In the late spring of 2015 when Donald Trump began his transition from a second tier reality television star and failed real estate mogul to successful politician and aspiring authoritarian, American politics changed forever. Many, including me initially dismissed Trump’s candidacy as not serious and certain to end in defeat. Gradually, the punditry, America and the world began to recognize that Trump’s candidacy was not only very real; and it ended in victory, albeit one that will be forever tarnished by falling three million votes short of Hillary Clinton in the general election and, more significantly, ample assistance from Moscow. It was immediately clear that Trump was an aberration in American presidential politics. In modern times nobody who has come close to being elected president was as unprepared, mired in criminality, motivated by financial gain, unburdened by any government or meaningful professional experience of any kind, arrogant and intellectually limited as Donald Trump.

Given all this, nobody who was paying attention to Donald Trump during in 2015 and 2016 should be surprised by anything that he has done since taking office. However, as Trump’s third year in office winds down, the most troubling aspect of his presidency, which was not as widely expected, remains the complete failure of the Republican Party to speak out against him. Those Republicans that have spoken out either, like Mitt Romney, have spoken quietly and not taken any action to back up those words or, like Jeff Flake, done so mostly after leaving office.

An American president elected with the help of Russia is the stuff of a plausible political thriller; the entire Republican Party supporting that President and Russia over American interests and American democracy is a much graver problem

As dangerous and damaging as the Trump presidency has been, Donald Trump is still only one man. The American system and the American voters are deeply imperfect, so in that context the election of Donald Trump is an unfortunate occurrence, but if properly contained, would have been little more than that. The real damage of the Trump presidency, the rollback of American democracy, stability and racial harmony that Trump has facilitated, the loss of America’s position of leadership in the world, and the fealty to Moscow would not have been possible without Republican support every step of the way. An American president elected with the help of Russia is the stuff of a plausible political thriller; the entire Republican Party supporting that President and Russia over American interests and American democracy is a much graver problem.

As the impeachment trial in the Senate approaches, it is axiomatic that the result will be acquittal with Republican Senators voting overwhelmingly, and possibly unanimously, to acquit. It is equally significant that the grounds on which the Republicans have staked their defense of Donald Trump have been that he has done nothing wrong, that this is all a Democratic hoax and that the phone call was perfect. In doing that, they have unhesitatingly repeated Kremlin sourced lies including the outrageous notion that Ukraine was the country that hacked the US election, but also that post-Yanukovych Ukraine continued to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world and that before 2016, the US generally, and Joe Biden specifically, were complicit in that corruption.

The line from Putin to the right wing fringe to the White House has been built on decades of racism that has slowly moved that fringe into the mainstream of the Republican Party

The decision by the non-Trump leadership of the Republican Party to cast their lot with Russia and Trump rather than with the US, and indeed with traditional conservative, even right-wing policies is baffling, but only if one ignores the corrosive influences of bigotry, ignorance and anti-democratic sentiments in the GOP since long before spring of 2015. The ugly racism of Donald Trump has been lurking in the Republican Party for decades and has exploited by presidential candidates going back to Richard Nixon. That racism empowered the right wing fringe that has been so deftly exploited by Putin. The line from Putin to the right wing fringe to the White House has been built on decades of racism that has slowly moved that fringe into the mainstream of the Republican Party. That racism also contributed to efforts by the Republicans to suppress and harass African American and other Democratic leaning voter groups years before Donald Trump became president. The Republicans growing opposition to science, most glaringly through climate change denial, also preceded Donald Trump and also rendered the party more susceptible to the kind of hoaxes and magical authoritarian thinking that Trump, and Russia, continue to so deftly exploit. If you believe climate change is a hoax and that vaccines cause autism, it is not that far of a leap to think that Ukraine hacked our elections or that the FBI, CIA, mainstream media, Democrats and several Trump appointees are involved in a plot to destroy the president.

In recent weeks the impeachment inquiry that has revealed not only that Trump sought to withhold assistance to Ukraine unless they launched an investigation against Joseph Biden, but that the Trump administration and many hangers on associated with his administration, like Rudy Giuliani, are deeply involved in criminal schemes and wrong doings from Kyiv to Moscow to Washington and beyond. The Republican response to this has been to redouble their cult like loyalty to Trump and their commitment to repeating lies originating in Russia. Accordingly, the position of the GOP is not even remotely in doubt. They are now the party of democratic rollback and of Moscow and that is a much bigger problem than one man, even if that one man is Donald Trump.

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