Speaking to the Canadian Parliament in 1961, John F. Kennedy, attributing the words to Edmund Burke, said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Burke’s authorship has long been disputed and the sentence, in later years, has been appropriated by political conservatives as heraldic principle. Such usage is called an apothegm–a short, clever saying intended to express a general truth or value.
In the contemporary politisphere, observers and commentators have used this apothegm to characterize the reluctance of members of the GOP and the current administration to voice any criticism or opposition to policies and acts of P45. The reasons for the reluctance are of secondary importance; it is their utter absence that is of concern.
That absence, that abject silence, may be due to the nonexistence of “good” men or women. That is, those with the “right stuff” from which the motivation to speak up arises or upon which a response is based.
That absence, that abject silence, may be due to the nonexistence of “good” men or women. That is, those with the “right stuff” from which the motivation to speak up arises or upon which a response is based. Are all “hollow men, stuffed men”, as T.S. Eliot’s poem states?
Thomas Stearns Eliot penned The Hollow Men in 1925, reflecting some measure of despair with the aftermath of World War I, including the postwar flawed détente engineered by victorious nations motivated by the spoils of war. Hollowness is represented by the prologue line—Mister Kurtz–he dead--alluding to Colonel Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The morally bankrupt Kurtz is paired with stuffed men, straw-filled effigies of Guy Fawkes, apocryphal conspirator, to blow up the English Parliament. Annually, on November 5, the effigies are torched and mangled by fireworks as children cadge for coins–“a penny for the old Guy”–to buy the explosives.
After steamrolling many of the GOP’s biggest national stars to win the nomination in 2016, Trump’s first term has seen scores of other one-time presidential prospects sidelined or defeated since then — former China Ambassador Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford among them. A new presidential bench has taken shape, filled with candidates such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who are more attuned to the Trump style of politics.
The House and Senate have been similarly overhauled. Since Trump took office, nearly half of the House Republican conference either retired, resigned, was defeated, or is retiring in 2020. Many of the GOP newcomers to Congress will be MAGA through and through, having won primaries where fealty to Trump was a determinative issue. One former GOP state chairman said that whether the president wins or loses, his policy views and style have firmly taken over the Republican Party. Nationalism and white grievance and Trumpy politics will not be leaving the stage anytime soon.
Exasperating the GOP political reserves has been the emergence of another cohort of office-seekers, adopting conspiracy-theory campaign slogans, a signal of increasing loss of traditional Republican (even conservative) standards. One media outlet cited 23 former and current GOP congressional candidates with announced QAnon affiliations. Prominent among national figures is that of Michael Flynn who, on July 4, took an oath of fealty to QAnon, and who is expected to begin campaigning for P45.
Whatever stage of evolution the GOP finds itself in, it is reasonably clear that the hollowing of its political guts, replaced with useless straw, is creating a vacuum for new leadership as the shadow of P45 becomes even more prevalent and dominant.
Whatever stage of evolution the GOP finds itself in, it is reasonably clear that the hollowing of its political guts, replaced with useless straw, is creating a vacuum for new leadership as the shadow of P45 becomes even more prevalent and dominant. It is not healthy for the vibrancy of political life to experience this self-induced coma. VoxFairfax has commented about the damage to political competition more than once (“Is the Virginia GOP Doomed”, https://wp.me/p9wDCF-1A8; “Hard Right Worries Virginia GOP”, https://wp.me/p9wDCF-1y3). The absence of competition invites an equally undesired danger.
To be fair, there have appeared outspoken “hot spots” of resistance like the Lincoln Project, George Will, and, maybe sometimes,, Mitt Romney. Whether such a small band of musicians can calm the panic among the passengers on the GOP Titanic remains to be seen.
Thus, it is not so much that good men are doing nothing, it’s that there is a dearth of them with moral compasses and substance. Paraphrasing Eliot, it may be said that this is the way the Republican world ends; not with a bang but a whimper.