Some developments are dismissible coincidences. Others are true conspiracies. And in between those poles, still others are coincidences, but they’re not dismissible; they’re telling and timely ones that put our crises in stark relief.
So it’s just a coincidence that last week happened to be the week that seven (now eight) Labour Party members of Parliament ditched their party because they could no longer stomach Jeremy Corbyn’s “leadership.” For the octet, the moment of truth finally came.
Just a coincidence—but a pretty fragrant coincidence all the same.
This week, Republicans in Congress face a moment of truth of their own—the biggest moment of truth so far in this presidency that has been filled with moments of truth (a darkly amusing paradox, considering that it’s also the most lie-ridden presidency in our history). They have to decide whether to allow a president to turn a policy issue, any policy issue, into a national emergency.
You can go to Trump news sites and read all kinds of defenses of why this week’s votes are no big deal and it’s all just fine. And yes, it might even come to pass that a right-wing (they no longer deserve the once-honorable moniker “conservative”) Supreme Court majority might find some clause in that 1970s Emergencies Act to serve as the basis for upholding this travesty, depending on whether John Roberts was able to find his conscience on his way out the door on the morning of the vote.
But don’t be fooled. What we have here is a president unilaterally changing the terms of the Constitution. Well, not quite unilaterally, because the Republicans in Congress will play along. They’ve hit many low points during the Trump presidency. Remember that press conference, the Paul Ryan “exquisite leadership” one? That was a national humiliation.
But that wasn’t close to this. This is a week that will live ignominiously throughout this country’s history.
For the record, both houses will approve the pending resolution that will block Donald Trump from using emergency powers to appropriate money for a border wall. Democrats control the House, so that’s a done deal. And while Republicans control the Senate, four or five have signaled that they’ll vote with the Democrats, meaning that a majority of senators will express disapproval.
But that’s meaningless, because Trump will veto, and there aren’t enough no votes to override. So the key number in the Senate is not five Republicans, but 20, because it will take 20 Republicans (plus the 47 Democrats) to override a veto. And Mitch McConnell will make sure that the Republican number won’t be anywhere near that.
It’s all a show, all window dressing. McConnell is the cynical master of this kind of stuff of our age. He will allow a small number of Republicans to vote no, so he can say he let senators vote their conscience, while understanding all the time that those votes do nothing to challenge Trump’s power. In fact, to the extent that those votes fool gullible people into thinking that the Republicans are being honest and conscientious legislators, they help augment Trump’s power because a few no votes make the whole thing seem more legitimate to people who don’t comprehend the depths of McConnell’s cynicism.
In the House, I’m not sure how many GOP no votes there are—probably something like a proportionally similar number to the five in the Senate. But again, it’s all a shadow play unless 56 Republican House members (enough to override a veto) vote no, which is not happening.
They’re such cowards. Or are they? As I’ve written several times now, the conventional wisdom is that they are afraid of Trump and his base. And yes, that’s true. But I think something else is true. I think for most of them, the fear is just icing, because most of them agree with Trump. They’re totally, serenely fine with him having more power. They believe in a quasi-authoritarian president, provided that president is a Republican.
And what are they going to do, you ask, when the president is a Democrat? They’ll worry about that when the time comes. But they’ll find some excuse, some reason to say “but this is different!”, and party chairmen Limbaugh and Hannity will lay out the case, and they’ll all parrot it.
They’ll do it in the same way that McConnell lied through his teeth about there being “precedent” for him to refuse to consider seating Merrick Garland in 2016, and they all parroted it. When bending and breaking the rules serves presidential power—and their power—they’ll do whatever they need to do. And then, if the Democrats are in power and try something similar, they’ll shift into high dudgeon about the Constitution and what a scandal it all is, just like deficits are scandalous if they increase under Democratic administrations.
Over in Westminster, a few brave MP’s finally said enough. They’ve had it with Corbyn’s shifty fecklessness, his total lack of principle on Brexit, and his toleration (at least) of anti-Semitism in Labour. They were members of a great party with a proud tradition. But they couldn’t look themselves in the mirror anymore.
Corbyn is no Trump. Both men are fools, but Corbyn is no mortal danger to the polity besides, as Trump is. So the GOP situation is even worse than Labour’s. And yet, onward they march, affirming every one of Cheeto Caesar’s whims, down into the constitutional quicksand, taking the republic with them.
The failures this week to give this resolution veto-proof majorities will go down as one of the all-time low points in congressional history; maybe not as bad as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but not that far away from it either. That act helped cement the then-racist Democratic Party’s power for a little while; but by the 1860 election, it fractured into pieces. We can only hope that history repeats itself, but on speed this time.