By Anat Peled
Resistance to Trump from within the Republican party has serious repercussions — Fox News anchor Chris Wallace hammered in on this message again and again in his interview with Senator Mitt Romney last Wednesday. “You realize this is war? Donald Trump will never forgive you for this … It’s going to get pretty lonely in this town for you,” Wallace warned. Romney had committed an unforgivable crime against the unerring party and its great leader: He had voted to convict the president of abuse of power in the failed “putsch” attempt known as “impeachment,” and now he was going to pay.
This kind of retribution and the expectation of supreme loyalty to a leader are not normal in a democracy. But these are not normal times. The Trump party is becoming increasingly authoritarian every day and some who question Trump are occasionally even threatened with physical violence by people who claim to be his followers. To resist, citizens who believe in democracy from the left, center and right should support brave Republican efforts to oppose the president and take back control of their party.
Politics this week had rhetorical echoes of Arthur Koestler’s novel “Darkness at Noon,” which depicts the way an authoritarian party holds control over its people and turns perceived dissidents into public enemies, accusing them of conspiring against the party and the leader. In the novel, Rubashov, a former Communist party interrogator, is imprisoned and interrogated for his “crimes” against the party. He begins to question his complete loyalty to the party and his conscience is symbolized by a recurring toothache that he cannot ignore. Romney must have had that toothache in his mind when he spoke with Wallace. “I don’t have the capacity to ignore my conscience. I don’t have the capacity to say that what was wrong was not wrong,” he repeated again and again in different formulations to the Fox News anchor who just could not seem to comprehend the senator’s words.
The tweets were quick to follow. On Saturday, Trump retweeted a terrifying video of Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro attacking Romney. “How dare he?” she began. “Mitt dared to do what he thought was good for him individually, not for the party, not for us, and certainly not for America.” As the video progressed, Pirro seemed to become angrier and angrier.
“You simply despise Donald Trump. Your jealousy of this man is a constant rage burning within you because you can never rise to the heights that he has. Because guys like you fold like wusses and you don’t have any selflessness or the ability to think about others as Donald Trump has thought about making America first.”
After calling him an “embarrassment” and comparing him to a snake, she concluded: “How about you get the hell out of the United States.” On Sunday Trump had already tied the dissident senator to a deep state conspiracy against him, as evidenced by several retweets accusing Romney of trying to hide his own corruption in the Ukrainian scandal. The same day, Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump supporter, was already connecting another person who had testified against Trump, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council (NSC), of taking part in a plot against the president by FBI agents, CIA agents and DOJ lawyers.
While many will dismiss these tweets as just “Trump being Trump,” the danger is that people will be convinced by these kinds of conspiracies and resort to physical violence. This is already happening: The pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, which Trump has retweeted dozens of times and whose adherents he has even invited to the White House, was cited as an example of domestic terrorism by the FBI in August. Its followers have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York.
Not everyone on the center and left was impressed with Romney’s defiance. Some, like comedian Bill Maher, dismissed it as political opportunism and saw the way that Romney became a “savior” in the eyes of Democrats as ridiculous, considering some of his extreme views. But this is no time to conduct purity tests for those who have the courage to stand up to the authoritarian in the White House. The threat is too serious. Trump’s paranoia and authoritarian tactics pose a grave threat to democracy. It’s time for America to wake up. As Trump’s approval ratings continue to improve along with the economy, and Democrats continue to squabble amongst themselves, a Democratic electoral victory in November is far from assured.
Those opposed to Trump can resist him by supporting brave Republicans who dare to speak out. As Trump attacked the “insubordinates” Vindman and Romney, the non-profit Republicans for the Rule of Law founded by conservative commentator and vehement Trump critic, William Kristol (who is speaking on campus this Thursday), was busy preparing to run ads on Fox and Friends in defense of the patriotic dissenters. These admirable efforts should be embraced because our democracy as we know it will cease to exist in their absence.
Anat Peled ’20
Contact Anat Peled at anatpel ‘at’ stanford.edu