(N.B. this does not, in any way, endorse the proposition that Trump’s failings are equivalent to Joseph Stalin’s)
Donald Trump’s election last November shocked the world and upended American politics, but will Republicans return to business-as-normal after Trump, or has he fundamentally changed America’s politics and policies? Will Republicans repudiate Trump’s moral relativism and embrace of strongmen and dictators, or will they see those positions as key to electoral success? Is Trump’s brand of grievance politics and economic populism here to stay, or will the Republican Party seek to pitch a larger, more inclusive tent in the face of America’s shifting demographics?
Although congressional Republicans have largely stuck by Trump’s agenda (aside from the notable collapse of any Obamacare “repeal and replace” plan), cracks are growing as moderates and “mavericks” question the wisdom of allowing the Party of Reagan to become the Party of Trump. Commentators received Ben Sasse’s new book on virtue in America as a call to return to more cordial politics and to place a greater emphasis on civic education and responsibility. Senator John McCain’s Senate floor speech on July 25 condemned the divisive and Manichean mindsets plaguing the Senate, and urged both Republicans and Democrats to embrace compromise and procedure over partisan victories. Less than a week later, Senator Jeff Flake charged his party with being “in denial” about Donald Trump and the damage he is doing to Republican values and moral standing in America.
The sizable portion of Americans who wish to see Trump impeached will likely have to wait at least until the 2018 midterm elections for any chance of relief from the current administration. However, the growing Republican lament over Trump’s subversion of traditional conservatism and demand for extreme loyalty to person and party over principles or country is not without historical analogue. Brookings fellows Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes have already urged Vice President Mike Pence to mimic Gerald Ford and begin preparing himself psychologically, morally, and politically for an ascension to the presidency in the event that this “national nightmare” gets far worse.
If Pence decides to repudiate Trump’s corruption of the Republican party and the underlying drift in America’s conservative movement, he might also look back to the example set by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Like our hypothetically repentant Pence, Khrushchev grappled with how to lead a political party back from the amoral wilderness to which it had been diverted by a charismatic and megalomaniac leader.
In 1956, Khrushchev broke the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s silence on Stalin’s crimes and condemned the departed dictator’s “cult of personality,” disrespect for fellow partisans, and sacrifice of Marxist-Leninist principles on the altar of his self-adulation. Dubbed Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech,” his attack has gone down as one of history’s great moments of political repudiation (although the Soviet Union’s subsequent behavior was hardly praiseworthy).
Of course, the Communist and Republican parties do not overlap on ideology. Still, if in the next year, Pence were summoned to a dead-of-night assembly of Republican Senators and Representatives to give a secret speech on the occasion of a party revolt against Trump, how might he criticize his own predecessor, and what might he call for a return to? And, if his speechwriters had failed to heed Hennessey and Wittes’ advice to begin preparing now, could they trot out the text of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, make a few edits (in italics), and cement their man’s place in the history of political reversals?
“Patriots, in the pages of magazines and newspapers, and in a number of speeches by delegates to the Congress, quite a lot has been said about the cult of indecency and about its harmful consequences.
Erick Erickson wrote: “Most important, the Republican Party must recommit to a basic principle — character counts. … Character cannot be wedded to party politics, and the Republicans will have to make amends for defining deviancy down to defend the indefensible Donald Trump.”As later events have proven, Erickson’s anxiety was justified.
When we analyze the practice of Trump in regard to the direction of the party and of the country, when we pause to consider everything which Trump perpetrated, we must be convinced that Lenin’s fears were justified. The negative characteristics of Trump, which, in Erickson’s time, were only incipient, transformed themselves during the last years into a grave abuse of power by Trump, which caused untold harm to our party.
Trump acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint, and the correctness of his position was doomed to removal from the administration and to subsequent public annihilation.
Trump popularized the concept of fake news. This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a newspaper or journalist in a controversy be proven; this term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all the norms of freedom of the press, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Trump, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations.
After the election, Trump became even more capricious, irritable, and brutal; in particular his suspicion grew. His persecution mania reached unbelievable dimensions. Many patriots were becoming enemies before his very eyes. Trump separated himself from the standards of decency even more. Everything was decided by him alone without any consideration for anyone or anything.
I recall the first days when the conflict between the United States and North Korea began artificially to be blown up. Once, when I came from Indianapolis to Washington, I was invited to visit Trump who, pointing to the copy of a letter lately sent to Kim Jong-Un, asked me, “Have you read this?”
Not waiting for my reply be answered, “I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Kim. He will fall.”
But this did not happen to Kim. No matter how much or how little Trump shook, not only his little finger but everything else that he could shake, Kim did not fall. Why?
You see to what Trump’s mania for greatness led. He had completely lost consciousness of reality; he demonstrated his suspicion and haughtiness not only in relation to individuals in the U.S., but in relation to whole parties and nations….
Patriots, the cult of indecency acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Trump himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person. This is supported by numerous facts. One of the most characteristic examples of Trump’s self -glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is his Twitter account and the /r/TheDonald subreddit.
This subreddit is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, “the greatest leader,” “sublime strategist of all times and nations.” Finally, no other words could be found with which to lift Trump up to the heavens.
Comrades, if we sharply criticize today the cult of indecency which was so widespread during Trump’spresidency and if we speak about the many negative phenomena generated by this cult which is so alien to the spirit of Republicanism, various persons may ask: How could it be? Trump headed the party and the country for 2 years and many victories were gained under his leadership. Can we deny this? In my opinion, the question can be asked in this manner only by those who are blinded and hopelessly hypnotized by the cult of indecency, only by those who do not understand the essence of the party and of the American republic….
First, in a Republican manner to condemn and to eradicate the cult of indecency as alien to conservatism and not consonant with the principles of party leadership and the norms of American life, and to fight inexorably all attempts at bringing back this practice in one form or another.
To return to and actually practice in all our ideological work, the most important theses of conservatism about the individual as the actor of history and as the engine of all material and spiritual good of humanity.
Thirdly, to restore completely the founding principles of American democracy, expressed in the constitution of the United States, to fight willfulness of individuals abusing their power. The evil caused by acts violating American legality which have accumulated during a long time as a result of the negative influence of the cult of indecency has to be completely corrected.
We are absolutely certain that our nation, armed with the resolutions of this party convention, will lead the American people along the Republican path to new success, to new victories.
Long live the victorious flag of our nation, and God bless the United States of America.”
Vice President Pence, your speechwriters are free to use however much of this they would like. For added historical parallels, you could even leak it to the Russians before releasing it publicly in the U.S. However, I would recommend reaching out to the Trumps about whom to contact in the Russian media or intelligence worlds – I suspect they have better contacts there than I do.