It seldom ends well for a tyrant, but how about the people?
Rare are there moments of such extreme clarity as the one we’re now experiencing in America. Either you stand against the bigoted madness of a bullying sociopath, or you push the nation into the abyss with it. Millions of citizens are fighting back, trying in their own way to keep us from descending into fascism, from becoming a racist state. Unfortunately–and perhaps unsurprisingly–many elected officials and business leaders have proven feckless and opportunistic. We know where they stand.
In Eliot A. Cohen’s scorching Atlantic essay about new Administration in the wake of a disastrous first week, he writes, “the biggest split will be between those who draw a line and the power-sick.” We’ve already witnessed both sides of the divide, with Washington lifers bolting the State Department en masse to loudly register protest, and with Sean Spicer willing to speak outrageous lies as ordered and Paul Ryan and Mike Pence now supporting a Muslim ban they previously deemed un-American.
Cohen’s certain those who stand by this unscrupulous monster will be forever tarnished by the association, and while I wish I could agree, even a genuine German Nazi like Wernher von Braun was able to reinvent himself as an American hero. Historical moments can present a clear line, but the long arc of history is a fuzzier thing.
Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.
The question is, what should Americans do about it? To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.
For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.•