Dear Governor Jeb Bush:
At one time, while you were still running for president, you were asked an interesting question: “If you could go back in time, and ‘take out’ Hitler, would you?”
You answered, as most of us would, with a resounding “Yes.”
It’s 2016, and I’ll spare you any comparisons between the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, and Adolf Hitler. I won’t conflate Trump’s brand of authoritarianism with National Socialism (Nazism), fascism, or any other identifiable political ideology. I won’t read aloud passages from “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” as my husband, chillingly, has begun to do.
And, unlike Trump himself, I certainly won’t advocate violence against anyone.
But I will draw your attention to the recent election in Austria, where a candidate peddling false nostalgia in a rapidly changing world was “very narrowly defeated.” Washington Post columnist Carl Bildt invokes the writings of political philosopher Karl Popper, warning that the “strain of civilization that can occur when change is seen as too rapid, and the lure of a return to the tribe makes itself felt.”
And I’d be remiss as a citizen if I didn’t ask you — and the other leaders of the party formerly known as Republican — what are you going to do about Donald Trump?
I know, Governor Bush, you saw the same neon light that I did, splitting the night, flashing its warning.
Thankfully, you were not silent.
You have announced you will boycott the Republican National Convention this summer in July.
So why have you gone silent again now?
Trump’s authoritarianism is dangerous. It’s an interaction between a charismatic figure who simplifies politics and policies in a deliciously irresistible way, and followers who care less about policy and more about what Trump represents.
Trump exudes nostalgia for the old order: the white, male, hierarchical order; the order in which being rich bestows instant authority, and an extra measure of citizenship; the order in which Dad’s word was law and was never questioned at home; where might ultimately made right — and the mighty didn’t apologize for it; where white men were safe and secure and free to pursue their work unfettered by those who didn’t belong.
Those pesky others are excluded from this particular brand of nostalgia, because nostalgia, by definition, is a Big Lie. It conveniently leaves out the bad stuff: women being beaten in their own homes; black people hung from trees.
At Trump rallies, the Ones-Who-Don’t-Belong are chased out violently. With Trump’s approval:
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
“In the good old days, this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough.”
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would ya? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them.”
Here is a man who clearly understands the tremendous power he has over his followers:
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
He is a nightmare come true for America, a Philip Roth novel horrifyingly brought to life.
Trump has created an in-group based on the worst imaginable unifiers: racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. Worse, he’s given these views legitimacy by using “economic dissatisfaction” as a pretext for mob rule.
Who is going to counter that, if not you, Governor Bush? You know better. Your family knows better.
As a member of the opposite political party, I nevertheless once had hope in your dad’s moderation; his kinder, gentler ambitions, even when — in a near-Trumpian manner — he expressed his love for your children as “the little brown ones.” I forgave him. I believe you have, as well.
Be clear. I’ve been a vocal critic of Bush-brand education reform since its inception. And I thank God for the liberty to write my opinions about those policies.
That’s why I’m pleading with you now to do whatever you can to preserve the fundamental values of this nation, even if it means shelving your presidential ambitions.
Create a third party. Run a top-of-the-ticket slate and show this nation what conservatism really is — and is not. Let the down-ballot Republicans stay where they are and support who they will.
Now is the time for you to slaughter the Southern strategy chickens that have come home to roost. It’s time to rip out the GOP’s harvest of thorns and sow anew.
Will you expose this neon god for the dangerous fraud that he is? Or, with apologies to Paul Simon, are we just echoes in the wells of silence?
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.