Trump’s Repub­li­can col­lab­o­ra­tors

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Re­cent state­ments by a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Ten­nessee, Bob Corker, sug­gest that the tide is turn­ing against Trump. Corker sniped that, “the White House has be­come an adult day care cen­tre,” be­fore warn­ing that Trump’s Twitter threats may put the US “on the path to World War III.” Sim­i­larly, Sen­a­tor John McCain warned of the threat posed by a “half-baked, spu­ri­ous na­tion­al­ism.”

But true po­lit­i­cal hon­our de­mands more than veiled con­dem­na­tions (McCain did not men­tion Trump by name in his speech), or sim­ply quit­ting, as Corker and Se­nior Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Pat Tiberi of Ohio are do­ing. Rather, it calls for cross­ing the po­lit­i­cal aisle, as Win­ston Churchill (no doubt a hero to all of them) did, when he switched from the Lib­eral to the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

As Churchill demon­strated, there is no shame in shift­ing po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances. There is, how­ever, shame in loy­alty to a dis­graced or de­plorable party or cause. And any Repub­li­cans to­day who think they can de­lay break­ing defini­tively with Trump, with­out ir­re­versibly dam­ag­ing their own rep­u­ta­tions, should re­call the fate of oth­ers – in the Soviet Union in 1917, in Ger­many in 1932, and in Rus­sia and Turkey to­day – who thought they could tame a mon­ster.

Con­sider Niko­lai Bukharin, a favourite of Vladimir Lenin and the edi­tor of Pravda. For more than a decade af­ter the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion, Bukharin tried to rec­on­cile his aca­demic un­der­stand­ing of “the dic­ta­tor­ship of pro­le­tariat” with its real-world im­ple­men­ta­tion. This wasn’t so dif­fi­cult while Lenin was in charge: de­spite the blood­shed the new regime en­gen­dered, mass mur­der wasn’t its main pur­pose or source of en­ergy.

That changed with the ar­rival in power of Joseph Stalin, for whom ter­ror was both a means and an end. None­the­less, Bukharin aligned with Stalin to purge Leon Trot­sky and other Bol­she­viks who sought to ad­here more closely to Lenin’s dic­tates (and his tes­ta­ment against Stalin). Bukharin rea­soned that Stalin’s meth­ods were en­abling the Soviet Union’s rapid de­vel­op­ment into an in­dus­trial power, and the fu­ture of com­mu­nism was far more im­por­tant than the loss of a few thou­sand lives – or even a few mil­lion.

Bukharin would soon re­gret that rea­son­ing. Once Trot­sky was out of the way, Stalin turned on all the other se­nior Bol­she­viks, call­ing them “en­e­mies of the peo­ple” – a phrase that Trump’s pop­ulist sup­port­ers, like United King­dom’s hard­line Brex­i­teers, have re­vived to de­nounce any­one who dares chal­lenge their “blood and soil” code. Bukharin was ex­e­cuted in 1938.

Franz von Papen also bet that he could tame a dic­ta­to­rial dem­a­gogue. To ad­vance his own po­lit­i­cal ends, Papen per­suaded Ger­man Pres­i­dent Paul von Hin­den­burg to ap­point Adolf Hitler as Chan­cel­lor in 1933. A sea­soned and au­to­crat­i­cally in­clined politi­cian, Papen thought that, once Hitler was in power, he could con­trol the Nazi leader, whom Papen re­garded as a pro­vin­cial blowhard.

In­stead, on the ‘Night of the Long Knives’, the Nazis hunted and ex­e­cuted Papen’s trusted associates, Her­bert von Bose and Erich Klausener, and seized con­trol of the gov­ern­ment. Papen’s fate was kinder than Bukharin’s, though: Hitler shipped him off to serve as am­bas­sador to Aus­tria and then to Turkey. Af­ter World War II, Papen was ac­quit­ted at the Nurem­berg tri­als.

Boris Bere­zovsky, Boris Yeltsin’s trusted oli­garch-hench­man with his own murky rep­u­ta­tion, sim­i­larly un­der­es­ti­mated a would-be au­to­crat. It was Bere­zovsky who brought Vladimir Putin to Yeltsin’s at­ten­tion, an­tic­i­pat­ing that the diminu­tive ex-KGB of­fi­cer was the ideal can­di­date to pro­tect the Yeltsin fam­ily’s riches – and Bere­zovsky’s own wealth – once Yeltsin re­tired. Yet, soon af­ter Putin was in power, Bere­zovsky lost his busi­ness em­pire and was forced to em­i­grate to Eng­land, where he ul­ti­mately died un­der sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances.

Fi­nally, in Turkey, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and his pre­de­ces­sor Ab­dul­lah Gul worked to­gether to cre­ate the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP), which has dom­i­nated Turk­ish pol­i­tics since 2002. But, as Er­do­gan has con­cen­trated power in his own hands, he has si­lenced Gul. Like­wise, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter and AKP leader Ah­met Davu­to­glu long sup­ported Er­do­gan, un­til deep­en­ing dis­agree­ments – at times rooted in Er­do­gan’s con­tempt for the very po­si­tion of the prime min­is­ter – forced Davu­to­glu to step down last year.

Of course, Amer­ica’s democ­racy is stronger than that of Turkey or Rus­sia. But with his shame­less lies and re­lent­less at­tacks on those who dis­agree with him – and his re­cent sug­ges­tion that it might be ap­pro­pri­ate to “chal­lenge” a ma­jor US news net­work’s broad­cast li­cense – Trump has shown that he is not in­ter­ested in ad­her­ing to demo­cratic norms.

A weak­ened democ­racy is an ex­ceed­ingly high price for the US to pay – and for what? At first, Repub­li­cans wanted to use Trump to help them pass leg­is­la­tion such as a re­peal of the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act (“Oba­macare”) and tax re­form. But, af­ter ten months of con­trol­ling the pres­i­dency and both houses of Congress, Repub­li­cans have ac­com­plished al­most noth­ing leg­isla­tively. At this point, it seems that they sim­ply want power for power’s sake – and that means beat­ing, not co­op­er­at­ing with, the Democrats.

But that may be chang­ing. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have al­ready joined with Democrats to en­act “Trump-proof” sanc­tions against Rus­sia, and lately there have been moves to­ward co­op­er­a­tion on main­tain­ing the sub­si­dies on which Oba­macare de­pends (af­ter Trump cut them by ex­ec­u­tive or­der).

These are steps in the right di­rec­tion. But, with Trump’s be­hav­iour be­com­ing in­creas­ingly capri­cious and dan­ger­ous, it is not nearly enough. Repub­li­cans who care about end­ing up on the right side of his­tory can­not stay on Trump’s side any longer.

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