Just before the 2016 presidential election, Kathleen Parker wrote a column in the Washington Post, entitled “Calm down. We’ll be fine no matter who wins.” Among other optimistic assurances, she declared, “If Trump wins, he’ll be held more or less in check by the House and Senate because that’s the way our system of government is set up. Not even Republicans are eager to follow Trump’s lead.” Parker was far from alone in assuming that Congressional Republicans would resist Donald Trump when needed.
Now, as a new year begins, an old question lingers: when will the GOP start standing up to Trump? In a Washington Post op-ed this week, former FBI Director James Comey warns that America is “headed into the storm our founders feared” and suggests that to reach safety, Republicans who know better must “resist complacency and cynicism.” Comey’s call to action is unlikely to prompt John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney to take the witness stand or convince the average GOP senator to demand a legitimate impeachment trial. However, Comey offers a reason why standing up to Trump might come easier in 2020.
Trump is not quite the same person he was when he took the oath of office three years ago with his fingers crossed behind his back. Trump is still dangerous because he remains “an impetuous and amoral leader,” but he has now become what Comey describes as a “shrunken, withered figure.” Foreign leaders openly mock Trump and throw his letters in the garbage, where they belong. Civil servants have defied Trump by offering damning testimony supporting his impeachment. Even Trump’s “secret weapon,” his Twitter account, has lost some of its mojo with declining engagement.
This new reality means that people who are in a position to make a difference must think hard about what scares them the most. If the idea of losing our American democracy to a shrunken, withered figure frightens them, then they must act decisively before it is too late. However, if Republicans are more petrified by the shrunken, withered figure himself, then they can keep cringing as they try to figure out how to spin their poor judgment and failed career to their grandkids. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” His words still ring true in 2020, but we are running out of time.