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A time of great danger for Democrats

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I grew up in New York City, in the South Bronx, where cockroaches were a problem. If you saw one, it was said, there were a thousand more, breeding unseen in the walls. Mom would then call the “Super,” who would send an exterminator to spray their hiding places.

Republicans are like cockroaches. You can vote against them, denounce them, defeat them in an election—spray them—but they never quite go away. Like roaches, they breed in the dark. (Jane Mayer’s exquisite book, Dark Money, explains how.) There is, in other words, always a danger of a recrudescence when it comes to Republicanism. The danger is particularly acute now, with Trump on the verge of a signing ceremony for his tax scheme.

He’s been waiting for something like this for a year: a victory. The cameras will be everywhere; Republicans will engage in an orgy of chest-beating. Trump himself will be unbearable: the smugness, the self-congratulations, his jowls flapping against his neck as he proclaims that cutting taxes on billionaires will make America great again. It will be ugly to watch on T.V. (and, hopefully, Democrats won’t watch any more than we have to).

But it will be a moment in the sun for this bullying, lying president, and therein lies the first danger: the cockroach of tax “cuts” signifies countless other cockroaches below the floorboards.

Next to crawl out will be welfare “reform,” which for Republicans means huge cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It’s never quite been clear why Republicans hate these middle-class programs. Partly, I suppose, it’s for ideological reasons: they just don’t want government spending money on anything unless it’s for wars. Partly it’s resentment of poor, struggling people: “I made it on my own,” Republicans lie to themselves, “and anyone who can’t make it is lazy. Especially the blacks.” And partly it’s because their donor class—billionaires like the Koch Brothers—want them to eliminate social services. Your average Republican congressman may not even know why the Koch Brothers hate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but he does know that his campaign contributions depend on voting their way; and so he does.

Why does the Republican donor class hate social programs? The simple explanation is that billionaires want even more money than they already have. To the extent that social programs represent a transfer of wealth away from them to average working people, the billionaires are resentful. Every dollar that goes to prenatal screening for a poor, rural pregnant woman is a dollar that the billionaire can’t spend on another jet. Since, as their patron saint, the Duchess of Windsor, once observed, you can never be too rich or too thin, social programs, from the point of view of a Trump, a Koch, a DeVos, a Thiel, an Adelson or an Icahn, are anathema.

So expect entitlement “reform” to be high on Trump’s agenda as soon as the ink starts to dry on his new tax plan. That would be another cockroach sighting. But the biggest cockroach of all—the Queen Mother of creep-crawly things—may well appear even before Ryan rolls out his cuts to the social safety network.

That massive cockroach will be firing Mueller. We’ve said for months that if Trump were to dismiss the special counsel—which he’d clearly like to do—it would set off such a firestorm in the country that the Congress, including Republicans, would have to take action.

But that might not be the case. Republicans will be emboldened by their tax victory. Heady with success, believing they’ve recovered the momentum they lost during the first disastrous year of the Trump regime (despite the Roy Moore debacle), they could well signal Trump that they’re prepared to back him up in the Congress if he crushes the Russia-Trump investigation. After all, they control the judiciary committees, which is where the power for impeachment resides, and the Republicans on those committees are indicating they’re ready to go along with Trump, no matter what, to further their rightwing ideology.

This is the third big danger Democrats face: that Trump might go to war against our country’s basic institutions—the F.B.I., the Department of Justice, the Courts, the intelligence community, the free press—and get away with it. He’s already begun to lob live mortar rounds onto them; were he to go nuclear, that would constitute a fascist grab at dictatorship. We should not fool ourselves that the U.S.A. is somehow immune to going the way of Nazi Germany, or Putin’s Russia, or Duterte. Power-mad executives often dream of destroying all remnants of Resistance. In America, we’ve had our share of power-mad politicians who tried to shred the Constitution—Nixon, Huey Long, George Wallace, Roy Moore—but fortune, or God, has protected us from the worst of their predations.

But we’ve never had a Donald Trump before, or a Republican Party so ready, willing and able to scrap morality and law. The most apt analogy I can think of—and I read a lot of history—is Germany, during Hitler’s period of consolidation (1933-1935). Bit by bit, he disassembled what remained of Germany’s democratic institutions, including the police and intelligence forces and the newspapers. And, bit by bit, the German people let him get away with it.

Trump was the first cockroach to invade America’s pantry. His new tax scheme is the second. As soon as he moves overtly against Mueller, that will be the third cockroach. It will then be time to call in the exterminator, which is Us. There’s no Orkin man out there, ready to rush in and save the country. The roach-killing spray is going to be your resistance.

  1. “Trump might go to war against our country’s basic institutions—the F.B.I., the Department of Justice, the Courts, the intelligence community, the free press”
    I can’t name one of those institutions that Trump hasn’t already attacked on a regular basis.

  2. Yes, as I wrote, he’s already heavily shelled them. But he hasn’t gone nuclear…yet.

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