By Bob Leggett:
It is well documented that the current Republican administration is more corrupt and incompetent than any administration in our lifetime.
What is harder to understand is why. What are the reasons that high-ranking members of the Republican party betray the ideals they once stood for?
In a recent article in the Atlantic magazine, titled “History Will Judge the Complicit,” noted historian Anne Applebaum attempts to answer this question, using historical analogies.
According to her analysis, about a year and a half into the Trump administration many officials in public life began to adopt strategies, tactics, and self-justifications similar to what the inhabitants of occupied countries have used in the past.
She compares their actions to the experiences of Frenchmen in 1940, or the East Germans in 1945, or of Czeslaw Milosz – a Polish collaborator — in 1947. All accepted, she says, an alien ideology or a set of values in sharp conflict with their own.
Her most poignant example is Senator Lindsey Graham who, in her words, had been devoted to “America’s democratic traditions and the ideals of honesty, accountability, and transparency in public life.” She compares that to his current willingness to look the other way, such as when Trump tried to manipulate a foreign leader into launching a phony investigation into a political rival or when he supported Trump’s policy to abandon the Kurds in Syria.
What motivates these enablers — Republican supporters and apolitical members of the government bureaucracy – to “to adhere to a blatantly false, manipulated reality” and to justify Trump’s “alternative value system”?
Here are some conclusions that Applebaum has distilled from her research:
- Some officials go along with Trump’s “erratic behavior,” she opines, because they feel they must do so to protect the country from the president. The example she cites is the argument cited by “Anonymous” in the unsigned op-ed in the New York Times in September 2018 or the argument by General Mattis that he thought he could “educate the president about the value of America’s alliances.”
- Applebaum says also that many people in and around Trump are seeking to benefit personally in terms of status or benefits. She cites the example of Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of Agriculture, who has “never even pretended to separate his political and personal interests.”
- Applebaum cites the belief as well on the part of some officials that the “proximity to a powerful person bestows higher status.” Not surprisingly, she says, John Bolton named his recently published book The Room Where It Happened because that is where he always wanted to be. When the war in Vietnam was going badly, she says, “many people did not resign or speak out in public…in order to keep their connection to power.”
- She cites cynicism, nihilism, relativism, amorality, irony, sarcasm, boredom, and amusement as other reasons why they collaborate. When Trump blurs the line between morality and immorality, she argues, those around him may feel “implicitly released from the need to obey rules.” As Applebaum writes about their rational: “If the president doesn’t respect the Constitution, then why should I? If the president can cheat in the elections, then why can’t I?
- Applebaum says that some Trump loyalists justify their actions based on their belief that the political opposition is much worse. In their view, she states, all of Trump’s misdeeds – the harm he has done to democracy and the rule of law and the corrupt deals he makes – shrinks in comparison to “the liberalism, socialism, moral decadence, demographic change, and cultural degradation that would have been the inevitable result of Hillary Clinton’s presidency.”
- Finally, Applebaum cites the fear felt by his supporters of being attacked by Trump on Twitter, of losing their social status, and that their friends — especially their donors — will desert them as motivation for remaining quiet. Similar waves of fear, she argues, have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships, citing Russia as an example.
Applebaum concludes that the price of collaboration in and around the Trump administration has been extraordinarily high for the country. In her view, “the unwillingness of Republican “collaborators” to rid the country of a president whose operative value system – built around corruption, nascent authoritarianism, self-regard, and his family business interests – runs counter to everything most of them claim to believe in.” Had they been willing to speak up as soon as Trump’s unfitness for office became evident, “thousands of deaths and a historic economic collapse might have been avoided.”
She ends by raising but only partially answering the question: What would it take for his “collaborators” to admit that the Trump cult is destroying the country? Unfortunately, there is sparse evidence to suggest it will happen anytime soon. Our duty and best hope for getting our country back is to win the elections in November.
Photo: The cover of the current issue of The Atlantic, featuring a story by Anne Applebaum on how authoritarian figures co-opt the values of their supporters
Bob Leggett is a former intelligence analyst and military veteran with a doctorate in economics from Lehigh University. He is a member of Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee.
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