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Trump's playbook can be traced back to Roy Cohn, one of America's nastiest men

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On the day the stock market dropped almost 1,200 points, what was President Trump doing? He was in Ohio berating Democrats for not applauding his State of the Union speech — in fact, accusing them of treason for exercising their right of freedom of expression. And the beat goes on.

You suffer in silence through the latest wave of hyperbole, you try to ignore the ridiculous tweets, you get by the smokescreens and you deal with the national embarrassment of it all. But still, you know that you can't avoid the spectacle of Donald Trump — the most crude, vulgar and unqualified person ever to be elected president. This is a man who sold himself as the great businessman, but he has gone bankrupt six times. He's a man who ran a phony "university" and paid $26 million just to avoid going to trial on fraud charges. And he's a man who doesn't respect the law, nor the public servants sworn to uphold it — a man who more than abides racists, and apparently admires the Ku Klux Klan.

By a couple of votes last year, provided by the very Republicans who shortly before had publicly denounced him, Trump got his tax bill, which the CBO estimates will add a couple of trillion to the national debt without producing anywhere near the growth promised — all the while greatly increasing inequality. Apparently this is Trump's idea of "Making America Great Again."

In the meantime, Trump's band of brownshirt Gauleiters wannabes are out and about demanding so see papers — on trains, buses, you name it, no one is safe. More "Making America Great Again," Trump style.

While all this is going on, he continues to berate and threaten to fire more public servants who aren't sufficiently loyal to him. Every American needs to know that public servants properly view loyalty to extend to their oaths of office and to the Constitution, not to the occupant of the White House.

Trump doesn't care.

But as special counsel Robert Mueller's noose tightens, Trump channels his inner Roy Cohn, who was Joe McCarthy's chief henchman, and later a close friend and mentor to Donald Trump. Cohn taught Trump to fight back, to never concede — even when he is wrong. Just recently, a frustrated Donald Trump was heard to utter, "Where is my Roy Cohn?"

Cohn led McCarthy's attack on Department of State in the 1950s, in particular against the Southeast Asia desk. He used homosexuality as a reason to deny security clearances. Their phony justification was that gay analysts could be subject to blackmail. They also charged that these professionals were soft on communism. Republicans even called Secretary of State Dean Acheson "The Red Dean" when Acheson was among the hardest of the '50s hardliners; he recommended that Kennedy bomb and invade Cuba. None of this mattered to McCarthy and Cohn. (By the way, Cohn died of AIDS in 1986; he was gay like the men he persecuted.)

Cohn and McCarthy weakened national intelligence at a critical time. We got into the Vietnam quagmire in no small measure because the very career professionals who understood anti-colonialism and who understood that this so-called "domino theory" was just so much nonsense. McCarthy and Cohn had driven many of these careful statesmen out. Today, we are in danger of history repeating itself.

Except for a few ideologues, members of the Republican-dominated Congress really do know and agree that Russia, no doubt with Putin holding the reins, made every effort to steer the election to Trump, who calls this "fake news." But Russian tampering was real. For Mueller none of this is about partisan politics, it's all about national security.

Republicans who know what's going on could put a stop to all of Trump's diversions and obfuscations. Recently, a number of Republican members of Congress "expressed hope" that the Mueller investigation will proceed. That's not enough. The national interest requires that they "demand," not just express "hope" that the Mueller investigation continues.

A strong case could be made that any attempt by Trump to fire Mueller or his firewall, Rod Rosenstein, amounts to obstruction of justice. But will Republicans go this far to save the day?

The truth of the matter is that today's GOP is in desperate need of the kinds of independent leaders they had during the Watergate crisis. They need some Howard Bakers, some Barry Goldwaters, some Lowell Weickers.

Alas, I'm not holding my breath.

I would leave them all with a question: Do they really want to look themselves in the mirror 10 years from now and realize they continued to support Trump only to keep their jobs? Put another way: Is showing loyalty to him at the expense of their oaths of office and of the Constitution what they had in mind when they went into public service?

We shall soon see. ♦

The original print version of this article was headlined "McCarthy's Ghost"

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