Every Internet essay worth its salt eventually invokes the ghost of Adolf Hitler, so let me cut right to the chase and ask the dumbest question imaginable: Where do you land on Herr Hitler?
If you’re reading Paste, my guess is that you’re not a white nationalist of any stripe, have no swastika or ‘88’ tattoos, and don’t carry a well-thumbed pocket-sized copy of Mein Kampf. So your answer is probably standard, and accurate: Hitler was a dangerous genocidal maniac, and one of history’s worst human beings.
Yes. Yes to all of the above. But there’s another way to look at Hitler (“Hold on, I swear this is not what it sounds like,” I say, as the mob backs me into a corner), which is that at heart, divorced from the larger political context, he’s not much different from your run-of-the-mill mediocre American psychopath—the one who occupies roughly one in ten small towns in our country, murders cats and dogs as a child, and, if the world is lucky, eventually either goes crazy or gets imprisoned for some minor crime before he works his way up to human murder. If the world is not lucky, that person becomes a functioning psychopath and poisons the well of society in various ways.
And yet, one of the miracles of human existence is that there aren’t very many people like that. Various studies have shown that psychopathology actually stems from a deficiency of brain function—the concept of the genius serial killer is bullshit—that results in the inability to experience empathy with one’s fellow humans. The beauty of evolution is that the vast majority of us have developed past this stage, possess a kind of communal impulse, and are actually averse to needless murder. I remember, in my more optimistic youth, marveling as I read about the early history of humanity—before we developed weapons of mass murder, but also before the punitive legal codes that made killing a bad idea for concerns beyond the ethical—that humans didn’t just run around laying waste to one another constantly. That said something beautiful about humanity, I told myself, while more or less ignoring all that opportunistic warfare and slaughter. Regardless, there was a kernel truth to my naivete—despite institutional and national corruption, we live in a world where most people stop at traffic lights, and pay for the goods they want to buy, and refrain from killing another person when they feel frustrated.
Nevertheless, once in a while a psychopath manages to gain real political power. The story of how Hitler became Hitler—and why Germany saw him not as Charlie Chaplin did, as an unhinged raving lunatic, but as a legitimate political savior—is a story of bad luck, bad timing, and national desperation. But it’s also a story of the “good German.” You’ve heard the theory before: The people who should have known better—who ignored the gathering darkness and the heartbreaking cruelty and both normalized and institutionalized Hitler’s madness—are the ones who deserve the real blame. They had the good sense to stop him, and they never did.
In short, nature produces aberrations like Hitler with some regularity, just as it will produce humans with certain specific physical defects. There will never be a world without psychopaths, but they will always be a rarity. When one claws his way to power, though, that is not nature’s fault, and it is not even the psychopath’s fault—after all, the psychopath is not “normal,” and is behaving in accordance with his own skewed mental rhythms. The fault, instead, lies with the people who understand how the world should function morally, and go along with the psychopath anyway. They are the enablers, without whom the psychopath would have a more limited impact.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. Don’t worry, I’m not making a direct comparison between our president and Hitler. Trump is not Hitler, and he may not even be a psychopath. He is a fame-obsessed narcissist, and if someone were to give him ultimate power, I don’t think he’d shrink at using it to murder his enemies in the way of petty tyrants the world over, but I don’t necessarily believe that he’d start a genocide, either.
No—the comparison I really want to make is between Germany and America. In the same way that the good Germans failed to stop a madman’s ascent in sufficient numbers, since that madman helped them achieve power and political goals, so the Republicans in Congress are betraying the credos of their country each day that they fail to denounce, in the harshest terms possible, the increasingly deranged and dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.
The James Comey firing is a bridge too far, at least for anyone with a remaining shred of sanity or integrity. An honest look at this incident leads to a very simple and inarguable conclusion: Trump demanded loyalty from Comey (literally!), was rebuffed, watched in alarm as the Russia story gathered momentum, saw that Comey was on the verge of testifying, that grand juries had been convened, that Comey had in fact requested more funds for the investigation, decided to nip it in the bud by firing the guy, made up a dumb excuse with drummed-up support from Sessions and Rosenstein, and then essentially admitted that Russia was the real reason.
The facts are very, very plain that this is obstruction of justice, in its most naked form. They canned Nixon for this same crime, and the comparison is not lost on Democrats. If we’re still in a functioning democracy—a conceit that is very much in doubt—this should be the end of Trump. If it’s not? Well, then we’re witnessing the end of the American democratic experiment, the end of checks and balances, and the start of something far more frightening and despotic, where our liberties will begin to erode at alarming speed since there is no longer anything standing between the president and absolute power. Lose this battle, and everything else will be lost too.
The political realities of America mean that the Democrats are hopeless and impotent, thanks to years of neoliberalism in which they have forfeited any claim to represent the working or middle class of the country. To use an expression from sports, they’re in rebuilding mode, and with the centrists still choking off the progressive left (they can’t learn a simple lesson), and with Republicans gerrymandering individual states and continuing their assault on voting rights, they’ll probably screw that up too, and be feckless and incompetent and irrelevant for years to come. Forget the Democrats.
This leaves us with the Republicans. They’re the only ones who can stop Trump now, but it would require putting their partisan interests aside and possibly harming their own side in order to save the country. This is a problem for them, because the Trumpian circus provides cover for their most precious legislative goals—cutting taxes for the rich and freeing corporations from financial, environmental, and moral accountability. With majorities in both houses of Congress, control of the executive branch and the Supreme Court, and a chokehold on state governments across the country, they can run hog wild for as long as they manage not to blow it.
Calling out Donald Trump, and demanding that he face the consequences of his obstruction, could mean the end of their time in power. It could also mean the end of America, and therein lies the choice: Do they stay quiet and toe the party line, even if that means watching their own country burn to the dying ember? Or do they put partisan interest aside and risk political loss in order to preserve the version of America they were elected to represent?
If you’ve paid attention to Republican politics over the last couple decades or so, you already know the answer.
I mean, look at this absolute coward:
Or this absolute coward:
Here’s what Paul Ryan had to say:
“It is entirely within the president’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did,” Ryan said. “The president made a presidential decision.”
And Mitch McConnell, by way of trying to forestall any kind of independent investigation:
“Our Democratic colleagues [are] complaining about the removal of the FBI director that they themselves repeatedly criticized.
The most that any of these cowards can say is that they’re troubled, and the harshest language has come from fake maverick John McCain, who was up to his usual bluster:
“Probably the most respected individual in all of the American government is probably the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” McCain said. “I’m very sorry that this has happened.”
“I regret it, I think it’s unfortunate,” McCain said. “The president does have that constitutional authority. But I can’t help but think that this is not a good thing for America.”
If you didn’t know any better, that might sound like a good start, but this is John McCain, who the GOP trots out every once in a while to pretend they have an ounce of integrity, but who will always, always, always fall back in line, regardless of how vile the policy or politician he ends up supporting.
Aside from these vague concerns, from a small handful of GOP politicians, it’s radio silence.
And the funny thing is, it would just take one of them—even one who isn’t very prominent—to say in no uncertain terms that Trump is essentially a criminal and needs to be stopped. The president’s approval ratings are miserable, dipping to record lows below 40 percent, and any Republican who stakes out anti-Trump turf, on the grounds that he loves America more than he loves partisan politics, would probably be hailed as a kind of savior. Democrats would love it, Republican voters would respect the honesty, and if you believe that Trump is at the start of a tailspin that’s going to see him removed from office before he finishes out his term, then this hypothetical “honest Republican” would be riding the very front of a wave that’s about to crash over everyone.
But—spoiler alert—it ain’t gonna happen. If there was a Republican with real courage, who put the priorities of the nation above the priorities of the party, he or she would have emerged by now. In fact, those priorities tell the story pretty well all by themselves. When your mission as a political bloc is to make life worse for all but the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations, you’ve already passed your moral crossroads, and the chance that you’ll care about the collapse of an entire system meant to protect those people is just about nil. So don’t waste your time praying for one of them to make the courageous, ethical choice—in this party, there is no courage, and no ethics.
In short, we’re probably screwed. Been nice knowing you, America.