Stuart C. Reid: America is at risk from the radicalization of the Republican Party

Because of its continued support for Donald Trump, I will be resigning from the GOP.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) In this July 17, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German theologian and pastor, actively worked against Hitler and Nazism before and during World War II, which inevitably resulted in his imprisonment and death. He remains a remarkable example of dignified and daring resistance in the face of relentless ruthlessness.

From 1932 until his death, Bonhoeffer contemplated how a nation of theologians, poets, philosophers and scientists could so easily be seduced by a malicious leader and a malevolent political party. After 10 years of observation, he concluded his fellow Germans were not inherently cruel people but were “made stupid” by suspending their “inner independence” for allegiance to a rising political power.

Bonhoeffer’s exact words were:

“The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Bonhoeffer further concluded that people once made stupid cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be influenced through intellectual arguments, even those supported by facts. He resolved: “Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

Bonhoeffer’s reflections, expressed in his 1942 Christmas letter, “After Ten Years,” also suggest Sigmund Freud’s psychological observation: “The first indication of stupidity is a complete lack of shame,” was indeed accurate.

Both Bonhoeffer’s and Freud’s observations help clarify why so many Americans are “infected”—suspending their “inner independence” and personal and social shame to embrace a rising thuggish political power committed to compensate them for their real and perceived losses.

In Germany’s case, the rising power was Hitler and Nazism. The losses were the humiliation and economic devastation from Germany’s defeat in World War I. As compensation for those losses, the German people supported Hitler and his Nazi Party’s unbridled malice.

Today, the rising power in America is Donald Trump, with his wholesale takeover of the Republican Party. The losses are from the humiliation of unemployment and a wealth gap greater than any advanced nation, caused by deindustrialization, the real estate and economic crash of 2008 and the cost to life, limb and treasure from unending wars.

The compensation demanded by tens of millions of Americans is malevolent attacks on truth, media, pluralism, immigrants, refugees, vaccinations, free trade and a few fearless political leaders and civil servants. And the most consequential of all is seditious attacks on democracy and its vital institutions holding the republic together.

Bonhoeffer’s and Freud’s respective sociological and psychological observations also help clarify the risks to America from the rise of Trump and the radicalization of the Republican Party.

For example, the recent PRRI values survey reports that 68% of Republicans believe the presidential election was stolen. And even more disturbing, 30% believe: “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

Accordingly, the recent Quinnipiac University survey reports that 78% of Republicans want Trump to seek reelection in 2024 — up by 12% from a similar survey taken in May.

Because the Republican Party has proven it cannot be fixed and therefore it is a perpetual threat to the republic, I will, by month’s end, resign my party membership. While I deeply respect many friends who remain loyal Republicans, I for one can no longer associate with a political party continuing to lionize the likes of Donald J. Trump.

Stuart Reid

Stuart C. Reid, Ogden, is a former Utah state senator, former Salt Lake City council member, former U.S. Army chaplain and soon to be a former Republican.