Republican Senators Stand Between Us and the Deluge

As any Mafia Don(ald) would, T—p is looking at his most loyal supporters to fill key positions in his administration. (I haven’t given up hope that the Electoral College will dump him, but nobody of note is pushing the idea, at least not in public. Remember: fewer than 40 Republican electors could temporarily and maybe permanently stop the monster’s ascent.)

Imagine Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior and Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General. Imagine the rogues gallery posing for pictures at their first cabinet meeting. That’s the very bad news.

How about the good news? There isn’t much, but an article at Vox by Matthew Yglesias says “We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systematically corrupting our institutions”. Its subtitle is “the transition period is our last best chance to save the republic”.

Of course, a T—p administration might not destroy the republic, but Mr. Yglesias makes a strong argument. He begins by citing the distinction between “venal” corruption and “systematic” corruption. The venal kind is the usual criminality we worry about. Powerful interests make shady deals with politicians who give them special favors. Campaign contributions cross the line into bribery. 

Systematic corruption is more serious. It’s the kind of corruption found in Putin’s Russia. The politicians do whatever they can to help the favored few and make things hard for everyone else. Government contracts are steered to businesses that support the ruler and away from their competition. Regulations are tailored to help media companies favorable to the regime and destroy the ones that aren’t. Government agencies are staffed with cronies and incompetents. It all becomes a self-reinforcing web of tight relationships that don’t yield power easily. Free elections aren’t so free anymore.

Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it…And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.

So what’s the good news? Yglesias points out that there will be 48 Democrats in the Senate and roughly 12 Republicans who didn’t support T—-p. 

More remarkably, one of the senators who did vote for Trump publicly called him a “con man.” Another called him a “pathological liar.” One assumes there are a few more out there who swallowed private doubts in the interest of beating Hillary Clinton.

Whatever the precise details, the point is that a critical mass of Republican senators has given us reason to believe that they understand Trump appointees need to be held to an unusually high bar for qualification and integrity — not an unusually low one.

Of course, it takes a major leap of faith to believe that Republican politicians will show some courage and good sense and thereby limit the damage in Washington. But a couple of them are calling for an investigation into Russia’s interference in our election. That’s something. Plus, senators tend to think of themselves as demigods who know what’s best for America. It’s possible they might reject T—-p’s worst nominees, even though doing so will make them enemies of a vengeful President who values loyalty above all else and lacks all sense of shame.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan revels in the possibility of gutting Medicaid and privatizing Medicare and Social Security. A deluded minority of Americans have spoken, so gridlock may be the best we can hope for in Washington.