COVID-19, Police Violence Or Hillary’s Emails: Guess Which One Trump’s Republicans Just Launched An Inquiry Into


A week is a long time in politics, but the next few months – while the world awaits the outcome of the US presidential elections – are going to feel like an eternity. Dr Stephen Scher explains.

The world is now used to observing at any particular time that Donald Trump has gone as low as any person, decent or indecent, can presumably go, only to discover not long thereafter that he has probed further depths of what some people call evil, but others would call malice, malevolence, or hate.

All of Trump’s worst characteristics have been constantly on display the last few months, as he has responded to the crises associated with COVID-19, the resulting economic collapse, and now, worldwide protests on behalf of racial equality.

#BlackLivesMatter protestors gather this week in Washington DC. (IMAGE: Victoria Pickering, Flickr)

Trump is out of his depth, and the world is suffering the consequences (and will suffer the consequences for years to come).

None of the above comes as a surprise. But what does is what is now happening in the Republican Party, or at least part of it. For three and a half years, Republicans have catered to Trump’s whims without quite initiating new, creative ways of hurting the country. The machinations of the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, have instead simply fuelled and supported Trump’s ongoing efforts to weaken democracy in America.

McConnell will surely go down in history as Trump’s enabler — and perhaps even as being more at fault than Trump himself. Likewise, Attorney General William Barr has proved to be a bully and bigot, just as he was years ago, as a secondary school student at a glitzy private school in New York.

Against this background of relative stability, the Republican majority in the Senate has now taken a step that seems every bit as creative and potentially destructive as anything Trump has done. Faced with three simultaneous crises that, when taken together, cannot fail to leave the world a changed place, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee has opened a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, the FBI, and Robert Mueller and his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

As committee Chairman Lindsey Graham asserted regarding former head of the FBI James Comey and “that whole crowd”, “their day is coming”. Someone “needs to be held accountable”, and the people involved need to be fired, disciplined, or sent to jail.

US Senator Lindsey Graham. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

The disconnect between the current world situation and this new investigation boggles the mind. It leaves one wondering about the cumulative impact that the Trump presidency has had on the Republicans in Congress.

Have three and a half years of catering to Trump, defending him, and embarrassing themselves with their fealty to a deeply defective, misguided, vacant and boundlessly nasty human ultimately resulted in burnout and an inability to cope with the world as we know it? Will the Republicans now actively and creatively embrace Trump and his delusions (including the non-existent phenomenon of voter fraud) and do whatever it takes for him and them to win in November?

It’s a truly ugly prospect. And the ride is not going to be merely bumpy. Most obvious to anyone following American politics, and made explicit this past week by Joe Biden, is that Trump, even if he loses the vote, will do everything he can to delegitimize the election and to stay in office. But his capacity to distract and destroy — and to generate chaos — will also continue for at least the rest of the year.

Just this week, for example, and in response to no immediate pressure to do so, he ordered the elimination of all federal protections in health care for transgender individuals. He will continue to push administration officials to undercut, overrule, or eliminate the advances, domestic and international, that emerged following World War II and especially during the administration of Barack Obama.

Former US president Barack Obama, pictured in September 2019. (IMAGE: Marco Verch, Flickr)

Trump still seems itching to bring the US military into play against American citizens. He appears ready to override the preferences and authority of state governors and city officials. He takes every chance he can to remind his minions of his support for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms. And even when faced with a populace rising collectively to support racial equality and denounce police violence, he supports the police, no matter how violent, and denies the existence of systemic discrimination against people of colour.

At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (to determine the party’s candidate for President in the election later that year), the local police used their nightsticks to attack antiwar protesters gathered outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel.

It was then that the protesters started to chant, “The whole world is watching”. The chant was perceived at the time, and still is, as a means of engaging the moral compass of those on the other side. And the hope was that those others, so engaged, might either moderate their behaviour or be seen by others, nationwide and worldwide, as acting beyond the pale.

The problem with the present situation is that Republicans are desperate; Trump has no moral compass, and he thrives on conflict and especially on his capacity to antagonize others by his own hateful acts.

The whole world is watching, and Trump loves it, thrives on it.

Just where this will end is unknown. Things could go on, horribly, as they are, for the rest of the year, until a new President takes office. At the other extreme, the rest of 2020 could prove to be the ugliest period in the history of America.

Under the circumstances, a year that ends somewhere in between the two extremes might prove to be a decently good outcome.

Stephen Scher earned his PhD, specializing in moral, legal, and political philosophy, from Brown University and his JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also has master’s degrees from Harvard University and Yale Law School. He taught clinical medical ethics in Harvard Medical School–affiliated hospitals in the 1980s, spent several years at Yale Law School and Yale School of Management (teaching professional ethics and organizational behavior) in the 1990s, and joined the editorial staff of the American Journal of International Law in 1999 and the editorial staff of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry in 2003. At the end of 2016, he stepped down as Senior Editor of the American Journal. He is now in his fifteenth year as Senior Editor of the Harvard Review. He has edited two books on professional ethics (one of which, Whistleblowing in Biomedical Research, was published in 1982 by the original US President’s Commission on medical ethics) and written articles ranging over health care politics and policy, bioethics, mediation, dispute resolution, and (on the scientific side) conversion disorders and attachment. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is a dual Australian-US citizen who has been living in Australia since 2007.