It is always difficult to try and find historical analogies that are not forced. We often think we have the perfect pitch, but we are actually forcing the comparison. So, I have resisted this one for a while. However, recently I was with a friend who is a European diplomat and his deep despair about recent events have made me take the plunge.
In 1940 France, after the German invasion, there was a series of very profound changes that took place. They created a situation that was at the center of the French debate about itself that has lasted to this day. While I am not the French historian in the family (actually, my eldest son is), I hope I can make my point in a way that he will not feel is too far off the mark. After the surrender of the French, the Germans were essentially in control, but they needed a French leader to head the government. They chose Marshall Phillipe Petain, who as the leader of the Vichy government, carried out the desires of the Germans. While he had been a leader of conservative forces in France, his role which is now reviled, was not the role that many French citizens expected of him.
Meanwhile, Charles DeGaulle fled France and set up a government in exile in London. He regularly denounced the Germans and the Vichy government. While DeGaulle was doing this, Petain was admonishing the French to follow what the Germans demanded and not aid the resistance. We all know how it ended with Petain in disgrace as a collaborator and DeGaulle the leader of France for over 20 years.
Let’s flash forward to today. It is obvious that President Trump led a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. This is not an original comment. But in this analogy, of course, he represents the Germans. The old party and its leaders have lost control. And, if Trump is the Germans, who is Petain? Why, it’s Paul Ryan, of course. Remember when he was the shining light of intelligent policy alternatives to the status quo? No more. Now he does Trump’s bidding as assiduously as Petain did that of the Germans. But who is DeGaulle?
That, of course, is the most intriguing question of all. It will take someone or a group of someones who are willing to spend time in the wilderness and be vilified by fellow party members for not being loyal. They must point out that Trump is not really the Republican Party as DeGaulle maintained that Vichy wasn’t France. The part is still being cast and I am personally looking forward to seeing who is willing to audition for the part.