Living in Texas, I should probably be a bit abashed about telling Mainers who should represent them in the senate. After all, I have my own senators to worry about. In matters of national interest, however, a senator of one state is, in a sense, a senator of every state.

Casting herself as an independent-minded moderate, Sen. Susan Collins attracts more outside interest than her decidedly left- or right-wing colleagues. She seems to relish the role. Yet she has become something of a national joke for her quavering equivocations when the stakes are highest. While other elected officials across the political spectrum invite more animosity, few are more widely ridiculed than Sen. Collins.

The ridicule is not so much a matter of people disagreeing with Collins. It’s that she seems to disagree with herself, claiming to believe one thing yet somehow coming to an opposite conclusion.

One temptation is to imagine that Collins is engaged in more nuanced analysis, rejecting the easy solution to arrive at a subtly principled response. The other temptation is to call her dishonest. Neither interpretation captures the cognitive dissonance at the heart of her thinking — indeed, of her politics.

Cognitive dissonance theory describes the way we reconcile thoughts and facts that are in stark and discomforting contradiction. We do this by resorting to expedient fictions.

Consider the stark and discomforting contradiction Collins put forward during the 2018 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. On the one hand, there was the clear credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who claimed that Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers. Collins wanted to show that she supported Dr. Ford. On the other, there was President Trump and Senate Republicans wanting to place the reliably conservative Kavanaugh on the court. Collins supported this, too. Reconciling the contradiction required that she both believe and not believe Ford, and this, in turn, necessitated an expedient fiction — namely, that the poor, troubled lady was just confused and that someone else actually attacked her. Many people, but especially victims of sexual assault, found this self-serving notion deeply offensive.

More recently, in the Senate impeachment trial, Collins found a way to simultaneously reproach President Trump and exonerate him. Most of her colleagues were far less conflicted. With few exceptions, Republicans claimed to see nothing especially wrong or reprehensible in Trump attempting to extort a foreign power to investigate a political rival. For their part, Democrats deemed it a grievous abuse of power. A single Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Maine’s Angus King, an independent, agreed.

Predictably, Collins was among the handful of senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who wanted to have it both ways — disapproving of what Trump did without actually holding him accountable. Achieving this meant that Collins had to find another expedient fiction — two fictions, actually. The first was argue that, having been caught, Trump would feel duly chastened and change his ways. The president immediately exposed the absurdity of that pretense by committing another impeachable crime, witness retaliation, two days after his acquittal. But no matter. The ludicrous claim gave Collins a handy way out of her dilemma and an excuse for her inaction.

The second conceit was that the thrust of the impeachment charges concerned national security. This was a subtler excuse, as the testimony about the president’s actions did involve other countries, Ukraine and by implication Russia. Also, the first article of impeachment does allege that Trump compromised national security. Collins was right to question whether that had been proved. But she nevertheless dodged the two central questions before her: did Trump scheme to have a foreign government harm his political opponent and, if so, should that be tolerated for him and future presidents?

To those questions, Collins became predictably mealy-mouthed, saying that the corrupt scheme merely demonstrated “very poor judgment” — a one-time lapse wholly out of character for an otherwise honest and principled man, she would have her constituents believe. She also argued that removing Trump should be decided in the next election. That may sound prudent. Yet if she believes Trump tried to corrupt that very election — and clearly she does think so — why hasn’t Collins opposed his re-election?

Well, the answer is that she doesn’t. The sentiment merely obscures her unfailing allegiance to Trump.

I should note, too, that Collins was one of only two Republicans who voted to see evidence and hear from relevant witnesses. At first glance, that vote may also seem to her credit. But again, it is another calculated gesture — a head fake — meant to appear principled without actually effecting principle.

Politicians hedge, of course. Some, like the president, simply lie more or less constantly, and without shame. Others lie to themselves; that is, they tell self-flattering stories about their own rectitude. Watching from afar, it’s hard to imagine that they fall for their bunk. But as Sen. Mitt Romney recently observed in a refreshingly candid interview, “When something is in your personal best interest, the ability of the mind to rationalize that that is the right thing is really quite extraordinary.”

In contrast to Romney recognizing and resisting that impulse, Senator Collins rationalized her own fecklessness with self-deception and feeble excuses.

Of course, Congress is replete with hypocrites. Unlike others, at least Collins hasn’t celebrated Trump’s bogus exoneration. But perhaps more than Trump’s most brazen enablers, she helped make it possible. By casting herself as an independent-minded moderate, offering empty gestures of probity, she provided something that rank partisans could not: cover.

When Trump took office, I knew that the country would be in for a very rough ride. I suppose everyone did. Empowering a moral degenerate releases a lot of latent bile from all quarters. Still, I never imagined the entire Republican Party would abase itself so completely to a man of such manifestly low character. If nothing else, I thought basic self-respect would kick in. That for Collins it hasn’t suggested the integrity and scruples were never there to begin with. Evidently, it was just an act. The contrast of Romney’s courage has made that clear. He did something hard. Collins merely mewed her disappointment. For her, that was enough.

I trust and hope that won’t be enough for the people of Maine. If you are similarly “disappointed” in her, please do what she was too timid to do with Trump. Get rid of her.

Thomas Hackett is a writer, photographer and filmmaker. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications.

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