Over the 4 years of the Trump presidency a lot of fun was had by all those who wanted to make analogies and comparisons between the Trump and the Corleone “families”. In one such piece, weirdly ambiguous between humor and reality, Trump is very obviously Don Corleone, Don Jr. is Sonny, and dim Eric is the unfortunately disrespected Fredo. All the other major roles are distributed accordingly, down to the consiglieri and the supporting cast that enables the mayhem—whether that be in the White House or the Corleone mansion.
This kind of mental exercise seems to be particularly relevant when we consider how the boundaries between reality and the “alternate universes” of Trumpworld collided repeatedly. Not to mention “alternate facts” (thank you Kelly Ann Conway for inventing this stratagem of deception) and “optics”, the belief that truth matters less than the perception of it.
This kaleidoscopic vision of a family, initially borrowed from fiction, became more real than real as Trump supporters adopted the “Don Corleone” ethic of personal loyalty above all other moral considerations.
Thus, we find that Mitch McConnell licked Trump’s boots (not to use a more vulgar expression) for the four years, excusing and eventually normalizing moral decrepitude, debasing himself, and enabling the entire Senate to go down that slippery slope until they reached the bottom of the cesspit.
Nikki Haley was another staunch supporter, not only defending him all along for “putting America first,” but as late as November 2019 claiming that, “…in every instance I dealt with him, he was truthful, he listened and he was great to work with.”
The cast of characters who were willing to kiss Trump’s ring and do his bidding grew and grew until the ripple effect reached the crazies and fringe dwellers like QAnon cult members, who did his bidding and went to smash the doors and windows of the Capitol on January 6.
But as often happens both in fiction and reality, when the don was circled by the sharks and disgrace seemed to be looming—not to mention criminal charges—loyalty was tested. Mitch McConnell finally found the moral compass that he had lost some years before and Nikki Haley suddenly experienced disgust at what Trump had done, encouraged the violence at the Capitol. Or maybe she found the eyesight that she had lost throughout the years that she thought siding with Trump, and his many supporters, would eventually take her to the Oval Office—not to visit, but to sit in “The Chair”. She has indeed as good as announced her intention to run for president in 2024.
Personality politics is another word for cult. Of course, even the dimmest among our upstanding citizens should have seen where this would end up, didn’t Trump venerate dictators and autocratic leaders like Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin?
Didn’t he model himself on what he called “strong leaders” but the rest of us called tyrants? Had Mussolini not ended up hanging upside down in a public square in Milan he too would have been enshrined by Trump as a hero. But in Trumpworld he ended up “a loser”. And as for Hitler, although Trump was timidly reading out of his playbook, explicitly Trump never went beyond the point of no return: he talked the talk but never walked the walk. That is, he espoused the principles of white supremacy but never got to the genocide.
Trump’s four years normalized personality politics, and this reached its culmination on the Senate floor when those Republican senators who voted their conscience (not to mention their common sense), said yes to impeaching Trump.
Liz Cheney, although a respected leader of the Republican Party, was censured by the Wyoming GOP for voting for impeachment. This was justified by one critic as, “We need to honor President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election.” This was Cheney’s reward for voting her conscience.
The GOP response to censure her, and Trump’s vow to destroy her career, in former times would have been an outrageous admission that loyalty to the party was more important than to the country, to the Constitution and even to moral imperative; but here and now it became a GOP litmus test. More than just sanctioned, voting the party line was expected and demanded. It became a public admission that loyalty to a morally bankrupt leader who incited his thuggish followers to assault the Capitol and even threaten the lives of duly elected senators and the Vice-President, had to come first.
This moral baseness reached even greater depths when those who metaphorically crawled in the mud almost to the finish line, then wanted to save themselves—or their political aspirations–by doing a complete turnaround when it became politically expedient to abandon the “leader” they had formerly admired, praised and enabled.
In a recent article Frank Bruni wrote that Haley, McConnell and others of their ilk are “a portrait of the striver as pure Jell-O” and gives us the recipe for “How to end up in moral freefall.”
Also prominent among these “strivers” is Josh Hawley who was instrumental in the “Save the Vote” movement that ultimately galvanized the Capitol insurrection. However, I rank people like McConnell and Haley higher on the scale of moral bankruptcy simply because they have been at it longer. Hawley has been a late entry and bit player in the Don Corleone saga—at least for now. We’ll see if in the aftermath of the Trump presidency and the jockeying for position in the GOP he emerges as a star.
It is especially McConnell though, who should inspire the greatest contempt because it was he who set the tone among the Republican legislators that enabled Trump to crash through one moral boundary after another. It was he who could have put the brakes on the moral slide before it became too late.
But as has been pointed out, McConnell has been cultivating his place in history for many years, and when it was convenient for him, he described Trump as the “One leader [who] brought our divided country together,” a claim that is frankly ridiculous if we think of the culture and race wars raging in this country. Other than during the Civil War, we have never been more divided.
To do a 180 degree turn within sight of the finish line, with the excuse that you’ve reached breaking point—after you’ve caused the damage– is unforgivable and the very definition of choosing political expediency over moral behavior. These characters kissed the Don’s ring until it became tarnished, and since they don’t worry about their souls, the ballot box is the only goal.