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Two little words Republicans can’t ignore when it comes to Trump: ‘stand by’ | COMMENTARY

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2020 file photo, members of the Proud Boys, including leader Enrique Tarrio, second from left, gesture and cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally in Portland, Ore. President Donald Trump told the far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate in September.
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2020 file photo, members of the Proud Boys, including leader Enrique Tarrio, second from left, gesture and cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally in Portland, Ore. President Donald Trump told the far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate in September. (John Locher/AP)

A Republican considering how to vote is torn by repulsion from President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and qualified sympathy for some of his positions. But means are more important than ends in the politics of free countries. As a bookseller’s son I had no difficulty in the last election in deciding that I would in no circumstance vote for Donald Trump. Like 4 million other protest voters, I supported the respectable Johnson-Weld ticket; it helped that I was acquainted with Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico; did not share the media’s view that he was an idiot from flyover country, but did share the perception of a hand-lettered sign I saw by a roadside in Vermont: “Gary is not scary.”

Some of Mr. Trump’s acquaintances hoped he would rise to the occasion. He had some assets: a social network aiding in the recruitment of competent people for the principal cabinet positions — Secretaries Mnuchin (the improbable star of the cabinet), Pompeo and Barr being at least as competent and no more partisan than their Democratic predecessors — and  avoidance of undue stubbornness on the Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge model.

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On four issues, Mr. Trump identified concerns to which the Democrats were oblivious: He opposed “liberal imperialism” and its attendant refugee flows abroad; realized that America’s lack of a VAT tax rebatable to exporters rendered recent trade agreements disadvantageous; faced the fact, manifest in the Know-Nothing 1850s and the Klan-influenced 1920s, that there was such a thing as too much and too sudden immigration; and sensed public resentment of a Supreme Court that seemed intent on making situation ethics a rule of constitutional law.

On all these issues, he largely delivered what he promised. His deregulatory and tax initiatives have produced economic benefits, including lower oil prices and unappreciated relief from taxation for those at the bottom of the economy through expansion of the standard deduction and family tax credits. The Democrats have at least begun to learn his lessons — clearly so on trade and “regime-change” wars; less clearly on immigration and the Supreme Court, though Judge Barrett was spared the vilification heaped on Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh and Alito. Democrats have not distinguished themselves through Red-baiting without Reds, championship of sexual license, delay of agreed economic relief measures for the coronavirus, a partisan impeachment, and over-exploitation of race and gender grievances. Their allies on The New York Times have, in their way, done as much to debase political discourse as Mr. Trump.

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But there is no more benefit that can be derived from another Trump victory. He has been undone by Caesarism and life in a fantasy world. From the exaggerated inaugural crowds, the abrasive inaugural speech, the attempted exclusion of persons with valid passports, the effort to extract from the F.B.I. director the equivalent of the personal oath of loyalty of Hitler’s generals, the Roger Stone pardon, the concealment of personal tax returns, the failure to adhere to debate rules, the advance impugning of the election’s outcome, it is clear that Suetonius' “Lives of the Twelve Caesars” provides a better guide than the “Federalist Papers” to the course of a second Trump administration.

Some of the charges against Mr. Trump have been bum raps. He was right to recognize — like George Orwell, President Macron of France and the present writer — that at least a few of the Charlottesville demonstrators thought it wrong to eliminate history and encourage separatism through the destruction of public monuments. He (and General Flynn) were also not wrong in seeking to regularize relations with Russia, the world’s second nuclear power and one of Franklin Roosevelt’s “five policemen” of world order.

But there is not too much to be feared from a Biden administration. Abuse of the courts in the dubious cause of sexual license will no longer be possible, and the Democratic extremists will be no more successful than FDR in “packing” the Supreme Court. Thanks to Lafayette Square and Portland, there is growing liberal appreciation of the benefits of federalism in law enforcement. The Trump administration’s opposition to nationwide lockdowns and the closing of schools are attracting increasing public support, and “defunding the police” is no longer a popular cause, even among Democrats. There are aspects of the Biden-Sanders manifesto that are to be welcomed, not feared: a revived Civilian Conservation Corps; serious youth employment programs; reforestation and flood control; and estate, capital gains, and income tax changes to curb enormous fortunes, particularly those based on investment management looting state pension funds.

There is one overriding issue. We cannot have an unstable and mercurial president whose thoughts have now turned to encouragement of armed paramilitary groups to reinforce his political position, telling them to “stand by.” Those two little words, if nothing else, should doom the Trump presidency in the minds of all responsible Republicans.

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George Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer, is the author of numerous works on politics and history, most recently “America’s Political Inventors” (Bloomsbury, 2019); his email is george.liebmann2@verizon.net.

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