Donald Trump’s lawyers admitted this week that they and the White House had lied when denying the president’s involvement in the formulation of the statement about the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and other advisers with Russian representatives. At first they asserted that Trump had nothing to do with last year’s statement that claimed that the meeting centered on adoption of Russian children, rather than, as it later transpired, a Russian offer for dirt on Hillary Clinton. A few weeks later they changed their story, saying that Trump had actually “weighed in” on the contents of the statement. But in a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller published by the New York Times this week, the same lawyers now admit that Trump “dictated” the misleading statement, word for word.
House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who seeks to replace Paul Ryan after his retirement as speaker, was asked twice about Trump’s blatant reversal in a CNN interview on Sunday, and twice refused to respond. Instead, he derided the Mueller investigation and the media’s fixation with it. We should concentrate on the president’s economic achievements and his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un instead, he suggested.
McCarthy knows that if he crosses Trump he will effectively scuttle his chances to replace Ryan. He is not alone: Fear of Trump’s retribution and the wrath of his loyal Republican base paralyses most of McCarthy’s colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives. They kept silent on Monday, when Trump asserted that he has the authority to pardon himself, a position that would turn him into a president who stands above the law, and some even applauded.
GOP enablers tell themselves that they are overlooking Trump’s personal deficiencies in order to advance the conservative ideology they believe in, but most are allowing concern for their personal futures to erase their morals and conscience.
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The mirror image in Israel is actually far worse, because Benjamin Netanyahu has shown his Likud colleagues time and time again the heavy price that is exacted from anyone who dares challenge him in public. It’s enough for them to remember the fate of former top Likudniks Dan Meridor, Moshe Yaalon, Gideon Saar, Ronni Milo and a host of others, as well as the long line of former security chiefs who confronted Netanyahu, who were either expelled from political life or were made into targets of his fans’ abuse and hatred. They know full well that in his efforts to avoid prosecution, Netanyahu is undermining the rule of law, but they have internalized that silence is golden while enthusiastic support for the prime minister is an insurance policy that guarantees their future success.
The result, in both Israel and the United States, is that their respective ruling parties, Likud and GOP, have become nothing more than rubber stamps. They have turned into organizations in which flattery will get you everywhere, kowtowing is a sure-fire recipe for advancement and sycophants are generously rewarded. Their members have willingly relinquished any pretense of acting independently, reining in their leaders or influencing the votes and policies of the cabinets and legislatures that they ostensibly control.
In exchange for personal survival and accumulation of power, senior Republicans and members of the Likud betray their political and constitutional duty to serve as checks and balances. They are turning their backs on the democracy that enabled their election in the first place. The legislators among them are betraying their oaths to “protect and defend The Constitution”, in Congress, and to “be loyal to the State of Israel and faithfully fulfill my mission,” in the Knesset.
It’s a slippery slope, of course. Ruling parties that ignore their leaders’ clear-cut declarations of intent to stand above the law and the constitution are then crippled when sinister designs turn into reality. For the moment, their leaders enjoy the bounty of their capitulation but they eventually find it hard to escape conviction when facing the judgment of history.