A time for Bipartisanship?

, by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0

Twenty years ago, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Democrats had rallied behind a Republican president.

They could have played politics for partisan gain with that tragic situation in a number of ways. They could have attacked President Bush for ignoring repeated warnings by the intelligence community that bin Laden was ready to strike. They could have undermined his political legitimacy: he failed to win the popular vote the previous year, and owed his electoral victory to the machinations of the Supreme Court that stopped the vote count in Florida and declared him the winner over Al Gore.

But they didn’t play that cynical and self-serving game, because they understood the need for national unity in a time of crisis.

But just seven years later, in the aftermath of the greatest economic and financial collapse in our lifetimes, one that saw the collapse of the housing market and the credit sector, one that caused ten million Americans to lose their job and six million to lose their home, that threatened the very existence of two iconic American automakers and destroyed many thousands of businesses, and wiped out $15 trillion of household wealth — even faced with the enormity of that devastation and carnage, still, Republicans felt no need to reciprocate in good will for the good of the country amid an arguably even-greater crisis.

Instead, they announced as their utmost priority the abject failure of newly elected President Obama. They viciously worked to block his every measure and gleefully stated their goal was to limit him to one term.

And half of this country cheered them on.

During eight years of declared war against this democratically elected president, Republicans violated every norm and protocol needed to facilitate representative self-government, burned every bridge behind them, imposed austerity economics in order to starve a still-recovering economy in a calculated, heartless and cynical attempt to blunt recovery efforts for partisan political gain, and did everything they could to make this country ungovernable under a black Democratic president — even taking us to the brink of a national default by refusing to raise the national debt ceiling, and writing open letters to the leaders of the hostile Islamic Republic of Iran in which they urged them to reject the policies of our own president, even though rejecting a nuclear arms agreement could mean an unavoidable slide to war.

In his final year in office, they demeaned him and flouted their Constitutional duty by refusing to schedule a hearing for his Supreme Court nominee, refused to publicly join him in denouncing repeated attacks on our elections by a foreign adversary, and in the final insult, elected as his successor a reality TV host — possibly the most unfit, unqualified and corrupt individual to ever serve in the office — who told them what they wanted to hear about President Obama and his birth certificate.

And who, in the next four years, proceeded to make a mockery of their stated ideals of fiscal conservatism, limited government, and respect for stability and tradition.

Despite inheriting a robust economy and near-full employment, Trump insisted that he had “inherited a mess,” and pushed for a huge tax cut that has added trillions to the national debt, enriched the already rich and powerful and, despite his promises, did not create jobs, did not reduce the deficit, and did not go after the “hedge fund guys” and diminish economic inequality.

And despite losing the popular vote by almost three million, he did not even pretend to make an effort toward bipartisanship.

He rewarded polluting industries by gutting environmental standards, enriched predatory lenders by rolling back consumer protections, played to his base by fomenting culture wars and endangering racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, threatened to plunge millions into chaos by repealing the Affordable Care Act, and when that attempt failed — by a single vote — he worked to weaken and undermine patient protections by executive fiat.

And just like him, his Cabinet and executive appointees were a portrait of elitist, undeserved privilege and government sabotage:

The Education Secretary without a teaching degree who had never taught, attended public schools or supported public education.

The Energy Secretary managing a department he had said he favored eliminating.

The EPA Administrator who himself had 13 lawsuits pending against the EPA.

The Secretary of State previously honored by Russia with the highest honor awarded to a non-citizen for striking a deal — worth as much as $500 billion — to unlock their oil deposits, frozen under Arctic ice, with American technology.

The Health and Human Services Secretary on loan from the pharmaceutical industry.

The Treasury Secretary otherwise notorious as the Foreclosure King.

The Commerce Secretary and corporate raider known as the Bankruptcy King.

The Interior Secretary who was formerly a hired gun for the energy industry.

The National Security Advisor who had been fired for improperly releasing classified information in enemy territory.

The Attorney General notorious for helping members of the Reagan administration escape justice for their roles in the Iran Contra scandal.

Despite his promise to serve the forgotten man and woman and rein in the elites, Trump assembled a rogue’s gallery or Murderers Row of collaborators in what was an unprecedented looting of this country and its treasures and hollowing out of public sector expertise and resources.

What’s more, Trump mocked the very idea of checks and balances or even any limits to his presidential power:

Frustrated by his failure to obtain Congressional approval to fund a border wall on our southern border, he arrogated unto himself the authority to divert Constitutionally appropriated funds to his own pet project.

He unilaterally declared a national security emergency in order to impose punishing tariffs on our allies and trading partners.

He refused to comply when Congress lawfully called for documents, witnesses and testimony during his first impeachment.

Long wary of oversight, he fired the intelligence community’s Inspector General and even brazenly announced that he alone would serve as the oversight for a $500 billion disaster recovery/stimulus package.

And even though favored with a Republican Senate majority, he repeatedly made use of “acting” Cabinet members and appointees so as to avoid submitting to the legislative “advise and consent” function, and he appointed his own family members to critical White House positions with access to classified information, even though they repeatedly failed to pass a security clearance.

And throughout, despite calls for a return to regular order and bipartisanship, we were continually taunted by them that “Elections have consequences.”

And so, we powerlessly called him out as Trump, with the support of his followers, gutted the State Department of expertise, professionalism and institutional memory, and gutted the FBI and intelligence community of anyone capable of investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

We peacefully protested as police officers, with Trump’s encouragement, attacked and killed unarmed black men and boys under the banner of “Law and Order.”

We rallied to defend the ACA, the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accords in the face of mindless, relentless opposition.

We recoiled in horror as Trump Republicans pitted people against each other and elected vicious hateful extremists who posed fully armed in their campaign literature, thereby trumpeting their opposition to self-government by consent of the people.

We watched our fellow citizens die in staggering numbers while Trump, after downplaying and politicizing the coronavirus threat, took to hijacking daily press conferences to contradict recognized medical experts, insult journalists and political opponents, and hawk unproven and dangerous “miracle cures” like some late-night infomercial pitchman as a dangerous pandemic mercilessly raged on to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans in less than a single year.

And with much of the country under stay-at-home orders, he also joined his fellow Republicans to oppose expanded absentee and mail-in voting — and even appointed a political donor to serve as Postmaster General in an effort to disrupt and slow down mail delivery — for what promised to be the most consequential election of our lifetimes.

We saw armed white supremacists don militia garb and counter-protest as millions of Americans outraged over police brutality peacefully took to the streets in support of racial justice after a citizen videotaped a police officer suffocate a subdued black man to death in broad daylight.

And we thought the argument was settled when American voters, in a bid to return accountability to government and provide a check on Republican overreach and misrule, awarded Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Which is fitting: Because of the policies, actions — and inaction — of Trump and elected Republicans, this country found itself on life support, with most of America living like shut-ins, hundreds of thousands dead, millions losing their jobs and facing eviction and foreclosure, and coping with shortages of everything from medical supplies to toilet paper.

But in one last insult to the American people and the ideals of the Constitution, Trump refused to concede, even after suffering a stinging defeat of landslide proportions.

And he was not alone: even after making baseless claims of voter fraud, and filing and losing scores of lawsuits seeking to disenfranchise millions of his fellow citizens, we witnessed, first, the unprecedented spectacle of a majority of Republican members of Congress voting to reject and overturn the already-certified results of the election — tantamount to a bid to overthrow a duly elected government — and then, Trump’s call urging supporters to storm the Capitol and hold members of Congress hostage until they relent and somehow void the results of a free and fair election.

At gunpoint.

And although five people tragically died in this violent unprecedented coup attempt, which failed to achieve what its plotters had hoped — the imposition of a dictatorship by an undemocratic minority — there is little sign that the Republican insurgents have been chastened or humbled by public condemnation.

Already, there has been talk of a spurious and vapid bipartisanship, or “looking forward” and the need for “national healing” without accountability.

After losing his position as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell now has the unmitigated gall to suggest a “power sharing arrangement” with the incoming Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer.

And after inciting an armed and violent mob into the citadel of our democracy, Republican members of Congress are now chafing at having to walk through metal detectors designed to detect concealed weapons — that some are now darkly promising to bring to the Floor — and prevent a replay of the violence that they themselves fomented.

But there can be no reconciliation, no “national healing” without accountability, and one way to take that first step would be to expel every lawmaker who rejected majority rule, voted against approving the votes of the presidential election, and who made violent resistance to a peaceful transition of power inevitable.

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Randy Abraham

Randy Abraham

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