I read an intriguing article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine (July/August, 2020): Anne Applebaum’s “Trump’s Enablers and the Judgment of History.” It’s an obvious preview of her forthcoming book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.
Applebaum begins with a given. Donald Trump is a disaster as President, dangerous to us and to our form of government. She does not mince words: Trump has
… built a Cabinet and an administration that serve neither the public nor his voters but rather his own psychological need and the interests of his own friends on Wall Street and in business and, of course, his own family. His tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthy, not the working class. His shallow economic boom, engineered to ensure his reelection, was made possible by a vast budget deficit, on a scale Republicans once claimed to abhor, an enormous burden for future generations. He worked to dismantle the existing health care system … he fanned and encouraged xenophobia and racism. (p. 55)
But as awful as Trump may be in Applebaum’s view, she is focused on those people who have assisted him in his pursuit of discord and disunion, his collaborators. The answer she is pursuing is to this question: “What causes someone to go over to the dark side?” In other words, what makes them enablers of people and ideologies they once publicly condemned? In pursuit of that answer, she also looks at the people who decide not to collaborate, but to remain true to some abstract principles, like honesty. No surprise, Lindsay Graham comes in for criticism and Fiona Hill is a heroine.
Among her conclusions is a set of justifications for collaborating, a number of rationales for supporting the insupportable. They include:
“We can use this moment to achieve great things.” OK, he’s bad and many of the things he does are bad, but in all the chaos, we got those judges, right?
- “We can protect the country from the president.” If I leave, then there will be no one here who can keep the really bad things from happening. This appears to have been the excuse used by people like John Kelly and James Mattis, but not only did they fail to keep those bad things from happening, they remain among the usually silent sideliners today and they’re gone, leaving in place someone without guardrails. Yes, I know Mattis penned a short essay criticizing Trump and Kelly agreed with him, but given the magnitude of the current disaster, is that enough?
- “I, personally, will benefit.” As Applebaum points out, this is not a reason people articulate out loud. However, it is definitely true that people are using their alliances with Trump to enhance their power and wealth.
- “I must remain close to power.” She places Lindsay Graham in this category. These folks are super-toadies.
- “LOL, nothing matters.” Unfortunately, this seems to be the default position of too many Americans. They have become so cynical about their government that they equate the behavior of Republicans and Democrats; they claim they are equally bad. And, although both parties may have faults, as many scholars, including conservative ones, have documented, at the moment they are nowhere near equally bad.
- “My side may be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” Of course, this is the route taken by the leaders of the French appeasement government in World War II, who welcomed Hitler into their country as an alternative to an alliance with French left-wingers. We saw how well that worked for them. And, the ever popular
- “I am afraid to speak out.” This excuse might seem sensible if we lived in Stalin’s Russia; it seems like a cop-out in 21st-century America.
Trump is Trump and he’s not going to change. However, he would not still be in power had not good men and women opted to let him stay there. In this case, I’m using “good” in the sense that Mark Antony did, when he praised Brutus for the killing of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. After all, Lindsay Graham is a good man; Susan Collins is a good woman.