Eric Liu: We’re not ‘all in it together’
Trump lashed out at another inspector general on Monday, over a report that described in vivid terms the equipment shortages that U.S. hospitals are facing. Medical workers, it said, were “trying to make their own disinfectant from in-house chemicals, running low on toilet paper and food, and trying to source face masks from nail salons.” Trump declared that the report’s conclusions, which were drawn from direct interviews with health-care professionals at “323 hospitals across 46 States” and territories currently attempting to contain the outbreak, were “just wrong” and called the report “another fake dossier.”
The target of the president’s purge of independent watchdogs is clear: those officials who put the public interest above their loyalty to Donald Trump. Officials who uphold their duty to the American people, or even give the slightest impression of doing so, will find their careers in danger. They exist not, as their jobs have previously been understood, to provide the public with vital information about the functioning of the government, but to conceal inconvenient facts and exalt the divine foresight of the president. If the truth does not glorify the leader, it must be changed or suppressed. Even more important, where the law conflicts with his will, the law must be disregarded—and those who are unwilling to do so are not fit to serve.
The president and the institutional GOP are executing parallel, complementary campaigns: Trump is attempting to undermine the rule of law for personal and political gain; keeping him in office is crucial to the Republican Party’s larger goal of locking its opponents out of power by narrowing, restricting, or altering the franchise to insulate the party from a changing electorate.
The president’s goals are venal and petty; the GOP’s long-term objectives are far more ambitious. Trump is simply a convenient vehicle for the latter, a figure whose prejudice channels the Republican base’s moral instinct that those unlike them have a lesser claim on American citizenship, and that democracy would be more genuine without their influence. Americans hoping to change the direction of the country will have to battle a plague and fight for the freedom to choose their own leaders at the same time.
Senate Republicans, who might conceivably restrain Trump’s undemocratic impulses, have been muted. As long as Trump maintains his support among the GOP rank and file, the president may defy the rule of law as he likes, without meaningful protest. Checking Trump could interfere with the conservative capture of the federal judiciary, which is vitally important to the Republican Party’s plans for long-term domination.
The disgraceful episode in Wisconsin illustrates the convergence of these parallel efforts. The state held its primary yesterday, after Democratic efforts to delay the election until June because of the pandemic were unsuccessful. At stake is a seat on the conservative-dominated state supreme court; the winner will cast the deciding vote in a case that could disenfranchise up to 200,000 voters in the state. Although the state had already extended the deadline for receiving absentee ballots to April 13, Democrats sought to extend the deadline for postmarking those ballots as well, arguing that because of the large volume of requests for absentee ballots, some voters would not receive theirs in time.