Watching Tuesday's sordid spectacle of House Republicans indulging in camera-ready displays of sputtering indignation at the thoroughly shocking suggestion of Democrats in the chamber that President Trump may just possibly be ever-so-slightly racist, my mind turned to thoughts of Jason Bourne.
After three feature-length films in which the super-assassin who suffers from amnesia slowly uncovers the truth about the extent of the brainwashing he endured in a secret CIA program, Bourne stands face to face with the latest in a long line of assassins from the same program who've been sent to kill him. Summing up all he's learned about himself and the men who erased his former identity while turning him into a highly efficient killing machine, Bourne mutters to his counterpart with weary wisdom, "Look what they make you give."
Look what Trump has made Republicans give: their standards and principles, their judgment and intelligence, their honor and pride, their souls. For nearly three years now (since he was anointed the Republican Party's standard bearer at the 2016 GOP nominating convention), they have carried his pestilential water. And where has it left them? Pretending they aren't disgusted by the man who leads their party and governs the country in their name.
It's become commonplace on the right for elected officials and their media cheerleaders to speak as if Trump is some kind of political Svengali ruthlessly manipulating his enemies into acts of self-destruction. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was attempting last week to marginalize "the Squad" of troublemaking lefty backbenchers, and Trump's "racially charged" tweets about them on Sunday morning forced Pelosi to embrace them anew. Genius!
Except that isn't what's happened at all. Even if we conveniently forget that Trump's always-anemic approval rating hit rock bottom in the days following his expression of even-handed sympathy for the "very fine" neo-Nazis who terrorized Charlottesville in August 2017, we have ample reason to doubt Trump is deploying an effective strategy for the early stages of his re-election campaign.
Instead of forcing Pelosi to embrace the Squad (Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan), Trump has accomplished the remarkable feat of elevating them, along with the entire Democratic Party, into the pantheon of America's political heroes. The text of the resolution passed by House Democrats (along with just four Republicans and one ex-Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan) name-checks and quotes a long list of icons, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, in defense of immigrants and refugees and their contributions to America.
Trump and his defenders dissent from this vision of the country — but in the name of what? Definitely not racism. Certainly not. Absolutely not. Trump can't possibly be a racist — because Mr. Sh-thole Countries himself said so, right there on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, complete with creepy capitalization and an exclamation point: "I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" Well that settles it then. In case it doesn't, you can always try the scholasticism pursued by Brit Hume of Fox News, who helpfully assures us in a tweet of his own that while Trump most certainly isn't a racist, he may indeed be guilty of nativism and xenophobia, which are totally, completely different.
To which any person who hasn't already committed himself to the spiritually thankless task of shoveling excrement for Dear Leader must surely reply: My God, man, get a hold of yourself. Have a little self-respect and get a job or a hobby that doesn't require that you publicly humiliate yourself before all the world. Or at least take a step back from the partisan fray for a moment, for just one second, and take stock of where you are — rising to the public defense of the president by patiently explaining that he's merely two kinds of bigot and not a third.
Hume doesn't need to do this. None of the Republicans who play-acted umbrage in the House before dutifully falling into line for the vote on Tuesday needed to do that either. Even if — or rather, especially if — you're a Republican who genuinely favors curtailing immigration and reforming our laws on refugees, you don't need to be acting — indeed, you should not be acting — as Trump's toady and apologist. Before this vile spectacle of a presidency has come to an end, immigration restrictionism will be discredited for a generation or more. Thanks to Trump it will be tainted — understood by all (racists and non-racists alike) as the purest expression of closed-minded animus.
Republicans like to pretend that they hate Washington. It's the Swamp, a place of corruption that sucks the lifeblood out of the private sector, which is where the real action is. Don't believe it for a second. On Tuesday, Republicans had a chance to demonstrate that they care about something nobler than keeping their powerful perches in the nation's capital — to tell the country that they think it's un-American for the president of the United States to talk like a hateful imbecile about members of Congress — and instead they chose to send the message that they couldn't care less. Because in a party whose voters are in thrall to Trump, that's the price of keeping their precious jobs.
Look what they make you give: everything you've got.