Letter: Difference between McCain, Trump

I now realize why some of our Republican friends so glibly called U.S. Sen. John McCain, “McLame.” He was not Donald Trump. As Michael Tomasky argues in a recent NYRB piece,

Trump is exactly what Republicans have craved all along: a dictator in the making who could destroy liberalism, someone who could institute the anti-liberal agenda at all costs, including even an end to democratic government.

These hypocritical or self deluded “conservatives” are, in a sense, the real totalitarians. As they lament the growth of state power, these anti-democrats smile as Russia manipulates the electoral process and cheer as Trump breaks laws and violates all the norms and standards necessary for democratic governance. Dangerous state power was always a bogeyman, the real enemies for such Republicans were pluralism and liberalism. When these purported “conservatives” look back on the Cold War, they see dangers and conspiracies that were rather innocuous and sterile compared to the virulent, domestic dangers today, which do not bother them because they foreshadow their secret goal—right wing dictatorship, an authoritarian strong man who caters to their reactionary vision despite his hedonism and open hypocrisy. Trump not only provides a perfect illustration of how a troubled, charismatic leader can arise in a democracy, his ascendancy shows how authoritarianism and fascism are almost always products of right wing reaction (various cross-class patterns notwithstanding), a surprise to no one who has studied the membership rolls and voting patterns associated with fascist movements and authoritarian nationalist regimes.

Those of us who never voted for McCain never forgot what kind of a candidate he was. When confronted with racist and authoritarian Republican supporters, he defended Obama from such bigoted assaults. If we remember his lamentable selection of Palin as his running mate, we also recall how he thought that choice was one of his most egregious errors. McCain was too trigger-happy for my taste, but that man was a patriot who invariably did what he thought was best for his country. Trump will never do anything except what seems to be in his own interests; the people who still support him are either conscious or unconscious enemies of this country’s democracy.

In the days ahead we will have to make a choice between the nation and Trump along with his convoluted, opportunistic right-wing agenda. Even though historians cannot predict the future, the odds are great that Trump will push us toward civil or foreign war to save his power. I hope conservatives and liberals alike start to think about conserving this nation from Trump’s grasp at authoritarian tyranny.

Michael B. Loughlin, Ohio Northern University, Department of History, Politics, and Justice

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