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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of World War II remembers its chief moral: Appeasement is not only futile but contemptible. It signifies cowardice, naivete and moral bankruptcy.

Adolf Hitler first marched into the Rhineland with impunity, and then Austria. He threatened war over a part of Czechoslovakia, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to purchase peace by letting him have it.

Donald Trump knows the story of Winston Churchill, whose judgment was: “Chamberlain had the choice between war and shame. Now he has chosen shame — he’ll get war later.” A year later, he was proved right.

But the lesson Trump learned from World War II is that aggression can pay off. Cross a line, and if you get away with it, you can cross another line. Why stop if you pay no price and meet no meaningful resistance?

This is not so much how Trump deals with his enemies, though. This is how he deals with his allies. From the beginning of his campaign, he has violated one established Republican norm after another — offenses that should have destroyed his candidacy. Instead, he prevailed. And in time, even such GOP rivals as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whom he savaged, meekly endorsed him. They, and Republican voters, chose appeasement over war.

Trump tested the will of the party faithful early. Announcing his candidacy, he smeared Mexico, which Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes regarded as a valuable friend, and slammed the free trade policies the party had long championed. He mocked the heroism of John McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp: “I like people that weren’t captured.” He claimed he had been an early opponent of the Iraq War, which was launched by a Republican president amid cheers from the right.

Trump, a thrice-married philanderer, radiated indifference to religion, telling a forum of Christian conservatives in Iowa that he had never felt the need to ask God for forgiveness. Referring to Holy Communion, he said, “I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker.” I was there, and I expected to see dozens of people in the audience stand up in disgust and leave. It didn’t happen.

His brazen aggression against sound principles, particularly conservative ones, went unpunished. Trump thought his outrageous style wouldn’t hurt him, and he was right. He ran strongly even among evangelicals and routed a field of rivals with superior conservative credentials. On Election Day 2016, he did about as well among self-identified Republicans as Mitt Romney and John McCain had done.

What he established was that Republican voters and leaders would ultimately let him obliterate every norm with impunity. Nothing was sacred; nothing was out of bounds. Nothing he could do — making sexist slurs against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, earning David Duke’s endorsement, praising Vladimir Putin, boasting of grabbing women by their genitals — was enough to induce mass revulsion in the GOP. All he encountered was appeasement.

That is how we got a president who seems intent on repeatedly sinking to depths previously unknown. He named a national security adviser who now admits lying to the FBI about a secret conversation with the Russian ambassador. He turned over a portfolio of major issues to a callow novice who happens to be his son-in-law.

He’s trashed the FBI, the CIA and his own attorney general. He spilled sensitive secrets to Putin’s foreign minister. He lies repeatedly, brazenly, about matters both big and small. He makes excuses for white supremacists. He tweets juvenile insults whenever someone offends him. His administration has been a riot of sleaze, malice and ineptitude.

But he keeps finding new ways to degrade his office and pollute our politics. Last week, he heartily endorsed Roy Moore, the Senate candidate who is convincingly accused of molesting a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting two other females while indulging a lust for high school girls.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have urged Moore to withdraw from the race. But Trump rides roughshod over them. And his voters have stuck with him, with 4 in 5 Republicans approving of his performance — compared with 32 percent of independents.

Trump has not only aggressed against the party of Lincoln; he has conquered. Trump restored a bust of Churchill to the Oval Office. It’s there to remind him of what an enemy of appeasement looks like.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.