August 7, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Is It Time to Debate GOP Loyalty?

Not yet, but given Rand Paul's trip to Moscow, that time is coming.

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I have argued that we now know enough about this president for the press corps to be justified in no longer giving Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. Political reporters can reasonably presume that the president and anyone who speaks for him are not telling the truth. If they want us to believe then, they’re going to have to prove it.

Today, I want to talk about another kind of presumption, one we take for granted and should take for granted in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. That presumption is that American citizens are loyal to the United States.

Loyalty is a vexing principle among liberals and leftists, because it has so often been used against them in American history, usually as a means of silencing dissent or to rationalize crimes against minorities, like the jailing of dissidents during the First World War or the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

In peacetime, loyalty is something conservatives have invoked to preserve power, to crush opponents challenging power, or to amass more power. It was central to US Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s propaganda for purging the federal government of “communists.”

The most recent and sustained instance came during the Obama years when the loyalty of America’s first black president was daily called into question due to conservative suspicion that he was not born on native soil and was actually a Kenyan-Muslim-Communist agent bent on destroying the United States from within.

It was during the Obama years that the GOP looked on its counterparts in the Democratic Party and beheld betrayal. The Democrats had rallied the country to elect someone who was never supposed to be president, because doing so would have violated the unspoken compact forged during the 1930s in which the American franchise would be fully democratized as long as everyone in it was white.

That compact had been under strained since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until Obama’s election 10 years ago that conservatives in Congress were no longer “conservative enough.” GOP voters, newly minted as the Tea Party, revolted against the old ways, because the old ways did not punish the Democrats for betraying their country. From that point on, there was a palpable shift in attitude. For Republicans, the Democrats ceased to be potential bargaining partners in good-faith negotiations. They were now the enemy whose interests were automatically deemed illegitimate.

With Democratic interests no longer legitimate, the Republicans were free to say anything they wished about Democrats and Barack Obama—and whatever course of opprobrium they followed usually led, like clockwork, to comparisons to Adolf Hitler. In a 2009 interview, for instance, then-candidate Rand Paul told Alex Jones:

“When you have severe crisis, that’s when sometimes strong leaders arise. You had the money destroyed in Germany in 1923 and out of that chaos came Hitler who promised that these awful people were the ones doing this to you and we need to round them up and put them in camps. And the liberties just went out the window. But people actually democratically voted in a Hitler. And I worry about that again in our country.”

US Sen. Rand Paul is in Moscow this week on what he says is a mission to improve relations between the US and Russia. His trip follows another by eight Senate Republicans on July 4. Both took place during a period in which the US Senate and the US House voted down measures that would have funded the states to strengthen election security. The Russians are widely expected to attack again in November.

To my knowledge, no one knows why Paul and the Republicans have been traveling to Moscow. Rand’s reason is to avoid war, but that’s strangely close to the Kremlin line. Even as the Trump administration warns of our democracy being in the crosshairs, Congressional Republicans decided against taking increased precautions. When asked if he brought up Russia’s assault, Paul told CNN he had “general discussions about a lot of issues.” That’s an odd thing to say for a United States senator who suggested seven years ago that Obama could be the next democratically elected fuhrer.

In short, something strange is happening, something that does not square with the preponderance of evidence pointing to Russia’s complicity in defrauding the US.

We know enough to stop giving the president the benefit of the doubt. Political reporters can no longer presume that Donald Trump is telling the truth.

We don’t know enough to stop presuming the Republicans are loyal to America. But given Rand Paul’s effort to befriend our attackers, that time is coming soon.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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