After the initial shock of seeing angry men with feeble beards invade Washington and interrupt a session in the House of Congress, including one dressed as a shaman complete with fur hat and horns (I still don’t know what that is about), my first thought, naturally, was of Franz von Papen.
Papen was Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and then Vice-Chancellor under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1934. Papen wasn’t a Nazi, believing that Hitler could be controlled once he was in the government: “in two months, we’ll have pushed Hitler so far into the corner that he’ll squeal”, he said. We all know how that turned out.
Papen was a key enabler in Hitler’s rise to power; he didn’t stop after 1934, being ambassador in Ankara as late as 1944. Today his role as cheerleader has been taken by a large section of the Republican Party’s leadership, with the notable exceptions of Utah senator Mitt Romney and former Arizona senator Jeff Lake.
Chief amongst Trump’s legislative tub-thumpers has been Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader (though after the Georgia run-off elections this week, not for long, happily). McConnell was an early backer of Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016. He clearly doesn’t care for the rougher parts of the President’s behaviour, complaining about his lack of respect for women for example, yet he managed the Senate’s response to impeachment of the President in 2019, saying he would be in “total coordination with the White House counsel’s office” on the issue. After last November’s election, he was slow to recognise Joe Biden as the winner of the election while distancing himself from Trump’s wild claims of voter fraud.
What McConnell was able to do with Trump in the White House was pursue his own conservative agenda, with a particular focus on the third arm of government, the Judiciary. Even before 2016, when McConnell was Senate majority leader in Obama’s last two years as president, he managed to delay judicial appointments, including a replacement for Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia who died in February of that year. McConnell boasted that “one of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy”.
As a result, McConnell has been a key player in the transformation of the Supreme Court with three replacement judges since 2016. Given appointments are for life, the character of the Supreme Court has been set for possibly a generation. A case can even be made that, to date, McConnell is the most influential American politician of the 21st Century.
We don’t have Trump enablers in this country, but just like the 1930s when Oswald Mosely and Unity Mitford supported Hitler, we have very public backers of the 45th President, particularly in politics.
Brexit and Trump’s presidency have always been entwined, ever since both happened in a space of a few months in 2016. One of the first things Trump suggested after winning the election in November 2016 was that the then UKIP interim leader Nigel Farage should be appointed the British ambassador to the United States. The picture of the two grinning in front of the golden elevator at Trump Tower when Farage secured a meeting with the newly elected president before any other British politician met Trump will live long in the memory.
That meeting contained one of many effusive messages from Farage: “I am confident he will be a good President.” Farage has kept banging the drum for Trump in the four years since. As recently as October 2020, at a campaign rally in Arizona Trump introduced Farage as “one of the most powerful men in Europe” and Farage responded of Mr Trump: “This is the single most resilient and bravest person I have ever met in my life.”
Two questionable judgments there, but it’s not just Farage. Here’s Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary:
“I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump. I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness. Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere.”
Then there was Jacob Rees-Mogg in an article in 2018 headlined:
“President Trump will be our greatest ally after Brexit. Freed from ties to the EU, Britain can build a truly special relationship with this US President”.
And in October 2020 when Trump had COVID, Andrea Jenkyns tweeted:
“Let’s pray For Trump to get better and win the election.”
This is not a quick kiss and fumble on a one-night stand. It’s a full blown, multi-year affair. Farage, Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Jenkyns: they’re either blind, morally bankrupt or true Trump believers. Anyone who plays with matches as they do must understand they risk burning the house down.