Trump was bad, but worse were his acolytes.

This is the translation of an article that appeared in NRC Handelsblad and in de Standaard on February 16.

“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless. “James Baldwin may count as one of the most enlightened writers America ever had. He referred to the racists and their enablers in his time, the 1950’s and 1960’s. This quote from The Fire Next Time is quite appropriate for what we have seen these last four years, culminating in the self-destruction of the Republican Party.

Trump was bad but worse were his acolytes, the people that made him possible. Trump can’t help himself, what you see is what you get. He does what he does. Blame should go to the people who pampered him all along, who allowed him to get his way, including the senators who acquitted him. And those who worked for him until they realized that Trump is only loyal to himself. The people who justified his behavior, allowed him to demean the presidency. Above all his party is complicit. If anything that was the message of last Saturday’s vote for acquittal.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell lived up to his reputation of moral vacuousness and shameless opportunism by acquitting Trump, only to hold him, in the next breath and in no uncertain terms, responsible for what had happened. He hid behind procedural arguments. The man was no longer president, postulated McConnell, who had been in no rush to start the trial in the week after the impeachment in the House, while Trump was still president.

McConnell’s emergency exit was taken by many Republican senators. Or rather, his example set the tone. If anyone could have stand out in history, it was McConnell. He could have led his party out of the swamp. He could have gathered a bunch worthy of ‘profiles of courage’. But McConnell had sold his soul so often that one more time didn’t matter. Now history will record that when it came down to it, Republicans forsook their job. They refused to be a check on the executive, they gave him a free ride.

Let’s face it, no one had expected that after four years of boot-licking the Republicans in the Senate would now drop Trump. Nevertheless, it is puzzling Republicans did not take this opportunity to rid themselves of Trump. No doubt a larger number than seven would like to liberate their party from the grip of this evil man. They did not have the guts. It’s a choice. The consequence is a complete surrender to Trump and his miserable family. As one son tweeted, brutal but true: 2-0. Indeed, a double defeat for political morality. Worse still, surrender to the many heavily armed right-wing violent groups who have proven to not shrink from violence. They stand by, as Trump would have it, and we will hear from them again.

We can only accept, with regret, that America has changed forever. We now know that a president can try to obstruct the constitutional procedure for electoral counting, assisted by his supporters inside and outside the Congress. Hew can do so with impunity. We now know that a president who loses elections can claim fraud baselessly, put pressure on officials, break the law, set loose violent supporters and get away with it. A precedent has been set.

We now know that the whole procedure of impeachment might just as well be tossed. It will no longer deter a sitting president. The hypocrisy is stunning. These Republicans claim to be the party of “original intent”, claiming to always consult America’s Founding Fathers and their holy works to determine what the standards for America should be, how to interpret the constitution. A dangerous tyrant like Trump was James Madison’s worst nightmare, The Federalist Papers are clear about of the purpose of impeachment. You might as well toss this article out of the window broken by the Proud Boys.

We have to conclude that America has only one party left that can be taken seriously. The Republicans, once the proud party of Lincoln, America’s best president, end in embracing the worst president ever. The Grand Old Party, as they affectionately call themselves, is not a party but a cult run by a corrupt Florida golfer. To be sure, the Republicans retain the power of obstruction, but they lack any moral authority. I find no joy in this determination. America needs an opposition party with ideas, ideals and a firm moral anchor. Choice is the essence of democracy.

Trump talked about setting up a third party. He does not have to. The GOP is all his. I wish them luck with this choice for evil. This party, in this shape, has no chance of winning the presidency again. Among the 74 million voters who dared another four years with this man, only a limited number are still happy with the choice they made on November 3. They will not make the same mistake any time soon. Acquittal or not, Trump and his constituency have no future. The GOP missed the opportunity to give itself new momentum, to expand its voter potential. Maybe that’s good news for friends of democracy if it ties people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to the Trump mast for lack of backbone. It will keep them far from power. I have no doubt that they are worse than Trump, worse than wicked, they’re evil.

One would have hoped that Trumps defeat in November brought a democratic end to a dark period in American history. The events since November 3 seem to belie that. Joe Biden may be a relief, I fear the rot in America’s edifice is too big to repair. Not Trumps acquittal per se but the behavior of Mitch McConnell and his band of soulless followers, zombies without the capacity to decide for themselves, serves as proof. It is as James Baldwin stated, a civilization cannot withstand lack of spine. This Saturday it was proven.

Copyright 2021 Frans Verhagen