Attorney General William Barr’s answer to a CBS interviewer’s question, “How do you think history will judge [your] decision [to drop charges against Michael Flynn]?” perfectly captures the governing ethos of today’s Republican Party. With the smirk of a cat that swallowed the canary, he gave it all up: “History is written by the winners.”
I remember with continuing bewilderment the reaction of Republicans I knew well when Donald Trump was elected. Many were lawyers, and most were as incredulous as I that a person so obviously unfit could have been elected. As the reality that he was now their president sank in, their shift in attitude began with amazed admiration for his achievement. He had accomplished what no one thought possible. A crass insulting braggart with a history of business failures and sexual affairs had steamrolled over preferred Republican candidates and defeated the sure-to-win, and far more qualified, Hillary Clinton. They admired him not for who or what he was, but for winning.
Winning is what Donald Trump promised voters: “We’re going to win so much, you might even get tired of winning.” Audiences loved it. They loved him for saying it. Nothing else about him mattered. That his business and personal life was replete with lying and cheating to win didn’t matter. That his drive to win was obviously aimed at sustaining a narcissistic need to be seen as a winner rather than at any meaningful accomplishment didn’t matter. That much of his winning was little more than self-declared victory didn’t matter. He was their winner, and was making it clear that only losers argue with a winner.
As the institutionalized pursuit of winning at any cost corrupts American governance, the unholy alliance of Trump and McConnell, and now it appears William Barr, must use its power to defeat the systems of accountability: inspectors general must be replaced with loyalists; whistle blowers must be threatened and fired; critics must be ostracized; journalists must be discredited; investigations must be resisted and investigators must be investigated; voting must be suppressed; and bigger lies must be told and repeated. Doubling down now is essential to their survival.
Republicans faced a choice after Obama’s election of expanding their base or concentrating power to stay in the game. They chose to rig the system through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and skewing the judiciary with intensely partisan appointees. They have no choice now but to follow the path they are on. Unless they and their corruption of democracy are soundly rejected in 2020, the America of our Founders, the one I have admired, served, and loved, will be gone.