July 2, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Has the GOP lost faith in Trump?
Russian bounties create cognitive dissonance difficult to resolve.
I disliked President George W. Bush immensely. I thought he was illegitimate. The US Supreme Court decided his 2000 victory, not voters. I thought he was weak. Dick Cheney was in charge more than he was. I thought he was a liar. Iraq did not possess “weapons of mass destruction.” I thought he was dangerous. His gross ineptitude destabilized the international order. It enfeebled what had been the Pax Americana.
I never thought he was disloyal, though.
Indeed, his love of country was such that he believed democracy could grow out of the end of a gun barrel; that scores of thousands of dead Iraqis were an even trade for 3,000 dead Americans; that moral and legal abominations like torture and “enemy combatants” were acceptable to achieving American security; that war crimes and atrocities were OK if they meant preserving life and liberty at home; that being an American citizen meant more rights and privileges than being a mere human being. Call me quaint if you wish, but I want presidents to pursue truth, justice and the American way—in that order. For George W. Bush, it was the American way or zip.
Betrayal is a feature, not a bug.
For the current president, there is no American way. Sure, he won on a message of “America First,” but the “America” in that hoary campaign slogan never meant the United States. It meant a wholly imagined community, a confederacy of the mind and the spirit, that’s always already at work, often covertly but these days overtly, and that seeks to undermine the US by any means, including treason, to accomplish its goals.
George W. Bush, as bad as he was, was a patriot. Donald Trump and his confederates in the Republican Party, however, are not. They are quite literally the enemies within.
You could say, well, they’re still American. They’re not traitors. They haven’t done anything to help another country at the expense of the US. That depends on what you mean by “another country,” though. During the American Civil War, the Confederate States asked but failed to get imperial powers to lend a hand in destroying the union. Trump and his GOP confederates are also seeking foreign assistance. In standing idly by, Senate Republicans are tacitly inviting Russian propagandists to poison public understanding of Joe Biden. More explicitly, the Trump campaign, namely Rudy Giuliani, is working with a Ukrainian lawmaker to smear the Democratic nominee. The enemies within are working with the enemies without to injure the United States.
The GOP confederates don’t believe they are traitors. They believe their confederacy of the mind and the spirit is the true home of the “real Americans” for whom God chose a flawed leader to deliver unto their hands an America that is subordinate to their righteous domination. That arrangement demanded that they trust Donald Trump, which meant that arrangement could not possibly endure. At some point, sooner or later, there’d be a moment in which it was clear, even to GOP confederates, that the president had betrayed them the way he betrayed everyone else in his life.
That moment seems to be here. The Times, the Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and others have reported that the president knew the Kremlin was paying Afghani terrorists to kill American troops stationed overseas. The AP says Trump knew about Russian bounties in early 2019. Yet the administration did nothing, and continues to do nothing, even as it denies that it knew anything at all. Moreover, he’s defending the Russians and their association with the Taliban, the very people who aided and abetted Osama bin Laden, who conceived and executed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a time of existential angst among GOP confederates that comes close to rivaling the election of the first Black president of the United States.
The Washington press corps is reporting a split in the Republican Party between people loyal to the nation-within-a-nation and people, especially senators up for reelection, worried about the appearance of being loyal to the nation-within-a-nation. But I think the GOP is being split in another way not yet being reported: between confederates disloyal to the United States and a president disloyal to Republican confederates. The “American Taliban” are supposed to be liberal activists tearing down statues of the founders, according to US Sen. Ted Cruz. They are not supposed to be members of the Republican Party whose chief loyalty is the nation-within-a-nation. The president is creating cognitive dissonance that may never be resolved.
If I’m right, the GOP confederates will crumble the way the Confederate States crumbled. Betrayal is a feature, not a bug. For all his flaws, George W. Bush’s allies and opponents knew where he stood. This is what happens when a major political party abandons its values, its history and its former leaders. It inevitably self-destructs.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.