Every member of Congress takes an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The current crop of Republicans in Congress, unlike their predecessors in the Nixon era, are not going to be fabled for fidelity to their oaths. The reasons for their faithlessness are unfortunately as common as dirt these days: fear and moral bankruptcy.
Courage is perseverance in the face of fear. Heroism is courage above and beyond the call of duty. Cowardice, on the other hand, is shirking your duty because of fear. Thus far in President Donald Trump’s impeachment saga, not one hero has emerged from the 197 Republicans in the House. If there is any courage among them, it is carefully concealed. There is, however, an obvious abundance of cowardice.
But let’s deal with the moral bankrupts before focusing on the faint of heart. Right and wrong are beyond the ken of the amoral majority in the House minority. They simply do not care what Trump does. On impeachment, they argue the requisite burden has not been met to prove Trump did what they do not deny he did, or they see nothing wrong with what he did if he did it. Scowling, shouting and cavorting for the television cameras, they are rodeo clowns trying to distract the bull of public opinion from the facts and from the conclusions to which those facts inexorably lead.
Winning, which means successfully providing cover for Trump’s malfeasance, is their goal, not defending the U.S. Constitution. Thoroughly compromised and proud of it, there is no tragedy in their voluntary debasement to temper my contempt for them.
But I do pity the weak, those who know what Trump did is fundamentally wrong but are too afraid to say so publicly, much less support impeachment. Their understandable fear is that Trump will excoriate them if they so much as raise an eyebrow in implied criticism, and that they will be challenged in their next primary by a Trump toady and driven from office by his idolaters.
This is the difference between now and Nixon. Social media and 24-hour news apparently have raised the price of principle to unaffordable levels. Although Nixon’s cover-up of a “third rate burglary” is small beer compared to Trump’s attempt to use the power of the presidency to coerce a foreign government to interfere on his behalf in the 2020 election, the electoral stakes are higher for today’s Republicans because of the cult Trump commands via Twitter and Fox.
The weak are for the most part decent people who ran for office for the right reasons. They wanted to make a positive difference for their communities and their country. They believed that if the time came when they were called upon in a moment of crisis to defend the Constitution and the republic, they would be equal to the challenge.
They were wrong. That time has come, and to a man and woman they have wilted under the pressure. Having been stripped of their pretensions, they will be alone with their consciences for the rest of their lives. That is their personal tragedy, and it is why I pity them.
But the road to redemption remains open. Emiliano Zapata, a leader in the Mexican revolution, said it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. Republicans who have grown accustomed to living on their knees under Trump should think long and hard about those words. It is not too late to stand up.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez and a long-time Republican strategist and lobbyist. He has since registered as no party affiliation and as a Democrat, and his voter registration now varies with the election cycle.