Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Laughing Won't Save You: There is Nothing Funny About Ron DeSantis' Cruelty

Donald Trump stands astride his Republican Party like a Colossus. With his primary wins in Iowa and New Hampshire – and soon in South Carolina – the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is basically his. On his road to victory, Trump easily vanquished Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a “rival” to Trump’s control over the Republican Party who was elevated to that position by the mainstream news media and so-called traditional conservatives.

But DeSantis’s threat to Trump, which is also true of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, was very much exaggerated and mostly a creation of the news media and DC beltway political consultant class. After all, why would Republican and MAGA voters want pretenders when they can have the real thing?

DeSantis can generously be described as having an odd personality, strained interpersonal skills, and in total a lack of charisma. Possessing one of those traits would be difficult for an otherwise gifted politician in the age of TV and 24/7 news media spectacle to overcome. DeSantis was cursed with all three.

When DeSantis announced that he was ending his campaign and then basically bowed before Trump, the news media, commentariot, pundits, and many among the public laughed and mocked him. Such a reaction may feel good in the moment, especially for Democrats and others who are desperate for some type of victory, however fleeting and insignificant, in a time of such great anxiety and worry about Trump’s enduring power and the future of American democracy and society. However, there is nothing funny about Gov. Ron DeSantis and the extreme harm – including lost lives – and misery and other suffering that he has caused, and is continuing to cause, the people of Florida and other Republican-controlled parts of the country that are imitating him.

DeSantis put in place policies during the COVID pandemic that led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people in Florida.

At DeSantis’ command and encouragement, Florida, like other red states, has implemented a thought crime regime where teaching the real history of Black Americans, and the country’s complex history more generally, has been banned and replaced with right-wing patriotic education that “does not make white children uncomfortable." Florida’s fascist authoritarian thought crime regime includes such measures as banning books, harassing, and firing teachers and other educators who are not in agreement with the goals of the white right and neofascist movement, defunding school programs and departments, and rubbleizing the once respected New College of Florida. DeSantis’ Orwellian thought crime regime is an extension of a decades-long campaign by the American right-wing and “conservative” movement to destroy public education as part of a much larger project to end social democracy.

DeSantis and his allies have also worked feverishly to roll back the civil and voting rights of Black Americans, by for example empowering Jim Crow era “election police”, engaging in racist gerrymandering, and putting in place a de facto poll tax. DeSantis has also provided cover for neofascist right-wing street fighting gangs and paramilitaries to use Florida as a type of main operating base.

DeSantis has taken away women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. He has also de facto engaged in human trafficking and kidnapping by transporting many dozens of migrants and refugees from Latin and South America from Florida to New York — in the cold of winter —  through trickery and against their will.

DeSantis knows that “the cruelty is the point.” To that end he and his regime and their agents have targeted the LGBTQ community by attempting, and succeeding, to erase them from public (and private) life through laws and provisions that make their literal personhood a crime. Leaders fulfill a permission function in society: by dehumanizing the LGBTQ community – and in particular transgender people – DeSantis is legitimating mass violence against them.

Donald Trump is the Big Boss of the Republican Party Crime Organization -- Which Is Why His MAGA Followers Love Him

With a decisive victory in this week's New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump further cemented his control as the unchallenged boss of the Republican Party's political crime organization.
The mainstream media and political class have long assumed that Trump’s obvious criminality and autocratic behavior, along with his evidently worsening sociopathic behavior, would ultimately be the cause of his certain downfall. Their reasoning or hope was that when the American people grasped the full horror of Trump's actions, as shown in the Jan. 6 committee hearings under the previous Congress, his multiple criminal indictments, civil verdicts that have found him liable for sexual assault and business fraud, and his generally vile behavior, even Republican voters would finally reject him en masse.
That delusion was especially common among “traditional” and “establishment” Republicans and other anti-Trump conservatives, who convinced themselves that their party still had an honorable core, and that its voters would turn against the former president because of their belief in “law and order”” and “family values.”
In reality, the opposite has happened: Trump’s power as the boss of the Republican political crime organization has grown. The loyalty of his MAGA followers has certainly not weakened, and may have increased. Tens of millions of Americans have eagerly embraced Trump's criminal gang, and many millions more are, at the very least, willing to tolerate it and indulge it.
A recent article at Politico details the failed efforts of a group of anti-Trump Republicans to use the ex-president’s obvious criminality to undercut his support. The group "quietly tested four TV ads that aimed to weaken the former president by focusing on a central issue of the campaign: His myriad legal troubles":
One spot, which was surveyed before an online panel of Republican primary voters, declared that the indictments against Trump had “worn” him “down” and undercut his ability to win the election. Another said the trials presented “too much baggage” and warned that Democrats would “sensationalize” them to hurt the ex-president. The hardest-hitting commercial raised the specter that Trump would be convicted, leading President Joe Biden to “cruise” to reelection.

All of the ads shared one thing in common beyond the topic on which they focused. They all failed or backfired.

Three of the four actually boosted Trump’s support among the participants. One — a softer-touch spot that features a voter saying Trump’s trials “worries” him — had no measurable impact on Trump’s numbers. The unaired ads, along with nearly 260 pages of accompanying data analysis, were obtained by POLITICO.

Strategists with the conservative anti-Trump political action committee, Win It Back PAC decided to shelve the commercials. They remain unaired. …

Those strategists reached the conclusion that "Trump’s legal problems have, if anything, helped — not hurt — his standing in the primary," and that many Republican voters "see Trump as the victim of the legal system, not a violator of it.

As reported by Politico, several survey participants were even "pointedly defending the former president": 

“I strongly disagree with this ad. I don’t think people are giving Trump a fair chance because of who he is,” said one.

“The thing that bothers me the most is the filthy lying individuals who are extremely corrupt that are trying to crucify Trump, which is obviously 100 percent unfair,” said another.

The memo quotes a third respondent saying: “Stop bashing Trump and stand behind him.”

None of this should seem mysterious or surprising. There is considerable research by social scientists and other experts that explains the lawless ex-president’s enduring power and appeal.

Most obviously,: Trump’s followers are eager to seek revenge and retribution against the same people and groups that he does. Even more simply, they love Donald Trump and what they believe he represents. This is especially true for white evangelical Christians, who often view Trump as a prophet, savior or messiah.

Furthermore, there is large base of support for authoritarian and fascist politics in the United States. Many Americans are strongly attracted to political strongmen autocrats willing to “bend the rules” in order to "get things done” for “people like them.”

Aspiring Dictator Donald Trump Continues to Escalate His Threats of Violence....And As Usual the Mainstream News Media Looks Away

Donald Trump is continuing his campaign of public threats to injure, imprison or kill his perceived personal enemies, and other foes of the MAGA movement, if and when he takes power a year from now. The most recent example came in a series of posts on Truth Social last Thursday morning. Although certain aspects of these posts made headlines with respect to Trump's preposterous claims of immunity, the full context is important.

In his trademark all-caps prose, Trump proposed that any U.S president "MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY, WITHOUT WHICH IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM/HER TO PROPERLY FUNCTION." It's unusually generous, by Trump's standards, even to consider other actual or hypothetical presidents. Then he continued:


For Trump to claim that police must be allowed free rein to commit acts of violence with impunity was not a random "example." Its implications should be obvious. This from the same man whose attorney recently argued in federal court that Trump, as president, could have ordered political rivals executed and accepted bribes without being held accountable before the law. (Under this ludicrous theory, impeachment is the only recourse against a criminal or corrupt president.) 

This also from the same man who publicly threatened the life of Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for alleged disloyalty because Milley refused to support a coup attempt against American democracy and the Constitution. And from the same man who has repeatedly threatened to have President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, special counsel Jack Smith, the judges and prosecutors in his various trials and virtually anyone else (including journalists) who attempts to hold him responsible for his crimes prosecuted for “treason.” As Trump is well aware, the traditional punishment for treason is execution.

Trump no longer bothers to conceal his desire to rule as dictator of a virtual police state, and to claim the right and power to imprison, torture and execute any and all who oppose him.

NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a leading expert on fascism, discussed Trump’s murderous intent in a Thursday social media post:

Trump is telling Americans very clearly that he will be jailing and killing Americans. Anyone who votes for him is complicit with these future crimes because of this transparency & these threats. Americans cannot say they did not know ahead of time.

Journalist Luke Zaleski echoed that warning:

Trump is telling you he’s gonna send his hessians to abuse you without due process. He’s a dictator emerging to take revenge on US citizens. Trump wants revenge. He’s a sick puppy, folks — and he’ll sic his dogs on anyone who fights to save America from him.

This “right” of the leader and ruling party to kill or abuse members of the public with impunity, and to reshape the law to their purposes, is a defining feature of dictatorships and autocracies.

Trump’s most recent threats against the American people (and, by implication, against democracy and civil society) attracted some mainstream news coverage for a day or so before disappearing down the memory hole. (Zeeshan Aleem’s essay at MSNBC was a notable exception).

Even so, there was little discussion of Trump’s specific threat or his self-comparison to a violent "rogue cop," licensed to beat, torture, abduct or murder citizens with "total immunity" from prosecution. At this point, some of the most stalwart and reliable voices in the mainstream media have fallen into the trap of normalizing Trump’s deviant behavior. One prominent commentator, for example, wrote about Trump’s most recent threats while entirely ignoring his "bad apple" analogy. That commentator also never offered any clear statement or interpretation of what Trump's promises of violent revenge will mean for the American people in practice. Instead, this journalist relied on quoting someone else, in rather too oblique a fashion, to get nearer the point. 

That kind of political ventriloquism is utterly inadequate to the task of defeating Trumpism and the larger neofascist movement. Those people with a public platform who claim to defend democracy have a responsibility to be direct, bold and consistent in their truth-telling.

Why do we still face this problem? Why has the mainstream news media as an institution so consistently failed to focus on the MAGA movement’s promises, threats and acts of political violence and thuggery?

Friday, April 7, 2023

It is Not a "Culture War": The Republicans and "Conservatives" are Actually Waging a Fascist War on Multiracial Democracy

America is not mired in a culture war. In reality, today's Republican Party and larger "conservative" movement are waging a fascist war against multiracial pluralist democracy and human freedom. Ultimately, to not understand how the so-called culture war is actually a fascist war against American democracy is to almost ensure being rolled over by those evil forces.

Many political observers point to Pat Buchanan's infamous 1992 speech at the GOP national convention as the beginning of the so-called culture war in America. However, the roots of this fascist and authoritarian campaign are much older: Jim and Jane Crow and white-on-black chattel slavery, genocide against First Nations peoples and white settler colonialism are America's native forms of fascism. When located in the proper historical context, neofascism and the Age of Trump are properly understood as being but the most current manifestation of much older birth defects in American democracy and society.

In a very important recent essay in the Guardian, Yale University philosophy professor Jason Stanley highlights how the Republican fascist thought crime laws in Florida and other parts of the country targeting the teaching of African-American history (and the country's real history more generally) are examples of a much larger Orwellian project:

These laws have been represented by many as a "culture war". This framing is a dangerous falsification of reality. A culture war is a conflict of values between different groups. In a diverse, pluralistic democracy, one should expect frequent conflicts. Yet laws criminalizing educators' speech are no such thing – unlike a culture war, the GOP's recent turn has no place in a democracy. To understand why, consider their consequences.

Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis and the other Republican-fascists are using the myth of American Exceptionalism and what sociologists describe as "the white racial frame" to erase the country's real history and its challenges and complexities to advance an anti-democracy project that eliminates critical thinking and free speech.

Stanley continues:
It is frequently claimed by proponents of such laws that banning discussion of structural racism and intersectionality is freeing schools of indoctrination. And yet indoctrination rarely takes place by allowing the free flow of ideas. Indoctrination instead rather takes places by banning ideas. Celebrating the banning of authors and concepts as "freedom from indoctrination" is as Orwellian as politics gets.….

Most frighteningly, these laws are meant to intimidate educators, to punish them for speaking freely by threatening their jobs, their teaching licenses, and more. The passing of these laws signals the dawn of a new authoritarian age in the United States, where the state uses laws restricting speech to intimidate, bully and punish educators, forcing them to submit to the ideology of the dominant majority or lose their livelihoods, and even their freedom.
So why have the mainstream news media and political class been so wrong in their understanding of this true nature of the "culture war"?

The American political class and mainstream news media — even seven years into the Age of Trump and a coup attempt on Jan. 6 — still have a normalcy bias. As institutions and individuals, they have convinced themselves that American neofascism is a blip on the radar, an aberration, that will inevitably be replaced by a return to "normal" and "the good old days." The American news media and political class are psychologically, emotionally, and financially committed to that narrative even if the facts do not support it.

Moreover, the idea that America is experiencing a culture war instead of a fascist war on democracy and freedom fits neatly into a narrative framework of momentary troubles that will soon pass and not an existential crisis that will fundamentally change the order of things in the country.

The American political class and mainstream news media are self-limiting: they enforce their own formal and informal rules and norms about how they conceptualize and work through political questions and what are considered "realistic" and "reasonable" answers. Admitting that the Republican Party and "conservative" movement are neofascists who reject multiracial democracy would involve a type of paradigm shift that the news media and political class would a priori reject. Careerists and others who are successful in those spheres of influence know what the rules are and adhere to them closely lest they be punished or perhaps even exiled.

In total, the American mainstream news media and political class are possessed by a type of inertia, intellectual laziness and incurious behavior where it is easier to go along with the herd and hive mind about America's democratic institutions and culture as being enduring and permanent than to confront the epistemic crisis that ascendant neofascism represents.

The American mainstream news media and political class are also limited in their ability to properly respond to the country's democracy crisis because of a failure of imagination. It is a type of common sense among the Democrats and mainstream centrist liberals and progressives that "real politics" (economic and other material concerns about the country's "institutions" and society more broadly) are somehow separate and distinct from "culture war" issues.

By comparison, and like other more sophisticated thinkers on the left, the Republican fascists and other members of the global right correctly understand that culture, emotions, material concerns and "serious politics" are all part of a larger struggle to win and keep political power across society. In this framework, culture, emotions and material realities are all interconnected. While too many Democrats and mainstream liberals and progressives (and others committed to the liberal democratic project in America) tend to silo off questions of politics and culture, the neofascists are engaged in a revolutionary project that does not make that error in thinking.

The fascist project is fundamentally a cultural project. As a first step in adapting to the reality that the culture war is actually a fascist war on democracy and freedom, the news media and political class need to change their language and political grammar. As commonly used, "culture war" is empty language. It is vague and imprecise.

A war is waged by one group of people against another. In the context of "the culture wars," this means war by the Republican fascists and their forces against Black and brown people, women, the LGBTQ community, and other disadvantaged and marginalized groups. What are the lived consequences of this fascist "culture war"? People's lives are literally being imperiled, be it from direct violence such as hate crimes or taking away civil and human rights and bodily autonomy. In the example of how gun rights are now treated as a culture war issue, this translates into how gun violence is a public health crisis that needlessly kills tens of thousands of people each year in the United States.

Channeling the literary theorist and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the American mainstream news media and political class cannot understand the true nature and scope of the country's democracy crisis because "culture war" is language that limits their capacity to fully understand political reality.

On this, Stanley concludes and warns in his Guardian essay that:
It is clear that the chief agenda of the GOP is to advance a set of speech laws that criminalize discussion in schools of anything but the white heterosexual majority's perspective. The media's portrayal of these laws as moves in the "culture wars" is an unconscionable misrepresentation of fascism.
The American mainstream news media and political class must recalibrate and rethink their approach to conceptualizing, theorizing, communicating, and responding to the country's democracy crisis and its deep origins. The crisis is widespread and cultural, as opposed to something temporary and caused by one person or a party that has temporarily lost its way.

But that will take hard work and require jettisoning obsolete norms and beliefs about American politics and society. There are few material incentives in terms of one's career or prestige for doing that type of difficult and risky work. Confronting a democracy crisis (or other such serious troubles) demands boldness but the institutions, almost by definition, are created and maintained by professional centrists and wish-casters who cling to "the normal" and a lost past when the latter are mostly poisonous lies — and even more so — in the Age of Trump and ascendant neofascism.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Donald Trump and His Neofascist MAGA Movement Are Our National Malady -- Indicting and Imprisoning Trump For His Many Crimes Will Not Cure the Deep Sickness

Last Thursday, Donald Trump, the twice impeached president and coup leader, a man who has engaged in a decades-long crime spree, was indicted in Manhattan for alleged crimes connected to hush money payments and other offenses during his 2016 presidential campaign. Of his many historic "distinctions," Trump is now the first former president to ever be indicted in criminal court. 

On Monday, Trump was arraigned in Manhattan on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump was then released. 

He would travel to his Mar-a-Lago redoubt and headquarters where that night he attempted to recharge himself with narcissistic energy he sucked from his cult members during a rage-filled yet quite flaccid speech where he listed his grievances and threatened "justice".

I was half asleep and somewhat medicated when Trump's indictment was announced on the television news. When I heard the voices on the television talking about "Trump" and "New York" and "indictment," I opened my eyes, allowed myself a small smile, and went soundly back to sleep on the couch.

Why didn't I rush to my computer to write a too-fast immediate response to the "breaking news" as so many of the other people with a public platform and voice did? Well, late Wednesday night I did something quite careless and stupid. I was working on a project at home and let my mind wander for a second. In that briefest of moments, I cut myself with a very sharp knife. I heard myself say aloud, "You big dummy! You are going to the hospital. That is lots of blood. And yes, that is a bone. And no, you most certainly cannot use crazy glue to fix it."

For the next four hours, I sat in the emergency room with my hand wrapped in gauze and bleeding inside a plastic ziplock bag. I watched all of the other people piled inside the emergency room. They sat on chairs. Others were laying on the ground. Some were slumped over in wheelchairs. There were a few people who found a way to sleep while standing up against a wall. 

There were dozens of homeless people in the emergency room as well. It was cold outside, and the hospital was a type of temporary safe harbor. I counted at least three people who were visibly covered in their own filth. One man was laid out on the ground, rolling around in his own waste. Was he high? Drunk? Exhausted? Mentally ill? All or none of these things? I do not know. The nurses and security guards knew that poor soul by name. They were frustrated with him because he was "noncompliant." The police were called and they carried the poor man outside and dumped him on the sidewalk. 

A team of janitors swooped in. They quickly cleaned up the carpet and floor while not uttering a grumble or any other audible sound of disgust. They didn't even make an obvious gesture of frustration or annoyance. The three janitors were stoic and dutiful. When those men finally get home, they will take off all their clothes and put them all in a garbage bag outside the front door. I watched my father do that same thing many times.

There were other people in the emergency room too, most of them like the woman who would be my "neighbor" in the examination room. She used the emergency room as her regular physician. I counted ten problems in need of care. The doctors would give her prescriptions for eight different medicines.

Too many Americans want a miracle cure for Trumpism.

"Do you have a regular physician?" the doctor asked her. "No."

"How long have you had these symptoms?" She replied: "More than a month."

"When was the last time you had a physical?"


"What do you do for a living?" She said, "I am outside most of the time, I deliver food."

My "neighbor" carried an insulated cube-shaped bag with her to the emergency room. She clung to it. She told the doctor that she was going right back to work after she leaves the emergency room and fills the prescriptions. The company she works for pays her less than the minimum wage, which translates into a few dollars an hour.

In its own perverse way, the emergency room is a radically "democratic" space. Of course, here in America wealth and income determine both access to and the quality of healthcare. Race even more so. How gender and sexuality and citizenship status and all the other markers that deem some more privileged and advantaged in American society, and others less so, most certainly matter in terms of health care. Public health and other experts have shown that, by many measures, black women (regardless of income and wealth) suffer the most from America's health inequities.

America's healthcare system is most certainly not "the best in the world". In reality, it is very sick and broken. All of the people in the emergency room need help; acute need is a type of immediate social leveler.

There is a strange intimacy that comes with sickness and emergency rooms as well, where people are pretending to ignore each another while simultaneously being keenly aware of each other. After waiting for several hours, I was tempted to use the tiny amount of social capital I had accrued over these years to cut ahead in line. I ultimately decided not to. I am a Black working-class person who does not possess the arrogance and class entitlement and racial privilege to do such a thing unnecessarily for reasons of mere convenience.

As I sat in the emergency room I tried to stay calm. I meditated. I made up stories about the people around me based on the shoes they were wearing (or not). My mind wandered back to Donald Trump. Would he be indicted? What happens next? What if he wins back the White House? Do the American people realize how much trouble they are already in? Do they have any idea of how much more trouble and pain awaits them?

"This indictment will not succeed in repairing our democracy. But not indicting him would make it that much harder to ever repair our democracy."

Then I thought to myself, "You are in the hospital emergency room bleeding into a ziplock bag, waiting to get a bunch of stitches, trying to not get COVID, and you can't get that man out of your head. You are not well."

I rebutted my own inner dialogue.

"We are not well. None of us are anymore. It is better and more healthy to acknowledge that reality than to pretend otherwise. Any reasonably honest and observant person who has lived in America can tell you that this country is sick and has gone somewhat mad. Hell, almost every week there are Americans who sacrifice children to the Gun God Moloch in the name of 'freedom' and 'rights'. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel told us that 'In any free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty - all are responsible'. He is, of course, correct."

Several years ago, one of Donald Trump's biographers warned me that spending so much time thinking about Trump (or even worse being in his company) is not healthy; Trump has a dark energy about him that can get inside of your head if you are not careful. Trump's biographer, too, was correct.

Trump and his neofascist movement are our national malady. We, the Americans, need serious help and healing.

Yet because of, and not despite, all the harm Trump and his neofascist movement and their allies have caused to the country, its democracy, its people, and future, there are many tens of millions of Americans who want him back in the White House. In total, this is all much more than a severe political malady. It is a type of moral and ethical sickness.

Here is an even more frightening reality about Trump, neofascism, and our other national maladies: there are tens of millions of Americans who want to be sick. Or alternatively, they have lost the ability to discern what is healthy from what is unhealthy and see Trumpism as a cure instead of poison. And among both groups, a type of collective sociopathy and sadism has taken hold in the form of the many Americans who don't care how sick they are as long as they can make other people sicker than them. In his very personal and intimate book Our Malady, historian Timothy Snyder explains:
Everyone is drawn into a politics of pain that leads to mass death. Opposing health care because you suspect it helps the underserving is like pushing someone off a cliff and then jumping yourself, thinking that your fall with be cushioned by the corpse of the person you murdered. It is like playing a round of Russian roulette in which you load one bullet in the cylinder of your revolver and two in the other fellow's. But how about not jumping off cliffs; how about not playing Russian roulette? How about we live and let live, and all live longer and better?
At its core, Trump and our nation's many maladies are a painful reminder of the inherent connection between the health of a democracy and the health of its members. On this, Snyder also writes:
America is supposed to be about freedom, but illness and fear render us less free. To be free is to become ourselves, to move through the world following our values and desires. Each of us has a right to pursue happiness and to leave a trace. Freedom is impossible when we are too ill to conceive of happiness and too weak to pursue it. It is unattainable when we lack the knowledge we need to make meaningful choice, especially about health.
Whatever the verdict is in the Stormy Daniels case, Donald Trump will, in almost all likelihood, not go to jail. There is one system of justice rich white men; there is another one for everybody else.

Nonetheless, the historic indictment and trial of Trump is an important step towards some type of national healing. Moreover, District Attorney Bragg's case against Trump may be part of a larger coordination game where other indictments will quickly follow now that the supposed taboo against indicting a former president has been broken.

I remain deeply concerned that too many Americans want a miracle cure for Trumpism and American neofascism. To that end, they have convinced themselves that putting Donald Trump on trial for his many obvious crimes, and then convicting him, will heal the nation. Such an outcome will do no such thing by itself.

In a recent essay, journalist and author Steven Beschloss echoes my concerns:
1. Donald Trump was a known criminal long before nearly 63 million Americans voted for him to control the levers of power. As much as he is responsible for his criminal exploitation of that power, we must understand and fix the sickness in the body politic that enabled him to take office.

2. This indictment will not succeed in repairing our democracy. But not indicting him would make it that much harder to ever repair our democracy.
A permanent cure for America's many national maladies will require much hard work. The malady is far greater than one man. As I have warned before, Trumpism and American neofascism are a sickness that is down in the bones, and which has had years to spread to the brain and other major organs. The maladies are spiritual as well.

Do the American people want to be well, or do they want to be sick? And do they even know the difference anymore?

I ended up in the emergency room because of a stupid mistake that I will do my best to never repeat. My hand and fingers hurt as I write this because of that same stupid mistake. Tens of millions of Americans are waiting to put Trump back in the White House. That is no stupid mistake. It's an act of self-inflicted harm — and wholly preventable.

When Prophecy Truly Fails: Donald Trump is Now the MAGA Fascist Jesus

The book "When Prophecy Fails" is a classic work of social psychology that examines a UFO doomsday cult waiting for the end of the world. Of course, the special day arrives, and the world does not end. How do the cult members respond to this failure? By becoming more convinced that the prophecy is correct.

Donald Trump is at the center of a similar pseudo-religious cult prophecy as well. His most loyal followers truly believe him to be a type of divine, messianic, and all-powerful leader. In reality, there is nothing divine or messianic about Donald Trump. He is a mere mortal who has been credibly accused of many serious crimes. Nevertheless, right-wing Christian evangelicals and Christofascists (to the degree those two groups are distinct and separate from one another) have rationalized their support of Donald Trump (and Trumpism) through the biblical myth of Cyrus. The belief is that God uses a wicked man as a tool of divine destiny and will.

Donald Trump is not a practicing Christian; moreover, he looks very uncomfortable in church and at other religious gatherings. In reality, Donald Trump is a pathological malignant narcissist and compulsive liar who is the God of his own personal religion and self-contained universe. Trump views right-wing Christians in a transactional way. They are a tool to help him get and keep more power.

Still, white right-wing Christian evangelicals' faith in Trump the prophetic figure was rewarded grandly. While president, Trump enacted a range of policies that furthered the creation of a white Christofascist theocracy in America. The white right views him as a revolutionary leader, a force of destiny and history, a Destructor who will force a new age where diversity, pluralism and globalism are destroyed and replaced by a White Christian empire where white men rule unopposed over all things. The QAnon conspiracy cult with its apocalyptic obsession over Trump's retributive act of destruction known as "the Storm" is one example. 

The inherent nature of cults, prophecies and divine (paranormal) predictions is that they do not obey the rules of rationality, empiricism, or reason. As such, these prophecies and other such acts of magical thinking can be twisted to fit any scenario or desired outcome.

To that point, at his recent 2024 presidential campaign rally in Waco (which was attended by more than 10,000 followers), Trump spoke of being a victim of a conspiracy, and a man who is being persecuted as part of a witch hunt. Trump of course, channeling Hitler or some other great tyrant, promised to be a force of retribution and revenge who will engage in a "final battle" against his and the MAGA movement's so-called enemies. 

The BBC described Trump's Waco rally in the following way: "Thousands of the former president's supporters wandered through Trump merchandise tents, where they bought t-shirts emblazoned with "God, guns and Trump" and "Trump won." 

Through this logic, any attempt to hold Trump accountable under the rule of law is translated into being an attack on the members of his MAGA movement and personality cult.

The timing and choice of Waco to hold Trump's first major 2024 presidential campaign rally was not a mistake or coincidence: that city is a type of holy ground for the white right and larger American antigovernment movement because of its connection to the tragic 1993 raid by law enforcement on the Branch Davidian compound that resulted in the deaths of more than 80 people. By hosting his rally in Waco, Trump presented himself as a type of cult leader and martyr figure who is willing to die and kill for his followers.

In a story at the Daily Mail, members of the Branch Davidian cult, including its current pastor, explained how they view Trump as a type of prophet and "God's battering ram" for their cause:

The Branch Davidians are said to consider the former president as 'the battering ram that God is using to bring down the Deep State of Babylon.'

The FBI's raid on the group's compound, Mount Carmel, which the Branch Davidians view as a government overstep, is similar to what they claim happened to Trump.

The former president, 76, is set to hold a rally in Waco this afternoon, coinciding with 30th anniversary of the FBI raid on Branch Davidians formerly led by David Koresh.

Trump's holding of a rally in Waco is 'a statement — that he was sieged by the F.B.I. at Mar-a-Lago and that they were accusing him of different things that aren't really true, just like David Koresh was accused by the F.B.I. when they sieged him,' Koresh's successor, Pastor Charles Pace, told the New York Times.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump peacefully surrendered to law enforcement authorities and was arraigned in a Manhattan courthouse for alleged crimes connected to hush-money payments he made to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump is now the first former president to be indicted on criminal charges in the country's history.

Trump's followers – at his encouragement – have taken his indictment (and now arrest) as "proof" that he is being "persecuted" like Jesus Christ or some other type of divine mythological figure.

In a recent feature at Vice, reporter Tess Owen provides these details:

The former president has long played a key role in the imaginations of Christian nationalists, who believe America is an inherently Christian nation, should have Christian laws, and that Trump is their savior. Christian nationalist language has seeped into MAGA-world rhetoric, but Trump's imminent arrest has taken it to new heights.

Lawyer Joseph McBride, who is representing a handful of Jan. 6 defendants, thinks that the timing of Trump's likely arrest is notable.

"President Trump will be arrested during lent—a time of suffering and purification for the followers of Jesus Christ," McBride wrote on Twitter. "As Christ was crucified, and then rose again on the 3rd day, so too will @realdonaldtrump."

When he faced some pushback on comparing Trump's plight to Jesus Christ's hours-long torture, McBride doubled down. "JESUS LOVES DONALD TRUMP. JESUS DIED FOR DONALD TRUMP. JESUS LIVES INSIDE DONALD TRUMP," McBride tweeted. "DEAL WITH IT."

Other Trump supporters see eerie similarities between the Manhattan DA and the Romans who crucified Jesus.

"Rome tried to silence a peaceful leader via political persecution, and ended up creating the most pervasive & permanent religious figure in all of world history," MAGA-world influencer Reanna Dilley wrote on Twitter. "Good fucking luck, New York."

Owen continues, "On Monday night, a Christian nationalist group called Pastors for Trump held a National Prayer Call on his behalf. Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn joined the call, hosted by Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer.

"Father, right now, I thank you for President Donald J. Trump and God I thank you for all that you've done to him and through him and for him over the last eight years," Lahmeyer said. "We ask that every single person that refuses to submit to your will in Washington D.C., you would uproot them and you would remove them and replace them with men and women who will submit to the will of God.""

On Tuesday afternoon, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene held a poorly attended rally in support of Trump outside of the Manhattan courthouse where the disgraced former president was being arraigned. During an interview before the event – which Greene retreated from after being heckled by a much larger group of counter-protesters – she also elevated Trump to the level of Jesus Christ.

"Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government."

Rolling Stone reports how the disgraced former president wanted a high-profile surrender for purposes of propaganda and political theater, during which he would show the world how he is a "Jesus Christ"-like figure:

The Secret Service had argued in favor of holding the proceedings outside of court business hours, at night with minimal cameras and less risk. But Trump, a source close to his legal team says, wants to create the type of scene that he believes will galvanize his supporters.

"It's kind of a Jesus Christ thing. He is saying, 'I'm absorbing all this pain from all around from everywhere so you don't have to,' " says the source. Describing the message Trump hopes to send his supporters, the source says: " 'If they can do this to me they can do this to you,' and that's a powerful message."

The elevation of Donald Trump to the level of god or prophet or some other tool of destiny by his followers and enablers represents a much larger trend among the American right-wing, "conservative movement" and other neofascists and malign actors. Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement have abandoned any pretense of normal politics and instead have fully committed themselves to anti-rationality, anti-intellectualism, a rejection of learned real expertise, religious fundamentalism, conspiracism, "alternative facts" and the "Big Lie." This is a type of religious politics that is antithetical to real democracy.

Trump's indictment and arrest may not result in massive and immediate violence by his followers, but the danger should not be minimized.

Public opinion and other research show that millions of Trump followers are radicalized and support (and a not insignificant number of which are willing to participate in) acts of violence on Donald Trump's behalf in the name of a MAGA holy war if he were to issue such a declaration. As seen on Jan. 6 and beyond, such people are capable of doing anything to get and keep corrupt power. Why? Because they are engaged in a holy war by their "God."

Friday, October 1, 2021

New Public Opinion Research Shows That Tens of Millions of (White) Americans Are Prepared to Use Violence to Put Donald Trump Back in Office

Two weekends ago, Trump loyalists gathered in Washington for the "Justice for J6" rally, a supposed show of solidarity with the "political prisoners" arrested for their alleged (or confessed) participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Trump's Republican-fascists and their propagandists have elevated these hooligans, vandals and (in many cases) terrorists to the status of martyrs and patriots as a way of legitimizing their anti-democratic movement, creating sympathy among Trump's faithful that can be exploited for fundraising and, of course, recruiting and encouraging more extremists to the cause.

Despite warnings from the Capitol Police, DHS and other authorities that more violence was possible, the rally on Sept. 18 was a tame and peaceful affair. No more than a few hundred Trump cultists attended, greatly outnumbered by law enforcement and the news media. This low turnout was widely mocked among the chattering class, liberals and progressives of the "resistance" and others who oppose Trump and his movement.

As I have argued before, such reactions are shortsighted and ill-advised — another example among many of the way America's political class, news media and the public at large still does not understand the nature of the threat they face from the Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right.

Experts on domestic terrorism have repeatedly warned that in the aftermath of Jan. 6 many militant Trumpists and other neofascists are operating more covertly, perhaps by breaking up into small cells that are difficult for law enforcement to track and apprehend. Right-wing militants and terrorists are more likely to attack "soft targets" as opposed to widely publicized events and locations where law enforcement is sure to be present.

As seen in Michigan and elsewhere, right-wing militants are likely to focus their attention at the state and local level where law enforcement assets are more porous and likely targets are, in general, more vulnerable to attack.

But in fact the real power of Jan. 6 and its aftermath is difficult to measure by such standards. Those events, and Republican efforts to rewrite the history of that day, have increasingly normalized right-wing political violence — if not in fact made it a preferred and desired way of obtaining and keeping political power.

In keeping with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' "Big Lie" strategy, a large majority of Republican and Trump voters actually believe that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Donald Trump — and, in effect, from them as well. Public opinion polls also show that a significant percentage of Republicans believe that the violence and coup attempt on Jan. 6 was a "patriotic" or at least understandable action that was necessary to "defend" democracy and Trump's presidency.

On a daily basis, neofascist white supremacist opinion leaders and other propagandists on Fox News and across the right-wing propaganda echo chamber are radicalizing millions of white Americans. Most will not personally commit acts of violence against nonwhites, Muslims, "radical socialist Democrats" and others designated to be the enemy. But they are ever more likely to tolerate or condone such crimes.

Ultimately, fascism is a type of political and social poison which manifests as violence and other antisocial and anti-human behavior. New research by Robert Pape and the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats demonstrates how far that poison has spread among the American people.

In a new essay at The Conversation, Pape summarizes these findings, beginning with the most startling result:
We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that "the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president." Of those, 21 million also agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency."

Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

Only a small percentage of people who hold extremist views ever actually commit acts of violence, but our findings reveal how many Americans hold views that could turn them toward insurrection.

Pape's polling found that 9% of American adults agreed that "Use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency, while 25% agreed that "The 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."

Pape reports a margin of error of 4 percentage points, meaning that the proportion of American adults who hold both those views is somewhere between 4% and 12%. "The best single figure," he writes, "is the middle of that range, 21 million."
He continues:
People who said force is justified to restore Trump were consistent in their insurrectionist sentiments: Of them, 90% also see Biden as illegitimate, and 68% also think force may be needed to preserve America's traditional way of life.
In an interview with the CBS News podcast "Intelligence Matters," Pape further explained what this new research reveals about the relationship between the white supremacist "great replacement" theory, the QAnon cult and right-wing violence:
Sixty-three percent of the 21 million adamant insurrectionists in the country believe in the "Great Replacement," the idea that the rights of whites will be overtaken by the rights of Blacks and Hispanics. The second most important driver was a QAnon belief, where 53 percent of the 21 million believed that our government is run and controlled by a satanic cult of pedophiles. Those are the two radical beliefs that are really ... the key drivers of the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today.
Pape also sounded the alarm about the prospects for right-wing political violence and terrorism in the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections:
This is about, what are the prospects for other instances of collective violence, especially related to elections going forward? ... I think that we need to be aware that we are moving into already a politically tumultuous 2022 election season just in the last month with the events in Afghanistan, which has created tremendous amount of anger in many of our military circles, military communities; with the new mandates for COVID, which President Biden has just announced, which are already generating tremendous pushback against the federal government. ... We need to understand the risks that that could break out into violence.
For all of these escalating warnings about the potential for serious right-wing political violence, America's political class remains largely unwilling to properly respond to the clear and present danger. Such an outcome is in part explained by the very language that is most often used in these discussions.

For example, "right-wing terrorism" or "right-wing extremism" is often presented in a race-neutral fashion.

A more accurate description would be to say "white right-wing terrorism" or "white supremacist violence." Similarly, the events of Jan. 6 could be described as a "white insurrection" or "white riot," which more clearly captures the role of race and racism in the violence of both that day and the Age of Trump as a whole.

To be clear, there are Black and brown people who belong to Trump's cult. Some are among his most militant supporters. Regardless of their skin color, such people are loyal to Whiteness as a social and political force. As such, Black and brown Trumpists and other neofascists want to access white power and white privilege for themselves. For them, the end goal is to somehow "earn" a type of transactional honorary whiteness.

Trumpism and other forms of American neofascism and racial authoritarianism are an extreme personal and existential problem for nonwhite people and others who are marginalized as the Other. They are also a problem spawned by and of White America.

Until that distinction is internalized by America's elites, and widely accepted as common sense by the American people, neofascism will continue to gain momentum and the country's democracy crisis will continue to escalate toward full-on disaster, from which no return to "normal" will be possible. America's past and America's present (again) runs along and through the color line.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Fact Checking, Laughter, and Liberal Schadenfreude Will Not Save You From Donald Trump and His Neofascist Movement

Recently, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was finally removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the old Confederacy. The statue was erected in 1890, as Jim and Jane Crow tightened their hands, often literally, around the throat of Black America. The AP reported the big moment:

Hundreds of onlookers erupted in cheers and song as the 21-foot-tall bronze figure was lifted off a pedestal and lowered to the ground. The removal marked a major victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls to dismantle the statues had been steadfastly rebuked by city and state officials alike.

"It's very difficult to imagine, certainly, even two years ago that the statues on Monument Avenue would actually be removed," said Ana Edwards, a community activist and founding member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom Justice & Equality. "It's representative of the fact that we're sort of peeling back the layers of injustice that Black people and people of color have experienced when governed by white supremacist policies for so long."

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had ordered the statue's removal last summer amid the nationwide wave of protest that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But it took more than a year for lawsuits aimed at saving the statue to work their way through the courts. Northam called it "hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia," adding: "Any remnant like this that glorifies the lost cause of the Civil War, it needs to come down."

Lee's statue, like those "honoring" other Confederates, was the physical embodiment of centuries of racial intimidation, racial violence and threats against Black Americans and other people of color. Such statues and monuments were — and in many places still are — an attempt to create a usable past that reinforces and legitimates white supremacy, with the goal of defeating the civil rights movement and the long Black Freedom Struggle. In effect, they communicate that Black people are supposed to forever remain second-class citizens in their own country.

In addition, Confederate statues and monuments are symbolic acts of psychic and emotional violence against Black people. Many Black people — especially those who survived the era of Jim and Jane Crow — experience anger, pain, humiliation and other forms of trauma when they are forced to confront these statues and other symbols of racist hatred and white supremacy. Confederate statues and monuments are meant to make a claim on public space, one that creates boundaries of civic belonging and community. In that way, some public spaces are declared to be "whites only," even long after the end of legal segregation.
In a 2017 op-ed for the Washington Post, noted historian James Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Sundown Towns," offered this intervention against the distortions and lies about the Civil War offered by Donald Trump and other neo-Confederates, including the ludicrous notion that the war didn't need to happen:
Trump's conclusion about [Stonewall] Jackson places him in a camp of 1930s historians who called it a "needless war," in the words of James G. Randall, brought about by a "blundering generation." That view is a product of its time, and that time is now known as the Nadir of Race Relations. The Nadir began at the end of 1890 and began to ease around 1940. It was marked by lynchings, the eugenics movement and the spread of sundown towns across the North. Neo-Confederates put up triumphant Confederate monuments from Helena, Montana, to Key West, Florida, obfuscating why the Southern states seceded. They claimed it was about tariffs or states' rights — anything but slavery. …

Today, when slavery has no state sanction anywhere, it seems obvious that the institution could not have survived to the 21st century. But if the South had prevailed, cotton would have resumed its role as "the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth," to quote Mississippi's secession document.

There is one more layer on this onion: The South did not quite secede for slavery, but for slavery as the mechanism to ensure white supremacy. On many occasions, its leaders made this clear. In 1863, William Thompson, founder of the Savannah Morning News, proposed a new, mostly white national flag for the Confederacy: "As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause." The government agreed and adopted his flag.

Some Trump partisans are clearly still fighting for that idea. Unfortunately, the Civil War settled only the issue of slavery — not white supremacy.
There is a powerful historical symmetry at work in the reality of the Lee statue's final removal from Monument Avenue. It was taken down and carted away by Team Henry Enterprises, a company whose CEO and president, Devon Henry, is a Black man.

Hundreds of thousands of Black men joined the Union Army during the Civil War. They were integral to turning the tide of battle and finally defeating Lee's forces and the Confederate slaveholding oligarchy.

I personally believe that Lee's statues and other monuments "honoring" the Confederacy should be shattered and otherwise destroyed, melted down and turned into chamber pots or other types of toilets. Those objects should then be auctioned off with the money going to civil rights organizations. I would be among the first people to bid on such a prize.

After Lee's statue was removed in Richmond last Wednesday, Donald Trump, de facto leader of the white right and larger American neofascist movement, issued this statement:
Just watched as a massive crane took down the magnificent and very famous statue of "Robert E. Lee On His Horse" in Richmond, Virginia. It has long been recognized as a beautiful piece of bronze sculpture. To add insult to injury, those who support this "taking" now plan to cut it into three pieces, and throw this work of art into storage prior to its complete desecration.

Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all. President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war. He should be remembered as perhaps the greatest unifying force after the war was over, ardent in his resolve to bring the North and South together through many means of reconciliation and imploring his soldiers to do their duty in becoming good citizens of this Country.

Our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the Radical Left, and we can't let that happen! If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!
On cue, the mainstream news media, many liberals and progressives and other members of the chattering class and commentariat began mocking Trump once again. There were numerous essays, op-eds and commentaries proclaiming Trump to be ignorant of history because of his lack of knowledge about Robert E. Lee, himself a slave-owner and leader of an evil and defeated cause.

Laughing at Donald Trump may provide comfort for his detractors and opponents. But that laughter is actually rooted in helplessness, impotence and overall despair in response to Trump and his movement's escalating assault on American society. In a recent conversation at Salon, psychiatrist Justin Frank explained this to me:
It is unhealthy humor. The humor you are describing is defensive in nature. It's defending against anxiety and fear. Specifically, it is a defensive use of contempt. Through it, people can demean and insult Donald Trump, which in turn means they don't have to be afraid of him. One of the ways a person can express contempt is through laughter. Thus it is a denial of one's vulnerability, because contempt means the other person is harmless, therefore he or she cannot hurt you. In that way, Trump is made into a pathetic fool. "If I laugh, it's not going to hurt me."

Ultimately, defensive contempt is a way of dismissing Trump's dangerousness. However, that type of contempt toward Trump is really an attack on reality. It is also an attack on one's own perception because you have actually undermined your own ability to understand just how dangerous Donald Trump is.
Historians and other experts eviscerated Donald Trump's public display of his severely limited historical understanding of Lee and the Civil War. That is well and good: Truth is an important weapon against the lies that sustain fascism. But one should make those interventions with the understanding that truth and facts alone is not sufficient to defeat Trumpism.

Instead of self-satisfied mockery, a more effective counter to Trump's lies about Robert E. Lee (and other matters) is to ask oneself the following question: What is the meaning of this latest controversy? How should we locate Trump's lies, distortions and propaganda relative to the larger context of America's democracy crisis?

Some examples may help. Trump and his supplicants have repeatedly described the campaign to remove Confederate statues and monuments as part of a "politically correct" assault by "Radical Leftists", "Black Lives Matter" activists, proponents of "critical race theory" and other perceived enemies of the "real" America.

Trump and his propagandists have repeatedly used white supremacist language and code — "our culture," "our heritage," "our history" — when defending Confederate statues and monuments. The worldview here is one fixated on white grievances and fake victimhood. Those claims and feelings are cornerstones for larger white supremacist fantasies of violence and revenge against Black and brown people (and their supposed white allies) who are engaged in a fantastical global campaign of "white genocide."

The controversy over a different statue of Robert E. Lee was also the pretext for the "Unite the Right" rally and its ensuing white supremacist rampage in Charlottesville in August 2017. Donald Trump infamously defended those white supremacist thugs and their allies as "very fine people."

Today's Republican Party has largely embraced the neo-Confederate movement and its white supremacist "Lost Cause" narrative. These white supremacist fantasies about the Confederacy's valor and heroism as defenders of "White Southern Civilization" are foundational to Trumpism and its racial authoritarian political and social project.

White Christian evangelicals (especially the Southern Baptists) are among Trump's most loyal supporters. Those denominations can trace their origins back to the Southern slaveocracy and the white supremacist terror regime of Jim and Jane Crow. White Christian evangelicals remain deeply committed to the political and social project of creating a Christian nationalist theocracy.

The Confederate battle flag — which is a white supremacist hate symbol that threatens violence against nonwhites — is a fixture at Trump's rallies and other events as well as those of the Republican Party and "conservative" movement more generally. Flags, hats and other MAGA regalia often prominently feature the Confederate flag.

Public opinion and other research have repeatedly shown that today's Republican Party and its followers, especially Trump supporters, believe in the Lost Cause mythology and other white supremacist lies about America's past and present. While the United States may have defeated the Confederacy and forced its surrender in 1865, as historian Heather Cox Richardson persuasively argues, today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement are in many ways the Confederate States of America reborn in the 21st century.

On Jan. 6, Donald Trump's assault force carried Confederate flags and at least one white Christian nationalist cross. Those thousands of Trump terrorists included Nazis, Klan members, and other white supremacists. Their goal was to overturn America's multiracial democracy by nullifying the results of the 2020 presidential election and keeping Trump (and in their minds, white people) in power indefinitely. History echoes: The treasonous Confederates believed themselves to be "patriots" and the true heirs to the tradition of George Washington and the American founding. Donald Trump's followers have deluded themselves in much the same way.

The Jim Crow Republican Party's coup against democracy did not end on Jan. 6. Instead, it Is escalating, and scoring victories across the country. The dangers represented by Trump and the Republican Party's threats against democracy are so great that George W. Bush recently declared that Trump's terrorists and others of their ilk are of the same poisoned tree as the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11.

Laughter may make you feel good. Fact-checking may give you a feeling of intellectual superiority. Liberal schadenfreude may provide momentary happiness. But none of that will save American democracy from Donald Trump, the Jim Crow Republican Party and their fascist movement. Only the hard work of mobilizing and engaging in corporeal politics can possibly do that.

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Death Cult: Donald Trump Could Destroy the World and Today's Republican Party Would Still Support Him

Is it life imitating art imitating life, or something even more complicated than that? At this point in America's state of malignant normality and unreality I am no longer sure. America in the Age of Trump lost the plot some time ago.

Consider this narrative: A crazed and out of control president, viewed by political rivals and military leaders as so unstable he might start a war — even a nuclear conflict — to gratify his ego and hold onto political power. He has launched a coup attempt, which remains unresolved. But a few brave and patriotic souls are willing to stop this president in order to save the country and the world from catastrophe and potential annihilation.

That comes rather too close to the plot of the 1965 thriller novel "Night of Camp David." Unfortunately, these events are not fictional. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior military and civilian leaders felt it necessary to prevent Donald Trump from acting out his most destructive impulses after losing the 2020 election, fearing the risks of a new world war.

These details come from CNN's report on "Peril," the new book on the presidential transition period by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post:
Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump's top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons. …

Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies."

Milley worried that Trump could "go rogue," the authors write.

"You never know what a president's trigger point is," Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.

In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon's war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.

"No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.
In a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Woodward and Costa report, Milley agreed with her characterization that Trump was "crazy" and had been so "for a long time." The authors write that after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Milley "felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions," calling it the "absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility."

According to Woodward and Costa, national security officials appointed by Trump agreed. Then-CIA director Gina Haspel told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum." Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had refused to acknowledge in public that Biden had won the election, told Milley that Trump was "in a very dark place right now."

Trump's supporters in the Republican Party are predictably focused on a single detail: CNN's report that Milley had "two back-channel phone calls with China's top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the U.S.," in an effort to prevent a military incident between the two nuclear-armed nations. The right-wing disinformation machine is not interested in any form of accountability for Donald Trump, of course. Instead, leading Republicans and conservative pundits are demanding that Milley resign and be punished for alleged "treason." Trump himself has publicly declared Milley to be a traitor.

That response offers more evidence — if any was needed — of how today's Republican Party has become a fascist cult and a political crime syndicate, where loyalty to the leader matters more than anything else, including the survival of the nation or the entire world. Public opinion polls indicate that Republican voters largely feel the same way.

This is part of a larger right-wing impulse towards death and destruction, as seen with Republicans' collective response to the pandemic, the global climate crisis, mass shootings, police violence, economic inequality and other forms of injustice, and societal harm and human suffering more generally. In total, the "revelations" in Woodward and Costa's book are further proof that today's Republican Party is a massive danger to the world.

What happened? In 2015, the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with Donald Trump. He would provide the destructive energy and cult of personality that would give Republicans and the white right an opportunity to undermine, if not destroy, the country's democratic norms and institution. The proximate political goal was clear: Find a way to keep the Republican Party in power indefinitely, even in the face of demographic changes that threaten to render it obsolete.

As seen in Texas and many other states, the Republican Party's new campaign against democracy is scoring important victories and gaining momentum. Whether Trump himself believes in the cause is irrelevant: He is an instinctive fascist and demagogue, with no discernible ideology. For him, the presidency was a means to an end, an unlimited source of narcissistic fuel and a way to enrich himself (and his inner circle) and accumulate more power and attention.

As he revealed on numerous occasions, Trump's impulse was to seek out ways he could remain president into the indefinite future.

Per the account in "Peril", Vice President Mike Pence told Trump he had no power to reverse the results of the presidential election. Trump then asked him, "But wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power?"

Ultimately, Trump understood the Republican Party's voters and their darkest and most malevolent desires better than did nearly all Republican pollsters, pundits, opinion leaders and political strategists.

Donald Trump instinctively understood that his followers — the "deplorables" that Hillary Clinton warned the American people about — did not care about being "respected." They wanted permission to unleash their worst fantasies and desires, unrestrained by "political correctness" and other societal expectations that they respect the humanity of other people. Such a concept of "freedom" is central to Trumpism and other forms of fascism. Trump's followers see in him a projection of their ideal selves. This is why they are willing to kill and die for him and the movement.

In response to these new "revelations" about the latter days of the Trump regime, the mainstream news media is back on its hamster wheel of shock and surprise and outrage. This is largely political theater, not the kind of rigorous pro-democracy journalism that America's battle against neofascism demands. In a few days, the hope peddlers and professional "smart people" will move on to the next controversy.

To protest that the Republican Party is hypocritical or lacks principles, as some commentators invariably do, is a pitiful example of missing the point.

Peter Wehner expounds on this in a recent essay for the Atlantic, observing that the "MAGA brain" has been "rewired":
Republicans who assumed that the party would return to sanity after Trump left office never understood how deforming the effects of his presidency would be. For many, Trump's behaviors were initially a bug; eventually, they became a feature. Republicans ignored his corruptions and reveled in his cruelty. They entered Trump's hall of mirrors, and they rather enjoyed it.

To better understand what's happening in the GOP, think of a person with addiction who over time develops a tolerance; as a result, they need more potent and more frequent doses of the drug to get their desired high. And sometimes even that isn't enough. They might turn to a more potent drug, which offers a more intense experience and a longer-lasting high, but at the price of considerably more danger.
In the final analysis, today's Republican Party and the right-wing neofascist movement have no principles beyond winning at all costs. To deny that fact is to deny reality. Unfortunately, too many Americans, including everyday people as well as members of the political class, have convinced themselves that the Age of Trump and beyond is like a Hollywood movie, sure to arrive at a requisite happy ending in which good triumphs over evil. As most Black and brown Americans already know, such an outcome is not guaranteed in the real world. Such fantasies are not exclusive to white people, but they are definitely an artifact of white privilege.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Our Dunning-Kruger president: Trump's arrogance and ignorance are killing people

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a term that describes a psychological phenomenon in which stupid people do not know that they are in fact stupid.

Writing at Pacific Standard, psychologist David Dunning — one of the social psychologists who first documented this type of cognitive bias — describes it in more detail:
In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize  —  scratch that, cannot recognize  —  just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers  —  and we are all poor performers at some things  —  fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What's curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.
The Dunning-Kruger effect manifests in the form of the drunk at the bar who weighs in on every conversation with unwanted advice, the online troll who monopolizes comment sections, or the person who reads one book (or perhaps the introduction) and then acts like an authority on the subject.

Visionary science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov signaled to the Dunning-Kruger effect with his famous observation in 1980: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

Donald Trump is the Dunning-Kruger president of the United States.

But he is also something much worse than that. Donald Trump is an almost perfect living, breathing example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: a president in a time of plague whose ignorance and stupidity are amplified through apparent and obvious mental illness as well as cruelty, compulsive lying, grand immorality, corruption and evil.

Americans have already died because of Trump's false claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many more will die in the weeks and months ahead.