How much longer must this go on?
That’s the question that every American should be asking congressional Republicans about the stunningly unfit and increasingly unhinged president whom they continue to support and refuse to hold accountable.
After more than eight months of shredding once sacrosanct political and democratic norms, Donald Trump continues to find new and creative ways to lower the presidency – and the country – even further into the political gutter. After largely ignoring the unfolding humanitarian emergency in Puerto Rico, because he was busy attacking black football players for exercising their First Amendment rights, he turned to that US island territory in indomitable Trump style.
On Saturday he launched a savage political attack on Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, for having the temerity to suggest that the federal government should be doing more to help the people of Puerto Rico. He complained about her “poor leadership ability,” said she was being “nasty” to him and suggested Puerto Ricans were ungrateful moochers who “want everything to be done for them.”
He continued to tout the federal response in Puerto Rico as being “amazing,” which is a view that only Donald Trump seems to hold. And he derided the “fake news” for not giving “my people” — i.e., federal responders who work for the American people — the “credit they deserve for doing a great job.”
Most of these tweets, attacking an island of mostly poor people of color, were sent while Trump relaxed at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., which might be the most white-privilege thing ever. It is emblematic of the racial and ethnic divisions that Trump has repeatedly sought to exploit throughout his political career.
If Trump were just a race-baiting demagogic narcissist, that would be bad enough, but he’s also an unstable commander in chief. At the same time that he was escalating his feud with the people of Puerto Rico, he was ratcheting up tensions with North Korea.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had told “our wonderful Secretary of State” Rex Tillerson “that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” (Trump’s nickname for North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un). “Save your energy,” Trump tweeted, “we’ll do what has to be done.” This is the kind of unmoored and dangerous rhetoric that can feed misperceptions and miscommunication and ultimately start a war. Think about how Pyongyang might interpret a presidential statement that diplomacy with North Korea is a waste of time.
Finally, there is Trump the authoritarian. We’ve become largely inured, as a nation, to Trump’s constant attacks on journalists and his dismissals of news stories he doesn’t like as “fake news.” But on Thursday, Trump tweeted out, “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” The idea that Congress should investigate news organizations is a stunning and dangerous attack on the First Amendment — and the kind of thing that no president with a cursory understanding of the Constitution would ever say.
So in one week, Trump has increased the potential for nuclear conflict, widened America’s already wide racial divisions, and undermined the free press. How can any Republican — or any American — look at these excesses and not be appalled?
Wednesday, Tillerson got in trouble for having allegedly called the president a “moron.” But let’s be honest: This is probably the most generous view of Trump in Washington, even among Republicans. It’s difficult to imagine any member of Congress or Trump’s Cabinet who doesn’t look aghast at the president’s behavior.
I understand intellectually that Republicans don’t want to upset their political base of Trump supporters, but, honestly, why would any politician who cares about America want the support of voters unbothered by Trump’s actions? How much longer will they set aside their integrity for a president who seemingly has no decency and is clearly unfit for the office he holds?
Trump is evidently incapable of not saying and doing terrible things, but Republicans are generally not so afflicted. At what point do they say enough is enough and seriously contemplate his removal from office? It’s the question that every journalist and every citizen should be asking, because right now they are the only possible check on the extraordinary — and daily damage that Trump is doing to the country.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.