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The Death of Disgrace and the Culture of Impunity

One of Trump’s favorite words is ‘disgrace.’ He applies it indiscriminately to animal, vegetable, and mineral alike — with frequent reference to anyone who takes issue with his innate infallibility.

As usual with Trump, the word projects his own psyche. I’m guessing his late father screams “You’re a disgrace Donald” into his brain for much of Donald’s day.

But as we continue to track Trump's toxic legacy, the death of disgrace is one of his more lasting successes.

Disgrace isn’t what it used to be. Once was a time when politicians of both parties were expected to “resign in disgrace” over misdeeds, actual or perceived.

The mere discovery of ethical violations — to say nothing of alleged criminal acts — was usually more than enough to prompt censure, or even expulsion, from most legislative bodies.

Al Franken was forced out of his Senate seat over allegations that seem laughably trivial now. Back then, we didn’t fully understand — though we did suspect — that ethical rules were for Democrats only.

Since then, Republicans at every level have sneeringly refused to hold themselves accountable for anything. They have indulged in ethical violations of every stripe, many of them criminal. Franken’s behavior, whatever one thinks of it, never came close to breaking the law.

But Republicans are happy to forgive and forget just about anything, from alleged sex trafficking (Matt Gaetz), to suspicion of sedition (Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, Marjorie Taylor Greene, et. al.), to a long list of campaign finance violations — many of which are criminal — from a long list of right-wing loons.

Once, even the words ‘alleged’ and ‘suspicion’ were enough to drive a public official from office. But then Trump taught Republicans that disgrace was nothing to be ashamed of, that rules and norms were for suckers, and that laws were for breaking. He created a culture of impunity that is already a cornerstone of his legacy.

With that in mind, we now have the perfect embodiment of that legacy. George Santos, not yet 35, already represents a new generation of Republicans taking the MAGA template in new directions.

He is in every way a Trump prodigy. He can lie with one breath, deny it in the next, and not worry for a minute which lie he told to whom. His resume is completely fictional, his finances murky, and his flair for the big con makes him a man after Trump’s own heart.

Except that he’s Jewish, or not. Except that he’s Black, or not. Except that he’s gay, or not.

Santos is a walking token, a one-man curated collection of everything Trump despises, yet packaged as a sort of Trump Lite. He’s an avid student of flimflam, and Trump is his hero. He’s not the type to resign his House seat in disgrace.

Not that he’ll be asked to. The House of Representatives is about to be taken over by an amazing number of disgraceful people who see themselves as immune to disgrace. That’s bad enough.

But they see themselves as immune to the law, as well. Among other things, they have publicly flouted congressional subpoenas, effectively negating an important tool of democracy, even as they use it for political theatre.

Only in a culture of presumed impunity could a slimeball like Jim Jordan thumb his nose at a lawfully-issued subpoena, then emerge in the next calendar year as chairman, perhaps, of the House Judiciary Committee. If, as he has promised, he starts handing out subpoenas to prominent Democrats under flimsy and quixotic pretexts, he has to know that those Democrats will flip him the same finger in the new year that he flipped them in the old.

However satisfying that might feel to us, its effects are sure to be corrosive. Middle-finger diplomacy is rarely productive, and it only obscures the possible loss of congressional subpoena power, which would be a significant blow to the legislative branch. It would undermine Congress’s ability to police itself, and to hold its members accountable to the rule of law.

Unfortunately, only one party is interested in the rule of law. Which moves the dynamics of congressional power into uncharted waters. The next two years will test the limits of impunity, and the House will be ground zero for that test.

By the time you read this, Kevin McCarthy might be the new Speaker, or he might not be. The GOP shitshow will go on either way. But McCarthy might just be the right guy for this hot seat. He’s the worst kind of pragmatist — self-centered, vain, and consumed with ambition — but a pragmatist nonetheless. He has no principles, beliefs, or scruples, but he’s famously malleable.

In the next few days, he’ll take any position, no matter how deranged, to get the Freedom Caucus nutjobs to vote for his speakership. But if he wins — which is not a given — there’s no reason to think he’ll be any less malleable. He’ll turn on the Freedom Caucus — or anyone else — in a heartbeat. He’ll change with the wind, and much will depend on which way that wind is blowing.

And winds do whip up. Circumstances could back him into any sort of corner, even one where he’d have to consider, uh, legislating. Not that he knows how. But in a pinch, he might be tempted to ask Democrats. Don’t hold your breath. Still, McCarthy is a strange bedfellow, no matter who he sleeps with.

Now the good news. GOP befuddlement and ineptitude will be endlessly entertaining for the next two years, especially since disgrace could make a comeback at any time. It could even come back in the form of indictments.

The Justice Department still has at least two years to weigh in on the culture of impunity, and there’s no reason to think they’re not interested. We still don’t have the final word on the flouting of those subpoenas — there may yet be prosecutions in the works.

But beyond that, there are now dozens, maybe hundreds, of Republicans with clear criminal exposure. Many of them know they’re under investigation, some by multiple agencies. Some have responded with unhinged bombast, comically trying to deflect attention from their criminality, even as they lawyer up and wait for the FBI to come knocking.

Meanwhile, their woes at the ballot box are only likely to get worse. Voters are finally on to them, and two years of transparent idiocy will do nothing to make them look capable, or even sentient.

The electorate has just shown, again, that it understands the basics:

Democrats are the party of healthcare, infrastructure, economy, climate change, disease control, human rights, abortion rights, voting rights, and a lot of other stuff, including democracy itself.

Republicans are the party of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Still, for now the GOP will continue to behave as if disgrace is dead and impunity rules. But, as I’ve written before, the antidote to impunity is accountability.

As in jail time?


  1. GOP supporters remind me of a parent standing on the sidelines of a sporting event in which their inept child is hurting their team, but they love their child and support them even though they are incapable.

    1. More like the parent who screams at the good kids, punches out the ref, steals the ball, then insists on a forfeit because somebody stole the ball.

    2. There are definitely some of those, but I also know people who are better described in the more passive manner I mentioned above.

    3. In other words, they're not paying attention.

    4. It's so satisfying to read these words in print, instead of screaming them inside my head. Thank you. Well put!

  2. Oh Lefty, they are paying attention -- just not to the right people or sources of truth. Sadly, their sources of information do nothing but vilify Democrats. So, they remain disappointed that "the government" is incapable tackling the very same issues that we all care about. They are ignorant to the fact that the Democrats would happily engage the GOP in in a debate about how to solve these issues -- if only they were interested.

    1. I'm quite sure there are many, many who are not paying attention. But as you say, the ones who are paying attention are brainwashed. Or they're complicit. None of these things are good for a democratic society.


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