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No, Ukraine isn’t a ‘game changer’

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- Commentary
Donald Trump (Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

Why would asking for foreign help for the second time change anything?

Look, I’ll be the first to celebrate once the president is found out to be a traitor. But I’m getting tired of the Kaboom Kabal and other happy campers super-eager to pin the word “game changer” to anything that’s remotely disgraceful for the president.

I mean, I get it. There’s a reason why Donny Deutsch said today on “Morning Joe” that this gathering scandal is looking like a “game changer.” But seriously. Let’s be honest.

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Donald Trump asking the leader of a foreign country for help in winning 2020 isn’t the first instance of lawlessness, corruption and brazen contempt for liberal democracy coming out of this White House. Is it worse? I don’t know. Does being worse really matter? What’s the difference when Donald Trump is effectively above the law?


Is it worse? I don’t know. Does being worse really matter? What’s the difference when Donald Trump is effectively above the law?


And we still don’t know enough to come to a reasonably certain conclusion about whether the whistleblower complaint changes anything. We know that it has something to do with a “promise” Trump made to a foreign leader. We know that the complaint involves more than one incident. We know that the complaint is connected to Ukraine. And we know that Trump tried to extort that country’s new president, saying he’d turn over millions in aide in exchange for dirt on Democrat Joe Biden.

On Sept. 5, the Post’s editorial board wrote:

We’re reliably told that … [Trump] is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky [Ukraine’s new president] to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it (my italics).

That’s all damning of its face, but so far the Trump administration has persuaded the Times to carry its water. So far the House Democrats remain paralyzed with indecision. So far the Republican Party has shown it can tolerate anything, even betrayal of country. Sure, if this is true and if that is true, yeah, then maybe it’s time for the G-word. But we’ve been down this road before. I’m not in the mood for the subjunctive mood.

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We simply don’t know if anything qualifies anymore as a “game changer.” For crying out loud, the Russians helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton! Robert Mueller spent two years investigating. He came up with 10 different ways Trump broke the law. Yet the Republican Party said all that was jim-dandy. So tell me: Why wouldn’t the president ask for foreign help a second time, and why would the second time change anything?

“Game changer” meant something when all Americans agreed to the rules of the game (i.e., liberal democracy). But the Republicans a decade or so ago decided that anyone who is not a Republican is illegitimate, alien, diseased or even criminal. Elections therefore don’t have outcomes they are bound to recognize as valid. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote this morning in the Times: “Republicans won’t abandon their white identity bunker strategy until they lose, but at the same time that strategy has made them so averse to losing they are willing to bend the rules to avoid this fate.”

What are rules to liminal fascists?

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Preemptive limits on the desire for power. Why would the Republicans agree to that?

I confess that I once believed that wholesome feelings of ordinary patriotism would arouse suspicion in even the staunchest Donald Trump supporter. After all, I thought naively, these were the same people who condemned any liberal for daring to question George W. Bush’s war against the terrorists who murdered Americans. After all, these were the same people who savaged a Vietnam War hero, John Kerry, for doing just that. If they only understood that Vladimir Putin (a former KGB agent for God’s sake!) had carried out an attack on our sovereignty by installing a puppet regime, then surely, I thought naively, we could set aside our differences to oppose Russian aggression.

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I don’t know what I was thinking.

I suppose I was thinking that genuine American patriotism transcended personal and partisan self-interest. I suppose I was thinking that love of country superseded love of white identity. But I failed to trust in the resilience of racism, sexism and other forms of socially accepted sadism. I failed to trust that sadists are cruel because being cruel to people they believe deserve cruelty feels good to them. I failed to see that a third of Americans don’t like, even seek to undermine, our democratic faith. I failed to see that what “patriotism” and “love of country” really meant was “us” but not “them.”

Donny Deutsch can’t see it either. He’s using the G-word.

If he saw it, too, he’d know—the game has already changed.

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—John Stoehr


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