Very Strange World

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is a very strange world, indeed, in which a progressive — like me — sings the praises of a conservative like Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney. Very strange, but also a sign of how Donald Trump has perverted traditional political perceptions.

Cheney is about to be purged from the House Republican leadership for telling the truth and following her conscience. Those, apparently, are sins in today’s Republican Party. The truth, as Cheney correctly acknowledges, is that Donald Trump lost the presidential election last November and, then, “summoned” a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Her conscience commanded her to vote for Trump’s impeachment for his role on the insurrection, and it pushed her to continue to denounce the subservience of the vast majority of her Republican colleagues to Trump and his “Big Lie.”

Cheney has not relented in her criticism of Trump nor in her insistence that the Republican Party move on from his tarnished record. Although she survived a vote in early February to oust her as chair of the Republican conference, pressure from Trump, who called for her removal, and his lackeys has led to the nearly inevitable vote next week to replace her with someone more compliant. New York Representative Elise Stefanik is the leading candidate.

Cheney has been in the GOP’s crosshairs for weeks, but any possibility of her mustering enough support in the party’s House caucus to keep her post disappeared with publication Thursday of her op-ed in The Washington Post. In it, she castigated Trump for continuing to lie about the election results, accusing the former president of “seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has even done this.”

There is nothing conservative about such actions, Cheney asserted. “I am a conservative Republican,” she said, “and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law.” Trump’s attempt to undo the results of the 2020 election remind Cheney of what she witnessed in other countries “where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval.” Embracing Trump’s agenda, whatever the short-term political advantages might be, Cheney continues, “will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”

What is odd here is that most of Cheney’s Republican colleagues agreed with her about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who now has joined the chorus to oust Cheney — said, a week after the insurrection, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” But, McCarthy desperately wants to be speaker of the House, and he evidently has calculated that the path to his dream job is to have Trump’s help in securing a Republican House majority in the 2022 midterm elections. So, the pusillanimous McCarthy dutifully paid homage to Trump at Mar-a-Lago two weeks later, and, now, the Californian defends Trump by saying that in a call on the day of the riot Trump promised to “put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.” Trump’s action: A tepid video put out several hours later. 

McCarthy is not alone in his supineness. Except for the extreme crazies on the far right, every Republican must understand that Trump lost and that his complicity in the January 6 is clear. Yet, their craven pursuit of power leads them to bow to Trump and to ignore the real dangers he presents — as Cheney made clear — to American democracy. Because of the  calculation that loyalty to Trump is a political necessity, the Republican Party has abandoned its ideology and shucked its conservatism to adhere to the Trumpian cult of personality.

That the Republican Party no longer believes in conservatism is evident by its willingness to trade Cheney — who voted with Trump 93 percent of the time — for Stefanik — who backed the president only 78 percent or the time. Stefanik, who hails from an upstate New York district that was once solidly Democratic, had a reputation as something of a Republican moderate. But, she emerged as one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders during House Intelligence Committee hearings for Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. Now, she is an enthusiastic defender of the “Big Lie.”

Stefanik initially was reluctant to challenge Cheney, but she changed her mind when Trump enthusiastically supported her elevation to the leadership. Now, Stefanik is campaigning for the job, writing on Twitter, “We are unified and focused on FIRING [Speaker Nancy] PELOSI & WINNING in 2022.” Apparently, becoming a Trump acolyte leads politicians to write uncontrollably in capitals. 

Liz Cheney deserves praise from all who revere the U.S. Constitution and for her insistence on telling the truth. Those standards constitute a rather low bar, however, and the failure of the vast majority of Republicans to even meet those minimal standards jeopardizes American political stability. President Joe Biden recognizes that the nation needs a two-party system, saying: “It’s not healthy to have a one-party system. And, I think Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”

Liz Cheney is no unvarnished hero. She defended the torture program of George W. Bush’s administration (in which her father was the vice president who urged the efficacy of torture in combatting in terrorism). She refused to denounce the “birther” assertions regarding President Barack Obama, and she headed a group that attacked Obama’s Justice Department, calling it “DOJ: Department of Jihad.”

But, Cheney is on the side of the angels in this battle, proving that it is, indeed, a very strange world.

Posted May 7, 2021