Friday, February 10, 2017

From Romans to Republicans - Has the GOP Downfall Begun?

English politician Sir John Dalberg-Acton
In a now-famous letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, the English historian, writer and moralist Lord Acton famously observed:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

He was essentially paraphrasing an idea previously expressed by other thinkers and writers for centuries, reflecting on the Roman Empire, the Papacy and countless monarchies.

But his oft-quoted observation, written 130 years ago, could well have been a prescient warning about the state of the Republican Party in 21st century America.

In the wake of the November 8th elections, a number of elated Republicans, from spine-challenged House Speaker Paul Ryan to average conservative Joe's calling into NPR to share their thoughts on the shocking presidential election results, publicly expressed concerns that the GOP, with both houses of Congress, the presidency and a majority of state legislatures in their hands, would end up going too far.

But as we've seen time and again, the collective memory of the Republican establishment is shockingly short when it comes to learning from their past political mistakes.

Ever since 45's shaky first day in office a little over two weeks ago, the new leaders of the executive branch and their reluctant Republican allies in Congress seem almost obsessed with dismantling America's imperfect Democracy and reshaping it to reflect some kind of twisted conservative-Utopian worldview.

By doing so, they are ironically sewing the seeds of an unprecedented nationwide backlash movement that poses a direct threat to their Congressional majority with all 435 seats in the House and 33 seats in the Senate up for reelection in 2018.  

Protestors outside Rep. Chaffetz's town hall in Utah
If this past week is any indicator, the Republican establishment seems almost catastrophically tone deaf to the values and priorities of the vast majority of the American people.

Take Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz's town hall on Thursday evening for example.

Like other Republican members of the House, Chaffetz was home taking the post-election political temperature directly from his constituents.

It was not a warm reception, and Chaffetz is probably itching to scurry back to the safety of the isolated political bubble in Washington where he and other Republicans are content to dwell in a distorted ideological reality.

The House Oversight Committee Chairman, whose continuing obsession with Hillary Clinton's emails borders on partisan political lunacy, was greeted with a chorus of boos and jeers in Brighton High School in a Salt Lake City suburb as he faced an onslaught of questions from angry members of his Congressional district.  

It was pretty brutal.

A young girl asked him if he believed in science.

In response to expressions of outrage over Republican efforts to allow the extraction of fossil fuels from the nation's National Parks, Chaffetz actually told the crowd that solar energy can harm animals and wildlife.

Between the boos and chants of "Do your job!", others demanded to know why the House Oversight Committee he chairs isn't investigating 45's ties to Russia and the role Putin played in manipulating the November 8th election results - or why the American people haven't yet seen the beleaguered POTUS's tax returns.

A woman questions Tennesse Rep Diane Black at a
packed town hall on Thursday
And this wasn't an isolated incident either, other Republican House members in traditionally conservative-leaning "red" states faced similar questions from their constituents.

Take a couple minutes to watch a woman from Tennessee ask Republican Congresswoman Diane Black about Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Things didn't fare much better for the Republican-majority Senate this week either.

Republican Senators had the gall to dredge up the obscure Senate 'Rule 19' to block Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

As reported, Rule 19 was added by the Senate on February 28, 1902 after the junior senator from South Carolina John McLaurin rushed into the Senate chamber, denounced the senior South Carolina senator Ben Tillman as being guilty of a "willful, malicious, and deliberate lie" before getting punched in the jaw by Tillman.

If Republican senators thought that invoking a rule historians suggest has only been invoked twice since 1902 would somehow shield the American public from hearing the truth about newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions' legacy of opposing voting rights for African-Americans in the south and civil rights, they were way off base.

The recording of Warren reading King's nine-page letter (originally sent to former Republican North Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, a notorious opponent of civil rights) went viral and was listened to millions of times by people around the globe.

Senator Ted Cruz reads 'Green Eggs & Ham'
on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2013
As reported, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took the floor on Wednesday and angrily announced, "The idea that a letter and a statement by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr...could not be presented and spoken about here on the floor of the Senate, is to me, incomprehensible." 

He then defiantly read the letter in it's entirety as Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Sherrod Brown had done earlier that day.

The episode didn't just reinforce the perception of the Republican Party as contemptuous of women.

This is the same party that cheered as a self-righteous hypocrite like Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz spent 21 straight hours on the floor of the Senate in opposition of enacting healthcare reform (during which he also read from Dr. Seuss' 'Green Eggs and Ham' and talked about poker) but silenced Senator Warren while she was reading a letter that was sent to the Senate in 1986 by the deceased wife of a civil rights icon.

During Black History Month no less.

With each day, it seems as if the Republican party puts itself further and further out of touch with mainstream American citizens and the values they uphold.

Just days into this new Republican-dominated government, Congress has already moved quickly to eradicate legislation that protects consumers from banks being allowed to charge predatory overdraft fees, permit mining companies to dump toxic coal sludge into rivers and streams, and further curb the right to vote for people of color, the poor, students and legal immigrants.

Protesters block Betsy DeVoss from entering a
Washington, D.C. school on Friday morning
To say nothing of approving a known bigot and opponent of civil rights like Jeff Sessions as the attorney general.

Or  billionaire Betsy DeVos, (who donated money to every Senator who approved her) with no experience working in education, as Secretary of Education.

These kinds of actions have sparked a nationwide grassroots protest movement.

One that began with millions of people around the globe coming out to protest 45 the day after his inauguration, and has since grown exponentially.

Both online and in person.

As reported earlier today, protestors chanting "Shame! Shame!" briefly blocked Betsy DeVos from entering Jefferson Academy in Washington, D.C, this morning as protestors hounded her for buying her way into 45's cabinet and chided her for having no experience as an educator.

The other night protesters stood outside the home of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell protesting his invoking the aforementioned rarely used Senate 'Rule 19' to block Elizabeth Warren from reading Coretta Scott King's letter on the floor of the Senate.

For example, the March for Science scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. on April 22nd (Earth Day) is already sparking regional marches in cities and communities all over the world in what looks to be a truly global backlash to Republicans who dismiss scientific research on issues like climate change, fuel efficiency standards and the effects of pollution, toxic waste and pesticides on the environment.

These aren't flash-in-the-pan protests as some conservatives have dismissively suggested.

They are parts of a much larger and sustained organized campaign built on a broad coalition that opposes 45 and the current manifestation of the Republican party.

As the nation reacts to the news that 45's national security adviser Michael Flynn had private conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. at least a month before the compulsive authoritarian liar 45 took office - violations of ethics and the law which both Flynn and VP Mike Pence have lied about in front of the press - the protest movement grows.

A movement that could culminate with the 2018 Congressional elections when 468 members of Congress and the Senate will be forced to face the reality of exactly what American voters think about them and the job they've done.

Remarkably, and perhaps predictably, Republican politician's stubborn inability to reach across the aisle, listen to the overwhelming majority of voters who did not vote for 45, or govern outside of a narrow-minded extremist ideology could very well mark the beginning of the downfall of the GOP.

After all, we're not even a month into 45's administration, and as Lord Acton observed, absolute power has already corrupted absolutely.  

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