“Sometimes you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” my grandmother used to say.
I was thinking of her apt observation when I sank down in an easy chair at Parnassus Books in Nashville and cracked open Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission, by Mark Leibovich. A veteran journalist, he now writes for The Atlantic.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud reading a book about politics. But the non-stop chortling commenced when I turned to page 1. It didn’t end until I was almost finished with the book back home – and then ended abruptly.
“‘Thank You for Your Servitude’” is extremely funny in spots, although much of the humor has a whistling-past-the-graveyard quality,” wrote Geoffrey Kabaservice in his New York Times review of the book.
I get it.
Leibovich focused his fire “less on the MAGA true believers … than on the twisted and tormented souls in the Republican establishment who could have prevented Trump’s hostile takeover of the party but didn’t,” the reviewer added. “Such Republicans, in Leibovich’s assessment, ‘made Trump possible’ and they ‘refused to stop him even after the U.S. Capitol fell under the control of some madman in a Viking hat. It was always rationalization followed by capitulation and then full surrender. The routine was always numbingly the same, and so was the sad truth at the heart of it: They all knew better.’”
Leibovich defined 45’s GOP Quislings as “careerists who capitulated to Trumpism to preserve their livelihoods.” These were “the supplicant fanboys who permitted Donald Trump’s depravity to be inflicted on the rest of us.”
They included “Trump leg-humpers from the House,” notably Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “another purebred in Donald Trump’s kennel of acolytes.” He was “My Kevin” to Trump – “a term of ownership as much as affection,” according to Leibovich.
He cited Rep. Matt Gaetz, “the high-haired Republican from Florida,” as “another elite brownnoser whose name rated first-person possessive from the president. ‘My Matt’ had the perfect look of a lawyer on a billboard. He loved performing for Trump on TV. He carried his own makeup bag.”
Other notably oleaginous fawners included:
– Vice President Mike Pence: “It was always a bit of a puzzle with Pence. Why would this most conspicuously moral Christian man attach himself so utterly to one of the most depraved creatures to ever inhabit our public life?”
– First Trump Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions: Trump called him “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner,” Leibovich wrote. “But it didn’t matter. They were all in business together now.”
– Last Trump Attorney Gen. William Barr: “… Essentially turned himself into a Yo Yo Ma of White House toadyism, with Trump as his cello.”
– Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo: “… A particular kind of Eddie Haskell figure among the Alpha Lapdogs, dutiful in sucking up to Trump and prodigious in trashing him behind his back, per several White House and Hill sources.”
– Sen. Lindsey Graham: “A top deputy in service to the Alpha … dead-eyed, chubby-cheeked … a Gilligan to Donald Trump’s Skipper … Seth Myers observed that Graham would wear the same golf clothes as his master, ‘like a Chihuahua whose owner makes him wear matching outfits.’”
– Sen. Mitch McConnell: “After condemning Trump in the strongest possible terms [over Jan. 6, McConnell] … declined to schedule a Senate trial immediately after the House impeached Trump again on January 13 … [ensuring] … that the Senate could not act before Trump left office. … It was a nifty two-step, and classic McConnell, who of course did not himself vote to convict in the end. … Accordingly, McConnell went on Fox News two weeks later and revealed that he would ‘absolutely’ support Trump if he became the nominee again in 2024.”
– Sen. Ted Cruz: “His degree of prostration was breathtaking even by Trump-era Republican standards – just as his shamelessness was striking even by Ted Cruz standards.”
– Sen. Rick Scott: “… made his own ring-kissing pilgrimage to Mecca [Mar-a-Lago] in the spring [of 2021]” with “the first ever ‘Champion for Freedom’ trophy, which was conceived by Scott for just for this extremely special occasion. … It was kind of a lame trophy, to be honest – a puny silver bowl, roughly the size of the participation trophy my daughter got for her incredible hard work and dedication on the fifth-grade soccer team (great job, Franny!). But Trump, who cupped the memento with two hands and held it out for the cameras like a hot fudge sundae, was beaming at the recognition.”
– Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: a Yale and Harvard Law grad who transformed his “identity into that of a panting and performative Trump-worshipping fanatic.”
– Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who “had a seemingly limitless appetite for, among other things, being humiliated by Trump.”
My mirth stopped when I reached the last few pages of Thank You For Your Servitude, which arrived in bookstores last month. Sober reflection set in, worsened by thinking about where I've lived all my 72 years: deepest western Kentucky, or deepest Trumpistan as I call it.
“A former Republican congressman told me recently that the party’s only real plan for dealing with Trump in 2024 involved a darkly divine intervention,” Leibovitz wrapped up. “‘We're just waiting for him to die,’” he said. “That was it, that was the plan. He was 100 percent serious.
“But soon enough, 2024 won't be a long way off. Trump will likely still be alive. His running again will no longer be hypothetical. The crowds will return to the arenas and to the next Trump hotel, or wherever the lights go on next. So will the original owner, primed for a return engagement as the Republican standard bearer – because what could possibly go wrong?
“And who's going to stop him?”
I see no evidence that many folks in my neck of the woods have abandoned Trump. In 2016, he won more than 80 percent of the vote in the county where we live – and nearly 82 percent in 2020. He rolled up similar blowout margins in the counties around ours.
Blue “Trump 2024” flags fly atop front yard poles. The other day, I saw an “ULTRA MAGA” flag banner.
Leibovich, while reporting on the 2020 campaign trail from Iowa, spotted “at least two dozen Trump signs, billboard-sized in many cases. They signaled that this president was more than a seasonal candidate to his supporters. He was also a permanent identity marker and lifestyle brand. And it was not as if any one were about to take down their signs if Trump happened to say something ‘problematic – a word they never spoke in those houses.”
Doing something “problematic” like illegally stashing top secret government documents in his posh Florida digs doesn’t seem to be shaking the faith of the MAGA multitude hereabouts.
“But western Kentucky is not typical of the whole country,” my 66-year-old wife — also a lifelong resident of our region — is ever reminding me. Both of us are everlastingly grateful that it’s not.
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