RUNNING OUT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

One of my favorite quotes was uttered by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

She said: ‘The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

She’s right.

And many of those competing for the Democrat nomination for president express that aspiration exactly.

One is Bernie Sanders who expresses no hesitancy to spend other people’s money. But the leader could well be Elizabeth Warren.

Here is the way Wall Street Journal editorial writers put it this morning:

“If it’s Monday, it must be another giant spending proposal from one of the Democrat presidential candidates. This week, like most weeks, the winner is front-runner Elizabeth Warren, who called in a post for another $800 billion in federal spending on K-12 education.

“Her ‘plan’ — she loves that word — would quadruple current spending on Title I funds for schools with low-income students to $450 billion over 10 years. She also wants $200 billion more for students with disabilities, $100 billion in other grants, and $50 billion for school buildings. Remember when K-12 used to be largely a state and local responsibility? It won’t be with Ms. Warren.

“The Warren campaign said she will pay for this with her proposed wealth tax, which she claims will raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years. If you believe that, you probably don’t have a good tax lawyer or accountant. The senator nonetheless says this wealth windfall will finance her $1.07 trillion universal child-care plan, $610 billion for free college tuition, her plan to cancel $640 billion in student debt and now $800 billion for K-12 education. This will be the hardest working wealth tax in history.

“No word yet from the senator on how she will finance her Medicare for All plan, which would cost the mere pittance of $32 trillion over 10 years.”

Spending other people’s money?

Yes. That’s exactly what Warren wants to do as she appeals to voters who want more government spending and hand-outs.

Before you know it, she will run out money. Or, better put, you will run out of money to fund her grandiose government-centric schemes.

Or, the country will be bankrupt.

For me, I have had enough of Donald Trump and his violations of law, not to mention failing, in any respect, to do what is right as president as he favors his own aggrandizement over any benefit for the country.

But, the big-government schemes of Warren and others on the far left are no better.

We need a candidate from and for the center to make sure Margaret Thatcher’s quote doesn’t come true here.

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SOME PROPOSITIONS: WHY TRUMP DOES WHAT HE DOES

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

Over the last three years, I have had a quizzical reaction to issue in this blog headline as I have watched President Donald Trump careen from one issue to another without any apparent regard for the fact that he looks and acts unhinged.

I use the word “careen” intentionally because it indicates he – Trump – has no central motivating commitment other than to aggrandize himself. Himself over the country!

He is unhinged.

Tony Schwartz, the author who helped Trump write the book, The Art of Deal (which I have not read), shows up this weekend with a piece in the Washington Post that, at least for me, helps to define Trump. [Schwartz is now chief executive of the Energy Project, which exists to help organization leaders and employees pursue healthier, happier, more productive and more meaningful lives.]

In the Post, the headline and subhead for the Schwartz piece is this:

Why Trump can’t change, no matter what the consequences are

Personal growth is about seeing more. The president is too self-absorbed for that.

Based on the Schwartz piece, I propose four traits that help explain Trump’s bizarre, “I’m the most important person in the room” behavior:

  1. INSTANT GRATIFICATION: His need for instant gratification prevents him from considering the longer-term consequences of his actions. Instead, he simply reacts in the moment and this helps to explain why he moves into overdrive whenever he feels attacked, including by issuing an often-enormous number of tweets that attack his detractors.
  2. PARANOIA: Throughout his adult life, Trump has viewed the world as a dark, dangerous place teeming with enemies out to get him. In the face of potential impeachment, his fear has escalated exponentially. The threat he imagines is no longer just to his fragile sense of self but, realistically, to his future as president.  Any capacity Trump ever had to think clearly or calmly has evaporated. Instead, he’s devolved into anger, blame, aggression and sadistic attacks.
  3. THE REALITY OF UNREALITY: The only wall Trump has built is around himself, to keep his own insecurity and vulnerability at bay.  Ironically, his defense consistently produces precisely what it’s meant to protect against. That is just what happened when the Wall Street Journal broke the story of his attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of presidential candidate Joe Biden.

And, the same thing happened when Trump suddenly decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, sparking opposition from many Republicans who previously had let Trump get away with murder – no exaggeration there.

  1. DOUBLING DOWN: Facing threats to their businesses and uncertainty about the future, leaders sometimes double down on what’s worked best for them in the past. The problem is that any strength overused eventually becomes a liability.

Confidence turns into arrogance. Courage becomes recklessness. Certainty congeals into rigidity. Authority moves toward authoritarianism.

Consider each of those parallels and recognize that they accurately characterize Trump.

So, we have an unhinged president whose very acts aggravate the circumstances we face as a country. It’s beyond time for Congress, despite its often-seen political frailties, to rescue the country by convicting Trump in the impeachment process, thus removing him from office.

It won’t be easy, but doing the right thing never is, at least in politics.

For me, it is almost unthinkable to consider another year in office for Trump, not to mention a second term, for the worst American president in history.

 

SALEM: A CITY THAT CAN BE AT PEACE WITH GOD — CALL IT “SHALOM”

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

The church my wife and I have attended for more than 30 years, Salem Alliance Church emphasizes an important mission statement:

“We aspire to be a city at peace with God.”

Aspirations for being a city at peace with God could flow from a Hebrew word, shalom, which sounds a bit like Salem and means this according to the dictionary:

“Many are familiar with the Hebrew word shalom or ‘peace. ‘ The common western definition of peace is — the absence of conflict or war — but in Hebrew it means so much more. ‘Shalom’ is taken from the root word shalam, which means, ‘to be safe in mind, body, or estate.’”

The lead pastor at Salem Alliance, Steve Fowler, emphasizes the phrase, but also lives it by organizing various programs, missions and events that link the church to the city.

And remember that Salem Alliance made an intentional decision about 20 years ago, when I was chair of the Governing Board, to remain in the center of the city rather than move out to the outskirts.

Our intention, then and now, was to function as a solid neighbor in the Grant Neighborhood, including Grant School, which sits only a couple blogs east of the church.

It is noteworthy to emphasize peace in a day when peace tends to be in short supply, either in terms of wars around the world or in the “war” citizens deal with as a result of corrupt politics – Donald Trump who has demeaned the Oval Office and many Democrats who cannot find reasonable ways to oppose him.

An organization called Salem Leadership Foundation (SLF) also emphasizes peace in Salem as it has moved, successfully over the years, to bring people together, not tear them apart.

The leader of the non-profit enterprise is Sam Skillern, whom I have known and respected for years, including when I was privileged to serve on the SLF Board.

Here is the way he put his aspiration in a recent e-mail message:

“A book crossed my desk last year. It was called The Outward Mindset and points us away from being “inward” (i.e. self-centered and selfish) to a perspective that is other-oriented and collaborative.

“In the words of Jesus, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’  So instead of seeing other people as, 1) assets I exploit for my gain, 2) obstacles in my way, or 3) objects I blame for my failures, we are challenged to view others as people-of-value whom we can serve and collaborate with for rich, mutual benefit.

Skillern appreciates the commitment Mountain West Investment Corporation, which has provided the accredited staff for training and mentoring through the commitment of its leader, Larry Tokarski, whom I am privileged to call a friend.

“For years,” Skillern says, “I’ve floated the idea that virtually every ministry, non-profit, municipality, business, agency and organization in Salem-Keizer all share the same core mission:  The health and well-being of our community.

“In other words, Shalom.  With an outward mindset, we can get there together.”

Good words from Skillern and those who have helped him pass the Shalom message around Salem.

TRUMP WINS EVERY DEMOCRAT DEBATE

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

The headline for this blog this morning captures an unfortunate, not to mention foreboding, reality in this country. It is this:

Trump wins because debates Democrats hold illustrate they cannot get their act together to propose a candidate who is not so far left as to be off the political spectrum. Given this reality, even centrist Americans could be drawn toward Trump, which could have continued with the most current date now just concluded.

In a piece this week for the Wall Street Journal, Bobby Jindal, the former governor of Louisiana, put it this way:

“Lots of voters dislike the president, but will be convinced to vote for him by seeing his opponents.”

That’s why, from my post in the cheap seats out West, I have hoped for months, if not years, that a centrist candidate would emerge who would call Americans to love their country rather than, figuratively at least, yell on every street corner about how anyone who doesn’t agree with them are nuts.

Or, as is manifestly the case with Trump, put themselves first and the country be damned.

More from Jindal: “The Republican National Committee should offer to be the official sponsor of a weekly Democrat presidential debate. There would be no better advertisement for President Trump’s re-election. Every time the Democrat presidential contenders gather together, it’s a contest between the merely delusional, the vaguely vindictive, and the patently absurd.”

There was no better example of this when D presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke recently outlined his proposal to tax religious institutions that don’t approve of same sex marriage.

O’Rourke is the one who interpreted his failed Senate campaign as a steppingstone to the presidency, including foul-mouthed language on the campaign trail – in that way, much like Trump.

“This,” according to Washington Post writer Michael Gerson, “is not the normal substance of presidential ambitions. Few young people nursing political dreams say: “When I grow up, I want to be a foul-mouthed, overreaching, anti-religious culmination of every exaggerated liberal stereotype and the embodiment of every fevered conservative nightmare.”

Some responsible Democrat, Gerson adds, needs to sit O’Rourke down and tell him it is not worth winning the Democrat nomination in ways that guarantee a re–election landslide for Trump. And that it is not worth losing the Democrat nomination in ways that badly hurt the eventual Democrat nominee.

More from Gerson: “The loyalty and enthusiasm of Trump’s base of support in the GOP — especially among white evangelicals — are ensured by apocalyptic fears. The election of a Democrat president, the story goes, would end America as we know it and usher in an era of anti-Christian persecution. By this logic, many conservative Christians view Trump as a thug who fights in their favor.”

I hope that Trump’s recent stupidity regarding Syria, leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves and freeing ISIS for more tyranny, will prompt Trumpians, finally, to reflect on their often unthinking support.

If not, it should, even as many Republicans in Congress are leaving Trump alone, if only on the Syria cave-in.

TRUMP’S STATE OF MIND — AND DOES HE EVEN HAVE “A STATE OF MIND?”

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

“He was hectoring and imperious. He was domineering and defiant. And he was audacious and cavalier.

“In the nearly three weeks since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump has struck a posture of raw aggression. His visceral defenses of himself — at the most vulnerable point of his presidency — have shined a spotlight on Trump’s state of mind.

“Like an aging rock star, the president is now reprising many of the greatest hits from his hellion days. He has bullied and projected — at times leveling against others the very charges he faces — while simultaneously depicting himself as a victim. And he has turned to ominous depictions of America, and in moments sounded an authoritarian tone.”

That’s a good description of the person who, incredibly, occupies the Oval Office, with all the risks his conduct portends for America.

In a piece for the Washington Post, two writers – Ashley Parker and Phillip Bump – do a good job of cataloging Trump’s unhinged approach.

Trump is so unhinged that it does strikes me as plausible to say that he has a “state of mind.” Instead, he flies by the seat of his pants, uttering through tweets, whatever happens to enter his mind at any point in the process regardless of the result.

Incredibly, only five days after the impeachment inquiry began, Trump sent forth a torrent of four dozen tweets and re-tweets, making it, at the time, the third most prolific day of tweeting of his entire presidency.

Then, the next day, Trump passed that previous milestone with 59 total tweets, including 33 in just 20 minutes. All told, in the week before the launch of the inquiry, Trump averaged 18 tweets per day.

Here, then, is a summary of the Trump traits Post writers Parker and Bump describe.

Martyr

Trump strode onstage to rapturous applause at a packed arena in Minneapolis Thursday night ostensibly to campaign for re-election in 2020. But he was obsessed instead with the 2016 election, delivering a jeremiad of persecution and self-pity.

The president cast himself as the ultimate victim of harassment from congressional Democrats, the intelligence community and the media.

Victimization has long been central to Trump’s political identity, rooting him in the grievance politics of the right and inspiring in his millions of followers a duty to protect the president from any perceived threat. But Trump’s feelings of oppression and persecution have been especially pronounced during the impeachment crisis.

Heckler

It was another episode of “Chopper Talk” — Trump’s freewheeling question-and-answer sessions with reporters before he boards the Marine One helicopter — only this time the president was especially agitated. He strode back and forth and sliced the air with his hands.

As has long been his habit, Trump has applied derogatory nicknames to his impeachment antagonists. Schiff is “Shifty Schiff,” Pelosi is “Nervous Nancy” and Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican most outspoken about Trump’s conduct, is “Pompous Senator.”

Autocrat 

In Trump’s “great and unmatched wisdom,” he is a leader to be obeyed.

In fact, the president offered that self-assessment in response to criticism of his decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria and, in doing so, abandon a longtime critical ally.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Trump tweeted.

But the general sentiment also reflected the often-defiant posture Trump has adopted while facing impeachment, a “Dear Leader” tone more associated with an authoritarian regime than a democracy.

Projectionist 

If the Twitterati takeaway of Trump’s news conference with Niinistö was that the president was having a #TrumpMeltdown, in Twitter parlance, Trump had a different view of the situation: It was Schiff who was imploding.

In response to a question about whether the White House would comply with House subpoenas, Trump accused Schiff of having “some kind of a mental breakdown.”

The tactic is one long-favored by Trump, in which he takes a charge or accusation leveled against him and wields it like a cudgel back on a perceived foe, even in cases where the counter-assault may seem hypocritical or preposterous.

Conspiracist 

Trump decried the impeachment effort against him as a “coup.” He accused the intelligence community whistleblower — as well as the whistleblower’s sources — of spying on him and committing “treason.” He described the impeachment process being run by Pelosi and Schiff as “a totally compromised Kangaroo court.”

To Trump, the impeachment probe is evidence of a plot to remove him from office, part of a dystopian alternate reality he is combating with ominous language and dark proclamations.

Perhaps most ominously, Trump has warned of a civil war. On September 29 — a day of extreme presidential angst as measured by his near-record output of tweets — Trump shared the warning with his 65.6 million followers.

So, for me, there is little question but that Trump is unhinged.   He cannot focus on his job given his negative mental health status. And that leaves all of us in jeopardy.

WITH TRUMP’S FASCISM AND NAZISM — AND WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE STILL SUPPORT HIM?

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

Definitions:

  • Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultra-nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society, and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.
  • Nazism is the body of political and economic doctrines held and put into effect by in Germany from 1933 to 1945, including the totalitarian principle of government, predominance of especially Germanic groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the Führer.

Those definitions could just as well characterize the United States in the reign of one Donald Trump as they did with Italy and Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

So it is that the question in the headline is one that has perturbed me for three years now as we have seen Trump careen from one issue to another, mimicking either Fascism or Nazism, take your pick – and risking the very future of American democracy.

All of this came to mind again this weekend as I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Federico Finchelstein, author of a new book, “From Fascism to Populism in History.” Here is how Finchelstein started his piece:

“Despite the growing allegations about his misconduct, President Trump remains idolized by many of his supporters. His campaign rallies feature fans whose devotion is unwavering. These expressions of love should be concerning. They share features with the unconditional form of love typical of political cults that has often manifested in dangerous ways.

“Idolizing the ‘leader’ is a key dimension of fascism. In the 1930s and 1940s, different fascist leaders inspired cults of personality, which came in different colors across the globe. In China, supporters of Chiang Kai-shek wore blue shirts, while Brazilian supporters of Plínio Salgado wore integralista green shirts. Argentina’s dictator Jose F. Uriburu, Romania’s Corneliu Codreanu and Spain’s Francisco Franco similarly inspired loyal followings.

‘Supporters of fascism fervently believed in the heroic, even god-like nature of their leaders. Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi propaganda minister, wrote in his diaries about his feelings for Adolf Hitler: ‘I love him … I bow to the greater man, to the political genius.’ Such devotion ultimately allowed leaders to insulate themselves from criticism and accountability.”

Finchelstein’s piece conjured up renewed images for me of comparisons between Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and Trump, though I suppose similar comparisons could be said to exist between Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Trump.

As I wrote in a previous blog:

  • Like Hitler, Trump has watched approvingly as his followers use violence to silence hecklers, dissenters and protesters.
  • Like Hitler, Trump appeals to a specific race – his race — as being above all others and, thus, wants to subjugate the “others,” even to near-death.
  • Like Hitler, Trump offers few real plans or strategies for confronting the nation’s challenges, giving voters instead the assurance that he, by force of his personality alone, will solve them. Of course, he never does, believing that he benefits more from the problem than any solution.
  • Like Hitler, Trump has presented the electorate a scapegoat for its fears and vulnerabilities. Hitler gave the Germans the Jews. Trump has given the U.S. the immigrants.
  • Like Hitler, Trump proposes to register and restrict the immigrants whom he condemns as all being criminals, even though most of them simply seek a better life in this country.
  • Like Hitler, Trump views everything through his own lens – and he is always front and center. This is one of the clearest illustrations of what a narcissist is. Hitler was one. Trump is another.

Now, as the impeachment process grinds away in the U.S. House, subject of course, to a vote in the U.S. Senate, Trump is on rampage again, coming across as a victim and using the most incendiary language to inflame the passions of his supporters.

He likens what is happening to him to a “witch hunt “or a “coup,” and believes Democrats are out to get him.

Here’s the way veteran political reporter Dan Balz put it in a piece for the Washington Post:

“The president’s behavior gives expression to the judgment he seems to have reached, that what he faces is not going away and requires him to fight back with all the energy he can muster. The urgency and defensiveness of his statements and the sharpness of his attacks on those who are closing in on him underscore the frustrations and anger.”

So, for me, I still wonder how Trumpians can stand by “their leader.” I also wonder how extreme Trump will get, either to curry more favor from supporters or castigate detractors.

I hope we don’t have to find out, but I fear we will.

A CRUCIAL TEST FOR SENATE REPUBLICANS: SUPPORTING TRUMP OR MORAL DECAY

PERSPECTIVE FROM THE 19TH HOLE: This is the title I chose for my personal blog, which is meant to give me an outlet for one of my favorite crafts – writing – plus to use an image from my favorite sport, golf. Out of college, my first job was as a reporter for the Daily Astorian in Astoria, Oregon, and I went on from there to practice writing in all of my professional positions, including as press secretary in Washington, D.C. for a Democrat Congressman from Oregon, as an Oregon state government manager in Salem and Portland, as press secretary for Oregon’s last Republican governor (Vic Atiyeh), and as a private sector lobbyist. This blog also allows me to link another favorite pastime – politics and the art of developing public policy – to what I write.

In this space, I usually write from my own perspective, sometimes prompted by what various political commentators say.

After all, I am a political junkie, having been in and around politics for more than 40 years, so staying a bit involved after retirement three years ago is not necessarily unusual.

As I have watched the impeachment process unfold over the last few weeks in Washington, D.C., one particular fact impresses me. It is this. The more we learn through the process, the most Senate Republicans will face a huge decision regarding President Donald Trump when, as is likely, impeachment articles are forwarded to the Senate from the House.

As facts keep flowing out about the over-the-top behavior, illegal behavior of Trump, his normal allies in the Senate will have to decide whether to remain unflinchingly loyal to him.

To illustrate what is at stake for Senate Republicans, there is no better way to do so than to reprint excerpts from a column by Washington Post writer Michael Gerson.

Here is what he wrote under this headline:

If Republicans stay loyal to Trump, they’ll be implicated in the moral decay of our politics

“When it come to President Trump, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between a political strategy and a nervous breakdown. His tweeted trash talk, his meandering stream of consciousness media availabilities and his shameless embrace of sleaziness are not the signs of a healthy mind. Trump’s followers might eventually look up to find they were actors in someone else’s delusion.

“But Trump’s recent self-defenses at least clarify his ambitions as an ethicist. Concerning the Ukraine scandal, the president is not seeking forgiveness for a failure in judgment or even trying to change the subject. He boldly asks Americans to accept that his actions — pressuring a foreign power to investigate a domestic political rival — were good and proper.

“’I don’t care about [Joe] Biden’s campaign,’ Trump insists, ‘but I do care about corruption.’ And there was ‘tremendous corruption with Biden.’”

“Trump is effectively setting a new standard of political morality and requiring his supporters to defend it. He is asking elected Republicans, in particular, to agree with his claim that a practice uniformly viewed as corruption in the past is actually an example of fighting corruption now. That is the little thing, the small thing, which Trump demands of his followers: To call hot cold. To call black white. To call wrong right.

“Trump holds no objective, abstract beliefs about the meaning of justice or duty. He approves of things that help him and disapproves of things that hurt him. There is no other moral grounding. Yet, he makes his assertions with utter confidence.

“The president currently claims that asking a dependent government to dig up dirt on a political rival is a good thing, even when it involves the implication of extortion. He makes no argument about why the traditional definition of corruption has changed. He feels no need. The shift is in his interest. And that is enough to require the assent of his followers.

“Elected Republicans, as a result, are looking mighty uncomfortable. Mouthing the words that Trump wants from them — saying that corruption is really anti-corruption — would mean sounding like a fool and surrendering what remains of their political honor.

“Republicans are being called to follow their leader down a relativist rabbit hole. Trump is not only asking them to accept his arguments on policy matters such as building a wall or provoking a trade war. To be loyal foot soldiers, they must affirm that morality means what Trump says it means — even when it violates their clearest instincts. They know, deep down, that if a Democratic president had asked France or China for help in destroying a prominent Republican rival, they would be in a fever pitch of outrage. But, in the Trump era, this isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Consistency means nothing. Principle means nothing. Character means nothing. It only matters who wins.

“Many Republicans would dearly like to say: What Trump did is wrong, but it doesn’t rise to an impeachable offense. There are two problems with this approach: First, Trump will not regard this as evidence of sufficient loyalty; he demands full approval. And, second, I imagine that most of the founders would regard Trump’s act — inviting a foreign country to influence an American election — as the definition of an impeachable offense. If their intent means anything, it means Trump is seriously corrupt.

“So we are left with positions that can’t be reconciled. Trump honestly seems to have no moral objection to what he did. His opponents are left sputtering, ‘But this has always been seen as serious corruption!’ The president simply doesn’t care. And, if his GOP supporters remain loyal, they will be further implicated in the moral decay of American politics.”