Trump's Collaborators and the Judgment of History, II

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Trump's Collaborators and the Judgment of History, II

Post by Delenda Est » Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:47 pm

This is excerpted from a long, but important article in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum (who is a specialist in European Fascism). I have cut the article to about one-third of its length. It gives crucial historical perspective on what has happened to the United States (and particularly to the Republican Party) under Trump. The excerpt is long, so I don't expect everyone to read it through before commenting. But please keep comments to the general topic.


"In this negative sense, collaborator is closely related to another set of words: collusion, complicity, connivance. This negative meaning gained currency during the Second World War, when it was widely used to describe Europeans who cooperated with Nazi occupiers. At base, the ugly meaning of collaborator carries an implication of treason: betrayal of one’s nation, of one’s ideology, of one’s morality, of one’s values.

Since the Second World War, historians and political scientists have tried to explain why some people in extreme circumstances become collaborators and others do not. The late Harvard scholar Stanley Hoffmann had firsthand knowledge of the subject... Hoffmann made a stab at classification, beginning with a division of collaborators into “voluntary” and “involuntary.” Many people in the latter group had no choice. Forced into a “reluctant recognition of necessity,” they could not avoid dealing with the Nazi occupiers who were running their country.

Hoffmann further sorted the more enthusiastic “voluntary” collaborators into two additional categories. In the first were those who worked with the enemy in the name of “national interest,” rationalizing collaboration as something necessary for the preservation of the French economy, or French culture—though of course many people who made these arguments had other professional or economic motives, too. In the second were the truly active ideological collaborators: people who believed that prewar republican France had been weak or corrupt and hoped that the Nazis would strengthen it, people who admired fascism, and people who admired Hitler.

Hoffmann observed that many of those who became ideological collaborators were landowners and aristocrats, “the cream of the top of the civil service, of the armed forces, of the business community,” people who perceived themselves as part of a natural ruling class that had been unfairly deprived of power under the left-wing governments of France in the 1930s. Equally motivated to collaborate were their polar opposites, the “social misfits and political deviants” who would, in the normal course of events, never have made successful careers of any kind.

[F]ar harder to explain—was the genuinely mysterious question of “why people went against the regime.” Here is another pair of stories, one that will be more familiar to American readers. Let’s begin this one in the 1980s, when a young Lindsey Graham first served with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps—the military legal service—in the U.S. Air Force. During some of that time, Graham was based in what was then West Germany, on the cutting edge of America’s Cold War efforts. Graham, born and raised in a small town in South Carolina, was devoted to the military... Through most of his years in the Senate, Graham, alongside his close friend John McCain, was a spokesperson for a strong military, and for a vision of America as a democratic leader abroad. He also supported a vigorous notion of democracy at home. In his 2014 reelection campaign, he ran as a maverick and a centrist, telling The Atlantic that jousting with the Tea Party was “more fun than any time I’ve been in politics.”

While Graham was doing his tour in West Germany, Mitt Romney became a co-founder and then the president of Bain Capital, a private-equity investment firm. While Graham was a military lawyer, drawing military pay, Romney was acquiring companies, restructuring them, and then selling them.

Both men were loyal members of the Republican Party, skeptical of the party’s radical and conspiratorial fringe. Both men reacted to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump with real anger, and no wonder: In different ways, Trump’s values undermined their own. Both were vocal in their disapproval of Trump.

A glance at their biographies would not have led many to predict what happened next. On paper, Graham would have seemed, in 2016, like the man with deeper ties to the military, to the rule of law, and to an old-fashioned idea of American patriotism and American responsibility in the world. Romney, by contrast, with his shifts between the center and the right, with his multiple careers in business and politics, would have seemed less deeply attached to those same old-fashioned patriotic ideals.

But in this case the clichés were wrong. It was Graham who made excuses for Trump’s abuse of power. It was Graham—a JAG Corps lawyer—who downplayed the evidence that the president had attempted to manipulate foreign courts and blackmail a foreign leader into launching a phony investigation into a political rival. It was Graham who abandoned his own stated support for bipartisanship and instead pushed for a hyperpartisan Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. It was Graham who played golf with Trump, who made excuses for him on television, who supported the president even as he slowly destroyed the American alliances—with Europeans, with the Kurds—that Graham had defended all his life.

By contrast, it was Romney who, in February, became the only Republican senator to break ranks with his colleagues, voting to impeach the president. “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office,” he said, is “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine." One man proved willing to betray ideas and ideals that he had once stood for. The other refused. Why?

We are not a theocracy or a monarchy that accepts the word of the leader or the priesthood as law. We are a democracy that debates facts, seeks to understand problems, and then legislates solutions, all in accordance with a set of rules. Trump’s insistence—against the evidence of photographs, television footage, and the lived experience of thousands of people—that the attendance at his inauguration was higher than at Barack Obama’s first inauguration represented a sharp break with that American political tradition. Like the authoritarian leaders of other times and places, Trump effectively ordered not just his supporters but also apolitical members of the government bureaucracy to adhere to a blatantly false, manipulated reality. The lie was petty, even ridiculous; that was partly why it was so dangerous.

These kinds of lies also have a way of building on one another. It takes time to persuade people to abandon their existing value systems. The process usually begins slowly, with small changes. Social scientists who have studied the erosion of values and the growth of corruption inside companies have found, for example, that “people are more likely to accept the unethical behavior of others if the behavior develops gradually (along a slippery slope) rather than occurring abruptly,” according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. This happens, in part, because most people have a built-in vision of themselves as moral and honest, and that self-image is resistant to change. Once certain behaviors become “normal,” then people stop seeing them as wrong.

The built-in vision of themselves as American patriots, or as competent administrators, or as loyal party members, also created a cognitive distortion that blinded many Republicans and Trump-administration officials to the precise nature of the president’s alternative value system... he has governed in defiance—and in ignorance—of the American Constitution, notably declaring, well into his third year in office, that he had “total” authority over the states. His administration is not merely corrupt, it is also hostile to checks, balances, and the rule of law. He has built a proto-authoritarian personality cult, firing or sidelining officials who have contradicted him with facts and evidence—with tragic consequences for public health and the economy.

His foreign policy has never served any U.S. interests of any kind. Trump’s true instinct, always, has been to side with foreign dictators, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. One former administration official who has seen Trump interact with Xi as well as with Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that it was like watching a lesser celebrity encounter a more famous one.

Nothing quite so dramatic happened after McCain’s funeral. But it did clarify the situation. A year and a half into the Trump administration, it marked a turning point, the moment at which many Americans in public life began to adopt the strategies, tactics, and self-justifications that the inhabitants of occupied countries have used in the past—doing so even though the personal stakes were, relatively speaking, so low. Poles like Miłosz wound up in exile in the 1950s; dissidents in East Germany lost the right to work and study. In harsher regimes like that of Stalin’s Russia, public protest could lead to many years in a concentration camp; disobedient Wehrmacht officers were executed by slow strangulation.

By contrast, a Republican senator who dares to question whether Trump is acting in the interests of the country is in danger of—what, exactly? Losing his seat and winding up with a seven-figure lobbying job or a fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School?

[F]amiliar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. Here are the most popular:

We can use this moment to achieve great things. In the spring of 2019, a Trump-supporting friend put me in touch with an administration official I will call “Mark,” whom I eventually met for a drink. I won’t give details, because we spoke informally, but in any case Mark did not leak information or criticize the White House. On the contrary, he described himself as a patriot and a true believer. He supported the language of “America First,” and was confident that it could be made real... The president’s abuse of military aid to Ukraine and his attacks on civil servants suggested not a patriotic White House, but a president focused on his own interests. Mark did not apologize for the president, though. Instead, he changed the subject: It was all worth it, he told me, because of the Uighurs. thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations.

We can protect the country from the president. That, of course, was the argument used by “Anonymous,” the author of an unsigned New York Times op-ed published in September 2018. But even as they came to understand that the Trump presidency was guided by the president’s narcissism, Anonymous did not quit, protest, make noise, or campaign against the president and his party. [A]lthough both resigned, neither Cohn nor Mattis has spoken out in any notable way. Their presence inside the White House helped build Trump’s credibility among traditional Republican voters.

I, personally, will benefit. Many people in and around the Trump administration are seeking personal benefits. Many of them are doing so with a degree of openness that is startling and unusual in contemporary American politics, at least at this level. As an ideology, “Trump First” suits these people, because it gives them license to put themselves first.

I must remain close to power. Another sort of benefit, harder to measure, has kept many people who object to Trump’s policies or behavior from speaking out: the intoxicating experience of power, and the belief that proximity to a powerful person bestows higher status. This, too, is nothing new. In any organization, private or public, the boss will of course sometimes make decisions that his underlings dislike. But when basic principles are constantly violated, and people constantly defer resignation—“I can always fall on my sword next time”—then misguided policies go fatally unchallenged.

For those who have never experienced it, the mystical pull of that connection to power, that feeling of being an insider, is difficult to explain. Nevertheless, it is real, and strong enough to affect even the highest-ranking, best-known, most influential people in America. John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, named his book The Room Where It Happened, because, of course, that’s where he has always wanted to be. A friend who regularly runs into Lindsey Graham in Washington told me that each time they meet, “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 powerful big kid likes me! ”

LOL nothing matters. Cynicism, nihilism, relativism, amorality, irony, sarcasm, boredom, amusement—these are all reasons to collaborate, and always have been.

This, of course, was the insight of the “alt-right,” which understood the dark allure of amorality, open racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny long before many others in the Republican Party. Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian philosopher and literary critic, recognized the lure of the forbidden a century ago, writing about the deep appeal of the carnival, a space where everything banned is suddenly allowed, where eccentricity is permitted, where profanity defeats piety. The Trump administration is like that: Nothing means anything, rules don’t matter, and the president is the carnival king.

My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse. When Marshal Philippe Pétain, the leader of collaborationist France, took over the Vichy government, he did so in the name of the restoration of a France that he believed had been lost. Pétain had been a fierce critic of the French Republic, and once he was in control, he replaced its famous creed—Liberté, égalité, fraternité, or “Liberty, equality, fraternity”—with a different slogan: Travail, famille, patrie, or “Work, family, fatherland.” Instead of the “false idea of the natural equality of man,” he proposed bringing back “social hierarchy”—order, tradition, and religion. Instead of accepting modernity, Pétain sought to turn back the clock. “Rather Hitler than Blum,” the saying went—Blum having been France’s socialist prime minister in the late 1930s.

To Americans, this kind of justification should sound very familiar; we have been hearing versions of it since 2016. The existential nature of the threat from “the left” has been spelled out many times. “Our liberal-left present reality and future direction is incompatible with human nature,” wrote Michael Anton, in “The Flight 93 Election.” The Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham has warned that “massive demographic changes” threaten us too: “In some parts of the country it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.” This is the Vichy logic: The nation is dead or dying—so anything you can do to restore it is justified.

Whatever criticisms might be made of Trump, whatever harm he has done to democracy and the rule of law, whatever corrupt deals he might make while in the White House—all of these shrink in comparison to the horrific alternative: the liberalism, socialism, moral decadence, demographic change, and cultural degradation that would have been the inevitable result of Hillary Clinton’s presidency.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet—Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William Barr—are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking.

I am afraid to speak out. Fear, of course, is the most important reason any inhabitant of an authoritarian or totalitarian society does not protest or resign, even when the leader commits crimes, violates his official ideology, or forces people to do things that they know to be wrong. In the United States of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal; free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington also told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships.

In February, many members of the Republican Party leadership, Republican senators, and people inside the administration used various versions of these rationales to justify their opposition to impeachment. They mocked the Democratic House leaders who had presented the charges. They decided against hearing evidence. With the single exception of Romney, they voted in favor of ending the investigation. They did not use the opportunity to rid the country of a president whose operative value system—built around corruption, nascent authoritarianism, self-regard, and his family’s business interests—runs counter to everything that most of them claim to believe in.

The price of collaboration in America has already turned out to be extraordinarily high. And yet, the movement down the slippery slope continues, just as it did in so many occupied countries in the past. First Trump’s enablers accepted lies about the inauguration; now they accept terrible tragedy and the loss of American leadership in the world. Worse could follow. Come November, will they tolerate—even abet—an assault on the electoral system: open efforts to prevent postal voting, to shut polling stations, to scare people away from voting? Will they countenance violence, as the president’s social-media fans incite demonstrators to launch physical attacks on state and city officials?

...In due course, historians will write the story of our era and draw lessons from it, just as we write the history of the 1930s, or of the 1940s. The Miłoszes and the Hoffmanns of the future will make their judgments with the clarity of hindsight. They will see, more clearly than we can, the path that led the U.S. into a historic loss of international influence, into economic catastrophe, into political chaos of a kind we haven’t experienced since the years leading up to the Civil War."


https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... rs/612250/



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Re: Trump's Collaborators and the Judgment of History, II

Post by GuideToACrazyWorld » Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:37 pm

I think this article is built on a failed premise. It seems to imply that the GOP leadership supported Conservative principles before Trump. If they ever supported such a thing they have sold out time and time again. Trump is just the latest example. The two most recent examples I use is the inclusion of the "religious right" in the 60's and 70's and the inclusion of "neo-cons in the 80s". All political parties are built on coalition building, so it's not unusual to accept diversity. The problem with the GOP is that they have accepted so much diversity that they really don't stand for anything any more except, "We are not Democrats". That seems to be their entire reason for existing, as a catch all second party.

Prior to the "Religious Right" bring dominionisam concepts into the GOP they stood for indvidual liberty in a real way. The religious right brought the idea of theocratic law to the fore front of the party. This has very directly lead to the perception GOP as an anti personal liberty party.

Then there were the neo-cons who literally were Demecrats who believed in a strong national defense. When they were pushed out of the DNC the GOP gladly welcomed them in. The net result was a party that talked about fiscal responsibility but in practice has acted very differently. Unseeing similar miss application of keynesian economics as the DNC.

The only thing that surprises me about the GOP leadership embracing Trump is that others are surprised by the GOP leadership embracing Trump.

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Re: Trump's Collaborators and the Judgment of History, II

Post by Delenda Est » Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:23 pm

Point taken, though I would say this: People usually are equivocating when they speak of "conservatism" in America. Conservatism in its origins is an Old World perspective, generally opposed to Liberalism (beginning with the Classical Liberalism of the Founders) - it is the ethos of the privileged throne-and-altar nobility of Europe. This ethos was what the Age of Revolutions (1776-1815) set out to overturn. Conservatism is essentially the ethos of the Patriarchate, and holds that a vested social hierarchy stands atop a social order that has to be maintained. It privileges this order above values like liberty and political equality.

This, original, Conservatism is anti-Liberal, indeed anti-American by today's lights. It's the Conservatism that many of the Founders saw in their religiously zealous countrymen, and at least some distrusted (Adams spoke of the dangerous intolerance of these types, to Jefferson). Suspicion of this anti-Liberal Conservatism was what underlay the rejection of many Americans after the Founding to Catholic immigrants coming to the United States; they considered these immigrants' loyalties would not be to the new country, but to the Papal monarchy in Rome.

Conservatism in America is (in theory at least) a hybrid of this Ancien Regime Dogmatic Conservatism, and the limited-government perspective of Classical Liberalism. During the Age of Revolutions, today's regular Left-Right taxonomy of political viewpoints emerged, as what I would term "Right-Liberals" (the "Classical" Liberals) split with "Left-Liberals" over the right balance to strike between the Liberal values of liberty and equality. The Anti-Liberal Conservatives have gravitated into an alliance of convenience with the Right-Liberals, over time. By the 1950's there was an official philosophy to undergird this alliance: "Fusionism." Also by the 1950's the exigencies of the Administrative State had made Founding-era limited government a dead-letter; the question now was not Big government or no, but the uses to which Big government should be put. The midcentury Republican party had adopted a posture of Crusade against godless Communism, and that meant spending on a massive military-industrial complex which included a deeply-articulated intelligence apparatus, all put in the service of the promotion of US interests internationally (this was in stark contrast to the Republican attitude before the Second World War, which had been overwhelmingly Isolationist).

So I would not say that Right-Liberals abandoned their principles only with the 1960's; but what the 60's saw was a crystallization of the Anti-Liberal drift of the Republican party, as it enacted a Southern Strategy which moved the Illiberal populists that had been at the core of the Democratic party from the Founding to WWII, en bloc into the GOP. Those (uber-religious) populists have been the flywheel of Republican politics since that time, and have gradually taken over the party. In my view, since the Gingrich-era the GOP has descended to become what the Founders saw all political parties as - a party-before-country Faction. It was not difficult for an Authoritarian Demagogue to take control of this Faction. In 2008 we saw a clear hint of it, with the popularity of Sarah Palin.

"Conservatism" in the United States has styled itself as family-and-freedom-loving, but scratch the surface and it's clear that its patriotism is the anti-Liberal value system of the Patriarchate. For a long time the Right-liberal Mandarins of the GOP stoked racial animus and cultural Ressentiment to motivate this culturally conservative populist class to vote for their plutocratic agenda, until finally the populists rose in revolt under Trump. Of all things, game-show host Donald Trump has finally revealed that the real, enduring political divide in America is not "liberal vs. conservative," but Liberal (of the entire left-right political spectrum) vs. Authoritarian.

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Re: Trump's Collaborators and the Judgment of History, II

Post by GuideToACrazyWorld » Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:37 pm

Delenda Est wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:23 pm
Point taken, though I would say this: People usually are equivocating when they speak of "conservatism" in America.
That's a very good point. I did a series of political write ups for disqus that talked about much of what you are talking. That is part of the issue with terms like "right" and "left" or "liberal" and "conservative" they have different regional meanings and different meaning throughout time. Many of them have there bedrock in very specific contexts where they make sense (often the French Revolution), but as we've clung to them outside of that they have become confusing.

While the GOP and the Conservative movements try to claim that are heir apparent to the founders, the founders were, in fact liberals, but their liberalism was very different then what we think of today.

All of this is why I normally refuse to use moderen political terms to describe myself and most often use the term "classical-liberal".

I really should dig up those old write ups, polish them a bit and post them here.
Delenda Est wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:23 pm
"Conservatism" in the United States has styled itself as family-and-freedom-loving, but scratch the surface and it's clear that its patriotism is the anti-Liberal value system of the Patriarchate. For a long time the Right-liberal Mandarins of the GOP stoked racial animus and cultural Ressentiment to motivate this culturally conservative populist class to vote for their plutocratic agenda, until finally the populists rose in revolt under Trump. Of all things, game-show host Donald Trump has finally revealed that the real, enduring political divide in America is not "liberal vs. conservative," but Liberal (of the entire left-right political spectrum) vs. Authoritarian.
It's really both. The Compass and Nolan charts try to reconcile this issue by splinting political ideologies into two axis instead of 1. Using authoritarian vs libertarian separate from Communist vs Capitalist economics. https://www.politicalcompass.org/ does a really good job of charting our leaders on these axis. What we see is that the overwhelming majority of politicians in the US fall into the Authoritarian/capitalists quadren. Meaning when considering the full gambit of political thought they have more in common then different. Don't tell Biden and Trump, it might ruin all the fun.

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