Fri | Apr 19, 2019

Editorial | The purulence of a presidency

Published:Thursday | August 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM


The greatest danger to the United States at this time is not the corrosiveness of Donald Trump. Rather, it's the permissiveness of the Republican Party and its members of Congress, who have so meekly surrendered to Mr Trump's cankerous blight.

By failing to stand up to Mr Trump, they threaten not only the concept of the separation of powers and the coequal branches of government on which America's democracy was founded and presumably rests, but dims the United States as a beacon, where institutional checks and balances stand in the way of authoritarian impulses. The good thing, though, is that the judicial system appears, up to now, to be still in place and at work.

On Tuesday, two more of the putrid pustules of the Trump presidency burst open. Paul Manafort, who served for a time as the chairman of Mr Trump's campaign, was found guilty of tax and bank fraud as well as for failing to report a foreign bank account. The convictions didn't relate to anything directly related to the campaign, but flowed from Robert Mueller's investigation into whether anyone in Mr Trump's election bid conspired with Russia to swing the election in his favour.


Guilty plea


Separately, Michael Cohen, Mr Trump's former personal lawyer and general dogsbody, also pleaded guilty to tax and bank fraud, but significantly implicated the president on two counts of breaches of campaign finance rules, regarding hush-money payments to two women with whom Mr Trump allegedly had sexual liaisons. Mr Cohen also pleaded guilty on those charges and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, says that Mr Cohen has information on a "conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians".

None of these developments, of course, proves the conspiracy to which Mr Davis alluded, either by Mr Trump or anyone in his campaign. Nonetheless, this campaign felony - failing to report a campaign contribution and conspiring its true nature - to which Mr Cohen admitted, is a federal crime, which he claimed he committed "at the direction of" Donald Trump.

Two decades ago, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on claims that he lied to a grand jury and for obstructing the course of justice. Among the most articulate and aggressive proponents of Mr Clinton's impeachment was Lindsey Graham, who argued that Mr Clinton need not have broken the law, but had broken the necessary trust in the presidency.

In the wake of Mr Cohen's guilty plea, Mr Graham, now a senator, in an echo of most Republicans, played down the development, making little of

Mr Trump's implication in a federal crime, for the fact that it was not a claim "his campaign did coordinate with a foreign government like Russia".


Partisan camp


"Anything short of that is probably going to fall into partisan camps," Graham said on television.

The reticence of Republicans to chide Mr Trump in this instance is not dissimilar to their tolerance of his race-baiting, fruitless trade wars, or consistently lying. The Republic Party lowers the bar and adjusts the red line for Donald Trump.

There are two reasons for this. Donald Trump has captured the party. But before that he captured its shrunken base which, increasingly, is of white, blue-collar workers, frightened by America's changing demographics and the economics of globalisation. It is that base that Mr Trump has weaponised against the party that, especially since the Clinton presidency, has, in its fear, retreated from the larger ideals of conservatism in favour of fundamentalist right-wing rhetoric and political gridlock.

There are many flaws in the conduct of politics in Jamaica, but none, this newspaper believes, would allow a political leader who, like Donald Trump, lies consistently, displays racist tendencies and so openly and vulgarly pursues to gain, or remain in, ascendancy. Neither their party nor the electorate would tolerate it.

What America's Republicans should be conscious of, apart from protecting their democracy, is that few in Mr Trump's orbit escapes the suppuration of his intellectual decadence or the absence of morality in his politics - Mr Cohen, Mr Manafort, General Flynn, George Papadopoulos and others to come.