by Jonathan Turley Jan 2, 2019
Washington is a stranger to principle, other than the principle of self advancement. Yet, something new seems to be emerging across the country. Politicians long felt the need to disguise raw political agendas in the pretense of principle. That pretense disappeared.
In this age of rage, voters seem to have no patience, let alone need, for leaders speaking of abstract principles. They want immediate unequivocal action supporting or opposing Donald Trump. For Democrats, this all-consuming purpose led to the abandonment of core unifying values, including many that first drew me to the Democratic Party. While they would vehemently deny it, Trump is remaking the “D”party in his inverse image. This past month shows how far this transformation has gone.
The remaking of the Democratic Party is evident with the reaction to the decision to withdraw troops from Syria. There was a time when a sizable number of Democrats opposed undeclared wars and unending military campaigns. Now, they are appalled Trump would not continue a war in one of the myriad countries with American troops engaged in combat operations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the withdrawal a “Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin,” while Tim Kaine, David Cicilline, and other Democrats called it “irresponsible” or “hasty.”
Of course, this “hasty” move is, after seven years of intervention in the Syrian civil war, inclusive of personnel on the ground since 2012. Our military also is in Iraq since 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2001. One study estimates the costs of the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan at $5.6 trillion.
More importantly, thousands of military personnel have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded. (Editor’s note: an estimated million people killed in these Middle East wars. Fascinating, a million casualties, many of whom were children and other civilians, don’t merit mention.) Democrats now espouse the same lines denounced during the Bush administration.
Popular cable programs with Democratic and liberal viewers are equally full of recriminations over withdrawing from these wars. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow criticized the plan to withdraw troops as merely an effort to distract the public, despite Trump campaigning in 2016 on promises to withdraw from such wars.
“Morning Joe” host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough denounced the president as a “quivering coward” who fails to understand we must fight “enemies like ISIS abroad, so we do not have to fight them in our own schools, churches, and airports.” Liberals once rejected the premise we should engage in continual wars in other countries or face terrorism on our streets at home.
Democrats are now defined by Trump the way antimatter is defined by matter, with each particle of matter corresponding to an antiparticle. Take the secrecy. Democrats once were the party that fought against the misuse of secret classification laws by the FBI and other agencies. They demanded greater transparency from the executive branch, which is a position I have readily supported.
Yet, when oversight committees sought documents related to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation of Trump associates, Democrats denounced the very thought Republicans would question the judgment of the FBI that any such disclosures would be tantamount to jeopardizing national security.
Democratic Party leaders – including Pelosi – declared the oversight committee moved beyond “dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security” and “disregarded the warnings of the Justice Department and the FBI.” Likewise, House Intelligence Committee ranking minority member Adam Schiff expressed shock the FBI was not given deference in withholding the information in the surveillance investigation.
Yet, when the information was finally forced out of the FBI, including the disclosure of previously redacted material, it was clear the FBI had engaged in overclassification to shield not national security, but to shield the bureau itself from criticism.
It included discussion of the roles of high-ranking FBI officials and their reliance on such sources as the Christopher Steele dossier, which are already publicly known. Democratic House members – including Schiff – presumably knew what was in the redactions, and nevertheless, wanted deference to the classification decisions of the FBI.
In supporting the investigation of Trump, Democrats embraced expanding definitions of crimes such as obstruction, conspiracy, and the like. Historically, Democrats resisted such efforts to stretch the criminal code to criminalize broader and broader areas of conduct. During the Trump administration, Democrats sound like legal hawks demanding criminal charges for conduct long treated as civil matters, such as campaign finance violations, and foreign agent registration violations.
In pursuing Trump, Democrats also adopted a type of “red scare” mindset. While Republicans long pumped up the Russian menace as a political Cold War narrative, Democrats now adopt the same type of rhetoric over the Russian attempt to interfere with the 2016 president election. Democrats for the past two years speak about how Russians “stole” the election or destroyed the legitimacy of the results, with little empirical data to support such irresponsible and unfounded claims.
While many of us support the Mueller investigation and the need for sanctions against Russia for its interference, Democrats now routinely refer to Russia as our “enemy” and accuse any people with alleged connections to Russians as “traitors.” Special counsel Robert Mueller may have more to reveal on Russian hacking, but there is little evidence either the trolling operation or leaked emails of the Hillary Clinton campaign had a material impact on the 2016 presidential election.
In building up the Russian menace, Democrats ignore that we have not only hacked the emails of our enemies, but of our allies as well for years. Moreover, we routinely intervene in or influence foreign elections. Likewise, other nations from Israel to Mexico to China and many more, have long tried to influence our elections. Still, Democrats escalate their calls for greater action against Russia, including criticism of being “too dovish” in not confronting Russian military elements around the world.
A party requires more than hatred for an individual. A party has to stand for something that transcends the immediate or the visceral.
Yet, in the age of Trump, the public is not interested in nuance or niceties. The watchword is “resist,” and that means to push back at all costs, even against our core values. So the question is not what the Democratic Party will do, but what it will be after Donald Trump eventually leaves office.
Jonathan Turley is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.