Here are a couple of articles to read together.
The first is by Mark Leibovich at The Atlantic, The Most Pathetic Men in America. Want to guess who it’s about? This is a nice piece of writing, btw. If you run into a subscription firewall, try opening it in a a private or incognito window in your browser.
It begins by explaining that the only place Trump would ever eat out while in Washington was in his hotel down the street from the White House.
Each night, assorted MAGA tourists and administration bootlickers would descend on the atrium bar on the small chance they’d get to glimpse Trump himself in his abundant flesh—like catching Cinderella at the castle, or Hefner at the mansion.
The hotel gave every impression of being a tight and well-managed operation, in contrast to the proprietor’s side hustle down the street. Lots of Washington reporters would hang around the establishment, too. We could always pick up dirt that Trump and his groveling legions tracked in. The place was crawling with them, these hollowed-out men and women who knew better. You might catch Rudy rushing out to smoke a cigar, red wine staining his unbuttoned tuxedo shirt (that was the night of the Mnuchin wedding, I think). Or see Trump’s favorite pillowy-haired congressmen—fresh off their Fox “hits”—greeting the various Spicers, Kellyannes, and other C-listers who were bumped temporarily up to B-list status by their White House entrée.
But the guests who stood out for me most were Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy and the busybody senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham.
Apparently these two liked to work the room and brag about all the good things they were doing for their president. They “proved themselves to be essential lapdogs in Trump’s kennel,” Leibovich writes.
“You know what I liked about Trump?” Graham asked last month during a speech at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Nashville. “Everyone was afraid of him. Including me.” Laughter!
That’s … pathetic. Frankly, I can imagine some Nazi hanger-on saying the same thing about Hitler, ca. 1932. Of course Trump is pathetic, and Leibovich gives us some rich paragraphs describing how pathetic Trump is before turning back to Graham and McCarthy.
It’s been said before, but can never be emphasized enough: Without the complicity of the Republican Party, Donald Trump would be just a glorified geriatric Fox-watching golfer. I’ve interviewed scores of these collaborators, trying to understand why they did what they did and how they could live with it. These were the McCarthys and the Grahams and all the other busy parasitic suck-ups who made the Trump era work for them, who humored and indulged him all the way down to the last, exhausted strains of American democracy.
The bottom line, as described by Leibovich, is that these two crave relevance. They want to be in the center of things; they want to be in the room where it happens. And once Trump became the center of power in Washington, those two were drawn in like moths to a lamp. “There was always a breathless, racing quality to both men’s voices when they talked about the thrill ride of being one of Trump’s ‘guys,'” Leibovich writes. At one point he asked McCarthy about his “legacy,” and McCarthy shows him photos of himself with various celebrities. One gets the impression that service and accomplishment are alien concepts to these two.
Again, this is a great piece of writing and worth reading. But the other piece is at the New Yorker — again, you can read an article or two every day using private or incognito windows, which is how I read it. And this is by Jonathan Chait, Scenes From the Republican Surrender to Trump.
This article is a review of a book by Tim Miller, Why We Did It: A Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell. Miller is a writer and political consultant who has worked for “normal” Republicans, people like John McCain, John Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. Unlike some others he was a never-Trumper all along and left the Republican party at some point. But it took him a couple of years after Trump’s election to do so. Chait:
After concluding his self-examination, Miller turns his lens onto several of his colleagues whose breaks with Trump took longer, or, in some cases, did not occur at all. He finds a subtle blend of rationalizations. And while the specifics of every Trump-supporting Republican differ, one motif of his subjects is a failure to summon the imagination and moral courage to break free from their career path and social identity. By the time you have attained a job in Republican politics that carries enough influence to matter, you have enough at stake professionally and socially that truly abandoning the party becomes as difficult to imagine as a fish leaving the water for land.
That sounds right. If being a Republican insider is the thing you’ve built your adult life around, and from which you draw most of your self-identify, walking away from that must seem like suicide. So they don’t walk away. They adapt.
Perhaps the most surprising factor Miller identifies in his subjects, very much including himself, is their profound cynicism. One would expect any seasoned political operative to exhibit some level of detachment from their field given that the work inevitably requires sanding down complex truths into slogans and taglines. But Miller reveals that he and his colleagues considered the whole enterprise fundamentally bullshit. Nearly to a person, they thought of politics as a game, and they considered the absence of ethics a mark of sophistication.
And I don’t doubt the same is true of some Democrats; I hope not all of them. But it was that cynicism that made the rise of Trump possible. It’s all bullshit, so just go with the flow.
One doesn’t need to see these Republicans as monsters to grasp their untrustworthiness. Miller presents them as achingly human. It is their humanness that renders them so terrifyingly weak and vulnerable in the face of evil. The only thing standing between the Republican Party and a second death blow is a soft pink wall of timorous apparatchiks. Miller’s tell-all should make us far more afraid.
Hannah Arendt got it, or got close to it.
“For when I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to a phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial. Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain.’ Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all… He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing… It was sheer thoughtlessness—something by no means identical with stupidity—that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period. And if this is ‘banal’ and even funny, if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann, this is still far from calling it commonplace… That such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together which, perhaps, are inherent in man—that was, in fact, the lesson one could learn in Jerusalem.” ? Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
I’m not sure whether it’s a failure to think as much as a failure to give a shit about anything beyond one’s personal ambitions, although maybe that’s the same thing.
Now I’m thinking about Josh Hawley, a man who must have a brain but who has chosen to check it at the door because brains aren’t in now, you know? Hawley would give himself a lobotomy if it would make him president. Possibly he’s done that already.
And speaking of banality, get a load of Eric Schmitt’s television campaing ad —
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) July 5, 2022
If machine gunning corn fields on television worked for Eric Greitens in 2016, why not? It’s not like any of these people have any clue how to solve the nation’s problems. They just want to be relevant.