A frightening look at just why Trump would gladly risk a war right now:
Trump transformed a long-simmering proxy tit-for-tat to one of direct military confrontation.
Jan. 3, 2020, 3:14 PM PST
By Charles W. Dunne, adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs
Whether Americans realize it or not, the United States has just declared war on Iran. And, in part because the declaration was less than clear, that could be even more dangerous than it sounds.
When the U.S. on Sunday assassinated Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general who directed violent anti-U.S. campaigns for more than 15 years, it transformed a long-simmering proxy tit-for-tat between the two sworn enemies to one of direct military confrontation — one to which Iran will have almost no choice but to react to forcefully (and has indeed already promised “revenge”). This could easily mean targeting U.S. troops in the Middle East, as well as U.S. embassies and military facilities farther afield, and American cyber assets throughout the world. It could also lead to attacks on U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, which carries with it the risk of a wider regional conflagration.
What all this gains us is unclear. Nothing suggests the killing of Soleimani, who commanded Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and was on a trip to Iraq, is part of a well-planned strategy to bring Tehran to its knees, or to the negotiating table. The United States has toggled between both of these aims in its long, drawn-out struggle with Tehran, and there’s no sign this contradiction has been resolved.
Until now, the Trump administration’s strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran — pulling out of the nuclear deal while ratcheting up sanctions and other forms of U.S. pressure — seemed driven by the goal of forcing some sort of peaceful accommodation with Tehran over its nuclear program and regional policies, but this abrupt escalation has cast all that into doubt and led both the U.S. and Iran into dangerous and uncharted waters. Cooler heads, on both sides, may prevail, with the immediate prospect of hot conflict cooling into a colder war. But the game seems to have been significantly changed.
Among other perils, the move suggests the U.S. hasn’t yet thought out its endgame: Where does it want to be at the conclusion of all this? What does it want to accomplish? What U.S. contingency plans are in place for when things, inevitably, go off course? The fact that these questions are apparently unanswered means that all the regular risks of undertaking war, especially in the tinder box of the Middle East, are exponentially more dangerous because of the impulsive approach President Donald Trump has taken here. …
Jan. 4, 2020 at 3:00 a.m. PST
In recent years, the United States has launched several risky military operations to kill individuals it viewed as posing a direct threat to U.S. national security, including raids against the leaders of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
But analysts warned that Friday’s airstrike on a two-vehicle convoy near the Baghdad airport that killed senior Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and several other people differs greatly from earlier strikes on extremist operatives and puts the United States — and the Middle East — in dangerously uncharted territory.
“This is a very different level of escalation,” said Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. After targeted killings of extremists, he said, the greatest cause for concern “might be a brief intensification of fighting or some kind of limited reprisals against the U.S. military.”
After the killing of Soleimani, the United States could face direct Iranian reprisals, including potential cyberattacks, analysts said. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened “severe revenge” but gave no indication of what could come.
Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said Trump is “trying to do a victory lap here and beat his chest and somehow show this is like killing Baghdadi.” She was referring to the October raid on the hideout of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria. “But it’s not. It’s much more serious,” she said.
Like Baghdadi’s, other targeted killings carried out by the United States have typically struck at extremist leaders without affiliations to a powerful state such as Iran.
But in those cases, Cordesman said, “you were killing a leader in a context of an ongoing operation against an extremist movement which did not have a major state sponsor.”…
I can’t recall a time when the U.S. assassinated a high-ranking military commander of another nation when we were not at war with that nation. I can recall us killing terrorists and extremists who were not officially within another nation’s military, but can’t remember when we killed a general from a sovereign nation during peacetime. Seems like we’re leaping into uncharted waters here and setting a precedent that could return to haunt us later.
Well, Unfortunately there actually is precedent.
The US hasn’t done this since the 1953 Iranian coup d’état also known as “Operation Ajax”. Which to be fair, was kept secret from the American people for years.
I found this Article on Vox very insightful:
Let’s start this piece with two provocative claims. The first, which is hotly contested by legal experts, is that President Donald Trump broke the law when he ordered an airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian paramilitary leader.
The second claim is that it doesn’t matter.
Part of the reason why the legal question is academic is that, even if we assume the strike on Soleimani was illegal, it’s hardly clear whether the courts can do anything to remedy an illegal assassination. It’s not like a judge could issue a writ of resurrection that restores life to the people killed in this American airstrike. And federal courts can’t hold a criminal trial of anyone involved in the Soleimani attack unless an increasingly partisan Justice Department agrees to prosecute. Nor is a judicial order likely to calm tensions between the United States and Iran.
The killing of Soleimani is the latest in a series of escalations and retaliations that began with Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal former President Barack Obama struck with Iran and includes Iranian attacks on American assets within the Middle East. Not long after the attack, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, threatened revenge.
America’s legal system is not built for a president like Trump
One of the striking things about much of American national security law is that it vests extraordinary trust in the president. The 2001 authorization of military force, for example, provides that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
Does this mean Trump could announce that he has determined Canada planned 9/11 and claim legal authorization to invade our northern neighbor? When I put this question to some of the experts I spoke with, they recoiled from the suggestion that Congress accidentally authorized a future war with Canada. But it’s hard to find language in the statute itself that prohibits such a war.
A similar issue arose in Trump v. Hawaii (2018), the travel ban case. One of the legal issues at question was whether Trump had the power to cut off travel from various nations under a statute that provides that:
Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.
As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the Hawaii ruling, this statute “exudes deference to the president in every clause.” He wasn’t wrong.
So much of America’s national security law was drafted on the assumption that the president will be a person of honor and integrity — or, for that matter, a person of basic competence and judgment — who will act to protect national security, even when many of us might disagree with their decisions.
How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way
The senator once enjoyed respect on both sides of the aisle. Why has he become a blind loyalist to Trump?
Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump were born nine years and one month apart. Trump came first, but when they appear side by side, as they often do these days, the men look about the same age. On November 6th, in the East Room of the White House, the president held an event to mark the record number of federal judges his administration has appointed, and Graham was there, having played a critical role in the achievement as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump’s staff had scheduled the event in part to shift focus from the House impeachment investigation, to remind any wobbly Republicans of the reason they’d held their noses and voted for the guy in the first place.
Over the course of his three terms representing South Carolina in the Senate, Graham had become predominantly known for two things: extreme hawkishness on foreign policy, following the lead of his close friend and mentor, the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, and a bipartisan streak that resulted in high-profile attempts to cut big deals on issues like immigration reform and climate change. A former senior staffer for a Democratic senator who has worked alongside Graham on bipartisan legislation tells me, “Like John McCain, he was a conservative Republican, but it was always worth asking where he was going to be on a particular issue, because he wasn’t completely beholden to party orthodoxy. He’d often be way out ahead of his staff, negotiating on the Senate floor unbeknownst to them, and they would be playing catch-up.”
Will Folks, a conservative political blogger in South Carolina, says, “The joke here is Graham has a ‘count to six’ approach to governing: He spends the first four years of his term doing whatever he wants, veering off toward the left, and then the last two years, when the electorate is paying more attention, he comes right.”
Graham is “never flustered, and just a natural at dealing with people who don’t like him,” says David Woodard, a political-science professor at Clemson University who ran Graham’s first two campaigns for the House of Representatives and recalls the first-term congressman as quickly becoming the unofficial social director for his freshman class, though he added, “You’re going to find Lindsey knows a lot of people, but he’s not close to anybody.”
Like much of the GOP establishment, Graham had opposed Trump during the 2015 primary, but he spoke out more forcefully than most, and in the general election, he wrote in third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Which has made his subsequent capitulation all the more breathtaking, even in the context of a modern Republican Party completely transformed into the party of Trump. In the past few months alone, in advance of a likely Senate impeachment trial, Graham has doubled down on the president’s inflammatory characterization of the House inquiry, calling it a “lynching in every sense”; preemptively announced he wouldn’t be reading any of the transcripts of deposed House witnesses, though he’ll be a juror in the trial, telling reporters he’d “written the whole process off . . . this is a bunch of B.S.”; and most recently, requested documents for a Judiciary Committee investigation into the entirely baseless claims that Trump’s leading 2020 rival, Joe Biden, pressured the government of Ukraine to fire its lead prosecutor in an effort to help his son Hunter.
Shortly after Graham’s office requested documents pertaining to the Biden investigation, a 2016 video surfaced in which Graham paid heartfelt tribute to the former vice president, calling him “as good a man as God ever created” and saying, “If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person . . . you need to do some self-evaluation.” It felt like a taped confession to a future crime, as if the old Graham, the Graham who knew better, had put his soul in a time capsule in order to shame his craven Trump-era self. Here was video evidence of Graham’s willingness to protect a man he knows to be corrupt by falsely accusing a friend of corruption. By that point, though, Graham’s debasement had been so thoroughly realized, the hypocrisy on display barely made an impact.
Graham had first come to national prominence 20 years earlier, during the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. Graham had still been a member of the House of Representatives then, elected during the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, the Newt Gingrich-led conservative backlash to Clinton. Graham, a former trial lawyer, became one of the House managers during Clinton’s Senate trial — essentially, a prosecutor tasked with making the case to the Senators as to why the president should be removed from office. A boyish 43-year-old in an ill-fitting suit, he deployed his mellifluous Southern accent as cannily as the man whose election he was trying to undo. “What’s a high crime?” he asked the chamber. “How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? It’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth. . . . It dudn’t even have to be a crime!” Deploying that “dudn’t,” especially, was pure Clinton, and watching the old clip now, Graham looks like he’s auditioning for a regional theater production of Matlock .
At the East Room event, Trump summoned Graham to the podium. The years had accentuated Graham’s jowls and moistened his pale-blue eyes. Al Franken used to describe Graham as the second-funniest member of the Senate, and in his brief remarks, Graham leavened the embarrassing obsequiousness Trump demands of his subordinates. Referring to his own disastrous 2016 presidential run, Graham began, “After I got beat like a dog — which he likes hearing — he called me over to the White House and said, ‘I’d like you to help me.’
“I said, ‘I’d love to help you be a great president, because you’re now my president.’
“He said, ‘I don’t have your phone number.’
“I said, ‘There’s a reason for that.’ ”
The crowd chuckled. Graham was referring to the moment during the Republican primary when Trump made a speech calling Graham an idiot — said he wasn’t even as smart as Rick Perry — and then gave out his cellphone number, advising his supporters to “try it.”
“The highlight of my campaign was when you gave out my phone number,” Graham continued dryly, to more laughs from the room and a beaming nod from Trump. “If I did as well as my phone number, it probably would have been a different story.”
Of course, the joke curdles a bit when you recall the context of the doxxing: Graham had provoked Trump’s wrath by having the temerity to defend McCain, whom Trump had just mocked for being captured during Vietnam. Trump was a “jackass,” Graham said at the time, predicting “the beginning of the end” for his campaign.
Four years later, at the White House event, Graham concluded his remarks with a different prediction for Trump: “When you run and you get re-elected a year from now, one of the main reasons is that people in the conservative world believe that you fight for judges. God bless you.”
Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, where Graham was a constant presence on the trail, tells me, “We see more examples of this in film and literature, but there are instances of principled men and women laying down their careers in service of what is right. Clearly, that person will never be Lindsey Graham. With regard to the cruelty and abuse that was directed at John McCain by Trump, I think Lindsey’s flaccidity in defending him says a lot about his character. Nobody wants to be in a bar fight when they go out on Friday night. But when someone walks up and punches your best friend in the face, you’ve got to do something. Lindsey has demonstrated he’s the guy who runs out the door.”
Graham’s former law partner in South Carolina, Larry Brandt, spoke with comparable bluntness when I visit him at his office in Walhalla, a sleepy town near Clemson. Graham clerked for Brandt while attending law school at the University of South Carolina. Brandt had served in Vietnam as an Air Force JAG — he’s the type of Vietnam vet who will still, if Jane Fonda’s name comes up, feel compelled to add “that bitch ” — and the pair immediately hit it off. Graham had enlisted in the Air Force ROTC program when he started college and went on to serve as a JAG lawyer himself after graduation. In 1989, after leaving the service, Graham joined Brandt’s firm, and they remain friends. “Lindsey always told me he wanted to be a politician,” Brandt says, describing his former protégé as a tremendous trial lawyer. “Lindsey comes from common people, and being the plaintiff’s lawyer, he was for the little guy.”
Brandt has voted for Republicans and Democrats, but he loathes Donald Trump, “that 4-F sonofabitch.” Nodding toward the window of the conference room where we’re sitting, he says, “My flag’s at half mast, and it ain’t going up until Trump’s gone.” Over the years, Brandt says he’s always stuck up for Graham back home, where his willingness to compromise has often left him unpopular with constituents, viewed with suspicion as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). But Brandt’s been dismayed by Graham’s shifting stance on the president. “He’s laughed with me and said Trump’s just like a little boy,” Brandt says. “He will agree with me when I say shit about Trump, when it’s me and him in here.” They last spoke over the summer, when Graham called to see if Brandt wanted to get dinner. Brandt was vacationing in Texas, but he told Graham, “I want to talk to you about some things, and I’m gonna tell you now, I’m not with you on a bunch of your issues.” They made plans to meet when Graham was back in August, but Brandt never heard from him.
One day, before Trump was elected, Graham visited Brandt at his office. “We were talking about politics, and he looked at me and said, ‘Larry, you’re too honest to be in politics,’ ” Brandt recalls. “He said, ‘Eighty-five percent of the people in Washington, elected officials and bureaucrats, would sell their mothers to keep their jobs.’ That’s a direct quote.” Two Christmases ago, Brandt ran into Graham at a restaurant in Seneca and reminded him of what he’d said. “He, of course, made a joke out of it,” Brandt says. “But Lindsey, in my opinion, has sold his mother to keep his job.”
The building where Graham grew up still stands at 217 Main St. in Central, South Carolina, a flyspeck of a town in the northwest corner of the state. I say “building” and not “house” because it’s not a house, but the last in a row of low brick storefronts, mostly empty today, running alongside a set of train tracks. Central got its name because of its location on the rail line, halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte. Graham’s father, F.J., owned a bar called the Sanitary Cafe. The family lived in back, crowded into a single room, using the same restroom as the customers and a metal wash basin, with water heated on the stove, for bathing. Woodard, Graham’s former campaign consultant, who also worked on races for Trey Gowdy and Jim DeMint, tells me that when Graham’s relatives stopped by campaign headquarters, “It was like, have you seen the movie Deliverance ?”
Graham helped run the family liquor store (the Sanitary Cafe having been sold) after both of his parents died in quick succession while he was still in college in the 1970s. One of the more revealing passages in Graham’s anodyne 2015 campaign autobiography, My Story , comes when he discovers his aptitude for trials in law school. “Conducting a trial,” he writes, “is like staging a play, and you’re the writer, director, and principal actor. I was born to do it.” Graham loved “injecting a little drama into the simplest things” — when introducing evidence, for example, he would rummage through his files before retrieving the correct page with a flourish, “in a voice that suggests an important discovery.” Filtered through this lens, Graham’s talent for sophistry in the defense of Trump makes a kind of sense, purely on the level of craft. Politics, like commanding attention in a courtroom, is performance. (Graham declined to be interviewed for this story.)
There’s little disagreement about what has been Graham’s pivotal performance of the Trump era: the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, when Graham startled spectators with an uncharacteristic, snarling eruption at his Democratic colleagues (complete with the sort of dramatic business described by Graham in his book, including literal finger-wagging and a climactic shuffling of papers). “I will tell you none of that was scripted, nor did any of his staff know it was coming,” a former senior member of Graham’s Senate staff insists. “He’s always had the view that as long as a Supreme Court nominee was qualified, the president gets his pick. He voted for Kagan and Sotomayor under Obama, which wasn’t easy. And I think he looked at how the Democrats handled the Kavanaugh nomination and was deeply furious.”
A lawmaker who knows Graham well watched the hearing with a more jaundiced eye. “To me, that was very, very ginned up,” the ex-member said. “I watched that and went, ‘Jesus Christ, come on!’ It was theatrics. The right response would have been sarcastic clapping. Really, when he finished, someone should have gone, ‘ Nice speech , Lindsey!’ ”
Sincere or not, the moment had its desired effect. Trump loved the show, and Graham received credit for turning the tide of the hearing in Republicans’ favor. More important, GOP voters in South Carolina, along with potential primary rivals — Graham is up for re-election in 2020 — took notice. Will Folks, the political blogger in South Carolina, describes Graham’s Kavanaugh defense as both “all playacting” and “the crowning moment of his latest ideological reorientation.” Prior to the hearing, Folks tells me, “not only do I think Graham would have had a serious primary challenger, but he would have lost. I wrote an article in 2017 called ‘Dead Senator Walking.’ The polling was that bad. They would not piss on him if he was on fire, as the expression goes down here. There was a visceral hatred for the man.”
John Warren, a Greenville businessman and Iraq War veteran, had been publicly talking about challenging Graham in 2020, telling Eric Bolling of the Blaze last year that South Carolina was “a great conservative state, and we deserve two conservative senators.” But with Graham’s popularity and fundraising prowess surging post-Kavanaugh defense — his poll numbers in South Carolina jumped 21 points after the hearing, from 51 percent in April 2018 to 72 percent in October 2018 — Warren quietly announced this fall that he wouldn’t be running for any office in 2020. And Graham understood, more than ever, what his political survival depended upon. Though he ultimately answered to the voters back home, he served at the pleasure of the president.
After Graham’s parents died, his sister, Darline, only 13 at the time, went to live with an aunt and uncle, but Graham became her guardian, coming home from college most weekends and eventually legally adopting her. As an Air Force lawyer in the 1980s, Graham defended clients who were going to be discharged after testing positive for marijuana by putting the sloppy lab protocol on trial, Barry Scheck-style, eventually making his national television debut when he was interviewed for a Diane Sawyer-anchored 60 Minutes segment on the cases. He’d never been “political,” he writes in My Story , until the election of Ronald Reagan, and being stationed in Germany during the final years of the Cold War cemented his hawkish foreign-policy views. Back in South Carolina, he won a state House of Representatives seat in 1992, and in 1994, riding a wave of conservative anger at Bill Clinton, he became the first Republican to represent South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District since before Reconstruction. “I’d like to think I was a genius, but I was just in the right place at the right time,” says Woodard, Graham’s campaign manager. “The main difference between Lindsey and his Democratic opponent was Lindsey had an ‘R’ next to his name, and people who couldn’t stand Clinton wanted to send a message.”
As a freshman member of Congress, Graham quickly cooled on Newt Gingrich. The frustrated group of Republicans who launched an unsuccessful coup against Gingrich in 1997 met in Graham’s office to plot. (Gingrich resigned as speaker the following year.) “Lindsey is a good barometer,” says Woodard. “He figured out his first week in office that Gingrich had a short shelf life. He was willing to say things against him as a freshman congressman! He’s not an intellectual or an ideologue, he’s not going to write a book on the conservative mantle. But he will have a sense of when the tide is changing before anyone else in the room. He can read people — voters, but also colleagues — better than almost anyone I’ve seen.”
One of the first examples of a particular genre of Graham profile, all painting him as a folksy voice of reason in an increasingly hardline GOP, appeared in The Washington Post in 1998. Headlined “Lindsey Graham, a Twang of Moderation,” the piece portrayed him as a droll, highly quotable country lawyer whose views on impeachment “are surprisingly compatible with President Clinton’s.” On the House floor, Graham had said that if the Clinton impeachment ended up being “about an extramarital affair with an intern, and that’s it, I will not vote to impeach this president no matter if 82 percent of the people back home want me to, because we will destroy this country.”
Substantively, though, the Graham of the Nineties was a fairly doctrinaire conservative, and in the end, he did vote to impeach Clinton. But his skill at being all things to all people, and his budding love of the media spotlight, was on full display in the Post story. When I speak with Bill McCollum, a former Republican House member from Florida who served alongside Graham as an impeachment manager, he praises the “quick mind” and “gentlemanly” manner of his colleague, but adds, “Even though I thought he was generally right, I would be remiss in not telling you people thought he could be too aggressive, out grabbing the mic.”
The Post article also described Graham’s Air Force tour as “terrific fun for a young bachelor swinging his way through Paris and Rome.” Graham himself, jokingly declining to discuss his “exploits,” added, “I was very heterosexual, that’s all you need to know.” Graham’s lifelong bachelorhood has been a subject of unsubstantiated speculation, and homophobic baiting, for years. During the Clinton impeachment, anonymous callers left messages at his office threatening to out him. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did an impression of Graham as a mincing Scarlett O’Hara. In 2002, when Graham decided to run for Senate — the arch segregationist Strom Thurmond finally announced his retirement at age 99 — Dick Harpootlian, the chair of the state Democratic Party, said Graham was a little too “light in the loafers” to fill Thurmond’s shoes. “I know it’s really gonna upset a lot of gay men . . . but I ain’t available. I ain’t gay. Sorry,” Graham told The New York Times Magazine in 2010.
The rumors are only relevant insofar as Graham’s record on gay rights, which, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil-rights organization, has been largely atrocious. The group describes Graham as “a consistent opponent of everything from marriage equality to protecting LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination” (though in 2015, he called for the GOP to drop its demand for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a woman and a man).
Woodard points out that Thurmond had an illegitimate black daughter he’d kept secret until his death. “There’s always this feeling that what you see in a South Carolina politician is not what you get, that there’s something in the closet,” he says. But Woodard doesn’t believe Graham is gay. “I kept his daily schedule, and if I wasn’t with him, I knew who was,” Woodard says. “In 1994, in fact, we had all these women after him. They’d hold these fundraisers and invite him over. Lindsey would tell me later, ‘It was a trap, Dave! Don’t ever send me back over there.’ But I never suspected he was anything other than an affable bachelor.”
As a senator, Graham quickly allied himself with McCain, whom he’d supported over George W. Bush in the ugly South Carolina Republican primary in 2000. “His foreign policy and immigration positions were soon indistinguishable from those of his mentor,” according to The New York Times , which effectively meant there wasn’t a war Graham didn’t support, but also that he would become a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators that passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, only to see it killed by conservatives in the House. The former Democratic staffer tells me, “He got the immigration issue, and it was clearly for the right reasons. There wasn’t a great deal of political upside in South Carolina for him to go whole hog on it.”
During the Obama years, in fact, Graham found himself assailed by conservatives as he became one of the only Republicans willing to work with the administration. An article in Politico called Graham and Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, “D.C.’s odd couple,” noting that, by 2010, Graham had “had more in-person meetings with Emanuel than any other Republican.” The former Graham staffer told me that if an issue was big and complicated and seemed unsolvable, Graham was drawn to it. “He liked to try to put the puzzle together in a way that would bring Republicans and Democrats together, which often meant swallowing policies that weren’t his preference, as long as he believed he got something in return.”
Part of Graham’s skill at consensus building came down to his personal charm. “Everyone likes having him around,” Schmidt acknowledges. “He’s a genuinely funny guy.” After Trump’s election, according to Bob Woodward’s Fear , then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus urged Graham to broach a rapport with the new president, telling him, “You’re a lot of fun. He needs fun people around him.” In Woodward’s account of their first Oval Office meeting, in March 2017, an anecdote for which Graham seems the likely source, the senator entered with a prepared speech. Trump jumped up to hug him, declaring, “We’ve got to be friends.” Graham said he wanted that, and told Trump, “I want to apologize to you for a very fucked-up Republican majority. Congress is going to fuck up your presidency. We have no idea what we’re doing. We have no plan for health care. We’re on different planets when it comes to cutting taxes. And you’re the biggest loser in this.” And then the silver-tongued country lawyer appealed to Trump’s ego, telling him, “You’re a dealmaker. These leaders in Congress don’t know how to do something as simple as buying a house. . . . There are not five people on Capitol Hill I’d let buy me a car. I’d let you buy me a car.”
Perhaps early on, Graham thought he could work Trump with flattery. The new president must have certainly made a tempting target for anyone skilled at manipulation. If you could stomach sucking up to the guy, ignore all but the very worst of his racism, bullying, and vulgarity, and then whisper your own policy preferences in his ear, details of which he would have zero interest in, other than how they might represent a “win” for him — well, maybe his cult of personality could be used to advance sensible conservative goals. That would be the charitable reading of what I’ll call the Paul Ryan Approach, an approach Graham, who’d never stopped hammering Trump during the campaign, quickly adopted. In the Woodward book, Steve Bannon describes Graham as “the best salesman around,” saying that Trump “loves Graham. Graham can sell him anything.” (Graham also told Bannon “that America First is bullshit. This is all bullshit.”)
The big test of Graham’s salesmanship came on immigration, the issue that Trump has so successfully demagogued upon. Graham was trying to help broker a new deal, one in which Trump would agree to extend the Dream Act, the program protecting undocumented immigrants who’d been brought to the United States as children, in exchange for more money on border security from Democrats. Then came the infamous meeting in which Trump referred to poor, non-white countries as “shitholes.” “Senator Graham was incensed,” the Democratic Senate staffer tells me. “He said directly to the president, ‘My forefathers came from a shithole country, too, and look at me now.’ ”
As Ryan also quickly learned, hopes that Trump might begin to curb his worse impulses proved fanciful. “Anybody who thinks he’s going to have a moderating influence on Trump pretty much always ends up going, ‘Well, that idea didn’t work,’ ” says Al Franken, who served alongside Graham on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “For Lindsey, ‘I can see every angle, and I have influence with Trump so he doesn’t go off the deep end’ is a good talking point. But I don’t think it’s shown any benefits.”
With his House majority doomed, Ryan announced his retirement. Graham, though, persisted, to the bewilderment of even those who’d worked closely with him. “When Senator Graham really began courting the president — golfing all the time with him, saying flattering things on cable news — it felt like he wanted to be the attorney general, or there was some other play there,” the Democratic Senate staffer says. “Initially we thought, ‘Well, if he ingratiates himself to the president, it helps us on immigration.’ Then there was a turn. He got much Trumpier. He became a blind defender of the president’s policies, no matter what, his fingers in his ears, ‘I’m not interested in the facts, just here to support the president.’ Which is where he is today. I’m sure I’m not alone wondering what Senator McCain would think.”
When I ask Schmidt, McCain’s former senior campaign adviser, about the “moderating influence on Trump” defense of Graham’s behavior, he snorts. “It’s ludicrous,” he says, “but despite its ludicrousness, this will be one of the fundamental arguments in American politics for the next 25 years. ‘No, no, you don’t understand: I was secretly against him while he was debasing his office, dividing the American people, engaged in all manner of abuses of power. I was on the front lines of Mar-a-Lago preventing this!’ It’s an absurdity. For most Republicans, the simple fact is, what they now claim to believe is at odds with what they claimed to believe three years ago. Look at what Lindsey said in 2015 and what he says today. What intervening event occurred that would lend oneself to have such a strong turn?”
A senior staffer at a nonprofit Washington-based advocacy group who has worked with Graham for more than a decade tells me, “Graham is the most nervous primary politician I’ve ever seen. Even if he doesn’t have a credible challenger on the right, he goes into overdrive, and I mean overdrive.” As 2020 approached, Graham was certainly paying attention to his right-leaning primary electorate back home. South Carolina is an aging state, popular with retirees — the fastest-growing age demographic is residents 85 or older. “Ten years from now, I think South Carolina is going to be the most conservative state in the country,” the staffer predicted.
Franken sees Graham’s rightward tack as evidence of a fundamental cynicism. Once, shortly before the Christmas recess, Graham bumped into Franken in the hallway and asked if he planned on taking his family somewhere warm. Franken said yes, in fact, they’d be vacationing in Puerto Rico. Without missing a beat, Graham said, “Do two fundraisers while you’re there: one for the pro-statehood people and one for the anti-statehood people. They never talk to each other!”
“He was loaded for that,” Franken says. “He jokes about being cynical with his colleagues — that’s a big part of his humor — but I think that actually reflects a reality. He does what he has to do.”
In October, Graham’s re-election campaign announced he’d broken fundraising records for the third quarter of 2019 with a staggering $3.3 million haul, more than any other Republican Senate candidate raised during the same period and the most any candidate in South Carolina had ever raised in a three-month period ($1.2 million came from small donors, who in GOP fundraising circles tend to be Trump supporters, and 87 percent of the money came from out of state).
His likely general-election opponent next year, Jaime Harrison, is a charismatic former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. I met Harrison as he was making a campaign appearance in Rock Hill, handing out meals at a mobile food bank. Graham, Harrison tells me, “has not had a town hall in South Carolina in well over two years. But you can find him on Fox News or golfing with the president every other day. That’s not helping the people here.” Pointing to a Graham quote about wanting to be “relevant,” Harrison says, “Relevance for him is that news reporters gaggle around him when he’s walking down the corridors; it’s going on Sean Hannity or flying on Air Force One. Relevance for the people of South Carolina is none of that.”
Most of the local political observers I spoke with expressed skepticism that Harrison, who is black, can replicate the base-energizing strategy of Stacey Abrams in Georgia and come as close to winning in a state as conservative as South Carolina. Still, Harrison has broken fundraising records for any Democratic Senate candidate in the state, raising $2.2 million in the third quarter. Their race will likely be the most expensive Senate campaign in state history.
Gibbs Knotts, a professor of political science at the College of Charleston, considers Harrison a long shot, but adds, “What I would say is, look at South Carolina’s 1st District. Trump won that by 13 percentage points, and then you had a guy like Joe Cunningham,” the Democrat who won an upset victory for a vacant House seat in 2018. “A lot of folks in South Carolina look at Cunningham and wonder, ‘Is that the magic formula?’ ” Knotts went on. “It’s an upscale Charleston suburb. If there’s a Democratic candidate who can do well in those kinds of suburbs, along with urban areas and rural parts of the state that are heavily African American, that’s a coalition that could work against Lindsey Graham.”
But probably not next year. It’s ironic that Graham has adopted Trump’s strategy of appealing to the base and only the base, and it will likely ensure that the onetime highly endangered RINO will coast to reelection, whereas the same strategy could doom the deeply unpopular Trump nationwide. Meanwhile, impeachment looms, with the action turning to the Senate. During an impeachment trial, senators, acting as jurors, must sit in silence as House managers and the president’s lawyers argue the case. But Graham, as one of Trump’s most tireless apologists, will certainly play a role on the defense team, spinning for gaggles of reporters inside the Senate and running interference with his own Judiciary investigation into the Bidens. “After McCain’s passing, I got the sense that Graham was isolated within his own caucus, and that having allies at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue behooved him,” the Democratic Senate staffer says. Now Graham has emerged, unlikely as it would have seemed just a few years ago, as one of the most powerful voices in his party.
“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now,” Schmidt says. “The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”
Speaking to CBS’ John Dickerson after McCain’s death, Graham recalled one of the final afternoons he spent with his friend at his Arizona ranch. They watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance , a classic Western in which Jimmy Stewart plays a U.S. senator who is elected after he’s given credit for gunning down the titular villain — though in fact (spoiler!) John Wayne’s character actually did it. The movie is where the line “When legend becomes fact, print the legend” comes from. When Dickerson pushed Graham about his cozying up to McCain’s nemesis in the White House, Graham attempted to burnish his own legend, making his willingness to bend the knee sound patriotic. “I don’t have the luxury of playing like he’s not president,” he said. “I’m not going to give up on the idea of working with this president.”
It sounded good, but which, exactly, of the urgent issues of the day was Trump “working with” the senior senator from South Carolina on? Not immigration, nor climate change. (The old Graham fought hard with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman to try to pass a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill.) And certainly few of Trump’s actions in the realm of foreign policy — most recently, Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds in Syria — would have reassured the hawkish neocon. Wasn’t it actually more of a luxury to “work” with the president, which in effect means kowtowing to the president, and still remain in your cozy position in the Senate, rather than risk being the character in the movie who takes a shot at the bad guy and misses?
When I ask Woodard what motivates Graham to stay in politics after all these years, he says, “I’ve thought about that,” and pauses before continuing. “He’s alone. It’s not like he has a family, a child. His time, when he’s away from the spotlight, I think is a lonely time. He’s more comfortable in the spotlight where he’s Senator Lindsey Graham, talking about things he knows a lot about. I thought he wouldn’t run in 2020. And then he did the Kavanaugh thing, and he’s the Trump buddy. If Trump wins a second term, he might wind up in the Cabinet, maybe Secretary of Defense? The South, and South Carolina in particular, has a history of sending ’em back. He’s got Thurmond’s seat, and Thurmond had that seat until he was 100. So he could have a long way to go.”
What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies?
Look to Nixon’s defenders, and the Vichy collaborators, for clues.
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.
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.
George Conway and Neal Katyal: How Pelosi should play her impeachment cards
These guys are creative, nothing in the constitution or the House rules that says you can’t split the Articles of Impeachment and send them independently. 2020 is already so bonkers.
Separating the two articles — our preferred approach — would make perfect sense. When it comes to the second article, all the evidence about Trump’s obstruction is a matter of public record. There’s nothing more to add, so the second article is ripe for trial. But as to the first, although there is plenty of evidence demonstrating Trump’s guilt, his obstruction has prevented all of the evidence from coming to light.
Since the House voted to approve the articles of impeachment last month, new revelations of Trump’s involvement have emerged, including emails showing that aid was ordered withheld from Ukraine 91 minutes after Trump’s supposedly “perfect” phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, has said he is willing to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed, and Bolton’s lawyer has said he has new information, yet McConnell has balked at assurances that Bolton would be called.
How can one conduct a “trial” without knowing this evidence? As lawyers, we have never heard of a trial without witnesses. Both past impeachment trials of presidents featured witnesses — including 41 in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. And the lack of witnesses is particularly striking given the shell game Trump and his Republican colleagues have played. In the House, Trump prevented executive branch employees from testifying, but said some of them would be able to testify in the Senate. Now that we are in the Senate, Republicans say these folks should have testified in the House. Lewis Carroll would be pleased.
Involuntary Celibates are an ‘emerging domestic terrorism threat’: Texas warns of an ‘Incel Rebellion’
Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation
Here’s the basic constitutional argument,
Article V provides two mechanisms for amending the Constitution. Congress may propose an amendment with a two-thirds majority in each chamber, or two-thirds of the states may call for a constitutional convention and propose new amendments there. 86 × In either case, three-fourths of the states must subsequently ratify any new amendments before they take effect. 87 × These thresholds make it highly unlikely that the problem of unequal representation will be fixed through the normal amendment process.
Given these challenges, some might say that the problem of unequal representation is simply an intractable part of the U.S. political system — something impossible to fix, 88 × or something to try to work around. 89 × But surely those same things were said about other daunting inequities in voting rights, like the disenfranchisement of women and racial minorities. 90 × By recognizing the fundamental unfairness of the present arrangement, the nation might become motivated to fix it, and perhaps, motivated enough to think creatively about solutions.
An “easier” way to amend the Constitution would be for Congress to admit a large number of new states whose congressional representatives would reliably ally with the existing majority in sufficient numbers to propose and ratify new amendments fixing the problem of unequal representation. Because Congress can admit new states with a simple majority, 91 × this would provide a more attainable political threshold.
For the past thirty years, I’ve thought we should admit Puerto Rico as a state for a host of reasons, but in all that time it never occurred to me that we would also reap this benefit. Let’s go for it!
Yes and DC, and the other inhabited territories, like Guam, US Virgin Islands, etc, that’s is, If they will have us.
I was born in Puerto Rico. I grew up in Hawaii alongside many Samoans. And my wife’s uncle lives in Guam. I know all too well how the U.S. treats its territories. It’s past time they ALL came in as equal partners.
Trump is crowing about his China trade deal, but it does not help Americans.
All it does is save face for Trump.
All tariffs remain in place, there’s a vague promise of Chinese purchases, and it avoids further escalation until 2021 – AFTER the election.