What will happen to Trump’s collaborators?

I found this extremely well-written piece, by a well-known NYT writer who also happened to be in my junior high school homeroom here in DC, in the Daily Intelligencer. I certainly hope he is right that they will land in the cesspool of history. But in actual fact, many criminals do get away with virtually everything, and no, I did not ask Frank’s permission permission before reprinting this.

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What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies?

Look to Nixon’s defenders, and the Vichy collaborators, for clues.

By Frank Rich  ( @frankrichny )

Irony, declared dead after 9/11, is alive and kicking in Trump’s America. It’s the concepts of truth and shame that are on life support. The definition of “facts” has been so thoroughly vandalized that Americans can no longer agree on what one is, and our president has barreled through so many crimes and misdemeanors with so few consequences that it’s impossible to gainsay his claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Donald Trump proves daily that there is no longer any penalty for doing wrong as long as you deny everything, never say you’re sorry, and have co-conspirators stashed in powerful places to put the fix in.

No wonder so many fear that Trump will escape his current predicament scot-free, with a foregone acquittal at his impeachment trial in the GOP-controlled Senate and a pull-from-behind victory in November, buoyed by a booming economy, fractious Democrats, and a stacked Electoral College. The enablers and apologists who have facilitated his triumph over the rule of law happily agree. John Kennedy, the Louisiana senator who parrots Vladimir Putin’s talking points in his supine defense of Trump, acts as if there will never be a reckoning. While he has no relation to the president whose name he incongruously bears, his every craven statement bespeaks a confidence that history will count him among the knights of the buffet table in the gilded Mar-a-Lago renovation of Camelot. He is far from alone.

If we can extricate ourselves even briefly from our fatalistic fog, however, we might give some credence to a wider view. For all the damage inflicted since Inauguration Day 2017, America is still standing, a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump, and the laws of gravity, if not those of the nation, remain in full force. Moral gravity may well reassert its pull, too, with time. Rather than being the end of American history as we know it, the Trump presidency may prove merely a notorious chapter in that history. Heedless lapdogs like Kennedy, Devin Nunes, and Lindsey Graham are acting now as if there is no tomorrow, but tomorrow will come eventually, whatever happens in the near future, and Judgment Day could arrive sooner than they think. That judgment will be rendered by an ever-more demographically diverse America unlikely to be magnanimous toward cynical politicians who prioritized pandering to Trump’s dwindling all-white base over the common good.

All cults come to an end, often abruptly, and Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult. While cult leaders are generally incapable of remorse — whether they be totalitarian rulers, sexual Svengalis, or the self-declared messiahs of crackpot religions — their followers almost always pay a human and reputational price once the leader is toppled. We don’t know how and when Donald Trump will exit, but under any scenario it won’t be later than January 20, 2025. Even were he to be gone tomorrow, the legacy of his most powerful and servile collaborators is already indelibly bound to his.

Whether these enablers joined his administration in earnest, or aided and abetted it from elite perches in politics, Congress, the media, or the private sector, they will be remembered for cheering on a leader whose record in government (thus far) includes splitting up immigrant families and incarcerating their children in cages; encouraging a spike in racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic vigilantes; leveraging American power to promote ethnic cleansing abroad and punish political opponents at home; actively inciting climate change and environmental wreckage; and surrendering America’s national security to an international rogue’s gallery of despots.

That selective short list doesn’t take into account any new White House felonies still to come, any future repercussions here and abroad of Trump’s actions to date, or any previous foul deeds that have so far eluded public exposure. For all the technological quickening of the media pulse in this century, Trump’s collaborators will one day be viewed through the long lens of history like Nixon’s collaborators before them and the various fools, opportunists, and cowards who tried to appease Hitler in America, England, and France before that. Once Trump has vacated the Oval Office, and possibly for decades thereafter, his government, like any other deposed strongman’s, will be subjected to a forensic colonoscopy to root out buried crimes, whether against humanity or the rule of law or both. With time, everything will come out — it always does. With time, the ultimate fates of those brutalized immigrant and refugee families will emerge in full. And Trump’s collaborators, our Vichy Republicans, will own all of it — whether they were active participants in the wrongdoing like Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Kirstjen Nielsen, Mike Pompeo, and William Barr, or the so-called adults in the room who stood idly by rather than sound public alarms for the good of the Republic (e.g., Gary Cohn, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson), or those elite allies beyond the White House gates who pretended not to notice administration criminality and moral atrocities in exchange for favors like tax cuts and judicial appointments (from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr.).

Such Trump collaborators are kidding themselves if they think that post-Trump image-laundering through “good works” or sheer historical amnesia will cleanse their names of the Trump taint as easily as his residential complexes in Manhattan have shed their Trump signage. A century of history — and not just American history — says otherwise.

To take two examples from the Nixon era, the White House criminals Charles Colson and Jeb Stuart Magruder both found God and dedicated themselves to ministries after doing time for Watergate-related crimes. (They were among 69 charged and 25 imprisoned.) But you won’t find their ostentatious efforts at spiritual redemption at the top of their Wikipedia entries or referenced more than fleetingly in the vast Nixon-Watergate literature. Nixon lackeys who did nothing illegal generally fared no better: The New Jersey congressman Charles Sandman, a House Judiciary Committee impeachment holdout until a few days before Nixon’s resignation, lost a seat he had held since 1966 in the subsequent 1974 midterms (48 other GOP members of Congress were wiped out as well) and would wind up the decade dishing out steamed crabs at a joint on the Jersey shore and losing a jury trial on the charge of slandering a police officer. When a Senate counterpart, Ed Gurney of Florida, a vocal Nixon defender on Sam Ervin’s Watergate Committee, died in 1996, his family tried to keep his death a secret, presumably to avoid renewed attention to his past.

Some Nixon loyalists on Capitol Hill escaped oblivion — most notably the Mississippi congressman Trent Lott, from a district that had voted 87 percent for Nixon in 1972 (Nixon’s strongest in the nation). So did some White House flacks well removed from Watergate like Pat Buchanan and Diane Sawyer. Others, prefiguring Sean Spicer’s debasement on Dancing With the Stars, landed B-list (and lower) media gigs: The Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy appeared on television’s Miami Vice and MacGyver, and a ditzy Jesuit speechwriter prominent in the White House spin offensive, John McLaughlin, found a secular throne for himself at an odious Beltway chatfest, The McLaughlin Group, after abandoning the priesthood. Like their Trump counterparts, countless Watergate principals wrote tell-all books, many of them best sellers, running the gamut from H. R. Haldeman’s The Ends of Power to John Ehrlichman’s Witness to Power.

But there aren’t any die-hard Nixon supporters in either chamber of Congress who are now remembered as patriots, no matter what else they did with their careers before, during, or after his presidency. The figures who live on are those like Ervin and Judge Sirica, who brought Nixon to justice, and, as the historian David Greenberg has noted, “those loyalists who abandoned Nixon early, when it mattered.”

HuffPost reported in 2017 that the Trump Justice Department took down the portrait of one of the few heroes who stood up to Nixon’s abuses of power from within his administration, Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Whether Richardson’s deaccession was an act of denial, gallows humor, or a conscious or subconscious admission of guilt, it was an impotent gesture — not least because Watergate has with time proved an inadequate analogy for Trump’s metastasizing scandals. The stench of disrepute that will cling to Trump’s collaborators is likely to exceed the posthumous punishment of Nixon’s dead-enders for the simple reason that Nixon’s White House horrors weren’t in the same league.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving.

In both cases, impeachment was driven by the revelations of illegal efforts to sabotage a rival presidential candidate and the ensuing cover-ups. But the gravity of the specifics differ by several orders of magnitude. The cash that Nixon & Co. tapped to fund the break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters (and the subsequent hush money to the burglars) came from his own donors; Trump, by contrast, sought to bankroll his effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens by appropriating nearly $400 million in Congress-mandated foreign aid paid for by taxpayers. And while the Nixon White House hired freelance bumblers to spy on the Democrats, Trump commandeered a cabal of Cabinet officers, diplomats, and Rudy Giuliani–recruited thugs to try to muscle the head of state of a foreign ally into doing his bidding.

The disproportionality between Trump’s history and Nixon’s hardly ends there. Trump is not Hitler, but some of his actions, starting with his repeated, barely coded endorsements of white supremacists, suggest it’s not for want of trying. Nixon and his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, exploited racial resentments and backlash to the civil-rights movement to attract bigots to the GOP through a new “southern strategy.” Ugly as that was (and is), it pales next to Trump and his campaign’s explicit alignment with those “fine people” who stir hate, bullying, and incendiary alt-right conspiracy theories into an inflammatory dark-web brew. However much Trump’s courtiers try to compartmentalize, they can’t separate themselves from his flirtations with neo-Nazis.

Nor can Trump’s enablers escape the stain of his alliances with murderous neo-Hitlers and neo-Stalins in Russia, Syria, Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, and North Korea. Whatever else is to be said about Nixon, not for a second would he have favored the worldview and national interests of a strongman like Putin over that of America and its allies, or taken Putin’s word as a former KGB agent over that of America’s own intelligence agencies. It’s this aspect of Trumpian rule that sinks to depths previously unfathomable for an American president and makes Trump’s collaborators look less like the corrupt government bureaucrats and hacks of All the President’s Men and more like the traitorous elites who wittingly or idiotically enabled Hitler in the 1930s.

The notion of Vichy Republicans is hardly hyperbole. Christopher R. Browning, an American historian of the Holocaust and World War II–era Europe, wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2018 that those who rationalized their original support for Trump on the grounds of “Better Trump than Hillary” — and are now reupping for 2020 — are channeling those on the right who proclaimed “Better Hitler than Blum” in France in the 1930s. Such Frenchmen, Browning writes, went so far as to empower their country’s “traditional national enemy across the Rhine” and its Nazi dictator rather than reelect the sitting prime minister, Léon Blum, a Jewish socialist who would have preserved French democracy. (In defeat, Blum would become an opponent of Vichy and end up in Buchenwald.)

Make no mistake: The current “Better Trump than Warren” (or Sanders) crowd is repeating this history. Their credo might as well be “Better Putin, Erdogan, and Assad than Warren,” for Trump is serving as an unabashed proxy for our present-day mini-Hitlers while simultaneously trying to transform American democracy into an Ultimate Fighting Championship ring of chaos, corruption, and dysfunction. Prominent Trump supporters like Kennedy, of course, fiercely deny that they are pro-Putin (even though the president himself never has), but that doesn’t vitiate the real-world consequence that by standing with Trump, they are advancing the interests of Russia even as it conducts cyberwar against their own country and threatens some of the same American allies Hitler did.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate with fascists and help them seize power; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving. As the authoritative American historian of Vichy France, Robert O. Paxton, has pointed out, it was only “a rather small minority” of France’s wartime collaborators who were motivated by an actual “ideological sympathy with Nazism and Fascism” to go along with the Nazi puppet regime fronted by Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy. A more widespread incentive was “personal gain.” Others rationalized their complicity by persuading themselves they were acting in the “national interest.” It would be no surprise if that distribution of motivations persists among Trump collaborators today. Such backers as the financier Stephen Schwarzman and New York real-estate titans like Stephen Ross of Hudson Yards no doubt congratulate themselves on acting in the “national interest” while pocketing personal gains measured in either political influence or on a profit-and-loss statement.

In France, such ostensible moral distinctions among collaborators were rendered moot in the long-delayed and gruesome postwar reckoning. All roads led to the same destination: Starting in 1942, Vichy shipped some 76,000 Jews in mass deportations to their doom. The exiled were mostly foreign refugees, Paxton writes, who had previously “relied upon traditional French hospitality.” Their blood was on every collaborator’s hands. The collaborators’ common postwar defense — that things would have been far worse if they had not been working on the inside — was repurposed by the Trump official responsible for the brutal treatment of immigrants who had relied upon traditional American humanity. “John F. Kelly Says His Tenure As Trump’s Chief of Staff Is Best Measured by What the President Did Not Do” read the headline of the exit interview he gave the Los Angeles Times. Good luck with that in the long-term court of public opinion. France wrestled with Vichy’s legacy for decades before 1995, when the French president Jacques Chirac abjured denial and officially confirmed his nation’s complicity in the wholesale deportation of Jews.

If you look back at the elite figures who lent their clout and prestige to clearing Hitler’s path before or during World War II, it’s striking how such folly and inhumanity remains immutable across national boundaries and centuries. The amalgam of nationalism, isolationism, and nativism embraced by Trump shares its DNA not just with the Pétainists of France but Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement cohort in England and America First, the movement whose name Trump appropriated without (of course) knowing what it was. America First, though originating as a campus-centric peace campaign, was hijacked by a rancid mob of Hitler acolytes and peace-at-any-price dupes that included, most famously, Charles Lindbergh. Many of these Hitler enablers had elaborate rationalizations for their actions that mirror those of Trump’s highest-profile shills today. Robert Taft, the hard-right isolationist senator from Ohio, wrote the script for Better Trump than Hillary–ism nearly a century ago: America should not go to war with Germany, he argued, because “there is a good deal more danger of the infiltration of totalitarian ideas from the New Deal circles in Washington than there will ever be from the activities of the … Nazis.”

Another parallel is exemplified by the Trump collaborator and donor Gordon Sondland, even now, somehow, still the ambassador to the European Union. He’s a zhlubby discount-rack answer to Joseph Kennedy, a far more successful and clever mogul who served as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to the U.K. from 1937 to 1940. Until FDR shut him down, Kennedy tried to conduct a rogue foreign policy to advance Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts to the point of counseling the Nazis that they could get away with brutalizing Jews if they would just do so with less “loud clamor.” Much as Sondland, Trump, and Giuliani thought nothing of leaving Ukraine vulnerable to Putin’s aggression by holding back military aid, so Kennedy thought that Hitler should be free to conquer expendable smaller countries in Eastern Europe. “I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would want to go to war to save the Czechs,” he wrote in a draft of a speech before the White House nixed it. As went the Czechs then, so have gone the Ukrainians and Kurds today.

The antecedents for Trumpist enablers from the tycoon sector both within and outside the White House — Cohn, Schwarzman, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, et al. — can be found in those now-vilified captains of 1930s American industry who were prime movers in various back-channel schemes to appease Hitler. The America First Committee’s members included Henry Ford, an unabashed anti-Semite who was name-checked admiringly in Mein Kampf, and Avery Brundage, an Illinois construction magnate and president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who bent to Hitler’s will by yanking the only two Jewish competitors on an American team in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. James Mooney, the General Motors overseas president in charge of its European operations and another America First committeeman, took it upon himself to do his own Giuliani-Sondland-like shadow diplomacy by securing face-to-face meetings with Hermann Göring as well as Hitler. He claimed to be seeking peace, but had he succeeded, he would have facilitated Germany’s conquest of Europe much as Trump and his supplicants have been green-lighting the imperial designs of Russia and Turkey.

These businessmen’s machinations did not bring about peace in their time but did bring financial quid pro quos that fattened their bottom lines. Hitler’s regime gave Brundage’s company the commission to build its new embassy in Washington. More than a half-century after V-E Day, researchers confirmed that Ford and GM’s German operations had manufactured armaments for the Nazi war machine, sometimes with slave labor. Alfred P. Sloan, the longtime GM chairman, explained his philosophy: “An international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the countries in which it is operating.” Surely Jared Kushner, Mnuchin, and Schwarzman couldn’t have put it any better as they cavorted with Mohammed bin Salman at his investment conference in Riyadh in October, a year after the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. As with Ford, Brundage, Mooney, and the rest, any loot they accrued in exchange for their pact with the Devil will be unearthed in good time.

While some Hitler appeasers faced swift retribution — FDR shut down Joseph Kennedy’s personal political ambitions for good — others would get their due later. In 1998, nearly four decades after his death, Mooney would at last face an accounting: Newly discovered documents, triggered in part by litigation on behalf of Holocaust survivors, would show, as the Washington Post put it, that in consultation with Göring, “he was involved in the partial conversion of the principal GM automobile plant at Rüsselsheim to production of engines and other parts for the Junker ‘Wunderbomber,’ a key weapon in the German air force.”

One imagines that high-toned Trump collaborators deplore Khashoggi’s murder (though not when in Saudi Arabia). And they may (privately) roll their eyes at Trump’s palling around with bigots. For heaven’s sake, some of them are Jewish themselves, and so is the First Daughter! But America First also claimed to be foursquare against anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Lindbergh, Ford, and Mooney all received medals of appreciation from the Third Reich before the war. Like the Trump White House, the America First Committee deployed token Jews to try to deflect critics, including Florence Kahn, a former Republican congresswoman from California; it even hired a Jew as the first publicity director of its New York chapter. But such disingenuous stunts, like Trump’s soporific teleprompter-scripted condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after mass shootings, didn’t deter American Nazi wannabes from flocking to the organization’s ranks, among them the followers of the unabashedly anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin. Ivanka Trump’s observance of the Sabbath has not stopped her father from retweeting anti-Semitic memes or prevented “Jews Will Not Replace Us” thugs from rallying around #MAGA.

In Hitler in Los Angeles, his groundbreaking recent history of wartime Nazism in California, Steven J. Ross might as well have been writing about Charlottesville when he observes that “America First enabled previously disreputable hate groups to move from the margins to the mainstream of American life and politics.” The anti-Semitic dog whistles of Lindbergh and his prominent peers gave a pass to violent extremist groups of that time like the American Rangers and the Royal Order of American Defenders. The Trump GOP has revived the tradition: Not only did House members meet with Chuck Johnson, a Holocaust denier who raises money for the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, but Florida’s irrepressible freshman congressman Matt Gaetz invited him to cheer Trump at the 2018 State of the Union.

No one can predict posterity’s judgments, but if the past is any guide at all, this is not going to end well for Trump’s collaborators. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church cult leader who was welcomed into the Oval Office by Nixon and whose brainwashed “Moonies” gathered en masse on the Capitol steps to pray and fast for three days during impeachment, may have found his farcical descendants in Trump’s Christian stooges. Witness the offspring of Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — the Donald Trump Jr.’s, if you will, of America’s pagan Evangelical racket. Franklin Graham has preached an Old Testament parallel between Trump and David, while Jerry Jr. is now fending off inquiries into his and his wife’s antics, business or otherwise, with a pool boy they befriended at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. (For his part, Moon was eventually engulfed by repeated post-Watergate scandals, including a conviction for tax fraud and obstruction of justice that sent him to prison in 1982.) The rhetoric of Nixon’s and Trump’s mad-dog defenders can be interchangeable, too. There’s more than a little of the degraded Lindsey Graham in the legendary Today show appearance by Earl Landgrebe, a die-hard anti-impeachment vote on the House Judiciary Committee, the day before Nixon resigned in August 1974. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind,” he said. “I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” (The voters shot him soon enough; he received only 39 percent of the vote in his safe Indiana district three months later.)

But such similarities understate the case. The stakes are much higher when an American president is putting the nation, and its Constitution, in jeopardy by abusing his power to aid America’s foreign foes. Someone like Graham is less likely to be remembered as another Landgrebe than as another Burton Wheeler, a senator from Montana who began his career as a conventional New Deal Democrat and morphed into an America First Nazi appeaser. As Graham countenanced Trump’s empowering of Putin and his assault on Ukraine, so Wheeler opposed aid to England and other American allies when war broke out in Europe. He is best known now — and may be in perpetuity — as the fascist vice-president to Lindbergh’s president in Philip Roth’s World War II counter-history, The Plot Against America. (David Simon is soon to bring out a television version.)

Mitch McConnell has led another, even graver reenactment of the Hitler-appeasers’ playbook by slow-walking or ignoring intelligence-agency alarms about Russian interference in our elections past, present, and future. His congressional antecedents did the same when Germany tried to sabotage the election of 1940. As the story is told by Susan Dunn, a historian at Williams College, in her 2013 book 1940, the chargé d’affaires at the German Embassy in Washington, Hans Thomsen, wielded “money, a cohort of isolationist congressmen, senators, and authors, and a bag of dirty tricks,” hoping to realize goals tantamount to Putin’s ambitions: “to convince Americans that fascist aggression posed no danger to them, to discourage them from pouring billions of dollars into national defense and military aid for the Allies, and, finally, to engineer Roosevelt’s defeat in 1940.”

Even without social media in his arsenal, Thomsen’s dirty tricks uncannily anticipated Russia’s 21st-century disinformation tactics. He funneled financial aid to an isolationist “Make Europe Pay War Debts” Committee to rile up Americans against European allies, lent aid to ostensibly grassroots organizations with names like “Paul Revere’s Sentinels” rallying against American entry into war with Germany, and clandestinely underwrote newspaper ads lobbying for the same. With a secret subsidy, he paid an isolationist congressman, Hamilton Fish of New York, to corral anti-interventionist colleagues before a GOP convention platform committee to push a resolution “unequivocally opposing any American involvement in the war in Europe.” Thomsen even helped engineer a fake news stunt worthy of Russia’s propaganda schemes on Facebook by using the isolationist Montana representative Jacob Thorkelson to slip a counterfeit Hitler interview into the Congressional Record. It had “Hitler telling a reporter that American fears of him were ‘flattering but grotesque’ and calling the idea of a German invasion of the United States ‘stupid and fantastic.’ ”

Any historical parallels, alas, end there. Germany’s attempted election sabotage failed in 1940. The Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie, an interventionist, as their presidential candidate, rather than an isolationist favored by the Nazis, and the reelected FDR led America to war. By contrast, Russia may have succeeded in moving the electoral needle in 2016, and may again in 2020, with the blessings of the Putin-admiring American president and his quisling of a secretary of State Pompeo, not to mention the pliant Moscow Mitch, the double-dealing Barr, and the rest of their collaborators in the executive branch and Congress.

Those who continue with Trump on this path, if they have any shred of conscience or patriotism left, would be advised to look at their historical predecessors of the appeasement era, not the more forgiving template of Watergate, if they wish to game out their future and that of family members who bear their names. They might recall that Lindbergh was among the most popular figures, if not the most popular, in the nation before lending his voice to America First. He had won the cheers of the world after piloting the first nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic and then its sympathy after his 20-month-old son was murdered in a sensational kidnapping case. More than a decade after V-E Day, when Hollywood decided it was at last safe to profitably resurrect that heroic young Lindbergh in an adulatory 1957 biopic, The Spirit of St. Louis, some theaters refused to book it despite the added halo of the most unimpeachable all-American star, Jimmy Stewart of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jack Warner reputedly called it “the most disastrous failure” in the history of Warner Bros. In the following decade, Lindbergh inched back into the spotlight as a philanthropist campaigning for the World Wildlife Fund. “I don’t want history to record my generation as being responsible for the extermination of any form of life,” he declared, prompting the popular syndicated columnist Max Lerner to respond, “Where the hell was he when Hitler was trying to exterminate an entire race of human beings?”

Some of Lindbergh’s fellow isolationists sought to reclaim their reputations after the war, too, but as the historian Geoffrey Perret wrote, they “would generally be regarded for years to come as stupid, vicious, pro-Nazi reactionaries, or at least as people blind to the realities of a new day and a menace to their country’s safety.” Taft, the rigidly isolationist senator who bore a White House lineage (William Howard Taft was his father), failed in two subsequent presidential runs after his first attempt imploded as France fell to the Germans in 1940. Once known as the towering “Mr. Republican,” he now is barely remembered even by Republicans.

A comparable figure in England was Lord Londonderry, né Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, a former Tory British air minister whose entanglement with Nazi leaders and push for Anglo-German friendship in the 1930s mirrors Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and their posse’s infatuated courtship of Putin’s Russia. As the English Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw writes in Making Friends With Hitler, Londonderry “spent his later years in a relentless, but fruitless, campaign” for vindication. “Was he, as his detractors claimed, a genuine Nazi sympathizer — ‘a Nazi Englishman’ as he was dubbed? Or was he merely a gullible, naïve and misguided ‘fellow-traveler of the Right’?” Though Londonderry “had no truck with the fanatical fascists, or the wide-eyed cranks and mystics who fell for Hitler lock, stock and barrel,” Kershaw concludes, in the end it didn’t matter.

His actions worked to Hitler’s advantage, and his “reputation was ruined.” His fitting permanent memorial is Lord Darlington, the fictional English aristocrat whose outreach to the Nazis and ensuing downfall are observed with a certain sorrow and pity by his butler, Stevens, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic novel The Remains of the Day.

No less a sage than Ted Cruz told friends while preparing his 2016 convention speech that “history isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” according to the Politico journalist Tim Alberta’s account in American Carnage. But so harsh was the base’s blowback after he refused to endorse Trump in that address that he has been holding Mussolini’s jacket ever since.

What are Cruz and all his peers afraid of? “Every member of the French Resistance faced the strong possibility of torture, deportation, and death,” wrote Charles Kaiser, whose book The Cost of Courage tells of one Resistance family during Vichy. “The most a Republican senator risks from opposing a corrupt and racist president is a loss at the polls.” And even at that, there can be rewards down the road. Larry Hogan, the current Republican governor of Maryland, recently reminisced to the New York Times about his father, Lawrence Hogan, who was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to come out in favor of impeaching Nixon in 1974. “He lost friends in Congress,” the younger Hogan recalled. “He lost the support of his constituents and he angered the White House. But history was kind to him. He was known as a courageous guy. I think it’s the thing he is most remembered for and the thing I’m most proud of him for.”

Trump’s enablers and collaborators are more Londonderry than Hogan. It is too late for them to save their reputations. We must hope that it is not too late to save the country they have betrayed.

 

Fascism vs Communism

Do you understand how the Italian Fascists took power roughly 100 years ago?

Have you read letters or articles from black Southerners who were essentially re-enslaved when the Ku Klux Klan and their allies violently suppressed Reconstruction?

Have you heard the voices of those suppressed during the racist coup d’etat of 1890 in Wilmington, NC?

Have you seen eyewitness accounts of the the mass murders and lynchings of black sharecroppers in Arkansas, Oklahoma and elsewhere who dared to organize for a fair deal for the sharecroppers, or to run their own businesses?

Have you read the letters or diaries of relatives who were blacklisted or red-baited out of jobs after losing strikes in the coal fields and factories or campuses?

Unfortunately, it is the winners – who are generally the rich, the racists, and the rapacious scoundrels of this world with good PR machines – who generally get to dictate what gets written about history (and that includes the lying tyrants like Stalin or Mao who usurped the mantle of communism for their own benefit!). It is to the credit of Howard Zinn and other left-wingers that they began the process of correcting and revising the standard histories of the United States and other countries.

I was wondering how it was that in Italy, which had a very strong tradition of working-class or peasant socialist or anarchist thought and action, the Fascists were able to take over. This article in Slate, I think, explains it.

“The rise of fascism in the provinces of the Po Valley, in northern Italy, occurred in reaction to the remarkable postwar growth of Socialist power. During the biennio rosso (red two years), between 1918 and 1920, Socialists made huge electoral gains nationally and locally, while labor unions unleashed a wave of strikes unprecedented in Italian history. In the Po Valley, the Socialists established a virtual “state within a state,” winning control of municipal government, labor exchanges, and peasant leagues (unions). Socialists also founded cooperatives, cultural circles, taverns, and sporting clubs.3 Such working-class organizations exercised their power largely through legal means—elections, boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations—which nonetheless often led to clashes with police, with injuries and deaths on both sides.

“Political culture and the social order had been radically altered, with rough peasants and workers occupying the halls of power and red flags hanging from town halls. For landowners, life in this new “red” state meant higher wages, higher taxes, reduced profits, lost managerial authority, deteriorating private property rights, and the threat of social revolution. Moreover, displays of red flags, busts of Marx, and internationalist slogans offended nationalist and patriotic middle-class sentiments.4 Conservatives denounced the “red terror” and “atrocities” of this period, though the landowners and middle classes were in little real physical danger.5They were not physically assaulted, nor were their homes, offices, or private property damaged or destroyed. Yet, from their perspective, they lived in a world turned upside down. The Socialists had virtually “taken over,” and the liberal state appeared to have lost control of law and order.

Fascist squads of armed men personally beat up and humiliated all of the left-wing labor or peasant leaders, threatening their families as well, in town after town. They destroyed left-wing offices, printing presses, meeting halls, and forced elected officials to quit or be killed. All the while, the local police or military did absolutely nothing to stop them, and the left was much too divided to fight back militantly. Eventually, the Italian king invited the fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, to become the official leader of the country. He, in turn, then made all other parties illegal and launched various imperialist wars in Africa and the Balkans, helping set the stage for World War 2 – helping the Fascists come to power in Spain as well.

“…the most immediate and powerfully symbolic form of squadrist violence was the annihilation of the institutions of the Socialist Party, “but the ‘conquest’ of Socialist organizations and municipalities was reinforced and made possible by terror exercised against individuals.”7 The peasant leagues, cooperatives, labor halls, and social clubs—the entire infrastructure of the Socialist “state”—were intensely parochial institutions, organized around popular, charismatic political and labor leaders.8

Fascist squads thus practiced highly personal, localized strategies of violence and intimidation, attacking the most prominent and influential “subversives” within a given province, town, or comune. Fascists sometimes beat these men, occasionally with homicidal intent, but perhaps more commonly intimidated them until they were forced to leave town, thereby decapitating their organizations. The Fascists spent their weekends chasing prominent peasant leaders across the countryside.

Thus, life for labor leaders became terror-filled, especially because Fascists did not limit their attacks to the public sphere. Nowhere was safe. Late at night, 10, 30, or even 100 Blackshirts, as these squad members became known, sometimes traveling from neighboring towns, might surround a home, inviting a Socialist, anarchist, or Communist outside to talk. If they refused, the Fascists would enter forcibly or threaten to harm the entire family by lighting the house on fire.9

In small towns, where everyone knew everyone, Fascists inflicted ritual humiliation on their enemies, a powerful strategy of terror understood by all. Blackshirts forced their opponents to drink castor oil and other purgatives, and then sent them home, wrenching with pain and covered in their own feces. In some cases, squads forced their enemies to defecate on politically symbolic objects: pages of a speech, a manifesto, a red flag, and so on. After administering a castor oil treatment, Fascists sometimes drove prominent anti-Fascist leaders around in lorries in order to reduce them in the eyes of their own supporters.10 They also accosted their opponents in public, stripped them naked, beat them, and handcuffed them to posts in piazzas and along major roadways.11

Although individual working-class leaders might have been willing to live under the constant threat of physical attacks, most were unwilling to subject their families to such danger. Deprived of leadership, meeting places, offices, records, and sympathetic Socialist town councils, the landless peasantry became subject to the landowners’ conventional tactics of strike breaking and intimidation. Having broken the leagues, the Fascists then forced the laborers into “politically neutral” (Fascist) syndicates. Vulnerable peasants had little choice but to join. Landowners used their newfound position of power to restore labor relations to the 19thcentury status quo.

In this country, hundreds of thousands of people joined either a Socialist or Communist party at one point or another during the 20th century. In some cases, those organizations were divided by national origin (Swedes vs Russians vs Jews vs Finns vs Italians vs Blacks, etc) Many of those leftists only remained in those parties for a few months or years. But they helped re-build the American labor movement with their active, leading roles in the great industrial sit-down strikes of the late 1930s; they played important roles in the Civil Rights movement and in the New Deal. And we all know that the Soviet Red Army played the key role in bleeding the Third Reich of most of its military might and in defeating the Nazis. (Which is not to excuse any of the atrocities that the Soviet government visited upon its own people, including active communists who ended up in the gulags along with ordinary criminals or religious dissidents.)

In the late 1940s, the American government decided that all those former New Dealers or premature anti-fascists could no longer be tolerated, and the new Red Scare began. According to a recent book called “A Good American Family”, reviewed in the Washington Post,

“once the Red Scare began to gain steam, many former communists denied their pasts, refashioning themselves as ordinary liberals or refusing to talk about politics altogether. This required not only erasing the trauma of McCarthyism but also playing down the pain of breaking with a cause that had once lent so much meaning to their lives. Like many ex-communists, when Elliott did discuss his communist past, he referred to it as a mistake, a relic from a time when he was “stubborn in my ignorance and aggressive in my prejudices.”

“A Good American Family” shows us something more complex: that at one time, he thought it was possible to be a good communist, a good father and a good American all at once.”

(emphasis mine)

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