Impeachment and the Republican cult of personality

I was in college during Watergate. When the inquiry began, Republicans leapt to Nixon’s defense.

In my life, I’ve watched three U.S. presidential impeachments. Partisanship affected them all. Yet, somehow, Donald Trump’s impeachment feels qualitatively different.

I was in college during Watergate. When the inquiry began, Republicans leapt to Richard Nixon’s defense. Then-House Republican leader Gerald Ford called the investigation a “political witch hunt.” But as evidence of Nixon’s wrongdoing mounted, that support began to waver.

Then the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release the “smoking gun” tapes recorded in the Oval Office that proved the president had ordered the cover-up. While some Republicans continued to support the president, others looked at the evidence impartially, and, reluctantly and solemnly, supported impeachment. Nixon was forced to resign.

Bill Clinton’s impeachment grew out of a highly partisan, years-long “investigation” by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who was supposed to be looking into the Whitewater real estate deal but ended up investigating nearly every aspect of the Clintons’ lives. Starr ultimately caught the president lying about whether he had gotten a blow job from an intern.

Democrats widely and loudly condemned Clinton’s behavior, and rightfully so. I don’t remember anyone saying he had done nothing wrong. But, Democrats argued, Clinton’s actions, deplorable though they may be, did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. He was not removed from office.

With Trump’s impeachment, however, we haven’t seen either of the redeeming aspects of those other impeachments: a willingness to at least consider evidence presented against a president of the same party, and a willingness to condemn that president’s bad behavior.

I was surprised that few — if any — Republicans in the House condemned Trump’s actions to pressure a foreign government to “create” evidence that could be used to damage a political rival and, therefore, influence our next presidential election. I would have had more respect had they condemned what Trump was trying to do, even if they argued it wasn’t impeachable. Instead, speaker after speaker insisted Trump did nothing wrong.

What shocked me the most, however, was to hear so many Republicans, both in the committee hearings and on the floor of the House, repeat Russian propaganda as fact. American intelligence and law enforcement agencies are unanimous in the finding that Russia interfered with the 2016 election (benefiting Trump) and that Ukraine did not. Yet, Republican congressmen kept repeating Vladimir Putin’s propaganda about Ukraine, perhaps because it makes what Trump did seem less bad. But mostly, because that’s what Trump himself has been saying.

After the impeachment vote, former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake wrote in a Washington Post op ed, “The willingness of House Republicans to bend to the president’s will by attempting to shift blame with the promotion of bizarre and debunked conspiracy theories has been an appalling spectacle.”

I grew up in a Republican household. I’ve always respected their worldview, even though I disagreed with it. But today’s Republican party seems less like a group espousing a particular political or economic philosophy and more like a cult of personality centered on Trump.

How can anyone watch video of his rallies or his speeches and not cringe? The constant lies, the casual cruelty, the bullying, the nonsensical ramblings. Yet congressional Republicans say nothing.

Trump has spent his entire life getting away with bad behavior, whether it’s stiffing contractors who did work for him, cheating on his wives, or pushing Russian propaganda. And as long as Republicans keep enabling him, refusing to condemn even his worst excesses, nothing will stop him. And things will only get worse.

Barbara Res is a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization. She started working for Trump in 1980 and knows him well. Last week, when Rachel Maddow asked her what Trump will do after being impeached, she warned, “He will, once he gets through this — and he probably will — he will exact revenge on a lot of people, a lot of people.”

A bully who lacks empathy and compassion, who thinks he can get away with anything — and does so thanks to Republican enablers — and who, as president, is out looking for revenge, is a terrifying prospect for our country.

Republicans, it’s time to speak up against Trump. This may be your – and our country’s – last chance.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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