Like most readers of this blog, I grew up with a strong interest in U. S. government, a youthful patriotism, and a whole-hearted belief in American democracy. That democracy, I believed, was not only reliable but permanently established. I brought that confidence with me into military service. When I was discharged several years later my conviction remained just as robust, undimmed by military experience. As a civilian, although I became less credulous my basic trust in America was not damaged until the presidency of Donald Trump. Politicians I’d once trusted were willing to give him free range to strip the country of its greatest asset.
This blog (JohnJustThinking), begun in mid-2013, didn’t initially focus on presidential politics but on religious liberty, origins of morality, and church/state issues. Foreseeing what has by now become obvious, however, in September and October of 2016 I published two posts pointing out Trump’s despotic danger to America. Why? This was no regular presidential candidate—not just an instance of Republican versus Democrat—but one so unfit for office as to endanger the republic. His fitness did not improve following the November election. He did not become more “presidential,” nor did he become more truthful, more knowledgeable about, or committed to the Constitution. He was uninterested in the rule of law except as an impediment that deserved only to be kicked aside.
Many Republicans, though not all, saw through Trump’s pathological narcissism, realizing a tragic mistake had been made by the electorate. They continued for a while to see Trump with the same disgust as they did in pre-election debates. For some Trumpists, Hillary Clinton’s phrase “deplorables” was as apt as it was politically unwise. Actually, of course, most Republicans understood the Constitution, the rule of law, and the damage of forsaking truth, quite unlike the shallow, unthoughtful way Trump did, that is, if he ever considered them at all.
But Republican leaders in increasingly shameful, risky increments decided to compromise, ignoring Ben Franklin’s adaptation of a Latin phrase, “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” After all, this ignorant, unprincipled man had been honestly elected to the same office as George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. Clearly, Trump was not a Republican, but he could be real Republicans’ instrument for transforming the judiciary and reaching other conservative aspirations despite his egregious flaws, fleas be damned.
But the would-be masters became the servants, as often happens when compromisers think they have the upper hand. Republicans in the House and Senate (the majority party in both for two years at that time) would be able to educate the loutish but unexperienced newcomer. Therefore, real Republicans with the strength of greater numbers and more skilled understanding of parliamentary maneuvers could keep him in line. But they underestimated Trump’s dogged determination and his disregard for the rules they knew by heart.
His was not a proficiency like theirs, but more a raw, undisciplined law of the jungle that recognizes no norms. Thus it was that Trump did not become more like real Republicans except in a few self-serving ways. Real Republicans became more like him, not just in abandoning truth, but in attitudes about deficits, trade, domestic free markets, rule of law, limited presidential power, checks and balances, and the vaunted Constitution itself. The Republican party was no more, having become in all but name, the Trump Party.
But recognition that a new party has developed from the ashes of the old was by no means the worst part. The gravest aspect of all these phenomena is the chipping away of America’s status as a long-established democratic republic. Trump and those who’ve become his minions have ushered in a sequence of changes that dangerously mimics an irreversible slip toward autocracy.
Consider the personalization of the presidency (a la Louis XIV’s “l’etat, c’est moi”). Observe his acting as if the majesty of the office is his, not the people’s. Cringe as he treats employees of the nation as if they are day laborers holding jobs due to his twisted definition of loyalty to himself. Be ashamed that we disrespect America’s patriots by empowering a presidency driven by personal revenge, loss of political safeguards, one man’s pathological narcissism, a despicably weak Republican Senate and, for two years, Republican House.
Am I comparing Donald to Adolf? No; things haven’t gone that far and, I trust, never will, though taking even a small risk of such disaster goes far beyond unwise. Useful comparisons can be made, however, to changes that typically precede loss of respected norms and rule of law, even in minor ways toward unbridled misuse of power, weakening of the free press, control of information, and berating (and threatening) individuals who use Congressionally established whistle blower laws, a useful managerial tool especially in very large organizations though Trump construe them as personal disloyalty.
Needless to say and particularly evident in the recent impeachment proceedings, Trump’s sycophants—seeking to escape his wrath or earn his favor—defended and protected him in ways that with their own pre-Trump values they’d have scorned. Senate Republicans demonstrated how far Trump has crushed their previous civic morality. Their craven behavior now would have severely embarrassed, even mortified those pre-Trump selves.
The president emerged spewing vengeance, reprisal, misunderstanding of democracy, bullying, disregard for the Constitution, and undisciplined conduct of his office. Yet we cannot overlook that Trump might be a negligible problem if his malevolence had not been protected and even adopted by most of the Republican Party. Republicans in the Senate and House dirtied themselves by neglecting their obligation to the nation, leaving Trump to abuse power as he wished. During Trump’s post-acquittal display of childish anger, high level officials, eager to enable his behavior, supported him with their adolescent laughter, cheering the reckless remarks delivered more like an authoritarian strongman than an American president.
No surprise. Donald Trump is not chastened. He is not bowed. He is, in fact, strengthened. His supporters disgracefully continue to foist his presidency upon the America to which they swore an empty allegiance. Their honor is as besmirched as is his to whom we as a people in grave error granted the presidency and stewardship over not only civic decency but whatever American exceptionalism and goodness we have left.
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Of 214 essays that I have written and posted to this blog since launching it in mid-2013, the following 37 are largely or exclusively focused on Donald Trump. All 214 posts can be accessed by month or by topic using the lists to the right.
- “America’s celebration of ignorance,” Sept. 26, 2016.
- “October relief…sort of, Trump’s still here,” Oct. 28, 2016.
- “Please, Mr. President Elect,” Nov. 15, 2016.
- “What does a proto despot look like?” Dec. 12, 2016.
- “Flirting with fascism in Trump’s America,” Jan. 23, 2017.
- “Trump and the new American truth,” Feb. 10, 2017.
- “Despot Don,” Feb. 27, 2017.
- “Congratulations, Trump voters,” Mar. 6, 2017.
- “You and I deserve Despot Donnie,” Mar. 20, 2017.
- “Prerequisites for the presidency,” May 30, 2017.
- “Our republic…if we can keep it,” July 3, 2017.
- “Fish rot from the head,” Aug. 18, 2017.
- “Moral courage and the Trump threat,” Nov. 30, 2017.
- “Aiding and abetting injury to America,” Jan. 6, 2018.
- “A disgraceful leader implicates all,” June 19, 2018.
- “Trusting our leaker-in-chief in Russia,” June 22, 2018.
- “Mr. de Tocqueville, we got the government we deserve,” July 18, 2018.
- “Trump is NOT America’s problem,” Sep 10, 2018.
- “Enemies of the people,” Nov. 1, 2018.
- “Risking America,” Jan. 3, 2019.
- “The great wall of Cyrus,” Jan. 10, 2019.
- “A plea to my United States Senator,” Jan 26, 2019.
- “That wall between us,” Feb. 7, 2019.
- “Political philosophy, political behavior,” Mar. 18, 2019.
- “Mueller and beyond,” Mar. 25th, 2019.
- “The shaming of America,” Apr. 18, 2019.
- “Republicans light just one little candle,” Apr. 21, 2019.
- “Vehicle versus destination,” May 22, 2019.
- “America’s risk of autocracy,” May 27, 2019.
- “America after Trump,” July 19, 2019.
- “The Republican conspiracy,” Aug. 27, 2019.
- “Red caps to tin pot,” Oct. 17, 2019.
- “Lying for god and party,” Sep. 1, 2019.
- “Lemmings, not leaders,” Oct. 24, 2019.
- “The president is above the law,” Dec. 19, 2020.
- “Decline of American governance and homo sapiens,” Jan. 13, 2020.
- “The Senate has failed,” Feb. 3, 2020.