Rush Limbaugh's Undeserved Honor

A particularly low moment in a State of the Union speech full of them was President Trump awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to one of the voices that had most contributed to the decline of American civic life and political engagement, professional racist conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

At The New Yorker today, David Remnick reflects on the how giving someone like Limbaugh such a cherished honor further debases the Presidency and our Republic, something this current president does almost daily:

Limbaugh is sixty-nine and, as he just announced on his daily radio program, has been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. Empathy is due to anyone who is suffering. But not high honors, not a celebration of a life’s work devoted to the mockery and derision of the Other. For the President of the United States to bestow one of the nation’s highest laurels on Limbaugh is a morally corrosive and politically cynical act. It is a kind of assault on the achievements of so many previous award winners, a list that includes Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Václav Havel, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis. It is appalling to see Rush Limbaugh’s name listed alongside theirs.

Remnick is right on. Limbaugh’s award is another sad entry in the record of ways President Trump has broken the public trust.

"Things Happen"

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

“Trump pushes his party to normalize corruption,” Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, in The Washington Post

"Trump is not the last threat our system will face, and he is not the worst."

One of the places I’ve settled into over the last three years concerning American politics is that our system of governance, while well designed, is no longer working. The logic of gridlock has taken hold, wherein our political leaders (especially those from the Republican Party) have decided no action on anything is the best possible outcome for their future electoral prospects. Our system only works when everyone is working in good faith, with the understanding that those who oppose them on issues nevertheless have good underlying intentions, when everyone accepts the idea that our government needs to work at some level, that it must have a baseline of things it does well and competently. This is not happening anymore. One party has decided that the paralysis and chaos resulting from Congressional inaction and dithering can be spun to their advantage, every time. And so far, it’s working.

This impeachment trial has taken this to an extreme. Ezra Klein has summed up the level of insanity our politics has been ratcheted to this week in his latest piece:

At times, impeachment has felt like an experiment in which we keep layering on more absurd conditions to see what the Republican Party will accept.

What if Trump releases a call record in which he said Biden’s name repeatedly, directly to Ukraine’s president?

Not enough? Okay, What if we also have him tell Ukraine and China to investigate Biden on TV?

How about if we have a series of Republican foreign policy appointees testify to the House that he did it?

Still nothing? Wild.

Okay, how about this: We get John Bolton, hero of the American right, scourge of liberals, to say that he will testify, under oath, that he personally heard Trump say the aid was contingent on Ukraine going after the Bidens, and that he heard Trump say it earlier than anyone has yet known.

I mean, surely?

And still, nothing. Worse than nothing. As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) put it, in response, Senate Republicans effectively voted to put cotton in their ears, so they wouldn’t have to hear what Bolton said.

What this reveals is that, in 2020, loyalty to Trump is what defines a Republican.

What we are experiencing is not normal, even in the abnormal context of an impeachment. The Republican Party has decided the defense of this president is more important than the truth, than governing, than good policy. It’s insane.

Klein’s piece is really is good. You should read it all. Here is the key part:

That our system worked to stop Nixon is part of our national mythology. It is part of the story of American politics as successfully self-correcting. But if that story is no longer true, then what does that mean for American politics?

Impeachment is built atop the belief that Congress would be offended, as an institution, if the president were abusing power to amass power. It has no answer for a president abusing power in a way that amasses power not just for himself, but for his congressional allies. It has no answer for a political system in which a congressional majority recognizes it may lose power, even lose the majority, if they hold a president accountable, and so refuse to do anything of the sort.

Because make no mistake. Trump is not the last threat our system will face, and he is not the worst.

The intentional gridlock and refusal to act in good faith isn’t just a problem for Democrats. This isn’t a partisan complaint. Defending abuse of power endangers the future of our political system. I made this same argument Saturday, and I am making it again here, because it is so important. Our political system, our government, and our future as a nation are all at stake. The short term interests of Donald Trump and his political allies are not more important than our country. Neither are they to be confused with our collective interest. We must recognize this. We must demand better from our leaders.