You don’t need to be a psychologist to understand why the establishment GOP is in freefall right now, dragging America, and the world, down with them.
You need to be two things: human, and paying attention.
The GOP is freefalling right now for one simple reason: they made a horrible mistake in nominating Donald Trump for president, and they are doing everything they can to avoid admitting it.
There are other reasons, too.
They are afraid of the GOP base, which is in love with Trump, or the idea of Trump, or both. They’re especially afraid of Steve Bannon on the warpath.
They’re selfish, and their mouths are watering in anticipation of that fat, juicy tax cut they hope to legislate for themselves.
They’re afraid of being thrown out of power, or of primary challengers, or they’re rationalizing their need to stay in the circle of power, so that they’ll “have more influence.”
But these reasons, while true, merely scratch the surface of what’s really going on.
In fact, all signs are pointing to a party acting profoundly, collectively guilty and giving up in resignation. Tim Miller, a Republican contributor to Crooked Media, says: “Establishment Republicans have decided that their only options are to accommodate the president or to contain him – a community of self-professed Churchillians and all they can muster is appeasement.”
But, even after all these months of chaos, protest, legislative failure, and a foreboding sense of doom, why?
I’m no psychologist, but this isn’t rocket science. All it takes is, simply, to be human, paying attention.
It’s human nature.
The same way your passive aggressive manager not only avoids paying attention to a festering problem on your team, but makes further decisions that render the original decision even worse – all because he knows that the decision that caused the problem in the first place was his own – is a microcosm of what is happening in the GOP party now. It is the difficulty, and the self- interest, that people have, once they’ve made a decision but discover afterward it was the wrong one, to circle back and start over rather than plowing forward anyway. It’s far easier to circle back when you aren’t tempted by the headiness of power, or when you’re one person and you don’t have to consider the collective. But it’s still difficult to honestly examine your mistake and put others over your own self-interest, especially when your decision was made publicly.
But there’s one thing that brooks no excuse. And in the face of such difficulty, there’s only one thing that can rise above these tendencies and prevent the ignominious completion of a GOP freefall: courage.
Not the “courage” of Senator Flake, who never mentioned that word in his speech, and who only spoke out because he’s leaving a party to which he knows he will not be invited back.
Not the “courage” of Senator Corker, who is also not seeking re-election in 2018.
And definitely not the “courage” some might attribute to current GOP members of Congress who are simply doing their job.
Rather, the courage of a few of their predecessors.
As the world begins to pore over the newly released classified documents related to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, it’s worth remembering how Kennedy wrote about courage in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage 61 years ago.
The stories of these Senators, he wrote, “who [acted with] abiding loyalty to their nation... over all personal and political considerations,” are “worth remembering.”
At the end of the book, he defined courage broadly:
“To be courageous... requires no exceptional qualifications, no magic formula, no special combination of time, place and circumstance... A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures....”
Kennedy wrote of the struggles of American giants in the Senate: John Quincy Adams, Sam Houston, and others.
In spite of obstacles and pressures, John Quincy Adams fought viciously against his own Federalist party on the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and on British aggression on the American frigate Chesapeake and the subsequent Embargo Bill, which caused his party’s hatred of him to overflow and ultimately led him to resign from office. He was lucky: he got re- elected to Congress 22 years later. But that was a surprise, not the reason for his action.
Sam Houston of Texas voted against the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that set a precedent for Congress establishing laws on slavery rather than leaving it to individuals and notions of private property. In spite of obstacles and pressures, he cast a vote that led Texans to decry him as a deserter and traitor. A former acclaimed leader in his state, he was “unceremoniously dismissed” from his office in 1857.
Kennedy ended his quote:
“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”
Only a few years ago, these words may have been dismissed as so much hyperbole. Not anymore.
The behavior of the GOP establishment in recent history is not the only thing that has led us to this moment, but it is the reason we are now in freefall.
I believe the freefall can be stopped, but only by those who are responsible for it, and only through true courage – the basis of all human morality.
As Tim Miller points out, the fight is worth it.
That means Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the rest of the GOP Congress picking up Kennedy’s book and acting on its still-relevant lessons.