Whenever I ponder the despicable impotence of the congressional Republicans — especially now, as we lurch toward a national crisis long in the making — I am reminded of a famous poem by T. S. Eliot:

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw...

There’s a lot more, but you get the drift. And here’s a straw head in action, as captured Tuesday by a reporter in a Capitol Hill corridor:

Q: “Should the Senate act to keep Trump from firing Mueller?”

Sen. Orrin Hatch: “He’s not going to do that.”

Q: “Why do you say that?”

Hatch: “He’s just not going to do it.”

Q: “How can you be so confident?”

Hatch: “I’m quite sure he won’t do it. Unless there’s something else really bad that happens.”

Q: “Why not take up one of these bills to protect [Mueller]?”

Hatch: “I don’t think we should do that.”

Q: “Why not?”

Hatch: “Well, because I don’t think — I think it’s up to the president. I think he should — I don’t think he’s going to do that.”

Q: “But he has openly contemplated it.”

Hatch: “Yeah, I don’t think he’s going to.”

Q: “Has he told you that?”

Hatch: “No.”

As Trump creeps ever closer toward emulating the autocrats in Russia, Turkey and Hungary, the Republicans who run a so-called equal branch of government continue to disgrace themselves and imperil us. Hatch was joined by the usual hapless suspects, all of whom meet T.S. Eliot’s criteria for hollow behavior: “Shape without form, shade without color / Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.”

Speaking of a paralyzed force, Senate “leader” Mitch McConnell was asked whether the chamber should take proactive steps to protect the federal investigation into Trump’s multifaceted scandals — most notably, Robert Mueller’s job. He replied: “I haven’t seen any clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed because I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

How much “clear indication” do these people need?

Trump already has sought to fire Mueller at least twice before backing down, and during a recent tirade he said: “Why don’t I just fire Mueller? ... We’ll see what happens. And many people have said, “You should fire him.” (Those “many people” are a distinct minority. The latest national Quinnipiac poll says 69 percent of all voters, including 55 percent of Republicans, want Mueller on the job.)

Worst of all is their catch-22 reasoning. They say there’s no need to protect Mueller because Trump hasn’t done anything “yet” (McConnell) and because Trump won’t do anything “unless there’s something else really bad that happens” (Hatch). But if Trump lashes out by firing Mueller, it then will be too late to protect him. And what would congressional Republicans do if that happens? Would they perchance take action against Trump’s flagrant obstruction of justice?

Here’s an answer from the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn: “I’m not going to speculate as to what we would do.”

How about Paul Ryan? The soon-to-be-former House Speaker has decided not to run for re-election (as yours truly and others predicted), because it’s easier to cut and run than to stand and fight for the soul of his party. Freed from electoral constraints, Ryan could perform a public service by drawing a line in the sand against Trump’s authoritarian impulses.

Dick Polman is a columnist for Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.