We are past the time when mournful comments about President Donald Trump’s disgraceful behavior are sufficient. It is no longer defensible for his lieutenants or Republicans in Congress to tell themselves that they’re staying close to Trump to contain the damage he could cause our country.
If their actual goal was to prevent damage, they have failed. True, we have not had a nuclear war and Trump hasn’t shut down our democracy. But if this is the standard, if these are genuine fears, then Trump should have been gone long ago. A man this unstable, self-involved, uninformed, divisive and amoral should be nowhere near the levers of power.
It should embarrass all who work in the White House (except for the extremists) that after Trump’s unhinged news conference on Tuesday, they were reduced to insisting, on background, that everything Trump said was unplanned, off-script and shocking to them.
If they are so appalled by this man, why do they stick with him? Why do his chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and chief of staff John Kelly keep standing there? Kelly was supposed to turn this White House around. But since he arrived, Trump’s troubles have only deepened. A much-honored Marine cannot possibly want this as his legacy.
Can any policy victory be worth it for Cohn and Mnuchin to absorb the damage further complicity with Trump will do to their reputations? As for Chao, her boss had gone after her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, before he distanced himself from Trump on Wednesday. “There are no good neo-Nazis,” McConnell said. “And those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.” Both Chao and McConnell have big decisions to make.
And every member of the administration should read Sohrab Ahmari’s warning on Commentary magazine’s website to his fellow conservatives “who are convinced that a responsible, presidential Trump is just around the corner.” Ahmari concludes: “He will always disappoint you. And with each disappointment comes a fresh dose of humiliation.”
In 1996, three members of President Bill Clinton’s administration stood up for their beliefs by resigning in disagreement with his decision to sign a welfare-reform bill. Shouldn’t opposition to neo-Nazis and white supremacists inspire an even more urgent devotion to principle?
Many Republicans in Congress have scrambled to disassociate themselves publicly from the president’s Trump Tower fiasco, which is better than silence or apologetics. But it’s not enough. They need to rebuke Trump by name and support a congressional resolution to do so formally.
And censuring Trump could well be a first step toward removing him from office. The heart of the danger he poses to our nation is that he thinks only about himself, which he made obvious Tuesday when he bizarrely detoured to the claim of owning “one of the largest wineries in the United States.”
Republicans have spoken in recent days about their commitment to racial justice, but they need to back up their talk. Now, for example, would be an excellent time for them to pass a revised Voting Rights Act and to end their voter suppression efforts. And let there be soul-searching in the party about racial dog whistles that exploit white resentment in ways more subtle than Trump’s but still scandalous. Party leaders failed to reproach Trump for his birtherist attacks on President Barack Obama. Birtherism was a first step toward Charlottesville.
Every new Trump outrage seems to invite bold declarations that this time will be the end of the line. If this week’s spectacle of moral obtuseness isn’t the breaking point, may God save our republic.
E.J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post.