For Trump and GOP, rules are for losers

A courageous whistleblower has reported the president of the United States used the power of his office to convince, or extort, the president of Ukraine to affect the 2020 election by investigating Joe Biden. The partial transcript of the call, released by President Trump himself, which he described a “perfect” and “true,” corroborates the whistleblower’s claim jot for jot. Trump undeniably, incontrovertibly, abused his executive powers for personal gain.

While Republicans argued that the words on the transcript didn’t mean what they plainly said, or that the president was joking around, or that we have to “let Trump be Trump,” or that he did transgress but it’s not impeachable, the president doubled down. When asked what he wanted from the Ukrainians, he responded: “if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens.” And, he added, for good measure, the Chinese “should start an investigation into the Bidens” too. At that point, the president having admitted to a quintessentially impeachable offense, Republicans went permanently mum.

The Secretary of State was on the call. Not a peep. The sanctimoniously obsequious vice-president was part of Ukraine squad. The attorney general contributed his ever-ready cover up efforts. The White House staff locked the transcript in a top-secret vault. And all our good North Carolinians — the notoriously courageous Thom Tillis, Richard Burr, the “principled” Mark Meadows, George Holding, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, Patrick McHenry, Ted Budd — made it clear they would not say the president nay. “Discard allies, democracy, constitutionalism, decency, integrity, truth — embrace, even, outright tyranny, Mr. President, we’re with you, count on us.”

Recall that Trump has used the immense power of the national government to attempt to force foreign nations to come in on his side in our elections — ending democracy. He said he plans to keep doing it. He doesn’t care what the Constitution says or what our history teaches. Putin wouldn’t worry. Why should he? Why should Burr and Tillis? Rules are for losers.

Abraham Lincoln told the Congress in 1862, the “trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. The world will not forget ... we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

“Nobly save or meanly lose.” In a cowardly stretch to hold on to personal power, Republicans have opted to “meanly lose.” They’re well matched to their leader. History will despise their trembling obeisance.

But not all Americans succumb to gutlessness. The day after the abbreviated Ukraine transcript was released, Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason asked Trump:

“What, sir, did you want President Zelensky to do about Biden and his son?”

“Are you talking to me? Trump replied.

“It was just a follow up of what I asked you sir.”

“We have the president of Finland, ask him a question.”

“Ask him a question”, Trump ordered, red-faced. “Don’t be rude.”

“No sir, I don’t want to be rude, I just wanted you to have a chance to answer the question I asked you,” said Mason.

“I’ve answered everything. It’s a hoax, people like you, the fake news, you’re corrupt,” Trump spewed.

I don’t know much about Mr. Mason. He’s a regular looking guy – sort of bald, normal, non-charismatic. But bold, calm, apparently fearless, doing his duty, come what may. He has nothing in common with Trump, Pompeo, Barr, Pence, Tillis, Burr and the like. If we “nobly save” the world’s greatest democracy, citizens like Mason will do it. Politicians, I’m guessing, will remain unaccounted for.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law,