The Republican Party in which I grew up and later served as an activist and City Committee member for Virginia Beach is dead and gone. Many of my former Republican colleagues - or at least those who have not fled the party like I have - remain in denial and sadly refuse to see the ugliness and, in my view, evil, that they are condoning through their acquiescence to Trump as the GOP standard bearer. Through the years I have found that "getting along" and "going with the flow" are easy cop outs. In contrast, speaking up for what is right and moral takes a spine and admittedly may not make one popular with one's circle of friends. Indeed, it made me persona non-grata in the Virginia Beach GOP. Nonetheless, I have always opted to speak out for what I perceive to be right. As Frank Rich lays out in a lengthy but wonderful column in New York Magazine opposing Donald Trump and the ugly elements in the GOP party base that have rallied to him required courage and backbone. Most, as Rich notes, Have acted like the Vichy French who opted to get in bed with Hitler in occupied France during WWII. Morality and decency to them, and most of the leadership of today's GOP, is secondary to opportunism and self-advancement. I sincerely hope that history will be especially brutal to these individuals - Paul Ryan in particular - who put self-promotion ahead of morality and decency. Here are column highlights:
In 2016, springtime for Hitler has been held over by popular demand to summer and fall. “It’s difficult to say when the Hitler analogies got out of control,” observed the writer Michael Lind in Politico way back in March, after the somewhat unexpected trilogy of Bill Maher, Louis C.K., and Glenn Beck found common ground in likening Donald Trump to the Führer. But the avalanche of analogies never let up. By June, the onetime Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was comparing Trump to both Hitler and Mussolini when addressing fellow GOP fat cats at Mitt Romney’s annual closed-door conclave in Park City. When a New York Times review of a new Hitler biography in September highlighted some striking Trump parallels, the book in question, a thousand pages long and translated from the German, soared up the Amazon list as perplexed Americans ransacked any source for clues to the provenance of the toxic lunatic who threatened their country.Trump, I’ll argue not for the first time, is no Hitler. . . . . He has neither the attention span, organizational discipline, nor ideological zeal it takes to be a genocidal dictator. He doesn’t even have the skill set to avoid serial bankruptcies.
Yet if Trump is no Hitler, he’s proved himself a stalking horse for a movement with Hitlerian ambitions, psychoses, and allies, the foremost of whom is a strongman with credible Hitler potential, Vladimir Putin. Trump has made himself the supreme leader of an enraged swath of Americans, perhaps some 40 percent of the electorate, as eager to blow up our republic as the Nazis were Weimar. A subset of that Trumpentariat adheres to neo-Nazi values (and in some cases neo-Nazi organizations) defined by a hatred of immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and most other racial and ethnic minorities.
[T]he Trumpist cause will outlive him. The Trumpists themselves, nurtured within the GOP in embryo for a half-century before Trump’s candidacy rallied them and rebranded them in his own image, will march on. Having already been emboldened by their easy conquest of a major political party, they will be more inflamed than ever by a crushing defeat in an election they are certain is rigged. They may yet rally around a new demagogue who is a more effective Hitler surrogate than Trump could ever be.
And that’s why a second, intertwined analogy remains very much on the table: the analogy between Trump’s collaborators and appeasers and their antecedents who stood idly by or actively abetted Hitler as he consolidated power in the Nazi era. The weak Republican elites who did little or nothing to bring Trump down in 2016 — and who have pandered to his constituency ever since Sarah Palin’s rallies boiled over into anti-Obama lynch-mob hysteria two presidential elections ago — cannot slink away from history’s harsh verdict on the grounds that Trump is no Hitler. After all, Hitler wasn’t fully Hitler either when too many men in power gave him a free pass in the 1930s.
It was not until 1942, according to the Holocaust historian Peter Novick, that “the special fate that Hitler had reserved for the Jews of Europe became known in the West.” But history has not judged that timeline to be an exculpatory factor for Chamberlain, the Vichy collaborators, and the startling number of prominent Americans, most notoriously the aviator turned arch-isolationist Charles Lindbergh, who earlier on eased Hitler’s glide path to his subsequent infamy.
Now historical judgment is lying in wait for their contemporary counterparts. Those in power who said “Yes” or “Maybe” to Trump will remain on the moral hook not only for him but for whatever form Trumpism takes after November 8. They’re in a lose-lose bind: As posterity won’t be kind to them over the long term, so voters, including those in their own party, will punish them in the near term, too.
To date, the blame game over accountability for Trump has focused mostly on the press (which, of course, is also found guilty by Trump and his followers of promoting Clinton). But the press didn’t create him and did not have the power to stop him.
His voters didn’t give a hoot about the outright fraud of Trump University, his other egregious businesses, his nonpayment of taxes, and his racial and sexual transgressions. They ridiculed or ignored the high-minded editorials and op-eds skewering Trump even when written by conservative pundits (George Will, Michael Gerson, and Bret Stephens most ferociously and persistently) or published in traditionally conservative outlets from National Review to the Arizona Republic. They didn’t even care that the Koch brothers — one of whom, Charles, described Trump’s proposed Muslim registry as “reminiscent of Nazi Germany” — refused to support him.
The only people with the power to shut down Trump were those sitting at the top of the Republican Party. . . . divided Republican elites into three categories: “Vichy Republicans,” who went along with Trump and the party base enamored of him; “Survival Republicans,” who tried to remain as neutral as Switzerland; and “Resistance Republicans,” who actively battled his nomination.
In the GOP of 2016, a number of big-name figures fell into the Resistance camp or close to it, including Romney, many of Bush 41 and 43’s family members, former appointees and political strategists (like Murphy), and the long lists of retired GOP officeholders who signed anti-Trump letters and churned out an ocean of op-eds. But they had one fatal drawback when it came to stopping Trump: None of them held any actual power within their party.
Unfortunately for America, those with real clout in the GOP were without exception Vichy, not Resistance, Republicans: the current leadership of both chambers of Congress (Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell), the party chair (Reince Priebus), and the incumbent senators with national followings (John McCain, Ted Cruz). Not to mention their big donors. These collaborators, in contrast to the conservative pundits and out-of-power Republicans of the Resistance, did have the means to derail Trump. For them to do so would have required the guts to defy a mob in their own party and to summon the sacrifice, strategy, and cunning that constitute leadership.
No matter what slur Trump disgorged, they failed to act, even when they were the specific targets of his insults. They failed to rally around any plan, however risky or potentially divisive within the party, for challenging Trump at the convention in Cleveland. Indeed, with the exception of three incumbent senators not up for reelection (Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina) and a handful of retro GOP moderates and retiring members in the House, every Republican holding office in Washington remained in the Vichy and Survival camps until long after Trump had locked up the nomination. This hall of shame includes supposedly mainstream northeastern Republicans . . .
It was bad enough that the top Republican leaders gritted their teeth and continued to endorse Trump throughout his cavalcade of indignities over the first 14 months of his campaign. But you’d think even the most cynical of them would have acknowledged that a Rubicon had been reached in mid-August when back-to-back developments left no doubt that Trump was not just a reckless ignoramus and bigot but a clear-and-present danger both to national security and to the Constitution.
First came the Times report of handwritten ledgers indicating that his then–campaign chairman, the dictator-friendly lobbyist Paul Manafort, had been paid $12.7 million from Putin puppets for murky services rendered in Ukraine. Given Trump’s repeated Putin accolades, vocal disdain for NATO, and open invitation to the Kremlin to disrupt an American election, it was still further evidence, if any were needed, that Trump was “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” in the words of the former CIA official Michael Morell. Then came the supplanting of Manafort by Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon, a kingpin of an alt-right movement well stocked with anti-Semites and white supremacists. But even then the Vichy Republicans stayed in line, either vacillating, hiding, or muttering faint critiques of their party’s standard-bearer.
Much of the cross-referencing of Trump and Hitler this year has invoked Lindbergh because of Trump’s slogan “America First,” which is also the name of the fascist-friendly organization for which Lindbergh became a leading spokesman prior to America’s entry into World War II. Trump dismissed that link, saying that he saw America First as “a brand-new, modern term.” He probably didn’t know he had stumbled into Hitlerspeak (“the Big Lie”) to tar Obamacare either. On the issue of his ignorance, at least, I believe him. Trump is nothing if not an idiot savant when it comes to fascism.
But America First all too soon became a magnet not just for isolationists intent on avoiding another world war but for nativists and bigots embracing Hitler’s pathologies: the populist radio priest Father Coughlin and industrialists like the rabidly anti-Semitic Henry Ford and the textile manufacturer William Regnery (whose son Henry would soon start the eponymous conservative publishing house that nurtured the modern GOP’s radical right). It devolved into what Time condemned as a hot mess of “Jew-haters, Roosevelt-haters, England-haters, Coughlinites, politicians, and demagogues.”
[T]he Vichy Republicans supporting Trump use some of the same arguments Lindbergh and his fellow appeasers trotted out to rationalize their support of Hitler. Their argument of choice is that Trump, however imperfect, is still the lesser of two evils. In the ’30s, the evil sometimes considered greater than Hitler was Stalin, who was thought to be responsible for butchering tens of millions of people, a crime not exactly comparable to Clinton’s worst sins even if you believe she murdered Vince Foster. Some Hitler appeasers also judged Hitler as a lesser evil to FDR. As Hitler’s bombs were raining down on England in 1940, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio argued that “there is a great deal more danger of the infiltration of totalitarian ideas from the New Deal circles in Washington than there will ever be” from the Nazis. This is of a piece with the Vichy Republicans who claim that a Trump presidency is preferable to letting Clinton nominate justices to the Supreme Court.
For much of the campaign, Ryan, McConnell, McCain & Co. were also prone to claiming that the 70-year-old Trump would somehow change or grow over time or be boxed in by the constitution. If elected, he would be contained by “the constraints and accountability built into the U.S. system of government,” in the words of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which, like Ryan and McConnell, rapped Trump on the wrist for his excesses but still boosted him as the preferable alternative to “Barack Obama’s third term led by Hillary Clinton.” This argument ignores the reality of presidential power in the age of the Imperial Presidency — the very power that conservatives complain Obama has abused — not to mention the realities of human behavior. And again it echoes the naïveté of Hitler’s American appeasers, including Lindbergh, who believed that “the Germans would eventually moderate the excesses of [Hitler’s] Nazi regime.”
[T]oday’s Vichy Republicans, whose reasons for supporting the Putin-embracing Trump were entirely selfish and partisan: clinging to power, holding on to their congressional majority, and preserving a legislative agenda that would reward the party’s biggest donors with further tax cuts. However misguided, obtuse, or bigoted, Lindbergh and his fellow Hitler appeasers, including some of those in Congress, were trying to put America, not their own careers or party, first.
As Election Day approaches, some conservative editorialists are already predicting that a Trump defeat will bring peace in our time to the GOP — a restoration of the pre-Trump status quo. . . . . It should be noted that these are some of the same conservative prognosticators who predicted Republicans would walk away from Trump a year ago. It’s also the same prediction that followed Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The Republicans had rolled the dice on undiluted conservatism and lost catastrophically.
The Trumpists are more radical than Goldwater’s or Reagan’s followers were. They are building their own burgeoning Breitbart–Roger Ailes media empire and are primed to disregard the results of a “stolen” election in which the loser may not concede. The “Second Amendment people” that Trump egged on are already talking openly about rebellion and assassination after a Clinton victory. The damage they may inflict on the country, let alone the Republican Party and the homegrown Nigel Farage–like leaders they may rally around, is yet to be determined. As Steve Schmidt, the former McCain campaign strategist and a #NeverTrumper, told the Washington Post, the postelection GOP will “look like Berlin circa 1945.”
Whatever happens on November 8, few expect a wipeout of Ryan’s 60-seat House majority. But the Berlin analogy is nonetheless apt. There will be chaos and open warfare regardless, and it’s hard to see a world where anything like the ancien régime can be restored. . . . This is the same party that embraced Trump in the first place. Most Republicans prefer his signature platform of sealed borders, protectionism, and opposition to Social Security and Medicare cuts to Ryan’s priorities of immigration reform, open trade, and “privatizing” entitlements. Whether Trump wins or loses, Ryan and his fellow elites are certain to be rejected by their own party’s base much as Bush, Rubio, and Kasich were during the primaries — and much as John Boehner and Eric Cantor were before that. The postelection purge may be particularly ugly, given how unhappy many Trump voters are with what they regarded as the elites’ lukewarm support for their standard-bearer.
With time and distance, the morally self-regarding Ryan, “the Hamlet of southern Wisconsin,” in George Will’s withering dismissal, and some of the other GOP elites who tried to be on both sides of the Trump question may resemble no one so much as Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the Seventh Marquess of Londonderry. The subject of a 2000 biography, Making Friends With Hitler, by the great Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw — and surely a model for the fictional appeaser in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day — Lord Londonderry was a member of the British Cabinet from 1931 to 1935 who sought a friendly peace with the Nazis. Londonderry, Kershaw writes, “had no truck with the fanatical Fascists, or the wide-eyed cranks and mystics who fell for Hitler lock, stock and barrel”; he merely “saw the need to come to a political arrangement with Hitler’s regime.” In the end, however, his noble intentions and distance from the Brownshirts didn’t matter — his “reputation was ruined.”
If history is just, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will in time be viewed as equivalent with moral bankruptcy and selfishness. Having been on our recent vacation and meeting many kind and wonderful non-white individuals, I am further convinced that those who would further their careers by sowing hatred of others need to become social and political outcasts. Indeed, if the Catholic Church had any moral credibility left, bishops would refuse to allow Ryan to receive communion. What he stands for and advocates for is diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church's supposed social gospel message.