The Mueller Indictments Aren’t Stopping the GOP From Pursuing Its Craven Agenda

Trump is in hot water, but Republicans are still pushing forward his plans to cut taxes on the rich and defang the EPA.

Theo Anderson October 31, 2017

We may be at the beginning of a vast corruption story that unspools over months or, plausibly, years. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In mid-Octo­ber, Chap­man Uni­ver­si­ty released the results of its annu­al sur­vey of Amer­i­cans’ great­est fears. It is a remark­able doc­u­ment and, in some ways, a hope­ful one. The sur­vey sug­gests that, despite the cur­rent administration’s full-frontal assault on truth, Amer­i­cans basi­cal­ly under­stand what Don­ald Trump and the GOP are up to: push­ing an agen­da meant to pil­lage the envi­ron­ment, enrich the wealthy and gut democracy.

For a party with nothing on its agenda that actually helps working Americans, and whose only object is to serve monied interests, chaos and corruption are permanent features, not temporary bugs.

Last year, top-rank­ing issues on the list of fears includ­ed ter­ror­ism and gun con­trol. This year, these items have been replaced by Trump­care and water pol­lu­tion. Cli­mate change ranks eighth. Air pol­lu­tion ranks tenth. Nei­ther ranked in the top 10 last year.

Around 75 per­cent of Amer­i­cans now say they wor­ry about cor­rup­tion — an increase of about 14 points from last year. And the num­bers are like­ly to only keep mov­ing in this direction.

After Monday’s Depart­ment of Jus­tice indict­ments, hand­ed down by spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller, we may be at the begin­ning of a vast cor­rup­tion sto­ry that unspools over months or, plau­si­bly, years. Mueller announced charges against three for­mer advis­ers to Trump, most notably Paul Man­afort, who served as Trump’s cam­paign man­ag­er for sev­er­al months dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. The 12-count indict­ment of Man­afort includes charges of mon­ey laun­der­ing and tax fraud. The inves­ti­ga­tion is ongo­ing, and charges against oth­er Trump cam­paign offi­cials appear likely.

Repub­li­can poobahs respond­ed to this scan­dal as they always do, say­ing they won’t let the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion obstruct their hard work on behalf of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. As House Speak­er Paul Ryan (R‑Wis.) promised on Mon­day, noth­ing is going to derail what we’re doing in Con­gress, because we’re work­ing on solv­ing people’s problems.”

This has been the Repub­li­cans’ stan­dard pose since Trump per­formed his spec­tac­u­lar can­non­ball dive into the pool of 2016 GOP pres­i­den­tial candidates.

By their own telling, these law­mak­ers are work­ing stiffs with their sleeves rolled up, grind­ing out wins on behalf of the peo­ple and tun­ing out the dis­trac­tions. We could do with a lit­tle less dra­ma from the White House on a lot of things,” Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑Ky.) said in May, so that we can focus on our agen­da, which is dereg­u­la­tions, tax reform and repeal­ing and replac­ing Obamacare.”

In truth, though, Trump’s idio­cy and the cul­ture of cor­rup­tion fes­ter­ing in his admin­is­tra­tion aren’t dis­trac­tions from the GOP’s real work, any more than brain injuries and bro­ken bod­ies are dis­trac­tions from the game of foot­ball. They’re inseparable.

The ten­sion between what Amer­i­cans want and what the Repub­li­cans’ cor­po­rate mas­ters demand has dri­ven the par­ty to a place of spi­ral­ing mad­ness. The GOP can’t be hon­est about its pri­or­i­ties or its agen­da of sell­ing out the coun­try. Nor can it offer solu­tions that would solve prob­lems and address people’s fears.

At a time when the impacts of cli­mate change are inten­si­fy­ing, for exam­ple, the Trump-appoint­ed head of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt — for­mer Okla­homa Attor­ney Gen­er­al and long­time oppo­nent of the EPA — has silenced cli­mate sci­en­tists and left the door wide open for spe­cial inter­ests. His sched­ule, as the New York Times report­ed ear­li­er this month, is filled almost dai­ly with top cor­po­rate exec­u­tives and lob­by­ists from all the major eco­nom­ic sec­tors that he reg­u­lates — and almost no meet­ings with envi­ron­men­tal groups or con­sumer or pub­lic health advocates.”

And this week, the GOP lead­er­ship is expect­ed to unveil a tax reform” plan that, accord­ing to Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter analy­sis, would send 50 per­cent of its ben­e­fits to the top one per­cent. The party’s pri­or­i­ties are so skewed toward wealth, priv­i­lege and pow­er that it’s even will­ing to endure the hideous optics of repeal­ing the estate tax, which only applies to the top 0.2 per­cent of the population.

While the par­ty is occu­pied with find­ing new gifts for cor­po­rate donors and the wealthy, most Amer­i­cans are wor­ried about high med­ical bills — num­ber six in the Chap­man Uni­ver­si­ty sur­vey this year. They’re wor­ried about not hav­ing enough mon­ey — rank­ing num­ber five. They’re wor­ried about what we’re doing to the envi­ron­ment — claim­ing four spots in the top ten — and about the Unit­ed States get­ting involved in anoth­er world war — num­ber sev­en on the list.

As the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion unfolds, we’ll hear a lot more from Repub­li­cans about how they’re deter­mined to tune out the dis­trac­tions and focus on get­ting the people’s agen­da passed. But for a par­ty with noth­ing on its agen­da that actu­al­ly helps work­ing Amer­i­cans, and whose only object is to serve monied inter­ests, chaos and cor­rup­tion are per­ma­nent fea­tures, not tem­po­rary bugs.

After all, peo­ple who despair about the sys­tem gen­er­al­ly don’t both­er to engage with it. They don’t care enough to fix it. They don’t believe that they can. Cyn­i­cism breeds hope­less­ness, and hope­less­ness breeds paral­y­sis. So democ­ra­cy is gut­ted, wealth and pow­er is con­cen­trat­ed, drip by drip — one dis­trac­tion, one indict­ment and one absurd tweet­storm at a time.

Theo Ander­son is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. He has a Ph.D. in mod­ern U.S. his­to­ry from Yale and writes on the intel­lec­tu­al and reli­gious his­to­ry of con­ser­vatism and pro­gres­sivism in the Unit­ed States. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Theoanderson7.
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