This month, the Atlantic published a lengthy article written by Anne Applebaum. It addressed what is perhaps the most difficult-to-understand aspect of our contemporary political reality, what she dubs “collaboration.” Why do some people go along with–or even genuinely support–what they must know to be wrong, or even evil, while others do not?

What’s the difference between Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney?

Applebaum began the article with a story from Germany, a description of two similar East German officials. One defected; one collaborated. What made the difference?

Separately, each man’s story makes sense. But when examined together, they require some deeper explanation. Until March 1949, Leonhard’s and Wolf’s biographies were strikingly similar. Both grew up inside the Soviet system. Both were educated in Communist ideology, and both had the same values. Both knew that the party was undermining those values. Both knew that the system, allegedly built to promote equality, was deeply unequal, profoundly unfair, and very cruel. Like their counterparts in so many other times and places, both men could plainly see the gap between propaganda and reality. Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?

Applebaum cites a historian, Stanley Hoffmann, for his classification of Nazism’s French collaborators into “voluntary” and “involuntary.” Many people in the latter group had no choice, but Hoffmann sorted“voluntary” collaborators into two categories–those who rationalized collaboration (we have to protect the economy, or preserve French culture)– and the “active ideological collaborators.” These were people who believed that “prewar republican France had been weak or corrupt and hoped that the Nazis would strengthen it, people who admired fascism, and people who admired Hitler.”

Hoffman’s description of the voluntary collaborators is more than a little relevant to today’s United States.

Hoffmann observed that many of those who became ideological collaborators were landowners and aristocrats, “the cream of the top of the civil service, of the armed forces, of the business community,” people who perceived themselves as part of a natural ruling class that had been unfairly deprived of power under the left-wing governments of France in the 1930s. Equally motivated to collaborate were their polar opposites, the “social misfits and political deviants” who would, in the normal course of events, never have made successful careers of any kind. What brought these groups together was a common conclusion that, whatever they had thought about Germany before June 1940, their political and personal futures would now be improved by aligning themselves with the occupiers.

There is much more in the article that deserves consideration and illuminates political and social realities, and I urge readers to click through and read it in its entirety. But the quoted paragraph could easily be a description of the Americans who continue to support Donald Trump.

It is impossible for any sentient person to observe Trump and conclude that he is fit for office (or even sane). So why does he still maintain the support of roughly 40% of Americans? Hoffman’s two categories are explanatory: that “natural ruling class” that is being “unfairly deprived of power” describes the educated cohort of white “Christian” males who are mortally offended by the prospect of sharing social dominance with uppity women and people of color. And our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are full of pictures and videos of the “social deviants”–waving Confederate flags, carrying assault weapons to government buildings to assert their “right” to infect their neighbors, attacking black joggers, and flourishing misspelled placards insulting the “libtards.”

Whatever either group had thought about Trump before November, 2016, they decided that their political and personal futures would now be improved by aligning themselves with him.

Describing the members of both categories is one thing. Figuring out why people become who they are is another–and much harder.

Why do some people grow up to model the virtues society preaches– compassion, empathy and self-reflection (or at the very least, human decency), while others enthusiastically reject and demean those values?

Why do some people work to make a better world, often at considerable risk to their own well-being, while others cheerfully collaborate with evil?


  1. Perhaps those virtues modeled by society are laced with hypocrisy by too many of society’s so called moral, civic, and business leaders. Impressionable youth see the priest or preacher who’s sins would scorch a bible; they see that the lawyer down the street is a liar even in small things; they see the business executive whose empire of cheating his customers reaps incredible material rewards; they see the man who his parents voted for become a puppet for a fascist, and they witness those same parents remain silent to all of this thus teaching the lesson of “going along to get along” aka collaboration.

  2. “There is much more in the article that deserves consideration and illuminates political and social realities, and I urge readers to click through and read it in its entirety. But the quoted paragraph could easily be a description of the Americans who continue to support Donald Trump.”

    It’s ALSO the same Americans who supported both Bush presidents and one Bush governer. Why don’t we give credit where it’s due to the grandfather who was one of the principals behind the aborted fascist takeover in the mid-’30s.

    And we’re now applauding the Bush family for “jumping ship.” Maybe I should start and join a new group called “Fairness to (but not for] Donald Trump.” Then we might start getting somewhere.

    This sordid affair would best be described as another “Comedy of Errors (or Asses).” Where are Shakespeare and Plautus when we need them both?

  3. Theresa,

    You said it best. It’s COLLABORATION [like the world has never seen before]. Tough luck Germany, you’re no longer #1.

  4. “What’s the difference between Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney?”
    I suspect Trump and the Russians may have interesting/damaging dirt on Graham but not on Romney.
    That is the only thing that makes sense to me.

  5. In my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary I found two definitions for the word “collaborate”; totally opposing definitions:

    “To work together in a joint intellectual effort” Mitt Romney
    ” To cooperate treasonably as with an enemy occupying once’s country” Lindsey Graham

    Mitt Romney we know as the trusted Republican presidential candidate in 2012 election which he lost to Democratic candidate Barack Obama due to differing political systems, both parties have been leaders of administrations of United States government. Both moral men, both believing their was was the better way…not the only way to lead.

    Lindsey Graham originally spoke against some of Trump’s questionable racist rants and decisions and his escalating lack of decent morals and no value system. He changed his tune suddenly; now fully supporting Trump’s words and actions no matter how damaging they are to this country and all Americans, including Republicans. Promises made behind closed doors of payoffs for his loyalty; perhaps? Threats for loss of his career and livelihood, probably? Or both, most likely?

    We all know Mitt Romney does not need money or promises of high position from Trump and Trump’s threats are meaningless to him. His loyalty to this country is not questioned; Trump has no loyalty to this country and Graham lost all thoughts of democracy, Rule of Law and upholding the Constitution are gone with the wind with whatever promises or threats he has received from Trump. Is Mitt Romney aiming for another run at the presidency; probably and after the past 3 1/2 years he would be a welcome change and would instill trust and pride in this nation again, by our citizens and in the eyes of our allies around the world. NO; I am not turning Republican but everything is relative, especially between the likes of Romney and Trump.

    “Why do some people work to make a better world, often at considerable risk to their own well-being, while others cheerfully collaborate with evil?”

    We would have to look deep into the hearts of these men and, personally I would rather not get near Trump or Graham. Yesterday the first Trump yard sign appeared across the street from my home; my initial reaction was nausea which turned to fear. In 2016 their reason could have been staunch Republicanism but these are intelligent people who obviously have not learned anything during Trump’s destructive administration which can only mean that probably most of those who voted for him in 2016 will do so this November. Like Hitler’s “good Germans”. And I fear the murder of George Floyd and the past 15 days of protests and demands for change may be a double-edged sword and have stirred those racists who have remained quiet to be determined to keep Trump in OUR White House. “Collaboration” accelerated among the White Nationalists and all Trump supporters.

  6. We better watch out. We best remember the allegations against pilot Bush that he “BAILED OUT of his fighter plane during W.W. II too early and let his rear gunner die in flames.” It’s “all in the family.” It’s not a virtue.

  7. The most chilling thing to me is that “40%” of the public support Trump. That means what, more than half of whites? That ‘s far scarier than Trump.

  8. Carol,

    “The most chilling thing to me is that “40%” of the public support Trump. That means what, more than half of whites? That ‘s far scarier than Trump.”

    The Bush family did it together with the H. L. Hunt family, a merger between the OLIGARCHY and RACIST EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY.

    It’s more than just Texas oil; It is now a “Texas nightmare.”

  9. In the hearts and minds of his true believers, both George Floyd and the Corona virus are set-ups to take him down. These claims go far beyond what any rational person could imagine, but I heard them from my next door neighbor yesterday and just south of here, a farm to table grocer has actually published this nonsense. They must be residing in the Misty Isles, where the fog has penetrated their brains.

  10. Peggy,

    “They must be residing in the Misty Isles, where the fog has penetrated their brains.”

    It’s 50 years of non-stop brainwashing in at least 50% of the evangelical churches through the sermons and lesson plans promulgated by the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered and controlled out of Dallas by the billionaire Hunt family.

    The GROUND ZERO for the spread of anti-Semitic and racist propaganda through the evangelical churches first started in Dallas in the early ’70s, but was transferred to Jacksonville in the early ’90s, after the successful victory for one man, one vote in Dallas City politics.

  11. Theresa – simply stunningly right on.

    A possible element of Romney’s goodness is that he is devoutly religious. Most religions support the best human values. Of course in 2012…

    “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president [Obama] no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax.”

  12. Has anyone seen or heard anything of Mike Pence the past two weeks or more? Is he Collaborating with the Russians, a victim of Covid-19 Pandemic or did Trump ground him for failing to lead the Coronavirus Committee to his benefit?

  13. JoAnn,

    Pence, probably, is just getting ready to be President, if Trump completely “screws-up.” If we think we have problems now, just wait and see what that would be like.

  14. Marv,

    Your most salient reply today: “Unfortunately, nothing positive will materialize until we re-organize into an EFFECTIVE COUNTERVAILING FORCE.”

    Everything else you mentioned today reflects the overarching abuse of the Bill of Rights by lunatics and ideologues who are corrupt and compromised, aka the Republican party. They’ve been like this since Lincoln was shot, but now have to “countervailing force” to keep them from installing fascism.

    There are two memes that must be repeated until (or if) we remove the orange shit stain and Republicans are destroyed: EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES. ALL REPUBLICANS MUST BE REMOVED FROM GOVERNMENT.

  15. Trying to find out why Vichy French reacted one way and patriotic French acted another as well as why some vote for Trump and others do not is best left to psychiatrists rather than historians and pundits. I think a lot has to do with the standards we choose for judgment. Some of us are steeped in “American” idealism and “frontier” mindsets; some are just greedhogs. Democracy casts a big tent with a variety of choices available – not so with a Mao/Hitler model. Freedom to choose what one “believes” comes at a cost to majority views, whatever such variant views may be, and range from hippie libertarians (see Paul) to speechless monks voluntarily locked in cells, with many stops along the way allegedly but not genuinely based on interpretations of the First, Second and Fourth Amenments to the Constitution.

    Personally, I am locked into the revolutionary idealism of Madison and Jefferson, the Lincoln call for unity, the can-do of FDR, and the judicial world of Warren, Brennan, Holmes and Brandeis. So what label would historians and pundits apply to such choices in retrospect some fifty years from now when perhaps new and different choices (if any) are available in that day? Perhaps psychiatrists of that day can enlighten them. Self-diagnosis, as my three MD nephews tell me, is dangerous, but those are my symptoms.

  16. In re a Trump flameout – I disagree that Pence would be worse than Trump should he succeed Trump before the election and becomes the Republican choice for president. I think rather that he would play vanilla candidate (a la Biden) speaking to unity in the hope of strengthening his evangelical base and bringing Trump-hating Republican women back into the fold. Neither he nor Trump will win the election this fall, but if Trump is not the Republican candidate there would be much less drama in re what will happen between November and January, though I think we overrate Trump’s ability to dominate the narrative during such interim. Big mouths are still lame ducks and I would expect bipartisan and heightened congressional oversight of any illegal orders he would give during the interim.

  17. There seems to be plenty of evidence that there are threats to different visions of what America should be.

    Leaders of business fear that what they are best at doing is no longer central to American progress.

    White supremacists fear that they will lose the entitlements that have made their life easier to undeserving people.

    Minorities fear that they will never be free.

    Christians feel that everything that they bought into that makes them better people will be trampled on.

    Enviromentalists fear that we will trash the only earth that has been nearly perfect as a host for life.

    Nationalists fear that the decendents of previous immigrants will get displaced by more recent immigrants.

    I think that much of this instability in society is understandable but dysfunctional reaction to the fact of our passing the limits of sustainable lifestyle and population.

  18. Romney is different in style than The Trumpet (less toxic). It was Romney who said, “Corporations are people, my friend … of course they are”.

    Collaborators, to varying degrees may “see” through the falsehoods of the system they support. At a point some will not care about the facade of the system and look to -How does the system benefit Me??

    Jim Crow and Macho-Male-Authoritarianism without a doubt benefited White Males. Even though the system was tilted heavily to the 1%, collaborators could be found to keep the system intact. The 1% relies on this, an attack on the system brings all the fear mongering out – the Dog Whistles.

    Godless Communism was a reliable Dog Whistle, so Democratic Socialism could be attacked as just the beginning. Remarkably, in this day and age of instant communication, space travel and access to Scientific facts, the teaching of evolution has become tied up in politics.

  19. What I cannot understand is the women who go along with the “natural ruling class” who excludes women but possibly buys them off or the women who are enamored with the “social deviants”–waving Confederate flags, carrying assault weapons to government buildings to assert their “right” to infect their neighbors. I know women in both categories and their lives would be so much better if they dumped the jerks in both categories but they might have to wake up and make an effort.

  20. These are people unhappy with their station in life. They are looking to blame someone or something for their plight. These people are either bullies or have been bullied.
    Denigrating or intimidating others gives them the power they need to justify their existence and gives them self worth.
    Trump enables them.

  21. In other words, why are some deplorable? It was certainly imprudent for Hillary Clinton to describe Trumps fans as deplorable, but she wasn’t wrong.

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