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Trump's erstwhile supporters have much to account for

Richard Cohen on

The useful idiots are falling by the wayside. First came a few corporate big shots, and then some more, and then many, many more. Princes of Wall Street, richer and more important than any CEO, also left and then Julius Krein, a conservative intellectual and digital pamphleteer, retracted his support of Donald Trump in a New York Times op-ed and inevitably was hailed as a political Rip Van Winkle who had just woken up. He and the others slept too long.

They have done their damage. Trump is in the White House, fulminating on Twitter, messing up foreign policy, mistaking critics for enemies, refusing to immediately and unequivocally condemn neo-Nazis, white racists and other assorted goons -- and, in general, failing to provide the nation with a scintilla of moral leadership. This will last until it can't any longer. There is only so much chaos a nation can stand.

Meanwhile, the parts of the American corporate and political leadership who slummed with Trump and think that the quick shower of a repudiation statement will wipe them clean ought to think again. They are obliged to consider how they ever supported a person whose racism was apparent in his rabid conviction that Barack Obama had not been born in America and whose posse always contained so-called white nationalists. The surprise of Charlottesville is not that it happened, but that it took so long. Our president is neo-racist.

It was also apparent to anyone that Trump lies with almost every breath. And yet some of the same people who knew the dark truth about Trump -- who would not do business with him, who would not lend him money and who, most importantly, would not raise a child to be like him -- supported him for president. Some, like Carl Icahn or Wilbur Ross, got in early, while others hung back until Trump won the GOP nomination. Having panicked at the prospect of Hillary Clinton winning the presidency, they embraced Trump.

Anti-Hillaryism diseased their minds. It enabled them to hold her responsible for the deaths of Americans at Benghazi, Libya, and to obsess over her missing emails. She was a lousy candidate, sure, but her most serious criminal act was to frequently flash an insincere smile.

Trump critics such as myself have been accused of living in a bubble. On the contrary, it is Trump's supporters in the 1 percent who breathed their own fumes. They believed in the Gordian Knot fantasy: the myth that a bold person could solve an intractable problem, as Alexander the Great did by not even attempting to untie the Gordian Knot but rather severing it with his sword. Trump's supporters felt that all that was needed was common sense or, better yet, something called "business sense." If Trump could run a business, he could, therefore, run the country.

This myth was so strongly held that it overcame both logic and experience. It was an extension and a mockery of Ronald Reagan's simplistic belief that "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" and that all that was needed in a president was the zeal and cool nerves of a short-seller.

Trump's total lack of character was brushed aside. So, too, was his utter lack of compassion. His high-powered supporters said nothing as he attacked the Khans, the Gold Star parents of an Army captain who was killed in Iraq. They were similarly mute when he denigrated John McCain's suffering as a POW in Vietnam and mocked a disabled reporter. They never asked him to prove he had donated a cent to charity.

Trump railed against Mexicans and Muslims, bullied his fellow candidates, winked at his supporters in the odious alt-right, was caught boasting of an adolescent sexism, exhibited an astounding ignorance of just about everything he needed to know -- history and government -- and persisted in a pernicious campaign to delegitimize the mainstream media. The latter may be his only success.

Trump's presidency will fail. Just don't ask me how and when. It will collapse because at its center is a hollow man, lacking ballast, whose chaos cannot be contained. In the meantime, those who supported him then but have now recanted need to consider what steered them so wrong. What compelled them to support a man whose ignorance, selfishness, egomania and abysmal character was so clear? Was it their lust for deregulation, lower taxes and a Wagnerian end to the Obama era? They slept - but it was our nightmare.

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Richard Cohen's email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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