The Strongman

Forty-eight hours ago, the U. S. Senate voted 51 to 49 to block all witnesses and any further evidence from the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Of the 53 Republican Senators, only two dissented, Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney. Which again raises the question, why nearly all Republican Senators continue to toe the White House line. In this case various Senators provided various reasons, some of which were somewhat persuasive. But neither they nor anyone else satisfactorily explained why so many Senators, themselves putatively powerful, denied the American people the most prototypical aspect of American jurisprudence – first-hand fact witnesses.    

In a blog posted January 11th, I objected to the word “cult” as it was applied – now with relentless regularity – to Donald Trump. The fact is that while some of Trump’s followers are akin to cult members, others are not. Others are entirely devoid of the admiration, devotion, and even veneration that characterizes cult members. Trump’s followers are not, in other words, alike, the one a clone of the other.

Which returns us to Senate Republicans. Again, though they belong to the same legislative body, the 51 Republicans who voted to block witnesses had their various reasons for doing so. No doubt some were motivated by positive feelings toward the president, such as admiration and ideological alignment. Others, though, were motived by negative feelings, including that most primal of human emotions – fear.

Fear of what exactly? To the degree the question is asked, the answer is almost always the same. Fear of being “primaried” – that is, of being challenged for their Senate seats by a candidate running to their right, one who will, among other things, be slavishly devoted to the incumbent president. Granted, this is a fear – but by no means is it the only one. There are at least three other fear factors – three other things that Senate Republicans are afraid that President Trump could and likely would do. Do to them.

  • He could and likely would make certain they are debased, demeaned, belittled and besmirched.
  • He could and likely would make certain they are exposed in ways that make them vulnerable politically and professionally and, potentially, legally and even personally.
  • He could and likely would make certain that they are down for the count – finished forever.          

There is a reason Trump is often compared to Strongmen such as Russia’s Putin, and Turkey’s Erdogan. The reason is he, like they, will do what it takes to preserve their power. To be sure, Putin and Erdogan must be distinguished from Strongmen of a more virulent strain – say, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The former two are encased in the trappings of democracies while the latter two are not. Still, a Strongman is a Strongman. A Strongman is a leader who rules if not by fiat then by threat.  

What exactly did President Donald Trump mean when a few days ago he said that House Manager Adam Schiff had “not yet paid the price” for his role in the impeachment process? I have no idea. What I do know that if it sounds like a threat and smells like a threat, it’s a threat. The real question is not, in fact, whether it’s a threat, but what kind of a threat. Is it an empty threat? Or is it a threat that’s real? Trouble is, with Strongmen you never know.

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