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Posts published in November 2019

My aunt Vera


My Aunt Vera was a genuinely nice person. She could have been the All-American model for a Norman Rockwell painting and she always looked, as my Dad might have said, “neat as a pin.”

Aunt Vera favored tight little curls in her grey hair. Most would consider that an “old fashioned” look now days, but it seemed to fit her perfectly. And no pants or slacks for Vera, always a dress even when laboring in the kitchen as she did one memorable Thanksgiving more than a half century ago. That celebration with all its sounds and smells lives on in the half-light of memory of a November long ago.

My Dad had two half brothers and while they had different last names, they were in every other respect as close as any three men – three brothers – could be. Growing up I lived near one of my Dad’s brothers and his wife, my Aunt Mae. They became second and very indulgent parents to me. What a blessing for any kid.

We didn’t often see the other brother, my uncle, since Hisel and Aunt Vera lived some distance away. With a name like Hisel you can understand why everyone called my uncle by his nickname, Smut, which is another story for another Thanksgiving. But, I digress.

It was suggested during that long ago autumn that the family should establish a new tradition and annually rotate Thanksgiving dinner with first one brother (and wife) hosting and then another. The idea was immediately embraced as providing a happy excuse for a get together and a big, enjoyable dinner.

Everything went swimmingly when my mother hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner under this new arrangement. My mother was both a lovely person and a fine cook of the old school. She lavished attention on her gravy, her turkey was never overdone and her pumpkin pie was a thing of beauty. We didn’t see the good china very often at our house and the “real” silver was stored away for only the most special of occasions. That Thanksgiving Mom set the table as if John F. Kennedy were stopping by for lunch. Even I got a long stemmed goblet and a fancy white napkin.

Aunt Mae also knew her way around the kitchen and when she hosted the second Thanksgiving gathering the following year the food was good and the laughs even better. My Aunt Mae was a sassy, funny, outspoken woman. She was an outstanding amateur golfer in her younger days. She could smash a golf ball and as a kid she gifted me some old clubs and joyfully coached my swing. And she could cook, too.

I still remember my father and his brothers telling stories on one another during these Thanksgiving gatherings, engaging in the good natured banter than passes for intimacy among a certain generation of men. The brothers loved each other dearly, but tended to express affection with what amounted to verbal towel snapping and warm handshakes. Hugs were for the women doing all the real work in the kitchen, while the men exchanged teasing jokes in the living room over a splash of Canadian Club and frequent glances at a football game. Naturally I hung with Dad and my uncles.

The Thanksgiving tradition seemed fully established until it was Aunt Vera’s turn to prepare the feast. For years afterward it was a guilty pleasure to watch my Mother and Dad challenge each other to say something positive about the food at that dinner. As they struggled to remember anything that went well, often while we enjoyed another of Mom’s outstanding meals, the table would be engulfed in laughter at the memory of the turkey that never quite got done and the side dishes that never quite worked. And, yes, there is a reason I never developed a taste for mince pie.

Finally Mom would say something generous about the rolls and butter or marvel at where Vera got those fresh flowers, but inevitably my Dad would smile and say that his brother obviously hadn’t married Aunt Vera because of her cooking.

Thanksgiving, the essential American holiday, is my favorite holiday, a time for family, food, football and fun. Hold the politics. Even in a world that at the moment seems seriously off the rails, Thanksgiving is a refuge, a place of memory and warmth, a place to reflect on life’s many, many wonders and blessings.

As I think, as I always do this time of year, of those long ago gatherings with parents, aunts and uncles, it is the laughter and the love that sits most lightly on my mind. I’ve tried to resist the urge this week to think too much about our controversial president, our polarized politics or a changing climate and instead let my mind drift back to the Nebraska of my youth where turkey and cranberry relish mix with the sweet memories of people I loved and still love.

“Society is consumed by negative partisanship,” Charles Lane wrote recently in the Washington Post. “Restoring the right balance is the key to stabilizing the republic.”

He’s right. And balance begins with giving thanks. This is a great – not perfect – but great country. Give thanks for that. We’re stronger and happier when we reflect on our shared good fortune and our shared values. We’ve been through a lot and somehow keep moving. Give thanks for that. When we focus on what each of us might do to make this fleeting and limited life as full and decent as it can be for family, friends, folks down the block and, yes, even those Americans who come from other places with other traditions we are truly living out our creed. Give thanks for that.

Aunt Vera’s undercooked turkey wasn’t the point. The togetherness was the point and gratefulness was the side dish. We’ll not be happy without a sense of thanksgiving. It’s a path to a better life and a better world.

A growing vote


Is Idaho’s Latino population on track to upend Idaho politics?

Notice I said “on track,” not “is about to.” You’d be unwise to hold your breath expecting immediate massive changes in Idaho demographics or election results from what we have recently seen.

But over time? During the next decade or two, there’s a good chance that Gem State Latinos may make a significant difference in Idaho elections.

Consider last year’s election for governor, won by Republican Brad Little with an unsurprisingly large percentage of the vote; the totals were about 360,000 to 231,000, or about 600,000 total. That lead of about 130,000 votes seems like too much to overtake any time soon. Keep the number in mind.

And bear in mind that while Idaho’s population overall has been growing strong, its non-Latino population is growing only slowly, while the Latino sector has been increasing much faster. Idaho’s Latino population is about 12 percent of the total - about 198,000 people in all - a steadily increasing percentage. (In case you were wondering: Overwhelmingly, they are in fact American citizens.)

More important than that is the age of this sector: Many are young, disproportionately just under the voting age. But that’s changing, somewhat. A large segment of those 198,000 people who haven’t been eligible to vote because of age, will be over the next few elections.

The point will be made that the actual Latino vote up to now has fallen short of its pools of qualified electors - that many have not participated. There’s truth in that. But participation tends to change as you see more of the people around you getting involved; if your friends and neighbors vote more, your likelihood of voting may rise too. So as the overall number of Latinos in Idaho will be growing, so will the percentage of them qualified by age to vote, which will in turn trigger more of the overall population to start to participate.

In a story in the Twin Falls Times News (one of several recent news articles on the subject worth your attention), Margie Gonzalez, the executive director of the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said, “Because of the size and age of our population, we’re going to start seeing a real shift in the next five to 10 years. We’re going to see Hispanic youth in leadership roles all across the state.” She’s likely right.

Latino candidates have been surfacing in larger numbers in local races, especially in some of the state’s smaller cities. That’s how this kind of change starts. Legislative seats and state offices will come later.

And there are a growing number of places around Idaho, scattered for mostly in rural places around southern Idaho, where the Latino population has hit a tipping point. In Clark County, which few people would have thought of as a Latino place, 45 percent of the population now identifies as such - and the percentage is growing.

As a matter of partisan preference, Latinos are not overwhelmingly located in one political party. But the group does, nationally, lean strongly toward the Democratic party. In the last few presidential elections, the Latino vote split at about two-thirds to three-fourths for the Democratic nominee; outside of Florida, the number tends toward the higher range.

Now: Does that 130,000 vote gap still seem so completely out of reach?

This isn’t a suggestion of political revolution in the air in Idaho, not yet. Don’t look for more than an echo of it in 2020. But it is one of several indicators suggesting that the solid-state reality of Idaho politics may be undergoing some changes in the not too far-off future.

Guns and chainsaws


I went to a public forum on Federal lands in Idaho a few years back that the Idaho legislature sponsored. It was a traveling interim committee meeting the legislature set up to consider just what the Idaho legislature should do to take back federal lands.

It was Sagebrush Rebellion 2.0. The meeting was in my district back when I was a State Senator. I was amazed at the turnout. I never got that many people to show up at a town hall meeting I held. I was also surprised to see a sheriff’s deputy standing by the door. It seemed a pretty dry presentation to me. But then I noticed the guy next to me had a side arm. And then I noticed quite a few in the folding chairs around me. I hadn’t brought mine; hadn’t felt the need.

My church wants to pass a resolution that our church premises should be a “gun free zone”. I’m not opposed to it. I just don’t understand why we need such a statement. I think my fellow congregants believe such a statement might help quell the mass shootings we hear about in the media. I don’t. It just seems like common sense to me. But then, maybe common sense needs some support nowadays.

I think we all need to start thinking differently.

I see a gun as a tool, like a chainsaw. Both have their purpose. Both are incredible innovations our modern minds and industrial technologies have developed. Both can be misused. Both can be used for powerful purposes. Both have the power to cause lethal harm to oneself or others. Both have a specific function. One cuts so fast it has made getting firewood almost fun. The other directs a projectile with more accuracy and power than a human arm could hope to throw. And that can be fun.

But we have very different feelings about these two tools, don’t we?

If you saw a guy walking down the street with a chainsaw on her shoulder, would you be afraid? Or would you think them a bit silly? How about if the guy had an AR15 on her shoulder? Would you be afraid or think them a bit silly?

My liberal friends find guns threatening and react with umbrage, indignation, anxiety, outrage and fear. But I think that reaction is just what the idiot with the AR15 wants. She’s not going to use the gun, just like the idiot with the chainsaw wouldn’t fire it up on Main Street. When an idiot postures, sometimes the best reaction is to laugh at their folly.

But we can’t help reacting, can we? It is just such reaction, such a visceral response we need to learn how to avoid. Such a reaction gets us hooked to FOX News, CNN, or whatever click bait we fall for. Such reactions make us a tool of these powerful media machines we give so much of our money to. It’s time to look at the idiots and laugh.

But be alert.

Laughing at the guy with a chain saw might be a little easier than laughing at the guy with a semi auto. The guy with the chainsaw can’t kill you from across the street.

I don’t know of any school massacres that have happened with chainsaws. But they have been stars in some horror movies. We don’t live in a movie, or do we?

Tools have their purpose, as do people. It’s time we started reacting to the people around us and not just the tools they carry. Have we become a society that can’t know the people among us?

Banning tools won’t change people. People change people.

Be a people, not a tool.

(photo/Dan Schmidt)

Human rights


What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn but simply by virtue of our humanity, belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?
â–º Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, July 8, 2019

As an article in the New Yorker suggested,1 Pompeo’s answer to the question may be found in the members appointed to a new Commission on Unalienable Rights, whose chair, Mary Ann Glendon, is best known for opposition to same-sex marriage. Among other members, “Peter Berkowitz, of the Hoover Institution, has argued that human rights are, in essence, religious rights – indeed, that the source of all human rights is Christianity. ... Christopher Tollefsen, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, has written that embryos are human beings and has argued that the Pope went too far when he suggested that the use of contraceptives may be permissible to prevent transmission of the Zika virus to newborns.”

The rights in question seem to put those of religion – certain religious ideas, obviously not all – at the top of the heap. Beyond that, the article said, “In effect, the new commission will contemplate who is and isn’t human, and who, therefore, possesses inalienable rights. Most of the commissioners appear to believe that embryos are human. Many of them also appear to subscribe to the Trump Administration’s general position that trans people do not exist.”

Some of this is a response to an expanding list of human rights over the last – well, three or four hundred years. But what’s being looked at in cases like this is a regression is almost no rights at all, unless your religious beliefs comport with those of the politically powerful.

The beauty of the American quilt


As Thanksgiving 2019 becomes a pleasant memory, it is a good time to reflect upon the significance of this important holiday. Families and friends gather to break bread, eat turkey and give thanks for the blessings bestowed on us by our remarkable form of government.

We have been repulsed by the ugly political comments that some of those sitting around the table have posted on social media. Yet, we know them to be good-hearted, generous folk. They contribute to charities, engage in community activities and are there to help when accidents happen or weather disaster strikes. It is hard to reconcile the political commentary with the civic-minded actions.

Thanksgiving Day was conceived in conflict and designed to bring people together. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday on October 3, 1863, during the Civil War. He did it at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. The occasion had been celebrated since the time of the Pilgrims but each locality had its own day of observance. The national observance was for the sake of unity.

In his proclamation, Lincoln expressed thanks that the country was holding together and that “harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.” He expressed thanks to the “Most High God” for the blessings bestowed on the people and urged Americans to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”

If the nation could eventually come together to heal the wounds of war, we can certainly overcome our political quarrels of today and work together as a nation. If we just open our eyes, we can see goodness in every corner of this great country.

Last February, I had the privilege of judging the American Legion Oratorical Contest. The state winner was Alayna Lopez of Pocatello, who made a remarkable speech, titled “The Quilt of Our Nation.” She spoke of a conversation with her grandfather, who described how our country was a patchwork of people of all faiths, origins, and beliefs, all stitched together in a remarkable quilt. It was a thoughtful and moving presentation.

I was also deeply touched by an article that appeared in the Washington Post on October 11 under the byline of Petula Dvorak. A renowned scientist searched for his mystery angel for 30 years tells of a quest made by a Kuwaiti refugee to find a travel agent who made it possible to settle his family in the United States.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, a young Muslim man, Mahmoud Ghannoum, was stranded in Washington, DC, without money and needing to change his plane ticket to get to a job interview. He spoke with an African-American man in a travel agency, who heard him out and sympathized. The agent issued a new ticket and gave him $80 as “spending money.”

Ghannoum got the job, moved his family to America, became a citizen and is now “the world’s leading microbiome researcher,” according to the article. Google his name and be impressed. Last year, Ghannoum intensified his search for his benefactor, who turned out to be James Dorsey, a Vietnam Veteran and volunteer firefighter. Unfortunately, Dorsey had passed away this past February. I was so moved by the story because it brought together a generous man who had served his country in Vietnam and a refugee who has contributed greatly to his country, this country.

Both Dorsey and Ghannoum are great additions to the beautiful American quilt, as is Alayna Lopez. We should all try to see the good in one another and strive to add ourselves to that wonderful quilt.

How’s your day going?


One of the rare advantages to living with some 90,000 seniors in adjoining communities is the great health care. Family docs and specialists for absolutely everything. On every corner.

Three months ago, we needed the services of one of those specialists for back surgery for Barb. Reamed off the arthritis that had grown on her lower spine, rebuilt the base that had dissolved and inserted eight screws to hold it all together. No followup prescriptions. No pain. Just some rehab in an excellent facility. As I said, “great health care.”

Since we’ve received no bills in these 12 weeks, we got to wondering what total charges were and what Medicare and our secondary insurer paid. So, we got online and checked it out.

Because the charges were many, involving nearly a dozen providers - some we’d never heard of - and a lot of descriptions were puzzling, we had to go piece-by-piece to see who got what.

Ironically, the surgeon was less than $10,000. We’d expected higher. Hospital charges were divided into a couple dozen categories which included other specialists and their attendant equipment. Hard to put a dollar figure on her five-day stay but I’d guess another $20,000.

Then, there was a seven-day stay in a rehabilitation clinic with more docs and therapy sessions twice a day. Great place that produced good results. And she was issued some specialized rehab equipment.

But, here’s the kicker. Medicare is showing a total charge of nearly $240,000! Almost a quarter-million bucks! Unbelievable. But, that’s what it says on the page. How the numbers went from $30-40,000 to $240,000 we can’t figure out. But, that’s what it shows.

In actuality, it appears Medicare paid about 80-percent of something and the “medigap” insurer paid about 20-percent of what we figure was the approximate balance. And, as I said, we’ve received no other billings. Wanna talk to me about “socialized medicine?”

Medicare is under continuous audit, so they’ll get around to our account one of these days. But, it’s kinda like living under a Sword of Damocles. Will we open the mailbox one day and find a six-figure bill? Or, will the hospital and all providers, who also audit accounts on a regular basis, find errors and shower us with surprise charges? Or, do the feds use some curious mathematics known only to them? We’ll let you know how things shake out in a couple of months. So far, not a dime out-of-pocket.

Then, there’s this. A couple of weeks ago, the CEO of Idaho’s St. Luke’s health care empire announced his retirement. On his way out the door, he came up with this bon mot: “The nation has to move away from fee-for-service health care.” Read that again. “The nation has to move away from fee-for-service health care.”

Now, here’s a guy who’s spent the last decade atop Idaho’s largest hospital system making, I’m certain, a healthy six-figure salary. In retirement, I’m equally certain, he’ll probably have a healthy six-figure income. And, as he’s leaving a life’s career in fee-for-service medicine, he now admits it’s all wrong?

He’s right, of course. The U.S. is about the last industrialized nation using fee-for-service. Many countries, with far smaller economies, provide quality care for all with different systems. We should, too.

One of the things about our current cast of Democrat presidential wannabees that irritates me are promises of a “better world” if all we do is pick one of them. Road apples, as Col. Potter often exclaimed!

Stop promising free this-and-that, concentrate on the middle ground and deal with issues of real substance: healing divisions, making government a servant rather than the master its become, school shootings, poverty, universal health care, deal with the national economic imbalance, overhauling defense funding, etc..

Congress holds the nation’s purse strings. Presidents can only propose. Congress, alone, decides how much will be spent and on what. All this candidate chin music amounts to nothing, no matter how worthy the cause, if Congress doesn’t write the check. Period.

And, there’s this. Today’s workers will not have jobs for 30-40 years with the same employer that end in retirement unless they’re in a very large corporation. In fact, we’re told many on the job today will change careers half-a-dozen times or more which means they need retirement and health care plans that move with them. Fee-for-service care and the accompanying health insurance costs will eventually get too high for most people which means more uninsured care. And, that’s damnably expensive!

So, where are we? Well, at our house, we’re anxiously awaiting what could be a six-figure medical bill. Or not. A highly-paid Idaho health care executive says we must change the way we charge - and pay - for health care. Or not. Political campaigners are “promising the moon” on all sorts of things they want you to believe. Or not. And our traditional employer-provided health care days are numbered so we’ve got to change the system. Or not.

Other than that, have a nice day!



On September 7, Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran a series of video clips promoting the idea of diversity - presumably, ethnic, cultural and otherwise - in America, and then proceeded to take on the idea.

It has become an increasingly heated topic, much more so than two or three decades ago, and Carlson went right at it.

He offered a series of questions:

How, precisely, is diversity our strength? Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are?
Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.
And if diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender one of our central rights, freedom of speech, to just a handful of tech monopolies? And by the way, if your ideas are so obviously true, why does anyone who question them need to be shamed, silenced and fired?

Fair enough. A good many people around the country have been asking such questions, and answers should be given, not just assumed. They’re not always universally obvious, though there are ready answers.

I’ll offer some of those in a moment. Before we get there: What do we mean by “diversity”?

Most simply, it means (in dictionary definitions) a range of different things, a variety, a mix. It can refer to a variety of anything; a television network could be said to offer diverse programming if it airs enough different kinds of shows.

That’s not exactly what we’re talking about in a political or social (or even business) context, though. What we’re really talking about is things like race, religion and ethnicity - and a resistance in some quarters to anyone who is distinctive from oneself.

This makes diversity is one of the flash points in our society. It is something we should discuss seriously and not dismiss.

So to move on to Carlson’s questions:

How, precisely, is diversity our strength? The broad answer is, we gain strength from a larger pool of experience, skills, strengths, understandings and points of view. Narrow and limited perspectives - smaller pools of knowledge and perspective - increase the likelihood of mistakes.

Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Carlson needs to explain who exactly is proposing “diversity” as a national motto. Unless you count “e pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one,” the slogan on our national seal and on some of our currency. From Wikipedia: The 13-letter motto was suggested in 1776 by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere to the committee responsible for developing the seal. At the time of the American Revolution, the exact phrase appeared prominently on the title page of every issue of a popular periodical, The Gentleman's Magazine,[10][11] which collected articles from many sources into one magazine.”

Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are? In fact, marriage and military units are excellent examples of how diversity can work very well. In my own marriage, my wife and I have some things in common but also a number of differences - different skills and interests, perspectives and aspects of background (not to mention genders). That’s not a weakness in the marriage. We’ve made many things happen, and avoided many mistakes, because we jointly brought more to what we do than would have been the case if, say, either of us had been working with a clone.

In the military, concerns about diversity weakening cohesion often were brought up on the front end of a change in more varied forces. The concerns nearly vanished in most cases as the greater variety of personnel wound up contributing far more than any (most illusory) loss of joint identity. The Congressional Research Service said in a 2017 report that diversity in the military is “associated with better creative problem solving, innovation and improved decisionmaking.” Those sort of traits are becoming increasingly critical, not only in the military but also almost everywhere else.

Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.

The honest answer is that a little effort and communication results in greater understanding. That’s not kumbaya; that’s just the way people relate to each other.

And if diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender one of our central rights, freedom of speech, to just a handful of tech monopolies? Not sure where Carlson is veering off to here; the question about the growing power of the big tech communications companies is a serious and legitimate question, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with diversity as such. Nor do they have much to do with “freedom of speech,” which is a bar that limits governmental restrictions on speech; it does not, never has anyway, limit Google or Twitter or for that matter my blog from limiting the speech disseminated there.

And by the way, if your ideas are so obviously true, why does anyone who question them need to be shamed, silenced and fired? Still got a job, Carlson? Oh, right, you work for - well, actually, for 21st Century Fox, which in its 2017 annual report said it “appreciates the importance of valuing and serving a diverse marketplace. Different backgrounds and characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, culture and sexual orientation, bring innovative viewpoints and merit to the creation of our content and products.” Discussion is diversity is quite public and ongoing, so it’s hardly being silenced.

As for fired, that generally has related to companies which have policies and practices much like the one you work for. If those companies fire people on grounds of statements they make, it’s because they have a commercial, business or public relations reason for doing that.

As for shaming: That could work only to the extent people agree shame ought to be attached to expressing the idea. Approbation shouldn’t attach to a dispassionate discussion of the concept. But the idea of diversity, in this country, often is linked to attitudes about race, about a willingness to accept even the humanity of people somewhat different from oneself. In a country of many kinds of people, where we must work together to succeed, a certain amount of concern about trashing other people is probably appropriate.

Vichy Republicans


You might have thought the modern Republican Party had reached its nadir back in 2016 when the party’s presidential candidate attacked an American Muslim family whose military officer son had died during a car bombing in Iraq.

It was widely reported at the time that Donald Trump’s attack, particularly on the Gold Star mother of a dead American military officer, “drew quick and widespread condemnation and amplified calls for Republican leaders to distance themselves from their presidential nominee.” Hardly any Republican leader did so.

The assault on the Khan family came, of course, after Trump had vilified John McCain, the Navy veteran, Vietnam POW, Republican senator and presidential candidate. It’s been downhill ever since.

Not only have Republican elected officials refused to “distance themselves” from the president, they have, as the ongoing House impeachment inquiry makes crystal clear, joined Trump in his fever swamp of threats, lies, political vilification, gas lighting and hatred directed at various groups and individuals.

In real time last week, the president himself bashed a nonpartisan, career Foreign Service officer. And earlier this week, the White House and many congressional Republicans openly questioned the loyalty of a decorated career military officer. Earlier the president had publicly slammed a foreign policy aide to his own vice president.

“This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush told the New York Times. “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff — especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

The ghost of Joe McCarthy — and McCarthy’s loathsome henchman Roy Cohn, once Trump’s personal attorney — inhabits the modern GOP. When the president slanders people in his own administration or those who dare to differ with him, the attacks bring only deafening silence from cowed conservatives. This servility brings to mind nothing so much as the craven acquiesce of Vichy collaborators in France after the 1940 French surrender to Nazi Germany.

The stains on the character of these cowardly opportunists, like the shame that continues to cling to long-dead French politicians who dishonored their country for personal advantage, will be remembered long after their petty political careers are a footnote to history.

At the ultimate moment of reckoning, the collaborators accepted personal dishonor rather than courageous principle. That is the bottom line on the modern Republican Party.

Scholars who study the rise of authoritarian leaders have identified a “playbook” that defines how politicians with dictatorial aspirations behave. As Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the human rights center at Dayton University, wrote recently, “Democracy is in trouble.” And in fact, the upward arc of democratic governments around the world may well have peaked in 2008 and is now surely in decline.

“The mainstay of today’s authoritarianism,” Inglis says, “is strengthening your power while simultaneously weakening government institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries, that provide checks and balances.

“The key is to use legal means that ultimately give democratic legitimacy to the power grab. Extreme forms of this include abolishing presidential term limits, which was done in China, and regressive constitutional reforms to expand presidential power, like in Turkey.”

During his chaotic presidency, Donald Trump has repeatedly denigrated the pillars of American democracy. He’s vilified judges who rule against him. He labels a free press that attempts to hold him accountable “the enemy of the people.” He has hammered the intelligence community because it hasn’t agreed with Vladimir Putin.

While Trump once proudly proclaimed that “my generals” surrounded him, they are now all gone. James Mattis, the Marine four-star Trump called “just a brilliant, wonderful man” became, after he quit over a disagreement with the president on the Syria cut and run policy, “the world’s most overrated general.”

Trump’s capture of the Republican Party is total and the moral and intellectual rot behind that takeover is complete.

Trump this week pardoned three men deemed criminals by the military justice system, a move that horrified believers in a system that holds Americans accountable for war crimes, including senior officers who put their careers on the line to voice their disapproval. Not a single Republican uttered a peep of protest.

The case being made in lame defense of the president on charges that he obstructed justice and abused his authority in the Ukraine affair is truly the height of Vichy Republicanism. The evidence is clear, confirmed by people inside the White House, that Trump employed, indeed ordered, an extortion scheme involving his personal lawyer to try and force a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent. Yet the president’s collaborators, including the entire Idaho congressional delegation, twist themselves into knots; debasing the truth and themselves in service of this would-be despot.

This is how democracy comes apart: party over principle, personal interest ahead of national interest and collaboration before common sense.

In order to believe that the president of the United States did nothing wrong in soliciting foreign help in an attempt to smear a political rival, Vichy Republicans have to ignore the clear public comments and unmistakable actions of our emerging despot.

In an interview with ABC last summer, Trump said: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent’— oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” During his campaign he called on Russia to continue its attack against his opponent by finding her emails. His actions in Ukraine are just clear.

The president has no trouble seeking any political advantage, no matter how odious and he has completely co-opted Vichy Republicans — or sufficiently neutered them — so that most all of them think all this is just fine.

Many of them know it is not just fine, but collaboration is more convenient than the cold, clear truth. Their dishonor will remain even as a functioning democracy is diminished. What a legacy.