|I am not a crook.|
Over Thanksgiving I had a conversation with an old friend from my home town. As we were reminiscing, one of the topics that came up was the fact that both of us Winsted, Connecticut kids now living in Iowa and California remember how we started our adult lives as Republicans, following in the footsteps of our New England Republican parents. Republicans were people who stood tall, acted responsibly, damn the torpedoes, kept their promises, worked hard, and viewed failure as an opportunity to learn something new. We knew we were special because we were proud children of a Puritan heritage. (I know, I know. The witches of Salem. Nobody's perfect.)
We asked the same question most erstwhile Republicans are asking these days: how could the Republican Party have fallen down so far? What is it about this wretched Trump phenomenon that has led to this state of affairs where air and water regulations are tossed aside as the coal industry is encouraged to believe their jobs are secure? Where the public schools are in the hands of a charter school advocate and alligators now run the swamps generally? The answer, I suspect, is an all-around drop in public morality. A political party doesn't lead; it follows. There is a critical mass of folk that enabled us to put a man in office that seems to have taken us as low as we can go - he has made it plain for all the world to see that our highest ethical value is a love of money. He has argued that the fact of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi's killing cannot override the fact that the U.S. makes millions off the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Never mind that that statement is itself false; it reveals the moral code Trump lives by.
Those of the "realist" school of thought have always argued governments must never confuse morality with national self-interest. It's just that in the past they accepted the need for hypocrisy in defending national policy based on financial gain. The only thing that has changed, from a "realistic" perspective is that we now have a president who speaks the truth. He doesn't pretend to be a nice guy, and that's a good part of the reason he has as many supporters as he does.
The opposing school of thought is the "idealist" school of thought, comprised of those who insist we should live by standards of good behavior we can all sign on to - have signed on to in writing our Constitution, for example. To the realists, idealism is just another form of naïveté. You can't live as a lamb in a world of wolves, they argue.
Hearing Trump dismiss the killing of Khashoggi really got me down. Maybe I need to have a little talk with myself about my desire to live with hypocrisy, but this bare-ass revelation of America as an unabashed greed-filled nation is depressing. I'll take the naïve - if that's what it is - displays of patriotism as America as a land of opportunity, a place where you can dream of a better life for your children, a shining example for the rest of the world. It actually was this at times, despite its masking of its dark side, and I mourn its passing.
But while I'm tempted to see Trump as an example of how low we can go, I'm reminded regularly that there are moments when Republicans have brought us to moral lows before. One of those times was when Reagan convinced the Iranians to hold off releasing the hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran to assure he got elected instead of Jimmy Carter. (I know this case is contested, but I see enough evidence to find it plausible.) And, as Rachel Maddow has just revealed, LBJ also lost to Nixon rather than reveal that Nixon had thwarted LBJ's peace plan in Vietnam in order to assure a Republican win - his own - thus keeping the war going and costing thousands of American lives.
Trump's bad, but he wasn't the first to put his own personal gain over the interests of the nation. It is possible, of course, that his need to malign the media puts him in a category of his own. Straight out of the tyrant's handbook is his "enemy of the people" epithet.
History will tell us which of these three Republican presidents - Reagan, Nixon and Trump - have done more actual damage and cost more human lives. I'm going with Nixon at the moment, because of his sabotage of LBJ's peace plan. I really hope you'll have a look at that. Here's the link again.
Enver Hoxha is said to have killed 10% of his own population. Pol Pot allegedly killed 20% of his. Japanese militarism under General Tojo killed an estimated 5 million. And that was small potatoes compared to Hitler's 17 million and Stalin's 23 million.* There are far worse tyrants than the self-serving pishers in the American political scene who persuade their party to let them have a go at making them richer.
So far we're in good shape. The New York Times, which Trump says is failing, has doubled its stock value since the whiny baby-man was handed the reins. And ditto for most of America's mainstream press, now growing by leaps and bounds thanks to digital technology. So much for "enemies of the people."
Maybe you're not ready to drop your pessimism. Maybe the stunning gains in the House will turn out to be meaningless if we end up with more years of a Mexican standoff in Washington.
As for me, I'm going to spend more time watching people sing and dance.
And remember, we survived Richard Nixon.
*added Monday 1:38 p.m. - a comment from my friend Daniel Bisgaard:
Surprised you left off the clear champion in the 20th century's bloodiest leader. Just search: "how many deaths did Mao cause?" I see estimates ranging from 42 to 78 million.By all means, yes. My only hesitation here is that I don't want the point to be missed that we don't gain anything by assuming evil should be understood quantitatively. I remember a wonderful moment when I heard Gore Vidal address a crowd of gay people in San Francisco about the persecution of gays under Hitler. Vidal cited the numbers of pink triangle victims who died in concentration camps, and a member of the audience got up to protest that, all things considered, the numbers pale in comparison to the number of Jews who lost their lives in the camps. Vidal's response was, "Are you in real estate?"