What makes the Trump era so unusual isn’t partisanship and political tribalism, which have been around for much of human existence. It is the degree to which the transgressive nature of Trump—his willingness to go places no other president has gone, to say and do things that no president before him has done—has exposed the Republican Party. There is hardly a pretense anymore regarding what the party, and the right-wing media complex, are doing. They are driven by a single, all-consuming commitment: Defend Donald Trump at all costs. That is the end they seek, and they will pursue virtually any means necessary to achieve it. This from the party that once said it stood for objective truth, for honor and integrity, and against moral relativism.
We are facing a profound political crisis. What the Republican Party is saying and signaling isn’t simply that rationality and truth are subordinate to partisanship; it is that they have to be obliterated for the sake of partisanship and the survival of the Trump presidency. As best I can tell, based on some fairly intense interactions with Trump supporters, there is no limiting principle—almost nothing he can do—that will forfeit their support. Members of Congress clearly believe Trump is all that stands between them and the loss of power, while many Trump voters believe the president is all that stands between them and national ruin. In either case, it has led them into the shadowlands.
For those of us who are still conservative and have devoted a large part of our lives to the Republican Party, it is quite painful to watch all of this unfold. Perhaps too many of us were blind to things we should have seen, or perhaps the GOP is significantly different now than it was in the past, when it was led by estimable (if imperfect) individuals such as Ronald Reagan. Whatever the case, we are where we are—in a very precarious and worrisome place.
You can be critical of the Democratic Party and believe, as I do, that it is becoming increasingly radicalized while also believing this: The Republican Party under Donald Trump is a party built largely on lies, and it is now maintained by politicians and supporters who are willing to “live within the lie,” to quote the great Czech dissident (and later president) Václav Havel. Many congressional Republicans privately admit this but, with very rare exceptions—Senator Mitt Romney of Utah is the most conspicuous example—refuse to publicly acknowledge it.
“For what purpose?” they respond point-blank when asked why they don’t speak out with moral urgency against the president’s moral transgressions, his cruelty, his daily assault on reality, and his ongoing destruction of our civic and political culture. Trump is more powerful and more popular than they are, they will say, and they will be targeted by him and his supporters and perhaps even voted out of office.