From time to time I re-read Dorothy Thompson’s seminal 1941 piece, “Who Goes Nazi?“. She imagines herself at a dinner party, determining who among the guests and who would not join the Nazis if they were ascendant in America. She makes clear that, although she is writing from an America just on the cusp of entering WWII, “Nazi” is more of a state of mind that has little to do with race, creed, Dem/GOP political leanings, or even Judaism — this sort of thing only uses ideology or manifestos as mere excuses to paper over something much older and more primitive. Substitute “Nazi” with “ISIS” or “Khmer Rogue” and little would change in Thompson’s essay.
Two archetypes she mentions stand out to me in particular. (If you haven’t read her essay, I highly encourage doing so now.) One is that of Mr. C. This is a man so bent, so twisted, so devoid of joy or empathy that he lacks a shred of humanity. Or as she puts it,
Were he primitive and brutal he would be a criminal—a murderer. But he is subtle and cruel. He would rise high in a Nazi regime. It would need men just like him—intellectual and ruthless. But Mr. C is not a born Nazi. He is the product of a democracy hypocritically preaching social equality and practicing a carelessly brutal snobbery. He is a sensitive, gifted man who has been humiliated into nihilism. He would laugh to see heads roll.
And then there’s Mr. B. Unlike C, he’s no inhuman psychopath. In fact, Thompson notes that Mr. C hates Mr. B. He is a figure well-known to us Americans: highly successful, born into wealth, but no doubt credits his own intelligence — i.e., born on third base and thought he hit a triple. Friendly and sociable, he nevertheless possesses a core of pure selfishness undisturbed by any higher scruples.
His code is not his own; it is that of his class—no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value—success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would. [emphasis mine]
As the title to this post suggests, while reading Thompson’s essay, I consider how these two people define much of the Trump base. Again, they are not literal Nazis. But certain similarities of mindset between them and the average rank-and-file functionaries and officials of the Reich may be made.
Also, I do not mean people who only voted for Trump regretfully because they are lifelong Republicans and/or considered Hillary worse, which remains an honorable position. I mean the diehard, true believers in the Fifth Avenue rule, that would never ever abandon MAGA whatever new moral depradations their orange idol engages in, up to and including mass murder — but with one important qualifier.
The Mr. C’s are simpler people and easy to point out. Acid-spitting, insult-flinging, completely unethical monsters since long before Trump came along, they were the campaign’s early adopters because they saw by the beginning of 2016 how destructive and divisive their man would be and — falsely — because they believe he is one of their own. They are distinguished from their bretheren in that they enjoy fantasizing about a new civil war. They do not pretend to be in it to help the country, their fellow Americans, or even their fellow conservatives, the latter of whom they hold in contempt even if they did eventually bend the knee to Trump. Laugh to see heads roll? Hell, the right’s Mr. C’s would play soccer with the heads if they didn’t think of soccer as a commie sport for them dirty foreigners. Ann Coulter. Dinesh D’Souza. John Cardillo. Don Bongino. Michelle Malkin. Mark Levin. Wayne LaPierre. Your rank-and-file QAnon believer. And every last member of the alt.right. Unlike the more genteel members of MAGA, these people would delight to see bodies piled high by the millions (hopefully liberals and NeverTrumpers and Deep Staters, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter). Say what you will about these people, but give them credit for one thing — they have not changed themselves one iota for Donald Trump.
And then we have the Mr. B’s, who most definitely contorted themselves and their principles, such as they were, for the host of Celebrity Apprentice once it became clear he was winning. Many of them are literally like Mr. B in that they are millionaire capitalists, used to playing kingmaker in Republican politics (IRL or, for the vast majority of them, in their heads). They were staunch advocates for, and donors to, the Bushes and Mitt Romney, as well as the various Koch PACs and foundations — up until mid-2016 when they recognized which way the winds were now blowing. And why not? The president is one of them, opportunistic and selfish to the core (and not a Mr. C, which the alt.right can’t seem to grasp).
But rather than millionaires, far more Mr. B’s are conservative writers, journalists, elected officials, GOP apparatchiks, lobbyists, hangers-on, or just common people who now believe hanging Trump flags in their home will somehow propel them to success like a new prosperity gospel. Because, to paraphrase Ms. Thompson again, that is their sole measure of value — success. They were probably anti-Trump up until it became convenient, or profitable, to switch over. And they could do so because they had no moral code to restrain them. This grouping includes every last currently serving Republican congressperson and senator except, perhaps, Romney; every unelected GOP official worth mentioning, starting with chairwoman Ronna McDaniel who, notably, struck the Romney from her name at the president’s request; media figures like Mollie Hemingway, Rich Lowry, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and your typical FoxNews robot; and your friend or family member who only became a convert after Trump won the primary. For them, winning is the only thing.
Mr B, unlike Mr. C, does not pine for a seven-figure-plus body count among his fellow Americans and might even privately consider such a thing a bit… unseemly. On the other hand, he would have no problem looking away, or making excuses, or attacking anyone who did show moral qualms.
But however often and however loudly the Mr. B’s may declare their undying loyalty to Trump, the president would we wise to remember: they are only with him while he is winning. Not that they would automatically turn on him if he were to lose in 2020, especially if it were close; but if a new power center emerged in the GOP? If a new politician or tycoon were the next big thing on the right, and DJT was yesterday’s news? All of the B’s mentioned above would slink away like they were never there. All of them. Because MAGA as a minority movement would never attract them. As a movement likely to attain power, it does.
People wondering how to break Trump’s hold on the right: that’s your answer, and that’s your only answer. You have to make him not only lose, but lose humiliatingly. The next day, Lindsay Graham would swear he’d been against Trump all along. It’s just how these people work.
For completeness’ sake, Ms. Thompson’s other Nazi party-goers also show up today, although are not as important overall. The pathetically surrendered woman — this would be the many weak MAGA wives from Melania on down who are sock puppets for their husbands, and who all may be dismissed out of hand. Mr. G, who tries to accept the movement but at arms length, but with qualifiers — this would be Ben Shapiro, who thinks supporting Trump but also trying to hold onto the old, discarded Reagan conservative principles and also while snarking at Trump tweets is somehow acceptable to the New Right. As Thompson predicted, he will be purged.
The vapid, rich, spoiled brat who has never wanted for anything in life and joins the movement for fun — this would be the army of young, bottled-blonde, photogenic airheads who realized how enjoyable, and profitable, it would be to serve as the face of this Boomer-centric political movement. They all show up on FoxNews sooner or later — good luck telling any of them apart.
And finally, the labor leader and, therefore, supposed liberal Mr. L. There is a cottage industry of “MAGA liberals,” with Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard chief among their number. Their motives are many: a long-standing history of Russia apologia; a hatred of other liberals and lefties; hatred of America; or maybe a simple will to power, with the realization that going full Trump serves their narrow petty interests. Also, plenty of Trump-hating lefties would gladly sign on with a would-be Bolshevik dictator and his program of gulags, purges, show trials, and genocide — just as long as they get to join the new NKVD.
All of these are horrible people in their own ways, but it’s Mr. B and Mr. C who truly define the Republican Party as we enter 2020. In the end, today’s GOP has little to do with their stated ideals like anti-abortion, low taxes or gun rights. It’s almost entirely about the morals and character, or lack thereof, of the people who flock to the Mr. B who now runs the show. And, to repeat myself and to avoid a charge of Godwining, I am not calling them Nazis. But on the other hand, if these people had lived in 1933 Germany, you know which way they would have turned.