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.

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