Commentary

Elayne Clift: Enablers, collaborators and a Mussolini moment

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Elayne Clift, who writes from Saxtons River. 

It started with a ride down an escalator. And it’s been escalating ever since. From the first cries of rapists invading our country to dog whistles like “Stand back, stand by” Donald Trump’s dangerous delusions of power and control have brought this country to the brink of collapse, and everyone who has allowed that to happen is an enabler and a collaborator.

From White House cronies who share in Trump’s power fantasies and who are incapable of running a government especially  during a crisis, to his equally evil children, to Republicans in the Senate led by Mitch McConnell, to America’s attorney general, to the doctors at Walter Reed who agreed to lie for the president and to sign non-disclosure agreements thereby violating their Hippocratic oath, to the ICE bullies who separated infants and children from their parents and put them in concentration camps, to the heads of the CDC and FDA who caved after White House pressure, they are all responsible for the rise of autocracy, and increased violence.

They are also responsible for militias that now feel emboldened in their militarism and for bad cops who mercilessly shoot to death Black and brown men and women. They are responsible for the resurgent KKK and they are responsible for federal courts being packed with ultra-conservative, lifetime judges, as well as for a Supreme Court that is eager to see the original Handmaid added to their ranks. In short, they are responsible for the destruction of democracy.

They are why we are on the edge of a truly great depression, and why America has lost its standing in the world. They are responsible for the disasters in our health, education, and infrastructure systems, for the filth in our water and the comeback of chemicals in our food. And they are responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Americans who died needlessly because the president just didn’t give a damn.

Indeed, they are responsible for the Mussolini moment on the balcony of the White House and they, like him, bear some of the guilt for negligent homicide and crimes against humanity. 

They are also examples of “the banality of evil” that philosopher Hannah Arendt warned us about when she reported on the trial of Adolph Eichmann after the Holocaust. Eichmann was, he said, simply following orders.  

So were the White House staff, the Secret Service men who vow to give their life for the president, but not in a hermetically sealed vehicle, the employees of government agencies who didn’t speak up or quit their jobs in order to save this country, the business moguls who didn’t end their major donations to a corrupt fraud, Fox News who wouldn’t stand up to Trump when he blamed everyone else for our disasters and incited violence. So too are the voters who inexplicably still stand with their man even though everything he does hurts them the most.

Every one of these people is the banality of evil personified. And every one of them became what Arendt called a “leaf blowing in the whirlwind of time.” Now every one of them bears responsibility for what lies ahead for us all.

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Of course, some brave souls did stand up to the president. And everyone of them did it knowing that they would be punished mightily. Think about Col. Alexander Vindman, and the others who gave testimony to Congress, the lawyers and doctors who wrote letters and petitions, and the activists who marched and were willing to suffer the consequences, including injury, arrest and jail time. They are our national heroes in this moment, the ones for whom new monuments should be built when this nightmare ends.

As for the rest of us, we must remember and own the fact that a great malignancy metastasized within our national body and many of us let it happen. We watched it ravish us and slowly terrorize us. We let it kill people we knew and loved. We looked the other way, always sure that it couldn’t get worse.

Now we need to understand that the “silence of one good man” can spell disaster for all good people. Each of us who remained passive as our impending disaster continued might have been the one “good man” who didn’t act, didn’t speak out, didn’t resist, while men like Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump insisted that infants be ripped from their mothers’ breasts. Men who didn’t care that innocent people were dying from gun violence, a plague, hunger, and violence, which they fostered. Men who didn’t care about pre-existing conditions or elders who rely on Social Security to survive. Men who didn’t care that women would be catapulted back to the Dark Ages.

Now the question is why didn’t we stop them sooner? Why didn’t we act in bigger, more effective, timely ways? Why did we let them continue for four devastating years, like the blind, chained inhabitants of Plato’s allegorical cave who were unable to escape their isolation because, trapped by ignorance and darkness, they couldn’t know the truth?

Can we now remove our blinders and see clearly the dawning truth in time to break our silence, reject the banality of evil, refuse to be a leaf blowing in the whirlwind of time? 

What awaits us if not?


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