Bob Rees and Clifton Jolley: The tyranny of Republican consensus and coercion

“It should never be forgotten how much repression and violence consensus can support, or how many crimes it has justified.”

— Marilynne Robinson

History will hold Donald Trump responsible for taking American democracy to the edge of a precipice. But it will also hold Senate Republicans responsible for enabling the president for four reasons:

1) Their collective knowledge and experience in understanding both the fundamentals and the fragility of Democracy in a way that Trump’s ignorance, egoism and shallowness never could.

2) Their oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

3) Their pledge to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office.”

4) Their moral obligation to represent their constituents.

Each betrayal condemned by their oath, “So help me, God.”

Republican senators have been privy to the same intelligence the president has (and, unlike the president, many of them may actually have read it). They have known about what was withheld or redacted from the Mueller report. They have known the truth of the House’s grounds for impeaching Trump, including his attempts to bribe the president of Ukraine for political purposes.

They have recognized his Byzantine love affair with Vladimir Putin, and they have known the details of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 and 2020 elections. And they should have known the integrity of the science of climate change currently being evidenced along the West and Gulf coasts of the United States while Trump continues to trumpet climate change as a “hoax.”

And yet the Republican senators are silent. Silent about Trump’s sexual scandals, his emolument transgressions, his blatant violation of the Hatch Act, his refusal to release his taxes, his self-serving pardons of convicted criminals, his bullying. In short, the nonpresidential behavior that defines his false presidency. Out of party loyalty and an inexpiable fear of Trump’s wrath, Republican senators have made a pact of complicity in every Trumpian failure of office, none of which the senators would countenance in a Democratic president.

Perhaps the most scandalous of Republican senators' violation of their oath and dereliction of duty is in their complicity in the disease, death and devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Trump, the senators have had the intelligence reports on the virus since early January. While they witnessed it spread nationally and globally, they failed to confront Trump with what they knew was true about the virus and false about his characterization of it.

Trump, we now know (from his confession on the Woodward tapes), lied about the threat of the virus (privately admitting it was more virulent than the common flu, while assuring the American people it was not), and Republican senators were silent. Trump blamed the spread of the virus on Democrats, singling out Democratic governors and mayors, and Republican senators were silent.

Trump has continually refused to model mask wearing, social distancing and other proven preventive measures, and Republican senators are silent. Trump pressed to open the economy against the advice of physicians and epidemiologists, and Republican senators remained silent.

While 200,000 of our families and friends have died, most needlessly, from COVID-19, Trump and his Republican enablers have been silent — and complicit.

The complicity of Republican senators will be put to its ultimate test Nov. 4, a day Trump has threatened to claim the election fraudulent unless he wins. With Russian meddling, QAnon followers threatening to take up arms, a president willing to violate his oath of office to stay in office and Republicans apparently willing to support him — no matter the cost or consequences — the possibility of a constitutional crisis becomes increasingly likely.

Perhaps as likely as it is unlikely Republican senators and representatives will begin to fulfill their sworn duty to balance the unrighteous power of Donald Trump.

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D. Visiting Professor & Director of Mormon Studies Graduate Theological Union Berkeley, Calif.

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., is a visiting professor and director of Mormon studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Clifton Jolley

Clifton Jolley, Ph.D., is president of Advent Communications, Ogden.