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When Trump goes down, what then?

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I ventured away from national politics yesterday, into the tall weeds of California politics, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t closely watching Trump-RussiaGate developments, as I’m sure you were. The Mueller indictments themselves were no surprise, although the Papadopoulos plea was; we’ll just have to see where that goes. Nor was the reaction by the tea party/Breitbart/white nationalist wing of the Republican Party particularly surprising. They’re furious, because they’ve been caught with their hands in the Russian cookie jar—co-conspirators with Trump.

Before I write any further, it occurs to me I ought to stop using the phrase “the tea party/Breitbart/white nationalist wing of the Republican Party” because the two things—the tea party/Breitbart/white nationalist volk and the Republican Party—are now one and the same. Once upon a time, and not too long ago, America had an official Republican Party, whose symbols might have been the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. However right wing this official party might have become, it still was recognizable as the heir of the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, of Richard Nixon, and, yes, even of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Those individuals, though conservative, never severed the ties with sanity. They never fell entirely into bed with Christian fanatics, although they had to pretend to like them; nor did they ever completely kowtow to the paranoid fringe on the right—the John Birch Society types, with their fearmongering of chlorination and Communists. Until the inauguration of 2017 and its subsequent developments, it was, therefore, possible to speak of a Republican Party whose outer edges included fanatics, but whose core remained rational.

Today, there is but a single Republican Party: the fringe has devoured the center; reason has been destroyed, replaced by something akin to psychosis. I know that it’s fashionable to portray the party as riven between the center and the extremists, but really, this is a false portrayal—a distinction without a difference. Paul Ryan is said to represent the “old” Republican Party; Breitbart has declared war on him, which leads to the appearance of a schism in the GOP.

But appearances are deceiving. In fact, there is no schism; or, more properly stated, it’s important not to let momentary shiny objects distract us from understanding precisely what this Republican Party has become. Put aside the Comments section on Breitbart; put aside who won the Georgia Senate primary; put aside Mueller; put aside Russian meddling in the election; put it all aside, and what remains is a Republican Party that has become as thorough an expression of clerical fascism as America has ever seen. Paul Ryan admitted as much yesterday; asked what he thought of the indictments, he replied, in a non sequitor, “Nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.”

In other words, for Ryan, the meltdown of the Trump regime is irrelevant. Tax breaks for billionaires, the continued dismantling of environmental protections, the assault on truth, the relentless incursions of radical Christian ideologues into the hallways of justice and power, the marginalizing of gay people, the stirring up of race hatred, the dividing of America—this is Ryan’s agenda. But it is also the agenda of the tea party/white nationalist/religious fanatics. The upshot is that there is no fundamental difference anymore between any “wings” within the organized Republican Party. There is a single party: clerical and fascist. That it will eventually will be condemned by historians is cold comfort. The dangers it poses today are existential.

Those dangers will continue to exist in the immediate future. Whether or not Trump goes down doesn’t matter. It will be fascinating to watch him fight back. He possesses formidable powers; his supporters are armed and stubborn; he can cause a lot of harm, perhaps even plunge the nation into civil conflict. But, as Speaker Ryan implied yesterday, it’s all irrelevant: the play of karma, the spinning of the wheel. Trumps come and go; when this one goes, the Republican Party will still have Pence. The only thing that can truly flush out the system—“drain the swamp,” as it were—will be total victory for Democrats in the 2018 elections and the elimination of all Republican influence. This is where we ought to be keeping our focus, even as we enjoy the spectacle of Trump and his cadre, circling the drain, flailing in outrage as they go down.

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