If this country is ever going to disentangle from the Trumpism that’s choking the life out of it, we’re going to need escape routes.
We’ve heard plenty from self-congratulatory Democrats, cerebral #NeverTrumpers and aloof European historians who warn about the perils of authoritarianism in our naive nation.
What we need is advice from people who have been fully enchanted by President Trump’s racism, corruption and assault on the rule of law.
People like Atty. Gen. William Barr, Trump’s latest fixer, though Barr seems prepared to go to his grave in Trump’s harness.
But really, we don’t have to wait for Barr’s white-light conversion. We have three extraordinary examples of figures who broke free of Trumpism and the man himself. Trumpism is such a totalizing belief system that the country is going to require a thorough, even spiritual, metamorphosis.
The first heretic is Michael Cohen, Trump’s formerly slavish Guy Friday. The second is James Comey, the self-righteous former director of the FBI, who wrote an op-ed this week that probed Barr’s and former Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein’s appalling submission to Trump — as well as his own.
The third is Katie McHugh, a former avatar of the alt-right and suck-up to the Trump family. According to a riveting profile by Rosie Gray in BuzzFeed News, McHugh has renounced what she now sees, in a rigorous religious framework, as her sins.
Two months ago, Cohen’s testimony to Congress about his fall into Trump’s clutches also had a religious note. Swept up in Trump’s nonstop bellowing, Cohen felt complicit, intoxicated; he began to lie for him. Now he’s especially ashamed of enabling Trump’s florid racism, which he sees as an affront to his father, who escaped the racist genocide in Nazi Germany.
Reaffirming his commitment to the values he shares with his family — and facing prison — Cohen had to hit bottom to clear his mind.
Comey had to just about bottom out too before he caught himself. After he lost Trump’s support and was dramatically fired as FBI director two years ago, he discovered that he had bent his carefully cultivated Methodist rectitude to the pressure to back-slap with the president.
According to his op-ed, when Trump raved to him about his fever dreams — “largest inauguration crowd in history” — Comey stayed silent, too cowed to challenge him.
Trump “eats your soul,” said Comey, and you end up making various deals with yourself and the devil. “You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family,” he wrote.
Like Cohen, Comey felt that in standing by Trump he was betraying not just his conscience but his family.
The far-right blogger McHugh, a onetime protege of former Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon, has a more tragic story than either Cohen or Comey, but she’s also the one who has done the most to make amends.
Lost and isolated at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, the conservative McHugh, according to Gray’s profile, moved from supply-side economics and family values to hotter niches, like, say, Holocaust denial. Her undergraduate antics drew the attention of the alt-right godfathers, including Bannon, who gave her a job at Breitbart News.
While boosting Trump, her posts helped pioneer a scrappy, reckless new kind of Twitter-optimized racism. Then she went too far even for Breitbart in a tweet about Muslims and had to ply her wares at seedier and seedier joints, pushing the far-far-far-right boundaries of white supremacy.
Finally, without health insurance and suffering from diabetes, McHugh found that her strategy of moving further right to get attention and jobs failed her. It was the 5th century works of St. Augustine that brought her back. If she renounced her misdeeds and recommitted herself to a dignified life, she, too, could be forgiven.
McHugh did more than that, though. She turned over to Gray emails showing former Department of Homeland Security official Ian Smith’s ties to white nationalists, and Gray’s resulting article helped get Smith fired.
This is how escapees from Trumpism can help break its spell for the more casual devotees: Expose what the high-ranking Trumpers espouse in order to enlighten the members of the fabled base about their mistakes.
At the very least, Trumpites seem to recognize that they will need to atone. Even Trump’s mouthpiece lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani may see the writing on the wall. He told a reporter, “I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.’”
To all Trumpites — rank-and-file or highly public — who likewise may be starting to grapple with what will happen to them when they meet their makers, Cohen, Comey and McHugh offer guidance: Remember who you were and what you stood for — before Donald and before it’s too late. For you and the nation.