Since 2016 and the rise of Donald Trump, Republican leaders have shown that almost everything they claimed to care about — from rule of law, to equality for all Americans, to the sacred institutions of our democracy — was a lie, or could easily be discarded if it meant power for themselves and their political allies.
But it didn’t have to be this way; discarding 160 years of a legacy of honesty, integrity, and compassion was an active political choice. And I first witnessed the beginnings of it 10 years ago, when I worked for Republicans in Congress.
From 2006 to 2009, I worked in the West Wing for George W. Bush. I was drawn to public service by the 9/11 attacks and the president’s response to it. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who escaped to America, I believed in the president’s vision of America as a beacon of hope around the world, and that spreading freedom and democracy would also make us safer at home.
During my time at the White House, nearly everyone I worked with — from the president’s chief of staff down to the policy and press aides — had one goal in mind: to help the American people.
You could disagree with their views, but not their intentions. They were truly the best and the brightest. They understood policy issues inside and out, and cared little for partisan politics. That may seem impossible to believe now from a Republican administration, but it was the case just 12 years ago.
When I moved over to Congress, however, I quickly encountered a different Republican Party.
Unlike my White House colleagues, almost everyone I worked with on Capitol Hill — including Senators themselves — seemed more interested in advancing their political fortunes than the best interests of the country.
Many had a simplistic grasp of policy issues, repeating ill-conceived, often contradictory, conservative dogma and talking points. Their goal was largely to advance the Republican Party’s political agenda, even if it meant dividing the country, and failing to help Americans gain access to better schools, cheaper health care, and a safer nation.
Donald Trump may have formally entered politics in 2015, but his candidacy can be traced back to 2009, when the GOP’s sole agenda became to defeat President Obama at all costs.
To advance that goal, national Republicans began openly flirting with dangerous and fringe elements that would eventually pave the way for QAnon. (Many of these groups were tied to the Tea Party, a movement that Republicans helped stoke in order to win their all-out war against Obama).
Republican leaders made no secret that their only goal during Obama’s first term was to defeat the president.
During the 2009 health care debate, for example, the GOP had no serious plan to help uninsured Americans or those with pre-existing conditions. Their only ‘plan’ was to oppose the ACA, and hurt Obama in the process.
This is how it went with Senate Republicans — on issue after issue, policy after policy, their only agenda was to defeat Obama and retake power.
During the 2016 GOP primary, Republicans were clear-eyed about who Donald Trump was. Lindsey Graham said that Trump “would be an utter, complete and total disaster. If you’re a xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot, you’re going to have a hard time being president of the United States, and you’re going to do irreparable damage to the party.” Ted Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral.”
They were right.
Nevertheless, when Trump became the nominee (partly by tapping into the anger and division that Republicans had helped stoke for the past 8 years), Republicans lined up behind him.
But this was not a foregone conclusion. Republican leaders had a choice: Would they stick to their values and principles — or would they support Trump in order to advance their political interests.
They chose the latter, and America will be forever scarred by their immorality.
Some Republicans probably believed they could modify Trump’s behavior. But the opposite has happened.
For four long years, Republicans have been willing accomplices as Trump has waged an aggressive war on American institutions, values, and democracy. GOP leaders have consistently excused, ignored, and enabled behavior that any person of character — and any true conservative — would have immediately condemned, from Trump’s corrupt use of his office to help his re-election bid, to his support for open racism.
Since November 3, the GOP has stood silently by as Trump has tried to overturn a democratic election — and promoted lies and conspiracy theories that will poison American politics for decades to come.
And if that wasn’t enough, more than 120 Congressional Republicans (nearly 65% of all GOP House members), signed on to a meritless legal brief — trying to overturn the results of the election.
Almost all serious Republicans know that Trump is lying — that there is no widespread conspiracy or voter fraud — but have stayed silent or participated in his scheme because their lust for power is simply that great.
If that isn’t the definition of craven leadership, I don’t know what is.
Over the past four years, one question keeps emerging: How could a pathetic reality TV star have upended 250 years of American history and nearly undone the work of our country’s greatest statesmen?
The answer is that he’s done it with the willing help of the GOP. Our system was built to prevent the usurpation of power by a demagogue, but not when he or she is openly and eagerly supported by almost all the sitting members of their party.
Although I left Washington, became an Independent, and publicly opposed Donald Trump in 2016, I thought politics was in my past. But watching Joe Biden speak both during and after the election, I saw someone whose values I believed in again — someone who truly wants to help people, who wants to bring the country together, and who is serious about healing the divisions that Trump and the GOP have created.
If the Biden presidency does not succeed in helping Americans accept basic truths and facts again, and bringing us together as one united people, it’s hard to see how the country can continue without a seismic rift.
But I do think Biden can succeed. And every American of good intent owes him their full-throated support and enthusiasm.
Sadly, national Republicans won’t make it easy. The last four years have shown us that truth, justice, and integrity are no longer givens in American politics; they must be fought for with everything we have. Joe Biden is up for the challenge; now, it’s our time to see if we can help him meet it.
David Meyers worked in the Bush West Wing from 2006 to 2009, and later in the U.S. Senate. He’s a produced playwright and screenwriter. Twitter/IG: DaveActs www.Bloomywood.com