is Trump, Trumpists are Trumpists, and Fox is Fox, fearing threats to themselves and their families. That’s how dictators gain and maintain power. We saw it, bright as gunfire, dark as blood, during the Senate puppet show, as, out of cameras’ view, Republicans absented themselves from the chamber, leaving their integrity behind.

Congressional Republicans fear Trump more than the 75 percent of Americans who wanted witnesses and documents brought forth. That’s the power of tyrants to bend people to their will, and it’s how democracies end. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote that many of his Republican colleagues privately admit their fear. As RFK said, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle.” (New York Times: tinyurl.com/BrownKnows)

History teaches that, facing autocratic amorality like Trump’s, even democracies may lack the means to stem the tide. Always, though, there are plenty who march to a despot’s rage and vindictiveness; who think they’ll never be its victims, but relish picturing those who will.

With Mitchly reptilian grins, those recreant Republicans say we should leave it to voters, as if the founders hadn’t created impeachment precisely because they rejected that specious argument. Behind those smirks lie their aces in the hole: voter suppression, voter-roll purges, gerrymandering. Denying funds to protect against helpful foreign interference. Rejecting measures to safeguard voting machines, hacking of which we know Russians have done, and which has been shown to be child’s-play. Literally. (“PBS News Hour”: tinyurl.com/kid2play)

The case was made beyond denial: Trump tried to extort a vulnerable foreign government into helping him with his reelection. Caught in flagrante delicto, he stonewalled and lied to cover it up. Shutting down further testimony and documents, Senate Republicans made it clear: Trump’s demagoguery works. Meanwhile, as his feared “enemies of the people” do their job, more of Trump’s illegality is seeping out. It’s certain there’s plenty more, for it’s always been who Trump is. Republicans still won’t care.

“Trumpism is a cult,” people say. It’s worse. When cultists drink their leaders’ Kool-Aid, they destroy only themselves. Trumpism is destroying America. If we’re not a nation of laws; if we’ve stopped believing in limited executive power, we’re no longer America. If we accept a “president” who lies wantonly, uses division as a weapon, who convinces his minions they’re the abused ones, whose thirst for vengeance will now be unchecked, we’re approaching the end. If enough Americans continue to countenance a man who systematically tears down institutions designed by the framers to preserve freedom from monarchy, whose followers flash weapons as threats, even claim a constitutional right to “kill socialists,” it’s over.

Senatorial capitulator-in-chief, Susan Collins said he’d “learned from this.” “It was a perfect call,” Trump responded. Proving the point, his State of the Union speech, the opposite of inclusive, was replete with the expected exaggerations, calculated divisiveness, slandering the opposition, claiming undue credit, omissions (Deficits? Climate change? Who cares?), and unregenerate lies. Lindsey Graham’s promise to investigate the Bidens post-acquittal was even more craven. And Rush “Barack the Magic Negro” Limbaugh? Wow.

To recapture our democratic republic, massive voter turnout — enough to overwhelm Republican-created obstacles and cowardice — is the last hope. Liberals must vote for the Democratic nominee even if it’s not their favorite. Remaining conservatives, if any there be, must recognize they can survive Democrats in charge for a while, a more equitable and capitalism-enabling economy, better health care, less pollution, lower deficits; even background checks. But not the end of constitutional democracy. They’ll need to outvote those rejoicing in it, to reclaim a fearful, Constitution-abandoning political party. The odds aren’t good.

Email Sid Schwab at columnsid@gmail.com.

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