On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump spent hours insulting Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee on Twitter, House Republicans announced they were planning to launch congressional investigations into a couple of old, bogus Clinton scandals (including those emails again), the story of the Niger ambush shape-shifted into something very different than what we’d heard and a protester threw Russian flags in Donald Trump’s face as he was on his way to lunch in the U.S. Senate.
Then all hell broke loose.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a longtime Trump critic, announced that (like Corker) he would not run for re-election. Then he went to the floor and gave a speech condemning the president’s behavior and his party’s complicity in what he had described in his recent book as a “culture of vicious dehumanization.”
Sens. Corker, Flake and John McCain, as well as former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have all made similar speeches in recent days, taking Trump to task for what Flake called on Tuesday “the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals” and “the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.” In other words, there is a Republican rebellion brewing against Trump’s puerile, obtuse, demagogic conduct and demeanor, which they consider a risk to the republic. They are correct in that. He is a clear and present danger.
After all the Sturm und Drang of yesterday’s speech and the fallout from Trump’s Twitter rant against Corker, it’s important to note that all three of those senators voted with their party on Tuesday night to nullify a signature regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which banned forced arbitration provisions, essentially giving a big fat wet kiss to big business and Wall Street. That perfectly illustrates one very important point about all this feuding within the Republican Party: It has very little to do with policy.
It’s true that Republicans were unable to pass their signature promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. That wasn’t because they didn’t agree on the necessity of doing it, only about how to get it done. Even then, it was a close-run thing, with McCain casting the deciding no vote on the basis of process, not substance (and, let’s face it, for a measure of personal revenge.)
In other words, these Republicans are not having a big change of heart about what they want to do. They are simply waking up at last to the fact that their base could not care less about their “ideology.” All those years of dog-whistle racism, nativism and white nationalism, with obscure references to freedom and small government and “family values,” worked all too well. Their voters heard it loud and clear and figured out that all the blather about tort reform and death taxes were winks and nods toward what was really important: the culture war. At last the true-blue culture warriors have their own loony commander in chief and he’s fighting it out in the open.
We’ve had scary hints lately of where this might be headed. Steve Bannon is out making speeches about “winning at all costs” and taking credit for every establishment Republican who throws in the towel rather than face a far-right primary challenger. a bloody culture war by attrition. Recent exposés about the affiliations between Breitbart News, its wealthy benefactors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, and the white supremacist movement are downright chilling. But nothing illustrates the escalation of the culture war more vividly than the new direction of the National Rifle Association.
After the massacre in Las Vegas, we went through the usual ritual of expressing our horror at such wanton, useless violence, while some people insisted that “this time” we really were going to “do something.” Mowing down hundreds of citizens at a country music festival for no apparent reason seems like something that might actually spur action on the part of political leaders. The NRA stayed silent for several days and then quietly said it would not object to regulation of the “bump stock,” the device that made it possible for one person to shoot so many people so quickly. Hallelujah, the NRA has seen the light!
The NRA and its CEO Wayne LaPierre knew if they just waited a few days, we would all move on to the next crisis and nothing would happen. They were right. The legislation to regulate bump stocks is stalled in Congress, and Donald Trump’s White House isn’t likely to press the question.
The NRA is Trump’s staunchest supporter, after all, and it’s opening a new front in the culture war on his behalf. Last week, the group released the latest in a series of videos that had previously appeared to threaten the press and the Resistance. The new video features NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch issuing this call to arms:
We are witnesses to the most ruthless attack on a president, and the people who voted for him, and the free system that allowed it to happen in American history. From the highest levels of government, to their media, universities and billionaires, their hateful defiance of his legitimacy is an insult to each of us. But the ultimate insult is that they think we’re so stupid that we’ll let them get away with it. These saboteurs, slashing away with their leaks and sneers, their phony accusations and gagging sanctimony, drive their daggers through the heart of our future, poisoning our belief that honest custody of our institutions will ever again be possible. So they can then build their utopia from the ashes of what they burned down. No, their fate will be failure and they will perish in the political flames of their own fires.
One is tempted to suggest that purple passage could have used an editor. But these people are armed to the teeth, so I’m assuming they’re serious about all that lurid, violent imagery.
That ugly “us against them” rhetoric is the consequence of people like John McCain and Bob Corker taking advantage of everything the right-wing media could offer their party. That culture is turning into a full-fledged war and the NRA is leading the charge. Will anyone try to stop them?