If there are no consequences for the increasingly damaging behavior from the White House, why expect it to stop?
On Thursday, President Trump’s spokesman repeated a conspiracy theory that British spies had tapped Trump’s phone last year at the request of former president Barack Obama. It was a remarkably unhinged statement, even for the president’s truth-challenged spokesman, Sean Spicer. The British government forcefully pushed back and, according to reports, received a private apology.
The Trump strategy of dishonesty and bluster apparently still has some legs domestically. But overseas, the White House’s antics are catching up with it — or, rather, with the country. Australians, whose prime minister was on the receiving end of a previous Trump tantrum, are reconsidering the extent of their country’s ties to the United States.
Who can blame them? The United States does not appear to be a reliable or stable country right now. As crises in North Korea and across the globe loom, the White House is fast alienating the countries whose cooperation and trust the United States needs. Apart from the insults, the president also appears to be delusional and unable to tell the difference between reliable reports and internet conspiracy theories. That can hardly inspire confidence in foreign leaders.
But the only force capable of pushing back — the Republican-controlled Congress — has either been unwilling or unable to put its foot down. The reaction on Capitol Hill to the White House’s accusations against Britain was, largely, silence.
One can see the conundrum: The GOP needs the American people to believe some of Trump’s factless nonsense, such as the nonexistent collapse of Obamacare, to get their domestic agenda passed. After years of cozying up to climate deniers, birthers, and assorted kooks, the party finds itself inextricably linked to the swamp of “alternative facts” that gave rise to Trump in the first place.
But foreign governments aren’t restrained by the need to indulge such delusions. Congress can play a role in limiting the damage that Trump can do in foreign affairs, but only if they’re willing to stand up, call administration officials to account, and use their oversight powers to separate fact from fiction. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the few GOP senators to stand up to Trump, has threatened to subpoena the Justice Department for information about Trump’s baseless wiretap accusations, but hasn’t done so yet.
How much more long-term damage to they intend to allow Trump to do to American interests before enough is enough? By the time Republican legislators shake off their partisan loyalties to Trump, how much of America’s influence, credibility, and goodwill will even be left?