History will eventually find those who have put personal gain and short-term power above service to community and country. It deals harshly with so-called leaders who cower before bullies when strength is required. Time does not take kindly to individuals in power who misuse their position, who push down on those who have suffered, or who fail to use their leadership to help those in their charge move toward a better world.
The arc of history may not bend toward justice on its own, but the stories that make up history eventually find those who work towards justice, and those who don’t.
While I suspect these rankings will change after January 20th, consider the plight of James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and the other perennial bottom-dwellers on the worst presidents list. Their names and reputations are down in the muck of history. Keeping the examples to U.S. politics, take into account the stature — or lack thereof — of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the highly consequential Dred Scott decision that enraged abolitionists and was a stepping stone to the Civil War. Or consider William “Boss” Tweed, who stole at least $1 billion from New York City in today’s dollars, received a 12-year sentence, escaped and fled to Spain where he was arrested and sent back to the U.S., and who died in prison from pneumonia in 1878. There is also the case of infamous Birmingham Police Chief Bull Conner, whose use of police dogs and firehoses on young children and the elderly during a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration has condemned him to eternal ridicule and derision. These savage assaults, in civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s words, “struck like lightning in the American mind.”
I was thinking of the dustbin of history when considering those Republican office holders supporting Donald Trump’s refusal to concede a race he has clearly lost by a significant margin. In the process, they are enabling his blocking of the peaceful transition of power, a core tenant of America’s political system. President-elect Joe Biden may call it an embarrassment but let’s be frank: this is an attack on democracy, even if I’m not too worried that they could pull off a coup. Any group that mistakes the Four Seasons Hotel for the Four Seasons Total Landscaping Company (with adjacent sex shop and crematorium) doesn’t exactly qualify as the sharpest knives in the drawer. Yet they continue to claim fraud that simply doesn’t exist. Why? As one of my favorite irreverent bloggers puts it, “institutional Republicans seem content to distract the Deposed Dotard with doomed lawsuits and just enough public support to avoid the dreaded Mean Tweet, the mere threat of which reduces allegedly-powerful Republicans to quivering piles of treacherous gelatin.“
Who are some of these miscreants who will be harshly judged by future historians? Attorney General William Barr is certainly one, and his tenure is already being caught up short by journalists in the first draft of history. In one example of many, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern writes,
“In just two years, Attorney General William Barr transformed the Department of Justice into a sleazy, third-rate law firm devoted to shielding Donald Trump and his friends from the consequences of their crimes. A coterie of attorneys with prestigious law degrees and sterling résumés joined Barr’s crusade to place Trump above the law. The attorney general’s tenure played out as a natural experiment: What happens when the embodiment of the right-wing Federalist Society becomes the nation’s chief law enforcement officer? The answer has been a ghastly disaster for the rule of law.”
Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin also names some names:
“Trump is receiving support from a range of Republican figures, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who says congratulations to Biden are premature; a flock of members of Congress from Georgia, who baselessly attack their state’s Republican secretary of state and inexplicably claim their own election victories valid while Biden’s is fraudulent; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who declares the transition will be to a “second Trump administration”; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who perpetuates the fiction that the outcome is in dispute. The aim is not to steal an election, but to sow doubt about the legitimacy of our democracy — just as the Russians intend. These Republicans aim to keep their base in a constant state of anger and crazed denial.” (emphasis added)
She adds that “For a party that used to deplore claims of victimhood, conspiring to prevent its leader from further melting down is downright pathetic.” Rubin then calls out…
“The only entity that is discredited — and certainly should not be trusted to control the Senate — is the Republican Party, whose leaders’ conduct is anti-democratic, immoral, dishonest and dangerous….They have lost the moral authority to govern, and no politician who is engaging in this farce (either inside the administration or on the outside) should be entrusted with power or rewarded with a plum job for their ‘service.’”
Consider how you would react, as another political writer did today, if a dispatch came into the State Department from an overseas diplomat detailing the work of an unpopular president who clearly lost an election even after attempting to suppress the vote, but who refused to concede, then fired his Minister of Defense while the Minister of Justice worked overtime to weaponize the law and the Minister of State was publicly supporting a second, illegal term. If you picked that dispatch up in Foggy Bottom, you would think democracy was fragile in that country.
You would be right.
And history will not be kind to those who are enabling the weakening of our system of government and the casting of doubt on the legitimacy of our democracy.
More to come…