The Full Explanation

Reading time – 4:15  .  .  .

I’ve been clubbing Republicans for a long time. Let me be fair to them and say, in all humility and from the heart, that every bit of it is deserved.

I’ve called them things like “invertebrates” and “jellyfish” specifically for refusing the call from the very values they claim to hold. Instead, they have consistently knuckled under to Trump and allowed his evil doings to ratchet our country downward. What I saw was simple cowardice. It turns out the explanation for their behavior is far more complex and nuanced than I had imagined.

Anne Applebaum’s remarkable essay History Will Judge the Complicit, is a stunning and thorough analysis of collaboration with the Trumpian assault on our country. It’s published in the July/August edition of The Atlantic under the title.The Collaborators.

Applebaum unmasks what is at work to influence otherwise principled people to relinquish their values and submit to the will of this hateful, self-serving president. Her work is long and detailed and draws on clear historical parallels – yes, this has happened before. If you have ever asked, “How could otherwise good people sell their souls to a tyrant?” I urge you to read her piece in its entirety for the answer.

Here’s a summary of the rationalizations Trump collaborators use.

1. We can use this moment to achieve great things. This is the rationalization used by the true believers. They ignore the abhorrent to achieve something they think is important, like seating conservative judges.

2. We can protect the country from the president. This is the rationalization of people like Gary Cohn, Trump’s first economic advisor, as well as Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s umpteenth chief of staff and by “Anonymous,” the author of the New York Times piece describing Trump’s erratic behavior, his inability to concentrate, his ignorance and more. Cohn and Kelly are gone from the administration now, so they have no influence and can no longer protect the country. Worse, they have yet to speak out and, “their silence now continues to serve the president’s purposes.”

3. I, personally, will benefit. Nobody says this out loud, but Trump’s Cabinet heads and their staffs are full of self-serving industry insiders, lobbyists and incompetent drones. Think: Sonny Perdue and his vigilantes of industry association lobbyists now regulating their own industries.

4. I must remain close to power. It’s the “intoxicating experience of power, and the belief that proximity to a powerful person bestows higher status.” Applebaum wrote, “A friend told me that each time he sees Lindsey Graham, ‘he brags about having just met with Trump’ while exhibiting ‘high school’ levels of excitement, as if ‘a popular quarterback has just bestowed some attention on a nerdy debate-club leader.'”

“The Russian language  .  .  .  has a word – prisposoblenets – that means ‘a person skilled in the act of compromise and adaptation, who intuitively understands what is expected of him and adjusts his beliefs and conduct accordingly.”

5. LOL nothing matters. “If there is no such thing as moral and immoral, then everyone is implicitly released from the need to obey any rules.

If the president doesn’t respect the Constitution, then why should I? If the president can cheat in elections, then why can’t I? If the president can sleep with porn stars, then why can’t I? .  .  .  Nothing means anything, rules don’t matter, and the president is the carnival king.”

6. My side is flawed, but the political opposition is much worse. It’s about portraying the opposition as an existential threat and is seen in the accusations against liberalism and cultural degradation that they claim Hillary Clinton would have brought. It’s the flood of rationalizations to get the judges that conservatives want and the Evangelicals to get the path to salvation they hallucinate is needed.

“If you are convinced we are living in the End Times [included in the list of these believers are Barr, Pompeo and Pence], then anything the president does can be forgiven.”

7. I am afraid to speak out. This, of course, is the spinelessness explanation. It is what led Republican lawmakers to mock and whine and rail at Democratic House leaders during the impeachment hearings and to refuse to judge Trump guilty of the nefarious, unconstitutional acts they knew he had committed. They had to be playground bad kids to satisfy the biggest playground bully. It’s the extreme of refusing to speak against the president’s wrongdoing, the wrongdoing that violates their stated principles;  it’s hypocrisy at the highest levels.

In speaking of our economic catastrophe and the death of over 125,000 Americans to a pandemic we could instead have fought well and thereby protected the thousands who didn’t have to die, Applebaum writes,

“This utter disaster was avoidable. If the Senate had removed the president by impeachment a month earlier; if the Cabinet had invoked the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as soon as Trump’s unfitness became clear; if the anonymous and off-the-record officials who knew of Trump’s incompetence had jointly warned the public; if they had not, instead, been so concerned about maintaining their proximity to power; if senators had not been scared of their donors; if Pence, Pompeo, and Barr had not believed that God had chosen them to play special roles in this ‘biblical moment’ – if any of these things had gone differently, then thousands of deaths and a historic economic collapse might have been avoided.

“The price of collaboration in America has already turned out to be extraordinarily high.”


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