Wissot: A bad year for Machiavelli’s disciples
2022 will go down as the year the center held. The nation rose to the occasion and ignored the incoherent babbling coming from an ex-president, defeated election deniers running for office, stopped marauding mobs of armed gunmen from intimidating voters at ballot box drop-offs, and turned a deaf ear to a cesspool of disinformation emanating from conspiracy-addicted social media platforms.
The renegade reactionaries who despise democracy have probably never read the sixteenth-century treatise on how to ruthlessly obtain and retain power by Niccolo Machiavelli. The book was titled “The Prince,” and critics have described its author as a “teacher of evil.” Machiavelli’s modern disciples didn’t need to read his book — they were born bad.
We are all familiar with the phrase “the ends justify the means,” which is what Machiavelli proclaimed and to which the politics of pure power minus any moral consideration is beholden. In practical terms, Machiavelli’s advice to aspiring dictators and garden variety criminals was that having a conscience, adhering to a code of ethics, and distinguishing right from wrong is for suckers with a losers’ death wish.
Machiavelli valued the world “as it is” over the world “as it should be.” In his words, “the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons ‘what is’ for ‘what should be’ pursues his downfall rather than his preservation.” He also saw fear as more important than love because “love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseless of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” Machiavelli was quite the cynical pragmatist.
The most prominent of Machiavelli’s disciples are guilty of employing wholly immoral means to achieve totally immoral ends. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a disturbing case in point. Clearly invading a sovereign nation that had done nothing to provoke an attack was morally indefensible, but equally so were the tactics Putin used during the invasion. After suffering humbling defeats on the battlefield, Russia chose to target the citizens and the infrastructure of Ukraine for death and destruction. In his recklessness, Putin threatened to precipitate a world war, reduce a proud nation to rubble, and wantonly kill civilians for the crime of being Ukrainian. Putin’s goals were reprehensible and his methods rose to the level of indictable war crimes, according to the United Nations.
Support Local Journalism
In response to Putin’s actions, the United States and its NATO partners levied a slew of sanctions against his country and some of his billionaire cronies. The NATO alliance also supplied Ukraine with billions of dollars, $22.1 billion and counting from the U.S. alone, in military and economic aid.
The irony of Putin’s terrible miscalculation in launching a senseless invasion is that he hoped his illicit war would weaken the NATO alliance and remove the impediment its member countries posed to his imperial ambitions. He couldn’t have been more mistaken. While Europe and America stood steadfast in their support for Ukraine, two non-NATO countries, Finland and Sweden, alarmed by Putin’s naked aggression, sought to join the NATO alliance. In retrospect 2022 was a very bad year for Vladimir the Not So Great.
Putin’s mini-me companion, Donald Trump, failed in his mission to dismantle a democracy by abolishing the Constitution, nullifying the results of the 2020 election, and promoting vigilante justice to have him re-installed as president. His unabashed arrogance was on full display when his lawyers argued in a federal court that the ex-president’s immunity from lawsuits was so broad that he couldn’t be prosecuted for “seeking to destroy our constitutional system” and calling on his followers to “burn Congress down.” Trump’s contempt for civilized conduct was reminiscent of Hitler’s takeover of Germany in 1933 when constitutional protections were suspended after the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament.
Trump overestimated his political power in light of the staunch opposition his six years in the public limelight had generated. He was stuck in the time warp of 2016 when voters elected him because he was an untested candidate running on a platform of shuck and jive promises. He blocked out 2018, 2020 and 2022 when voters punished him for his failures as a leader and human being.
I’ve written in a previous column that Trump was and still is a one-trick pony and a stone-cold loser. 2022 proved me right. He’s no longer an asset, but a liability for the Republican Party. He and his MAGA mob have created a painful paradox for Republicans who know they can’t win without him (the party loses his voters if he loses the nomination) but also can’t win with him because he’s kryptonite to a majority of the country.
2022 was a year when a few heroes emerged in defense of democracy. I’m referring to courageous politicians like Tom Rice of South Carolina who lost his House seat in a primary to a Trump-endorsed Republican because he wouldn’t check his conscience with his coat in the Congressional cloakroom. I’m thinking about Liz Cheney who shamed the likes of Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham by refusing to sell her soul to stay in Congress. Defending the Constitution was more important to her than appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, becoming Speaker of the House, or playing golf at Mar-a-Lago.
Liz “the lionhearted” paid a price for denouncing the former president’s encouragement of an insurrection when she lost her Wyoming primary to a Trump groupie who had previously endorsed her re-election in 2016. Cheney’s conscientiousness will be rewarded when the sordid history of this era is written. McConnell’s, McCarthy’s and Graham’s reward will come when the book “Profiles in Cowardice” is published.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.