Although my dog Abby considered an independent run for president against Donald Trump a year ago — she would have carried Vermont easily — I believe she is nonetheless a Republican. She has been raised in rural New England towns, with traditional small town values: individual initiative, self-reliance, fiscal conservatism, mind your own business. However, she has always avoided any discussion of politics, in part because she is constant in her convictions, mostly because she doesn’t like conflict.
That has now changed. I came into our breakfast room one morning in early October to find Abby seated with my wife before the television. “Trump has coronavirus,” my wife said. “Not very surprising,” I said, “considering his no-mask no-distancing rallies.”
Abby was shocked. “How can he do that?” she asked. “How can he be so irresponsible? I can’t believe he’d put all those people at risk. I can’t believe they’d go along with it.”
“I know it’s hard for a dog to understand,” I told her. “Dogs are fiercely loyal to their people. But Donald Trump isn’t loyal to anyone. He cares only about himself.”
What follows is not so much about Abby as about the millions of center-right people I suspect are now in her company. Until this past week, they have been political only when they cast their ballots, apolitical otherwise. But no more.
I feel like a witness to Paul on the road to Damascus, watching the scales fall from peoples’ eyes. I generally dismiss the heated rhetoric before an election — that’s business as usual for the political class; they won’t change anyone’s mind in the party bases, they’re just fighting over the pivotal middle. But in the days and weeks since the election — that’s something else again.
Donald Trump has lied his way through fantastical assertions of election fraud and theft, and his Republican acolytes have given him vocal and unflinching support. Together, they have further divided this country and fomented violence and insurrection among the most unbalanced of Trump followers. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, two shameless opportunists with transparent presidential ambitions, are only the tip of the iceberg. What is afoot in this land in nothing less than an existential threat to the nation.
I read today the ravings of the Nye County (Nev.) GOP chairman, replete with utterly unhinged conspiracy theories, but also filled with blind worship of Donald Trump’s infallibility and with calls for violent revolution on Inauguration Day. His statements put completely to rest any notion that Trumpism is anything other than an insane Jim Jones cult. “That’s not only disturbing to read,” my wife said, “it’s frightening to realize that those thoughts exist in this country, and that there are millions of people who agree with them. The likes of Cruz and Hawley need to go. They and all the other people who stirred this up — they should resign, be expelled, whatever.”
Abby said, “You know, I can chase those bad guys away. Make sure they don’t come back.”
Oh, Abby. If only it were that simple. But before they go, you have to go. It’s not your traditional Republican Party any more. The powers that be won’t change until enough of you abandon them. They don’t understand anything but the hammer. We have to bring it to them.
Please don’t tell me I’m as extreme in my views as the Trump cult is in theirs. I’m tired of hearing about all the enlightened steps we must take to shepherd the poor downtrodden people in Trumpland over to the side of right and virtue. Their hatred and, yes, murderous impulses have reduced my capacity for sympathy and altruism. At this point, they — like a raging alcoholic — must take the first step.
Of course they’re so far gone in their conspiracy fantasies and adulation of their Leader that they won’t immediately do that. So they must be defeated — overwhelmed — over and over, repeatedly, in election after election, until they get the message. And along the way, they must be prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned if they resort to violence and insurrection.
Then and only then can we have any kind of reasonable expectation in acting like a national parole board. “Do you feel remorse for what you’ve done? Do you think that you’ve been rehabilitated? If so, and if we believe you, we’ll make every effort to help you. But not before, not unless, and not until.”
In looking at the mainstream reaction to the events or January 6, I am daring to hope that there are millions of people, many responsible Republicans among them, who agree with these sentiments. Donald Trump and his violent hate base should not underestimate these quiet, apolitical people. Americans have been underestimated before, with disastrous results for those who did so. I particularly recall the words of Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor: “I am afraid all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Be afraid, you sanctimonious, hypocritical Trump enablers, you Cruz’s and Hawley’s and Brooks’s. Be very afraid. My dog is awake; she feels betrayed, and she is angry. I think there are many, many people like her.
So, boys and girls of the attempted coup, fasten your seat belts. I think you’re in for a really bumpy flight. And my formerly apolitical Republican dog will be in charge in your cabin.