Only now as our democracy unravels do we see its vulnerabilities. It functions only so long as participants obey long held protocols and precedences. Once abandoned, chaos rules.
Think of driving. You don’t run a red light. You don’t cross the double yellow line. Break these rules and an accident can occur. Last winter, after the nation committed political suicide, I saw someone wildly and freely cross the yellow line on the road again and again. He didn’t care. He looked like he was enjoying himself. The woman sitting next to him also seemed to enjoy the ride. Perhaps he was trying to impress her. Maybe they were both high. He hit no one because other drivers steered clear of him. I waited on a side street for him to pass.
Mitch McConnell crossed the yellow line last year by refusing to allow the Senate to consider President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee. Like Regina Giddens in Little Foxes, McConnell stood by while the democratic process had a heart attack and flopped off-stage to die.
Republicans in North Carolina, stunned that they did not hold onto the governorship, crossed the yellow line with verve. They subverted the democratic process by passing dubious laws to take power away from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate described their move as “an alarming departure from basic democratic norms.” Among many other things, the new laws would have altered the make up of state election boards, preventing the governor from appointing majorities, as had been allowed previously. Fortunately, the courts blocked most of these laws from taking effect.
They aren’t finished yet, though. North Carolina Republicans continue to pass mean measures out of spite. Example: defund programs for children in Democratic districts.
These type of actions show a willful determination to subvert the democratic process. But they all pale in comparison to actions by the current occupant of the White House.
I don’t see a double yellow line. I think bigly. Believe me.
Consider Donald Trump the Careener in Chief. He sees no double yellow line, other cars, sidewalks, or pedestrians. He sees only himself behind the wheel, looking tough. During the election, he broke precedence by not releasing his tax returns. He engaged in name-calling. He tweeted whatever batshit crazy idea came to mind. All small potatoes. Now that he’s in office, he’s really gone to town.
Trump has yet to meet an Executive Order he does not like. Curiously, his Republican colleagues have also developed a taste for them. Just a year ago, they accused the former White House occupant of issuing too many. How things have change.
They have changed. President Obama, a legal scholar, vetted and prepped his executive orders to a fault, to maximize their influence and staying power. By contrast, Trump’s team slaps them together like sloppy joes, and they hold together about as well. Courts made fast work of the two Muslim immigration bans issued by executive order, much to Trump’s chagrin.
It took President Obama and Congressional Democrats nearly two years to craft the Affordable Care Act. Republicans plan to dismantle and replace it in a matter of months. In the process, the House created a plan that would eliminate healthcare for tens of millions. It would also cause rates to rise for those with “pre-existing conditions,” a term defined so broadly that one could consider birth itself a pre-existing condition.
Trump drove the process behind the Republican’s American Health Care Act. But he accomplishes far more damage when careening solo. Despite flaccid assurances to the contrary, he has thoroughly entangled his family business with the presidency. His children and in-laws have free reign to do whatever inside and on behalf of the White House. To their way of thinking, “emoluments” is just a big fancy word in the dictionary. Thus, we do not know if Trump and his brood pursue policies for the good of the country or for the good of Trump, Inc. No other presidency in modern history has had so many conflicts of interest.
Much careening took place this last week. He fired FBI Director James Comey in a way most bizarre and abrupt. Can you imagine finding out you lost your job while talking to subordinates by glancing at the TV? Trump didn’t even have the decency to call the man on the phone. No doubt he occupied his phone too much with tweeting. While Trump’s surrogates continued to spin the tale that the Comey firing had nothing to do with investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump himself admitted that it did. Later, we learned that Trump apparently asked Comey to stop investigating former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Shortly after firing Comey, Trump met with Russian officials at the White House. One could call this bad optics, except that no American press were allowed to photograph the meetings. Russian press, however, were allowed. Now we have learned that Trump passed confidential information to the Russians. Vetting? Nah! Trump divulged the info in a fit of braggadocio. Never mind that we gained the info from Israel and did not seek permission to share it. By passing the info, Trump may have compromised the Israeli asset who provided it. Who cares, though, right? Showing off one’s “intelligence” is far more important the abiding by silly rules and protocols.
Careen, careen, careen.
The California Driver Handbook states that one cannot cross a double yellow line, except when instructed by “construction or other signs” because the road is blocked. Otherwise, careening across the double yellow line is illegal, subject to a ticket and possible fines.
Not all of Trump’s careening has broken laws. Most have only broken precedence and protocol. We have a functioning democracy because until now most participants have agreed to obey these unwritten rules. Now that so many Republicans have abandoned them, or careened over them, our democracy lies in the balance.
With Republicans in control of Congress, only they can start the official processes necessary to keep the president in check, up to and including impeachment. They could rise above partisanship and do the right thing. But so far, they haven’t. Again, procedures, protocols, and precedence have no meaning anymore. Look at this another way. If President Obama had done one-eighth the things Trump has, he would have been impeached ten times over.
Healthcare, the environment, international relations are all victims of Trump’s and the Republican’s lack of judgement and observance of protocol. But the biggest victim is our democracy itself. For survival many Republicans have tried to steer clear of Trump. None of us, however, can afford to stand on the sidelines and wait for him to pass. We must continue to resist and speak out so that ultimately he gets kicked out of office.