Donald Trump is gone from high office, thank goodness — at least for now, and I hope forever. I’m not so sure how to summarize the damage he has done, and is still trying to do, to our little American experiment in democratic self-governance. It feels like quite a lot, and the damage is ongoing.
As a past-his-prime scribbler with a smallish (but very smart) audience, I can’t do much to help my beloved country move beyond the horror of the Trump experience. But I can pass along smart writing that might move someone in that direction.
One such example is an Atlantic magazine piece by Peter Wehner, who worked in the White House under three Republican presidents and whose public work during the Trump years has been eloquent and consistent in rejecting what Trump has done to his Grand Old Party.
The full piece is online, and after a few excerpts, I’ll provide a link below, although I don’t know if non-subscribers to The Atlantic can access it. I assume it will be in the October issue, which hasn’t arrived yet. It begins:
“That Donald Trump has acted recklessly and lawlessly, without empathy, as if he lives in a world devoid of moral rules, should surprise no one. Some of us warned back in the summer of 2016 that Trump was erratic, unstable, and temperamentally unfit for office. He had what I referred to then as a ‘personality disorder.’ I believed then and I believe now that it is the most essential thing to understand about him. Trump in power couldn’t end well…
“Trump never found a way to escape the antisocial demons that haunt him. But here’s what turned a personal tragedy into a national calamity: He imprinted his moral pathologies, his will-to-power ethic, on the Republican Party. It is the most important political development of this century.
“The GOP once advertised itself as standing for family values and law and order, for moral ideals and integrity in political leaders. Such claims are now risible. The Republican Party rallied around Trump and has stuck with him every step of the way.
“Republican officials showed fealty to Trump despite his ceaseless lying and dehumanizing rhetoric, his misogyny and appeals to racism, his bullying and conspiracy theories. No matter the offense, Republicans always found a way to look the other way, to rationalize their support for him, to shift their focus to their progressive enemies. As Trump got worse, so did they.
“Republicans defended Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape and alleged hush-money payments to a porn star. They defended him when he obstructed justice to thwart the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and sided with Russia over U.S. intelligence during a press conference in Helsinki, Finland. They defended him after learning of his effort to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. They defended him despite his effort to overturn the election by pressuring state officials to ‘find’ votes and send fake electors, by wallpapering the country with lies, and by instigating a violent assault on the Capitol. The ex-president continues to peddle the Big Lie to this day, and any Republican who challenges it is targeted.
“MAGA supporters have had countless opportunities to take the exit ramp, and they have always found reasons not to. At some point, when an enterprise is thoroughly corrupt, staying a part of it, helping it along, refusing to ever speak up, is not just a mistake in judgment; it is a failure of intellectual and moral integrity. This doesn’t mean that every area of a MAGA supporter’s life is devoid of rectitude, of course. But it does mean that one important area is. And that needs to be said.
“So, no, I am not suggesting ‘giving up’ on individual MAGA supporters, writing them off, throwing them out of polite society — even if I were in a position to do any of those things, which I’m not.
“I am suggesting that much of MAGA world is authoritarian, that Liz Cheney is right to turn all her political energies to opposing it, and that containing and defeating MAGA — not hoping it will change, not placating its grievances — is now the No. 1 priority for friends of democracy. Maybe we’ll succeed, maybe we’ll fail, but the mission is unavoidable. And honorable.”