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How do we make sense of the chaos gripping Washington, D.C.?

Whenever I read the news these days, I inevitably stumble across an article reporting the latest gaffe or manoeuvre made by President Donald Trump. This ranges anywhere from random Tweets in the early hours of the morning, and open contradictions to the lies made by his closest aides, to the evident collusion of the campaign team with a foreign adversarial government. On a good day, I stifle a smirk and placate my nerves. On a bad day, I am nauseated and sickened by the most recent of scandals emanating from the White House. These bad days are occurring too often.

Just this week, James Comey — the former head of the FBI — testified before the Senate Select Committee as he accounted for the nine separate private conversations with the president leading to his redundancy. Mr. Comey merely affirmed our suspicions: being a domineering executive, the president had demanded and expected loyalty from all his employees. In no uncertain terms, Mr. Trump ordered the FBI to bury their investigations into collusion with Russia during the presidential election campaign last year.

In response, the Republican party has been predictably anaemic, criticising instead Mr. Comey for failing to confront the president. When Speaker Paul Ryan graced the stage following the testimony, he first condemned the allegations and proceeded to defend Mr. Trump as an inexperienced politician unused to protocol. Once again, the establishment doubled-down and reverted to an insect mentality, protecting the hive at all costs — even, as it now appears, if it involves cutting off its nose to spite its face.

We can explain the actions of the G.O.P. through two factors. First, the Republicans are bestowed with an unprecedented mandate to push through their highly ideological agenda. This is an opportunity that Mr. Ryan cannot, and will not, miss. The Republicans therefore are racing against the clock, appeasing the president up to the last possible moment before their credibility is wrecked entirely by the misdemeanours of the White House.

The second and more sinister (and more important) factor at play is a perceptible fear of the president. Donald Trump — an incredibly vindictive person — now possess more power and more responsibility than any person has ever had in history. A threat as thinly veiled as the need for and expectation of loyalty is therefore extremely perturbing. He resembles less a president, and more a boy king continually placated by adult advisors. There really is no precedent in American history for the abnormality of the ongoing crisis.

This latest news item charts only the most recent instance of the steady subversion of American democracy. The institutions are failing to rein in the poor judgments and malign impulses of its president. The rights and values enshrined in the Constitution — particularly its First Amendment — have not yet collapsed in this failed pressure test. But the checks and balances are metaphors, not mechanisms, being incrementally eroded. This is horrific.

I shudder to think how these institutions would hypothetically buckle under the tyranny of an evil and monomaniacal ideologue.


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