History will judge the complicit

In America we also have our Marianne Birthlers, our Marko Martins: people whose families taught them respect for the Constitution, who have faith in the rule of law, who believe in the importance of disinterested public service, who have values and role models from outside the world of the Trump administration. Over the past year, many such people have found the courage to stand up for what they believe. A few have been thrust into the limelight. Fiona Hill—an immigrant success story and a true believer in the American Constitution—was not afraid to testify at the House’s impeachment hearings, nor was she afraid to speak out against Republicans who were promulgating a false story of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” she said in her congressional testimony. “The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”…

Could some similar combination of the petty and the political ever convince Lindsey Graham that he has helped lead his country down a blind alley? Perhaps a personal experience could move him, a prod from someone who represents his former value system—an old Air Force buddy, say, whose life has been damaged by Trump’s reckless behavior, or a friend from his hometown. Perhaps it requires a mass political event: When the voters begin to turn, maybe Graham will turn with them, arguing, as Jaeger did, that “their will was so great … there was no other alternative.” At some point, after all, the calculus of conformism will begin to shift. It will become awkward and uncomfortable to continue supporting “Trump First,” especially as Americans suffer from the worst recession in living memory and die from the coronavirus in numbers higher than in much of the rest of the world.

Or perhaps the only antidote is time. In due course, historians will write the story of our era and draw lessons from it, just as we write the history of the 1930s, or of the 1940s. The Miłoszes and the Hoffmanns of the future will make their judgments with the clarity of hindsight. They will see, more clearly than we can, the path that led the U.S. into a historic loss of international influence, into economic catastrophe, into political chaos of a kind we haven’t experienced since the years leading up to the Civil War. Then maybe Graham—along with Pence, Pompeo, McConnell, and a whole host of lesser figures—will understand what he has enabled.