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The Great Republican abdication

SO all the "fake news" was true. A hostile foreign power intervened in the presidential election, hoping to install Donald Trump in the White House. The Trump campaign was aware of this intervention and welcomed it. And once in power, Mr Trump tried to block any inquiry into what happened.

Never mind attempts to spin this story as somehow not meeting some definitions of collusion or obstruction of justice. The fact is that the occupant of the White House betrayed his country. And the question everyone is asking is, what will Democrats do about it?

But notice that the question is only about Democrats. Everyone (correctly) takes it as a given that Republicans will do nothing. Why?

Because the modern GOP is perfectly willing to sell out America if that's what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans may not think of it in those terms, but that's what their behaviour amounts to.

The truth is that the GOP faced its decisive test in 2016, when almost everyone in the Republican establishment lined up behind a man fully known to be a would-be authoritarian who was unfit morally, temperamentally and intellectually for high office.

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In their chilling book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt call this "the great Republican abdication". The party's willingness to back behaviour it would have called treasonous if a Democrat did it is just more of the same.

Mr Levitsky and Mr Ziblatt say that when mainstream politicians abdicate responsibility in the face of a leader who threatens democracy, it's usually for one of two reasons. Either they have the misguided belief that he can be controlled, or they're willing to go along because his agenda overlaps with theirs - that is, they believe that he'll give them what they want.

At this point it's hard to imagine that anyone still believes that Mr Trump can be controlled. But he is delivering on the Republican establishment's agenda - certainly far more than any Democrat would.


The key point is that Republicans are committed to a policy agenda that is deeply unpopular. By large margins, the American public believes that corporations and the wealthy don't pay their fair share in taxes. By even larger margins, the public opposes cuts to safety-net programmes like Medicaid. Yet as far as I can tell, every GOP budget proposal over the past decade has combined big tax cuts for the rich with savage cuts in Medicaid.

If the Republican agenda is so unpopular, how does the party win elections? Partly by lying about its policies. But mainly the GOP's political achievements depend on identity politics - white identity politics. Exploiting racial resentment to capture white working-class voters, while pursuing policies that benefit only the wealthy, has been the core of the party's political strategy for decades. That's why, in an increasingly diverse country, Republican support has stayed overwhelmingly white.

In a fundamental sense, Trumpism is the culmination of that strategy. Commentators keep calling Trump a "populist", but the only way in which he actually caters to working-class white voters is by appealing to their racial animus. He may be successful in doing so partly because it's the only thing about his political persona that's sincere: All indications are that he really is a racist. His substantive policies, however, have followed the standard right-wing agenda: In 2017 he passed a huge tax cut, largely for corporations, that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, and almost succeeded in repealing Obamacare, in the process gutting Medicaid.

And these policies have endeared him to the GOP's money men. "Deep-pocketed Republicans who snubbed Donald Trump in 2016 are going all in for him in 2020," reports Politico. They're doing so even though they know that Mr Trump was installed in office in part thanks to Russian aid, that his financial entanglements with foreign governments pose huge conflicts of interest and that he consistently shows a preference for dictatorships over our democratic allies.

As I said, the modern GOP is perfectly willing to sell out America if that's what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy.


Once you accept this reality, two conclusions follow.

First, anyone expecting bipartisanship in dealing with the aftermath of the Mueller report - in particular, anyone suggesting that Democrats should wait for GOP support before proceeding with investigations that might lead to impeachment - is being deluded. Mr Trump is giving the Republican establishment what it wants, and it will stick with him no matter what.

Second, it's later than you think for American democracy. Before 2016, you could have wondered whether Republicans would, in extremis, be willing to take a stand in defence of freedom and the rule of law. At this point, however, they've already taken that test, and failed with flying colours.

The simple fact is that one of our two major parties - the one that likes to wrap itself in the flag - no longer believes in American values. And it's very much up in the air whether America as we know it will survive. NYTIMES

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