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Despite the Russia investigation, Donald Trump’s party remains silent and loyal

The party of Lincoln is now very much the party of Trump.

Imagine if, a year ago, 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had gone the other way and Hillary Clinton had been elected president of the United States. Imagine if her national security adviser had been forced to resign from office after just 24 days over potentially illegal contact with Russia. Imagine if her attorney general had potentially perjured himself by denying his communications with the Russian government in front of a Senate committee. Imagine if she had sacked the head of the FBI and bragged on television that she did it because of its investigation into Russian collusion with her presidential campaign. Imagine if her former campaign chairman had been indicted on charges of money laundering and conspiring “against America”.

How would her Republican opponents have responded? Wouldn’t a party that tried to impeach her husband over a sex scandal, and some of whose members even suggested Barack Obama should be impeached over the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, be crying out for her impeachment, too? Wouldn’t Fox News, Breitbart News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the conservative media echo chamber be questioning the legitimacy of a President Hillary Clinton 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Yet what was the reaction from top congressional Republicans after President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, handed themselves in to the FBI to face criminal charges, and the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements about his contacts with Russia?

Not. A. Word. Complete and utter silence. Both the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, declined to comment; Ryan claimed, with the straightest of straight faces, that he had “nothing to add”.

The party of Lincoln is now very much the party of Trump. Congressional Republicans have fallen into line behind the president, unwilling to hold him to account. Take the majority whip, John Cornyn, the second-highest-ranking Republican senator, who was asked by Politico to comment on the Trump administration’s ever-changing position on health-care subsidies. “I’m with the president,” he replied – but when asked what the president’s position was, Cornyn “threw up his hands in the air”. The Texas senator may have no idea what the president thinks but he is with him nevertheless.

The Republican resistance to Trump in the Senate now consists of just three men – Bob Corker, who compared the White House to “an adult day-care centre”; Jeff Flake, who said he “couldn’t sleep at night having to embrace the president or condoning his behaviour”; and John McCain, who lambasted the “half-baked, spurious nationalism” of the Trump variety. (The first two are retiring from the Senate at the end of this term while the third, in his own words, has “very, very serious” brain cancer.)

For this reason, impeachment is a liberal fantasy – regardless of what Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the US department of justice to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, finds or concludes. Republicans control both the House and the Senate; Trump cannot be removed from office unless GOP legislators are willing to discover a conscience and/or a backbone.

How times change. As Carl Bernstein, who helped break the Watergate story in 1972, pointed out: “The Republicans during Watergate were heroic. They are the ones who said, ‘What did the president know, and when did [Nixon] know it?’”

Fast-forward to 2017. If Trump decides to fire the special counsel and shut down his investigation, à la Nixon in 1973, will the GOP push back? Almost certainly not, because Republicans such as Ryan are less interested in “the truth” than in passing tax cuts for the rich. In the words of Vox’s David Roberts, they also “cringe at the feet of the baying, insatiable [Republican] base, which is never not outraged and exercised” by a right-wing media noise machine that can “distort reality sufficiently to prevent any kind of transpartisan consensus from forming”, as it did after Watergate.

According to Bernstein, the Trump-Russia investigation represents a “potentially more dangerous” situation than Watergate, but it is harder to report on it. Fewer Americans these days are seeking the “best obtainable version of the truth”. Republicans, in particular, tend to reject any criticism of the president as “fake news” and rely on talk radio and Fox News, which is now an undisguised propaganda arm of the Trump administration, for their information. While other networks were covering the breaking Manafort story early on 30 October, Fox was rolling on “the emoji cheeseburger crisis at Google”. By the evening, Fox had Mueller’s face on screen next to the headline “Credibility in question”, and the host Sean Hannity was denouncing “President Clinton”.

It is difficult to overstate how cut off from reality many Republicans have become, partly as a result of their toxic media diet. In July, a poll found that only 45 per cent of Trump voters believed that Trump’s eldest son had a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign – something Trump, Jr, has admitted. The same poll found that 77 per cent of them thought Trump should stay in office even if the campaign did collude with Russia. Another poll found that 61 per cent of his supporters said they couldn’t think of anything the president could do that would make them disapprove of him.

In other words, this is not just the party of Trump: this is the cult of Trump. 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 02 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Boris: the joke’s over

Marc Brenner
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Carey Mulligan is oddly unemotional in Dennis Kelly’s powerful new play, Girls & Boys

If you intend to see Girls & Boys, don’t read this review.

If you intend to see Girls & Boys, then you should do two things. First, come back to this review: it’s a production best seen with no preconceptions. Second: have a child.

Still here? Good, because there is no way to discuss this play without spoiling its big reveal. It opens with Carey Mulligan centre stage, in orange shirt and red trousers, against set designer Es Devlin’s boxy backdrop of purest cyan. It’s a palette favoured by Hollywood posters, because the contrast is so striking. (Van Gogh once used it on a still life of crabs.) Mulligan’s unnamed narrator tells us how she met her husband, who is only ever “he”. Her monologue starts off funny – “Paris? Call that a world city? It’s Leeds with wider streets” – and sexually frank, but it’s also cleverly disconcerting.

She met him in an Easyjet queue and “took an instant dislike to the man”. Why? Because he was obliviously buried in a book – or because of his interaction with two models, who tried to queuejump by feigning sexual interest to stand next to him? (“And he’s just like, well of course… but I get to sleep with one of you, right?”) One of the models snottily tells him that she would never sleep with a Normal like him, and he acknowledges the truth of this. Then he calls them “bitches” for playing with his feelings, makes a chivalrous speech about the transcendence of loving sex, and suggests that sleeping with them would be “necrophilia… wanking into a pretty dress”. The temptation is to cheer – he put those stuck-up cows in their place! – and I wondered if my disquiet was evidence I’ve gone full Millie Tant. (Beware men who think there are some women to whom it’s OK to be sexist.)

But no. The husband is indeed a wrong ‘un. Mulligan’s monologues are interspersed with role-plays against another pure-cyan set; a living room, with details – a sippy cup, a blanket – again picked out in orange. She chides her children, Leanne and Danny, talking to the empty air about their petty squabbles. And then, halfway through the 90-minute running time, comes the punch: “I know they’re not here by the way. My children… I know they’re dead.” My mind went instantly to a routine by Louis CK. “A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane,” the comedian says. “Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. If you’re a guy, imagine you could only date a half-bear-half-lion.”

The narrator’s story, of a relationship going sour, is achingly familiar. Her burgeoning career, and growing confidence; the failure of his business, and his consequent loss of status. She asks for a divorce. He tells her: “There will never come a time when you have my kids and I don’t.” One night, he sweet-talks his way past the babysitter and twists a knife into little Danny’s heart, guiding it in with his thumbnail, before stabbing Leanne eight times. (Mulligan marks each wound on her body.) He tries to kill himself.

My friends with kids tell me that giving birth rewired them, leaving them reluctant to watch any drama with children in peril. To me, Mulligan seemed oddly unemotional in recounting these horrors; but perhaps a parent’s imagination would supply all the horror required.

Is it a coincidence that this play had its premiere at the Royal Court, where artistic director Vicky Featherstone has led the theatre world’s response to a reckoning with sexual harassment? Her code of conduct outlines potentially abusive behaviour, from the obvious – “physical force or threat of force, for sexual action” – to the situational: “staring, meaningful glances”. Yet Dennis Kelly’s script, which depicts one poison drop of sexism blossoming into a manifestation of the most extreme masculine rage, shows how difficult such behaviour is to police. When should the narrator have seen the danger? How can women sort the good from the bad?

In an industry convulsed by a feminist reckoning, I was left wondering if a female playwright would have dared to write lines as starkly confrontational as the narrator’s conclusion: “We didn’t create society for men. We created it to stop men.”

Girls & Boys runs until 17 March.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia