The rise of Donald Trump has seen a whole lot of people in the Republican party and conservative movement suddenly realizing that divisive rhetoric and xenophobic attitudes and bigotry are bad things, even though they were advocating those very same things for decades except using coded language. They seem outraged that he is openly saying what they were covertly advocating.
Perhaps the most repulsive is seeing all those who were so gung-ho about using torture and defended and even immunized those who ordered it and carried it out, signing a letter now expressing shock and outrage that Trump has ‘gone too far’ in advocating for it. Glenn Greenwald ridicules the position these people are taking.
But the group signing this anti-Trump letter can’t pretend to find an embrace of torture itself to be “inexcusable” because most of them implemented torture policies while in government or vocally advocated for them. So instead, they invoke the Goldilocks Theory of Torture: we believe in torture up to exactly the right point, while Trump is disgraceful because he wants to go beyond that: he believes in “the expansive use of torture.” The same dynamic drove yesterday’s widely cheered speech by Mitt Romney, where the two-time failed GOP candidate denounced Trump for advocating torture while literally ignoring his own clear pro-torture viewpoints.
He says that the idea, proposed by the odious Michael Hayden of all people, that the American military would defy orders to carry out ‘expansive torture’ is absurd.
It’s obviously a pleasing fiction to believe – it produces nice, nationalistic feelings of nobility – but everything in the past decades proves that Trump is right when he says “they’re not going to refuse.” Some likely would, but nowhere near enough to preclude the policies being carried out. In fact, the primary argument used to justify immunizing America’s torturers is that they were just following orders as approved by John Yoo and company: reflecting a moral code which dictates that, even when it comes to plainly illegal policies, obedience is preferable to defiance.
The final straw is the horror being expressed at Trump’s willingness to go after the family members of those accused of terrorism, when the reality is that both the Bush and Obama administrations and Israel have been doing so for years.
Then there’s the feigned horror over Trump’s proposal to kill the family members of terrorists. Though they claim they don’t do it deliberately, the fact is that this is something that both the U.S. and Israel, among others, has routinely done for years: they repeatedly bomb people’s homes or work places, killing innocent people including family members, and then justify it on the ground that a terrorist was among them. While they claim they don’t target terrorists’ family members, they certainly target their homes and other places family members are certain to be found.
Whatever his many faults, Donald Trump has performed a singular service is demonstrating that the hateful rhetoric Republicans indulged in for so long was not actually cost free but was instead a debt that they were building up. Payment is now coming due.