To say that these are extraordinary political times for our state and nation is to put things rather mildly. Across the country, open, high-level conversations about the President of the United States’ serial dishonesty and possible involvement in illegal – perhaps criminal – activity are as common as complaints about the infernal summer weather. Increasingly, there is a real and growing sense that the sickening spectacle of the Trump presidency will soon spur a wave of political change at the national, state and local levels.
For politicians and foot soldiers in the conservative movement, of course, the growing reality of this building wave has greatly ratcheted up the pressure that comes with being allied with the Great Prevaricator. Some on the extreme right – the Franklin Grahams, Mark Meadows, Dan Forests and Mark Harrises of the world – have long since cast their lot with Trump and will clearly stick with him to the bitter end.
A few conservative accommodationists who held their noses and tried to support the president through the early days of his presidency (Bob Corker, Jeff Flake), have now abandoned him for good and joined the chorus of centrists and progressives who simply want the man to leave office and soon.
Sadly and frustratingly, however, the majority of conservatives – most of whom know in their hearts that Trump is a scoundrel and a con man (think of Thom Tillis, Richard Burr, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) – continue to walk a tightrope in which they publicly eschew opportunities to criticize Trump and minimize or dismiss his psychoses and outrageous behavior as simply misunderstood or mere harmless bluster, while strongly defending and endorsing his policies at virtually every turn.
In recent months, however, as the pressure on Trump has mounted and the scope and magnitude of public outrage and disgust have grown, a new and disturbing tactic has emerged amongst these Trump enablers that can only be described as a kind of desperate “scorched earth” policy.
Facing a rising tide of popular opposition to the nation’s most visible conservative leader and an almost certain electoral backlash, the Trump enablers have opted to lash themselves to power in as many ways as they can imagine – even if it means altering long-established rules and fundamental norms of government.
In Washington, the most visible and worrisome manifestation of this phenomenon involves the mad rush to remake the federal courts by ensconcing scores of extreme and frequently unqualified ideologues on the bench for the rest of their lives.
In 2017, this effort commenced with the elevation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and in 2018, it has only picked up steam. As the nonpartisan analysts at the Alliance for Justice report, Republicans in the Senate have already confirmed 51 Trump nominees to the federal Supreme, circuit and district courts. Forty-one more are pending in the Senate and another 142 vacancies await nominations.
The poster child for this effort at present is Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – a hardline right-winger who would clearly alter the balance on the Supreme Court in many critical areas.
Republicans are pulling every trick they can to expedite his consideration by the Senate – even if it means assuring that reams of relevant records from his controversial years in the George W. Bush administration will not be considered.
Meanwhile, progressives are making a passionate and compelling case that it will be a travesty if the nomination is allowed to proceed now that the Mueller investigation of Trump is almost certainly headed for a Supreme Court showdown. Kavanaugh, they point out, is one of the nation’s most extreme proponents of the long discredited “Unitary Executive Theory,” which, as the American Constitution Society recently highlighted, “provides for sweeping presidential authority to exercise complete control over all actions of executive officials unfettered by court review or congressional regulation.”
Here in North Carolina, we are witness to a similar pattern as conservatives seek not just to remake the judiciary, but the state constitution itself. Faced with the almost certain loss of their legislative supermajorities and, quite possibly, a fall to minority status in the Legislative Building, Republicans are now scrambling wildly to do whatever they can to position themselves to cling to power and, if necessary, sabotage future Democratic-controlled General Assemblies.
The effort of recent days to madly rewrite two power-grabbing constitutional amendments during yet another last minute special session is the latest, but perhaps most egregious example of this utterly cynical scheme. Like their compatriots in Washington, Republican power brokers in Raleigh know Trump is a cretin, but they’re only too happy to turn a blind eye to his behavior and ape his shameless and power-hungry tactics for as long as they can get away with it.
When the day comes that he is either removed from office or defeated for re-election, you can rest assured that the reaction amongst these same shameless Trump mimics will be “Trump? Trump who?”
But for now, sadly, most conservative leaders have placed their ethics and integrity in cold storage as they strive to squeeze every last drop of power they can from this dark era they have enabled and plundered.
One can’t help but wonder how they sleep at night.