Vox Ezra Klein may have said summed it up best, tweeting,
The question at the heart of the impeachment process isn’t “Did Trump do it?” We know he did it. It’s not in dispute. The question at the heart of the impeachment process is “What has gone wrong in the Republican Party that it will defend what Trump did?”
To slightly amend Klein’s second question, Republicans aren’t so much defending Trump’s Ukrainian shakedown as attacking anyone who reveals what the president did. They are playing Wormtongue to Trump’s Saruman.
I compared Trump to Saruman over a year ago, especially in the way the two turn their backs on traditional friends with seeking friendship with autocrats. In Trump’s case, it has been with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s MSB’s Saudi Arabia, Turkey’s XX, Brazil’s XX, and North Korea’s XX. In Saruman’s case it’s Sauron. The days of liberal regimes is coming to an end, he tells Gandalf:
“The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.
“And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper! ” he said, coming near and speaking now in a softer voice. “I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me. A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you. before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow;
It’s one thing for Trump to turn his back on NATO, the European Union, our far eastern allies, and the Kurds. It’s something else again to see the GOP signing on to his agenda. Instead of an independent branch of government, Republicans have become slavish followers, parroting Ukrainian talking points that Trump himself borrowed from Putin. As Lindsay Graham could testify (but won’t), they follow the president’s lead regardless of how much Trump kicks them around. They may not be happy about it but, like Wormtongue in a scene where he and Saruman have been reduced to beggars, they follow his lead:
“Get up, you idiot!” he [Saruman] shouted to the other beggar, who had sat down on the ground; and he struck him with his staff. “Turn about! If these fine folk are going our way, then we will take another. Get on, or I’ll give you no crust for your supper!”
The beggar turned and slouched past whimpering: “Poor old Gríma! Poor old Gríma! Always beaten and cursed. How I hate him! I wish I could leave him!”
“Then leave him!” said Gandalf.
But Wormtongue only shot a glance of his bleared eyes full of terror at Gandalf, and then shuffled quickly past behind Saruman.
Reports are that many GOP legislators would only be too glad to leave Trump if they could do so unscathed. As they see it, however, their career in politics would be over the instant they tried.
So instead they insult the truthtellers, just as Wormtongue insults Gandalf when he shows up to liberate the King of Rohan, grouping him with “pickers of bones, meddlers in other men’s sorrows, carrion-fowl that grow fat on war.” Elsewhere we learn that, like certain Trump supporters, Wormtongue diplomatically wraps Saruman’s harsh words “in terms more cunning.”
If Saruman and Wormtongue are Trump and the GOP, then we can think of Sauron as Putin, employing them as tools to undermine a great nation. This being the case, we must hope that these impeachment witnesses will have the same impact as Gandalf when he strides into Theoden’s great hall and helps the king see the light of day:
“Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?” said Gandalf. Do you ask for help?” He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. “Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”
Slowly Théoden left his chair. A faint light grew in the hall again. The woman hastened to the king’s side, taking his arm, and with faltering steps the old man came down from the dais and paced softly through the hall. Wormtongue remained lying on the floor. They came to the doors and Gandalf knocked.
“Open!” he cried. “The Lord of the Mark comes forth!”
The doors rolled back and a keen air came whistling in. A wind was blowing on the hill. “Send your guards down to the stairs foot,” said Gandalf. “And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him.”
“Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!” said the old king. “The time for fear is past.”
Will the truth emerge loud and clear? Will America reclaim its once vaunted position as leader of the free world and beacon of hope for the world’s oppressed? Will we one day be able to say the time for fear is past?
Perhaps so, but it’s hard to imagine the current GOP rising to the occasion. Towards the end of Lord of the Rings, Frodo encounters Wormtongue one more time, this time in the Shire, and repeats Gandalf’s suggestion that he leave Saruman. For a moment, he considers the possibility:
“Wormtongue!” called Frodo. “You need not follow him. I know of no evil you have done to me. You can have rest and food here for a while, until you are stronger and can go your own ways.”
Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay.
His life has become so entangled with Saruman and Saruman’s crimes, however, that he can’t break free. Like Trump, Saruman has a way of permanently sliming those who work for him. In this instance he describes a murder, perhaps capped off with cannibalism, that he got Wormtongue to commit:
“No, Worm is not really nice. You had better leave him to me.”
A look of wild hatred came into Wormtongue’s red eyes. “You told me to; you made me do it,” he hissed.
Saruman laughed. “You do what Sharkey says, always, don’t you, Worm? Well, now he says: follow!” He kicked Wormtongue in the face as he groveled, and turned and made off.
It is only at this point that Wormtongue turns on his boss, stabbing him with a concealed knife. Might Republican members, pushed to the limit, also flip? To be sure, Wormtongue pays a price—jittery hobbit archers shoot him—but he rids the world of a menace. Might legislators sacrifice electoral prospects for country?
Whatever the case, what Sam says about a post-Saruman Shire will apply to a post-Trump America:
“I shan’t call it the end, till we’ve cleared up the mess,” said Sam gloomily. “And that’ll take a lot of time and work.”