But what do you expect them to do, exactly? goes the usual refrain when one points out the uselessness of supposedly Trump-averse Republican members of Congress. They’re not going to vote against their own legislation, against policy they support, just because they dislike the president, right?
So, having already accepted that they won’t inconvenience the steady advance of their ideological goals for the sake of their supposed commitments to civility or the rule of law, pundits praise these Trump-disliking Republicans for their careful statements, their vague (and occasionally specific) condemnations, their calls for the party to Be Better, all of which are delivered by people not actually acting to restrain or rein in the lawless, corrupt, and chaotic executive branch.
Well, Sen. Jeff Flake finally had enough, and he did something. The retiring Arizona Republican sits on the Judiciary Committee. He recently began blocking Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, who have otherwise been getting confirmed as quickly as the administration can send them to the Senate. After a few days of coy silence, he went public: He was blocking judges until the Senate held a vote on tariffs unilaterally imposed by Trump. They were, finally, the breaking point. Flake thought them alarming enough to act.
Which means everything else the administration has done wasn’t the breaking point.
It was always true that Republicans would basically let Trump get away with doing everything he promised to do during the campaign except fuck with free trade. The dominant ideology of our time—there’s a word for it, isn’t there?—demands that governance of the world economy be placed above petty things like politics and democracy. Trump is to be allowed to implement his cruel immigration policies, to place people attempting to cross borders in cages, but if he screws with the free flow of money across those same borders? Watch it, buster.
We can thank Senator Flake for clarifying all of this. Here, at last, is proof that Senate Republicans who object to this presidency can do something. And proof that they approve of everything they’re not doing this over. Every Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee, we can now see, approves of the government violently separating thousands of children from their parents with no plan in place for reuniting them; of interference with the criminal investigation into Trump’s campaign and the White House’s brazen efforts to turn federal law enforcement agencies into partisan tools of the president; of the corruption and incompetence of multiple members of Trump’s cabinet, from apparent insider trading by Wilbur Ross to Scott Pruitt’s bewildering multitude of scandals; and of the president’s general, well-documented ignorance, instability, and recklessness.
None of those reflect policy preferences shared by “never-Trump Republicans” and the administration. It is not unexpected that Jeff Flake is not lifting a finger to stop Scott Pruitt’s gutting of anti-pollution regulations, because Jeff Flake is also on the side of polluters. Instead, those are all things that are scandalous or immoral according to standards you would expect Republicans like Jeff Flake to accept. And none of them rose to the level of inspiring him to act, until the tariffs. (Even the tariffs weren’t enough to get him to block a Supreme Court pick. As always, the long-term interests of the movement come first.)
Jeff Flake, and all of his colleagues, should have to explain, as each new atrocity and scandal and easily foreseeable disaster emerges from this White House, why this fresh hell isn’t worth acting to stop. Now that it has been shown that action is possible, future inaction is a blanket endorsement.