Trumpers on the rehab trail: Does America just want to forget this happened?

Instead of facing disgrace, Trump regime officials are now deemed respectable. That's no way to defeat fascism

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published April 1, 2021 6:10AM (EDT)

Stephen Miller, Deborah Birx and Ivanka Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Stephen Miller, Deborah Birx and Ivanka Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Nothing good emerged from Donald Trump's regime, which combined any number of malevolent tendencies: authoritarianism, white supremacy, neofascism and anti-human ideology. Destruction and political sadism were its instruments and its goals. It was also massively corrupt, a carnival of greed, corruption, self-dealing and fraud.

As part of a coordinated campaign of terror, the Trump regime put nonwhite immigrants and migrants in concentration camps where women and girls were sexually abused. Women in some of Trump's camps were also subjected to forced hysterectomies. The regime also stole migrant and refugee children away from their parents, literally disappearing them into a labyrinthine bureaucracy. Many of these children will never be reunited with their families.

Trump and his movement went so far as to attempt a coup to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the infamous assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump was impeached for the second time (which is unprecedented in American history) because of his role in these events. Of course, his Republican collaborators and possible co-conspirators in the U.S. Senate refused to convict him.

The Trump regime's response to the coronavirus pandemic led to the deaths of more than 550,000 people, through a mix of negligence, incompetence and cruelty. As many as 400,000 of those people would likely be alive if the Trump regime had acted responsibly and in the public interest.

These democidal acts were part of a much larger pattern of behavior: The people of Puerto Rico were largely abandoned by the Trump regime in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The regime also attempted to harm Americans it deemed to be "disloyal," meaning Democrats and others who do not support hm.

Where are the consequences? Where are the investigations? Where and when are the public hearings? Where is the truth committee? Why have Donald Trump and members of his regime not been prosecuted and tried for crimes against humanity?

There will be no such punishments or accountability beyond the merely performative and ceremonial — if we even get that much. Republicans in Congress, unsurprisingly, are obstructing any such efforts — they are largely determined to continue with Trump's mission, and in any case were collaborators and co-conspirators in the Trump regime's crimes.

What about the Democrats? The party leadership does not want the "distraction" of proper hearings and accountability for the crimes and evil of the Trump regime. In their eyes such proceedings would only distract energy and attention from enacting their legislative agenda. President Biden wants "unity" and "bipartisanship." He is crafting himself as the next Lyndon Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt with his own version of the Great Society and New Deal.

The mainstream news media wants a return to "business as usual," which in practice means that they can return to the obsolete habits and norms that helped to encourage and then normalize Trump's neofascist regime and assault on American democracy.

The elite consensus, in other words, is clear: The Age of Trump needs to be disappeared, thrown down the memory hole, so that America and the world can go back to "normal." Organized forgetting is a collective project: most Americans are cooperating because they believe (or at least hope) that it will make the trauma and pain of the Age of Trump go away.

Instead of accountability, ignominy and public shame, former officials of the Trump regime are on a rehabilitation tour, being repackaged as "reasonable" and "respectable" people, insider "experts" who will have lucrative careers as right-wing spokespeople and media personalities.

In one of the most noxious examples, Stephen Miller, a white supremacist and professional hate-monger, is now presented on Fox News and elsewhere as an "immigration expert." In a marginally just world — one in which the United States was a mature and morally sound culture instead of a pathocracy — Miller would now be standing trial for crimes against humanity at the Hague. Instead, he is further polluting the country's public sphere and discourse.

And then there is Dr. Deborah Birx, she of the fashionable scarves. Birx was formerly one of the most respected public health experts in the world. Then, in February 2020, the Trump regime made her the White House "coronavirus response coordinator." In effect, her role was to provide cover and legitimacy for the Trump regime's irresponsible, incompetent, and lethal response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now known that matters were even more dire than was widely understood, in terms of the spread and lethality of COVID-19 and its variants. Likewise, the Trump regime's response was even more incompetent than most people could have imagined.

Instead of sharing this information with the American people and the world, Birx chose to be silent. By doing so, she became a collaborator and enabler of the Trump regime's evil. She shares responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Birx's defense is a common one among collaborators in fascist, authoritarian and other such regimes: "If I left or spoke out matters would have been even worse. I was a moderating influence."

There were many public voices who anticipated this moment, in which America stands at a crossroads, facing a decision about accountability and responsibility for the crimes and misdeeds of the Trump regime and its allies.

In an interview with Salon last March, historian David Perry warned:

We're in a moment in which the corruption of the government is running so deep and so wide and in so many different ways that there is not going to be any one pathway out of it. To look forward and not back will just enable people to continue to steal and will enable distrust in institutions.    

In America, we need to have a system that is dedicated to exposing the truth. This process of truth-telling must be based upon some principles: "These are the things that happened. Here are the records. Here are the documents. Here are the things we know that have been altered, that we've been able to track down." Consider how the Trump administration changed the photo of his 2016 inauguration. That was only discovered by happenstance.

How many other things have been changed that the American people and the world do not know about? And that they won't know about unless dedicated resources and investigators go through receipts, go through emails, look at images and check for documents? How will we know? The American people and the world must know the truth.

Historian Jill Lepore, on the other hand does not want a post-Trump truth and reconciliation commission, calling that a "terrible idea." In an October 2020 column for the Washington Post she wrote:

In the end, the strongest argument against either criminal trials or a truth tribunal, should Biden win, is that it would let the Democratic Party and every other institution that is not the Republican Party off the hook for driving the nation into a flaming cauldron. The left is keen to blame the right. But what the nation needs, pretty urgently, is self-reflection, not only from Republicans but also from establishment Democrats and progressives and liberals and journalists and educators and activists and social media companies and, honestly, everyone….

No commission can demand that each of us tell the truth about ourselves and reconcile ourselves to one another. Meanwhile, as for people you disagree with, and probably hate, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.

In a July 2020 essay for the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum reflected on the Trump regime's collaborators and questions of accountability:

The price of collaboration in America has already turned out to be extraordinarily high. And yet, the movement down the slippery slope continues, just as it did in so many occupied countries in the past. First Trump's enablers accepted lies about the inauguration; now they accept terrible tragedy and the loss of American leadership in the world. Worse could follow. Come November, will they tolerate — even abet — an assault on the electoral system: open efforts to prevent postal voting, to shut polling stations, to scare people away from voting? Will they countenance violence, as the president's social-media fans incite demonstrators to launch physical attacks on state and city officials?

Each violation of our Constitution and our civic peace gets absorbed, rationalized, and accepted by people who once upon a time knew better. If, following what is almost certain to be one of the ugliest elections in American history, Trump wins a second term, these people may well accept even worse. Unless, of course, they decide not to.

In a November 2020 column for the Washington Post, historian Samuel Huneke offered this lesson about denazification in Germany and its lessons for a post-Trump America:

What can we learn from Germany's rocky path of denazification? To state the obvious, the United States is not Nazi Germany. The Trump administration, for all that it has done, has not committed genocide or launched a transcontinental war of aggression. The crimes of Nazi Germany were of a different magnitude than those of President Trump. Nonetheless, the questions that confronted Germans in the 1940s and 1950s are parallel to those we confront today: how to make sure future governments never commit such crimes again — or worse.

The postwar German experience of denazification suggests a twofold approach. On the one hand, we must hold those who have committed crimes accountable, allowing justice free rein, even if its targets are the ex-president, his family or former Cabinet secretaries. Congressional inquiries, too, may serve a valuable role in uncovering wrongdoing and suggesting structural reforms. On the other hand, the Biden administration must be careful to avoid talk of collective guilt, for which there is no judicial remedy and which can serve only to alienate those who might yet return to the democratic fold.

We must also bear in mind that denazification was a process that took decades and was never truly complete. Trials for wrongdoers were a necessary component of staving off future calamity. But just as denazification provided only a basis for future democratic development, so would trials of Trump officials be only a starting point for the social and political reforms we so urgently need, reforms that will also require our politicians to confront this country's legacy of racism with greater clarity than ever before. Like Germany in 1945, we have an opportunity to reimagine our society. The Biden administration should seize it.

In total, the decision not to hold the Trump regime and its allies accountable for their crimes is an illustration of why America's elites are experiencing a legitimacy crisis. The United States is a two-tiered society: There is one set of rules for the rich and powerful and another set of rules for everyone else.

Trumpists are allowed to cause destruction, pain, death and misery without consequences. Even worse, many of them, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other members of the regime's inner circle became (even more) fabulously wealthy because of the ways they abused their power and literally ran the White House and the federal government as a personal bank and influence-peddling operation.

By comparison, many millions of poor, working-class and (formerly) middle-class Americans are now unemployed because of the pandemic. Many Americans who are lucky to still have jobs are not earning a living wage: Indeed, wages have been stagnant for 40 years and opportunities for upward economic and social mobility are increasingly rare.

Elites can fail in America and be rewarded — and in many cases be promoted upwards. Elites are also subsidized by the public purse through bailouts, tax write-offs, public subsidies, outright tax theft and manipulation of the tax code in their collective interest. The average American is told to "sink or swim" in a winner-take-all economy and society. As has frequently been observed, neoliberalism amounts to "socialism" for the rich and free markets and survival of the fittest for everyone else.

In other examples of a profoundly unequal American society, many tens of thousands of poor and working-class people are stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail, even at modest amounts. Rich people routinely break the law and are allowed to walk free.

Even the seditious and treasonous events of Jan 6. reveal the contradictions of American society and questions of justice. Trump's followers who assaulted the Capitol are being hunted down by the full force of federal law enforcement and the national security state. Many of those traitors and terrorists will be sent to prison, as they should be. But the ringleaders and coup plotters in the Trump regime and Republican Party — who inspired, commanded and perhaps even helped coordinate the attack on the Capitol — will in all likelihood never be punished.

The experience of living in a two-tiered society fuels rage, on both the left and the right, against a political, social and economic system that is manifestly unfair. Such rage is the fuel for populism, be it the fake authoritarian white supremacist and nativist populism of the right-wing or the real "we the people" outrage at injustice found among progressives and liberals.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are viewed with distrust if not outright disdain by a large portion of the American public. They are deemed, not altogether unfairly, to be inheritors and protectors of a corrupt system in which the interests of corporations and rich and powerful individuals are prioritized over those of the American people.

Ultimately, one outcome is all but guaranteed if members of the Trump regime and their allies are not held responsible and punished for their crimes and other wrongdoing. American neofascism will be further empowered toward a renewed attack on multiracial democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law. Why should it be otherwise? If there is no punishment and accountability for the Trump regime and its allies, then their crimes were just a test run for what lies ahead.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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