When I wrote about hurricane season last month, I don’t think I did enough to emphasize how devastating the damage was to Puerto Rico in particular. There are over 3 million people on the island, all American citizens, who are suffering and in a state of crisis.
Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, more than 90% of the island has no electricity (hospitals are running on diesel generators), almost half have no cell or landline phone service, and over a third have no clean water to drink or wash with. In desperation, people are turning to wastewater-contaminated wells, raising the threat of waterborne diseases. Store shelves are empty; debris-blocked roads are cutting off much of the island, especially the rural interior. Making things worse, unemployment is soaring as people are laid off from destroyed and blacked-out businesses. The official death toll is almost certainly an undercount.
Predictably, the sociopath-in-chief and his congressional allies are already threatening to cut off federal aid soon. It’s the same as what we’ve seen in Flint: conservatives will spend trillions of dollars on bombs and guns, trillions of dollars on giveaways to the rich and not have a second thought, but when ordinary American citizens have no clean drinking water, their capacity for concern shrivels up. If you’re looking for a charity to give to and redress the balance in some small way, I recommend Unidos por Puerto Rico.
This month, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker became the latest Republican to admit the obvious:
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”
The substance of this critique isn’t news. It’s perfectly obvious, and was perfectly obvious long before the election, that Trump’s public persona isn’t an act. He really is the erratic, narcissistic egomaniac he seems to be.
But what Corker said about his fellow Republicans is news, or should be. He asserted that “the vast majority” of the Republican caucus feels the same way as he does, yet none of them are saying anything. Whether he meant it this way or not, that’s a brutal statement about the void of moral courage in the Republican party. They know perfectly well that Trump is unstable and dangerous, but they’re so afraid of a backlash from their own voters that they’re unwilling to say so, even when the stakes are World War III.
And let’s be clear, Corker himself is among the cowards. His newfound honesty didn’t spring from a sudden attack of conscience, it only came about because he isn’t running for reelection. It’s like the old trope of the deathbed confession, that a person can only tell the truth when they no longer fear any consequences.
I’m not being metaphorical about World War III. It seems that only now, a year after the election, is it starting to sink in among Republican officeholders that the planet’s largest economy and nuclear arsenal are controlled by a vindictive lunatic with a toddler’s level of impulse control. At least, that’s what we’re hearing in a post by progressive activist Robert Reich, who said he spoke to an old friend, “a Republican former member of Congress” with an insider’s perspective on what’s going on inside the GOP’s heads.
What he said, as told to Reich, is that congressional Republicans know Trump is “paranoid” and “unhinged” and they’re terrified of him flying off the handle and starting a nuclear war. I usually wouldn’t rely solely on an anonymous secondhand account, but given that it agrees with other evidence, it’s plausible:
Others are thinking about doing what Bob did. Sounding the alarm. They think Trump’s nuts. Unfit. Dangerous….
I mean, they have thick hides. The personal stuff got them to notice all the other things. The wild stuff, like those threats to North Korea. Tillerson would leave tomorrow if he wasn’t so worried Trump would go nuclear, literally.…He’s not listening to anyone. Not a soul. He’s got the nuclear codes and, well, it scares the hell out of me. It’s starting to scare all of them. That’s really why Bob spoke up.
Reich’s unnamed friend speculated that the Republicans are “freaked out” and are seriously considering impeachment, but they’re gambling they can hold out until a tax-cut bill gets passed, so they can face voters next year and not have to admit they’ve accomplished nothing. I don’t believe this for a second.
I don’t mean that Reich is making it up or that his Republican friend was lying to him – I mean that if he did say it, it springs from delusive overconfidence and nothing more. The vast majority of Republicans have been too cowardly to even criticize Trump until now, yet somehow they’ll find the spine to vote for impeachment? There’s no way in hell it’s going to happen.
Meanwhile, an article in Vanity Fair by Gabriel Sherman paints a portrait of a White House on the ragged edge of chaos. It depicts Trump as paranoid, delusional and furious, stalking the corridors like a modern Lady Macbeth, while his highest aides are literally trying to cut him off from the outside world in a bid to stop him from doing something disastrous:
While Kelly can’t control Trump’s tweets, he is doing his best to physically sequester the president — much to Trump’s frustration. One major G.O.P. donor told me access to Trump has been cut off, and his outside calls to the White House switchboard aren’t put through to the Oval Office.
And if that wasn’t enough to make you despair:
One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said.
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, referred to in the earlier quote, seems to be another White House official who recognizes the crisis we’re in. He reportedly called Trump a “fucking moron” and is said to have formed a “suicide pact” with other top officials to all quit in solidarity if one of them is fired.
All these minimally competent Republicans (and to be clear, minimal is the right word) are thoroughly miserable and dispirited, but they’re staying on out of terror of what Trump might do without even the small amount of restraint they can exert. This is what America has come to. The nation founded on Enlightenment ideals, that won two world wars, invented the internet, and put the first human being on the moon, is now reduced to speculating about cabinet members tackling the president to physically restrain him from launching a planet-destroying nuclear war.
But this crisis isn’t the fault of one man, however reckless and immature he is. Trump is the bitter fruit of a tree that conservatives planted and have been tending for decades. In their debasement of knowledge and intellectual authority; their all-fear-all-the-time style of campaigning; their appeals to rage and xenophobia; their exaltation of from-the-gut decision-making and know-nothing belligerence as virtues in and of themselves; in all these things, they’ve done their utmost to make their voters stupid, resentful and easily led, and their voters acted accordingly. Trump is the demon they created, and the fact that they’re cowering from his shadow and can only speak their mind in whispers is fittingly ironic – if it weren’t for the fact that he might drag us all down along with him.