The Manafort Indictment and the Republican Moment

The indictment of Paul Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates, with possibly more indictments to come, gives us further reason to believe that the ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin were real and there was communication on a senior level. This is a huge problem of electoral integrity, democracy and national security. Combating it requires a bipartisan, patriotic effort to restore democracy and make sure this never can happen again. Sadly, the chances of that happening anytime soon are roughly the same of me getting a call from the Houston Astros sometime this week saying they need another lefty out of the bullpen for the remainder of the World Series.

As the truth of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin becomes even more difficult to ignore, the question of who will be indicted next is interesting to probe, but the more important issue is how the Republican Congress, and the Republican Party in general will respond to this. This is where the immediate future of our democracy will be determined. If Republicans in Congress recognized the gravity of Russia’s role in our election and take time away from trying to cut taxes for their rich friends to demand truth and accountability from the Trump administration, even if it means further arrests, indictments and possibly impeachment, the way back to a more democratic country will be clear.

Unfortunately, nothing we have seen in in the year since Donald Trump was elected suggests this is going to happen. Instead over the last 72–96 hours, Republicans in Congress and at Fox News and other GOP aligned organizations have continued to repeat Donald Trump’s absurd and desperate allegations that it was Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russia and that she is the one who needs to be indicted. It is no coincidence that in the last week as an indictment for a very high ranking former Trump official got closer, the demands to“lock her up” became louder. These are the tactics we have come to expect from Trump and his base. As the Republican Party more broadly begins to adapt them, it means that the entire party is becoming solidly complicit in moving away from democracy, and will likely hurry to consolidate the new non-democratic regime that Trump has pursued-one where the media is the enemy of the people, news critical of the President is considered fake and where racial, religious and other minorities are relegated to second class citizenship. This may be the last week where the Republican Party can choose not to go down that path, but there is little reason to be hopeful in that regard.

There have been a few tough speeches and some telling of truths about Donald Trump from some Republican Senators, most notably Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, both of whom seem to have found their voice only after deciding to leave the Senate after their terms expire. This is better than nothing, but very far from enough. A few tough speeches, even when they raise important questions about Donald Trump’s mental health, conduct and chances of bringing around World War III are not, on their own, going to change anything.

If the Republican Party, in a collective act of cowardice on an historic scale, comes to the support of the not yet embattled President, rather than to our already imperiled democracy, the nature of our politics will continue to change. By doing this the Republican Party will make themselves even more complicit in both the Russia scandal and the erosion of American democracy. The first step in this complicity will be even greater efforts to delegitimize or fire Robert Mueller, something for which that the Wall Street Journal, among others have already begun to advocate. The next steps for this Republican Party will be further efforts either to stop the investigation and to keep mobilizing those Americans who believe that this is all fake news cooked up by Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and Vladimir Putin.

Unfortunately, a Republican Party that fails to stand up to acts that may actually be treason will likely do anything to stay in power. This means that the GOP will continue to make sure through voter suppression, efforts to limit our First Amendment rights and other tactics, that elections in 2018 and 2020 will not be conducted freely and fairly. The next time Donald Trump calls this investigation fake news and 35% or more of the population believe him, ask yourself what will happen when Trump calls a Republican congressional defeat, or a defeat in his own reelection campaign fake news. If the Republicans do not stand on the side of principle, democracy and America, that is where we are heading-and we are heading there fast.

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