Saturday, January 23, 2021

How Republicans can atone - 'cut Trump loose, completely'

Megan McArdle, writing in the Washington Post (and reprinted in today’s Daily Star), has a message for those who still cling to Trump: If Republicans can’t cast Trump off, their wounds — and the country’s — will only get deeper.

Here’s the whole of McArdle’s column.


These days, I am frequently reminded of an observation by a psychologist of my acquaintance that America seems like “a hopeless marriage between people who have no recourse to divorce.” Now, things are getting violent, and we’re still locked in double harness, unable to work together, unable to leave. Watching Wednesday’s impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, it struck me that neither left nor right seems to fully grasp our predicament.

“This really does remind me that the most dangerous period in an abusive marriage is when you leave,” the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum tweeted, and this seemed an eerily apt metaphor for President Trump’s behavior. But I get the sense that some on the left are taking the analogy too far — applying it to Trump’s voters, not just the man himself. And, of course, there’s no way to leave them.

I have not yet heard anyone on the left outline a credible vision for what happens after we impeach the president and, one hopes, convict him and bar our insurrectionist in chief from ever holding office again. I would like to know that there is one, and not just a fond hope that the backlash for Jan. 6 will break the Republican Party once and for all. The Democrats have wasted the better part of two decades on deterministic assumptions that, one day, demographic destiny or some other deus ex machina will do its work, Republicans will obligingly die off, and the woke will inherit the Earth.

Try assuming instead that they will be a political force to be reckoned with — and negotiated with — for the rest of everyone’s life.

But this is a reasonable and benign fantasy compared to the one Republicans indulged in Wednesday: that if they were willing to condemn the Capitol insurrection as the work of a few bad apples, Democrats should admit their part in stoking our increasingly bitter divides, and we should all move on. “It will only serve to further divide a nation that is calling out for healing,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) as the House took up impeachment.

This was such an incredible suggestion that I did its authors the credit of assuming that none of them actually meant it. It was, I thought, the sort of well-I-had-to-try-didn’t-I? absurdity that politicians are sometimes forced to utter. But it quickly became clear that, no, there are people who seriously thought that this was not just a reasonable thing to ask, but a plausible one, after the events of last week.

This was beyond a fantasy. To circle back to our earlier metaphor: Republicans who humored Trump’s seditious lies as he made a serious run at overturning the results of a democratic election need to understand that their party is the abusive spouse in this scenario. It doesn’t matter what the other party did first. What matters is that a Republican president brought an angry mob to Washington, told it there was a crime happening on Capitol Hill, and then urged it to do something about it.

If this family can ever be put back together, it will start with more Republicans acting as though they understood this was almost unforgivable. Making up lies about a stolen election is wrong in itself, and when those lies end up with five people dead, everyone who helped spread them is responsible, particularly if they knew better — as everyone in Washington politics either did or should have.

The cheapest and easiest way for Republicans to make the necessary atonement is to cut Trump loose, completely. Vote to remove him from office and bar him from running again. Let the man who brought this down upon his country languish unlamented in electronic exile. This will make it clear to voters that they understand what a grave thing happened, and that they are determined not just to make amends, but also to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.

What’s that, you say, your base will punish you? It’s not realistic to expect anyone to do something so politically costly?

Well, yes, of course, it is going to be costly; cheaper and easier is not the same as cheap and easy. But you cannot restore a broken relationship with perfunctory gestures and empty words. What’s needed is a demonstration that you are willing to pay any price to fix what is broken and to undo as much as possible the damage you have done.

If Republicans cannot do this, then the wounds that they allegedly want to heal will only deepen and fester, especially within their own party. They might purchase a little temporary peace by catering to the mob-friendly base. But doing so will drive off the moderates who want no part of what happened last Wednesday — and further empower a mob that has already terrorized their party into submission, and would like to do the same to the rest of us.


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