Fourth and finally, May 25 witnessed the “day after” reaction of Republican and conservative talkers and politicians to the violent assault on a reporter by the Republican candidate in the Montana special House election, Greg Gianforte. A remarkable number of those talkers condoned the attack, either outright or by pointing to other bad things that have happened elsewhere on earth at various points in the past. Rush Limbaugh went furthest, theatrically condemning the attack—but denigrating the reporter as a “smug and arrogant" Millennial “pajama boy” (a hugely derisive term in the conservative political lexicon) and praising Gianforte as “manly and studly.” (It’s hard to miss in some of the commentary from Trump’s elderly base a nostalgic yearning for lost physical prowess—and intense resentment of the vitality of younger generations with different views.)
Half a century ago, conservative commentators often blamed the riots of the 1960s on the “moral holiday” declared by permissive authorities. Leaders who might have delegitimized violence instead acquiesced in it, thus inviting more of it. For many conservatives, May 25 was a moral holiday of their own.
These four events each represent one of the great themes of the Trump era:
- The anti-alliance pro-Russia tilt of administration policy
- Collusion with hostile foreign nations for domestic political advantage
- Use of political power for personal financial advantage
- The breakdown of inhibitions and the weakening of sanctions against political violence.
On May 25, one bright burst of news illuminated who Trump is—what he has done—and where he is trying to lead the nation. Will he succeed in taking America to that place? He and his supporters have repeatedly tested the limits of political impunity, and thus far they have survived. Yes, the FBI continues to function, pending the appointment of its next director. Yes too, the special counsel continues to investigate, subject to whatever action the attorney general and president may take against him. But Greg Gianforte is headed to Congress. Jared Kushner and Donald Trump will soon return to the West Wing. There, they’ll continue to deploy the powers of the presidency to protect themselves. They’ll leverage dark and dangerous forces in American society to help them. Someday, maybe, they will cease to get away with it. But not yet.