The GOP Defends the Indefensible
Republicans are running out of moves with each revelation by the DOJ, whose findings are proving that Trump is exactly who we feared: a dangerous traitor to us all.
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These days, it’s depressing to contemplate the Founders’ idea for America. We now recognize their racism and misogyny, as their vision excluded Black people, women, and Native peoples, and prioritized white male landowners. But, there are a few things the Founders got right.
In drafting the Constitution for the state of Massachusetts, founder John Adams stated that “the legislative, executive, and judicial power, shall be placed in separate departments, to the end that it might be a government of laws and not of men.” This phrase often gets co-opted by conservatives, who believe it stands only for pushing back against the government and demanding the sort of “limited” government conservatives prefer—one in which the bodies of pregnant persons are highly, intrusively regulated, but campaign finance reform, for example, is verboten.
Regardless of this co-optation, Adams was onto something: the notion that the government is not dependent on the whims of one branch of government or one person and that laws apply to everyone, regardless of status.
That, of course, is no longer the case for the GOP. The Republican response to the search of Mar-a-Lago has been uniform in its commitment to a belief that laws simply shouldn’t be applied to Trump.
Recall when Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted about President Obama: “No man is above the law & Obama seems to believe he’s an Emperor rather than a president.” When the law was evenly and fairly applied to Trump via the execution of a duly-authorized search warrant, Cruz whined that this was “corrupt and an abuse of power.”
Cruz has called the execution of the search warrant a “raid,” a term that mainstream media have unfortunately picked up. It wasn’t a raid. As Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg explained to The Wall Street Journal, “a very orderly, smooth search of a home conducted by plain clothes FBI agents, escorted by Secret Service agents.” Trump and his acolytes would have the world believe that this search was conducted in the dead of night, doors kicked in, guns at the ready, but it was no such thing.
Third-ranking House Republican and perennial Trump cheerleader Rep. Elise Stefanik tweeted, “If the FBI can raid a U.S. President, imagine what they can do to you.” Well, that’s precisely the point of laws. The FBI can investigate a former president. They can investigate you, they can investigate me. Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Mike Kelly declared, “For the FBI to raid a private citizen’s home is incredible; but to raid a former President’s home is unprecedented. We should all fear the dangerous precedent this sets.” In a society of laws, not of people, the “dangerous precedent” would actually be treating Trump as above the law. He’s not a king. He’s a wannabe authoritarian strongman, and he’s got a political party in thrall to him.
Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who once stood up to Trump but now backs Trump’s every play, is mad that law enforcement didn’t give him a heads up before the search. Rubio’s logic is that he’s on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence so the FBI should have talked to him first. Rubio’s stance is again predicated on the notion that Trump is above the law and that standard law enforcement procedures, which do not typically require a check-in with Marco Rubio or any other senator, cannot possibly apply here. Given how much Rubio and his fellow travelers suck up to Trump, it’s also absurd to believe that a GOP senator wouldn’t have raced to tip Trump off so that he could remove anything incriminating. Further, President Biden reportedly didn’t know the search was forthcoming either, and that is also exactly as it should be. This is a law enforcement matter, not a political act.
Alan Dershowitz, previously a lawyer of some renown but is now a weirdo who wants to sue a library for not letting him speak there, wrote an op-ed for The Hill saying that the DOJ should have subpoenaed documents rather than executing a search warrant. This is a laughable assertion, given Trump’s defiance of subpoenas. Because of course we learned that the DOJ actually issued a subpoena for these documents months ago. And, yes, Trump defied them. Which brings us to the search.
Trumpland had to quickly pivot and scramble for answers for underlying reasons for the search. They said the FBI planted evidence while acknowledging, vaguely, that some files were confiscated. However, they quickly ran out of road for that maneuver following Attorney General Merrick Garland’s presser on Thursday, in which he revealed that the DOJ would be perfectly happy to unseal the warrant and the list of things removed—all Trump has to do is agree. Trump has decided not to object. (It’s a Catch-22, because keeping it sealed makes him look guilty; unsealing it will be incriminating.)
Thursday, the hits kept coming when the DOJ dropped the biggest bomb of all: That they were looking for classified documents relating to nuclear weapons. Had he been sharing those secrets, that is the stuff of spy novels and is the level of crime for which this country imprisons and one one occasion, executes people.
The GOP will perform any manner of acrobatics to protect their fearful leader. The Thin Blue Line–loving GOP will even turn on cops the moment the mildest law enforcement rules are applied to them. January 6 was when this came into sharp relief as we watched the All Lives Matter/Thin Blue Line/Punisher Tattoo crowd literally attack police officers. On a surface level, it seems hard to understand how conservatives can square this with their worldview that they love it when cops curb-stomp or kill Black people. However, a key part of the conservative worldview is that laws don’t apply to them but should absolutely be weaponized against the people they don’t like. As Frank Wilhoit explained, “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
After six straight years of conservative howling that Hillary Clinton be locked up for having a private email server, conservatives are confronted with the fact that Trump took boxes and boxes of classified documents—including, quite possibly, ones relating to nuclear codes and weapons—and stashed them in his country club. Moreover, Trump already knew he wasn’t supposed to be keeping those classified documents, because the National Archives already took 15 boxes of classified information away from him back in February. In light of this, a rational political party would condemn Trump’s actions or, at the very least, wait for the law enforcement process to play out. Instead, conservatives are suddenly really into defunding the police.
The spectre of fascism has been invoked extensively over the last several years concerning Trump, and sometimes that invocation can feel a bit overwrought. Jason Stanley, who wrote How Fascism Works, says that a fascist leader “promises that only he can protect the nation, protect its traditions from their threat and restore lost glory,” which is exactly what Trump did. Still, before January 6, his fascism seemed more theoretical. But then, as historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explains, Trump, a classic authoritarian strongman, whipped supporters into enough of a frenzy that they enacted violence to try to keep him in office. Now, the stance of nearly the entire Republican party is that laws don’t apply to Trump and his supporters are gearing up for violence because the DOJ dared apply the law equally to him.
We’ve heard it all before, this rank hypocrisy, this violent rhetoric, but each time, it’s like a punch in the gut, a reminder that even having removed Trump from office, his supporters in and out of government believe he stands above the law and should never have any checks on his behavior. At this point, even the most loyal will be hard-pressed to justify these latest revelations. It is that bad. It’s as dangerous as it is disheartening, and we need to be prepared to fight for democracy to claw our way back from this.
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