Category Archives: Trump

Messiahs don’t come around every year.

 

Donald Trump called his followers to the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 and like dutiful followers they came. They came to put a wrecking ball to what they considered false government and fraud. Their spiritual leader called them, so Trumpists arrived from all over American to the Washington Capitol as he had asked. He asked them to “fight for their country.” Was he being metaphorical?

To his faithful followers they were on a religious mission. It was their sacred duty to come to the Capitol to defend the leader of the faith and the country. It was a holy cause. So, men and women who would normally be going to work, their Bridge club, or doing laundry, or sending their kids to school, turned up instead in Washington ready to riot. Many of them actually planned a riot. After all, as one of their posters said: “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my president.”

 

And, like so many sacred causes in the past they were deceived by their leader. He told them to march to the Capitol and he would be right there with them. That was a lie. He stayed back at the White House where he could be safe to watch the action on his big screen TV instead. To his followers it was a sacred cause. To Donald Trump is was entertainment.

Now you might ask why would anyone believe a New York real estate developer who had a notorious aversion to the truth?  That didn’t matter to the true believers. The leader called; they came. After all, 2000 years ago,  who would believe a young man who appeared to be the son of a poor carpenter?

 

But Trump was no Jesus. In the case of Trump, the true believers were sad fools. We pity them. They made a horrible choice. Some of them like the QAnon Shaman with his wide grin, bare muscular chest, coon skin hat, horns, spear, and face painted with the colors of the American flag, came all the way from my “home” state of Arizona. He thought if he got into trouble, as he did, his spiritual leader and savior Donald Trump would pardon him or save him in some other manner. The Shaman was sadly deluded. That’s what his “true belief’ was—a sad delusion. Too late he realized he had been a fool.

That doesn’t mean all such beliefs are delusions. Not all prophets are false, but certainly enough of them are false to make us wary. We should recognize that and use some critical judgment. Messiahs don’t come around every year. Or even every four years

Politics and Religion: A Strange Brew

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day.

One of the things that struck me that day was the proliferation of signs carried by rioters that made it clear that to many of them the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

 

As New York Times opinion columnist Thomas B. Edsall said, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.”

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true. That is what it means to have religious devotion to a leader. Trump started a riot. & people died as a result.  Yet Trumpers still support him. Trump was right.  I think that is pretty clear by now. He summoned his followers to Washington on January 6, 2021 and thousands showed up. Then he filled them with rage and asked them to march to the Capitol. He even said he would walk with them. He exactly said  that.  It was a lie but there is nothing unusual about that. Then he filled them with hatred for his Vice-President who had been his faithful disciple for 4 years and they marched on the Pentagon shouting “Take the Capitol,” “Hang Mike Pence,” and other insurrectionary statements.  His followers rampaged the Congress looking for politicians like Pelosi and Pence and looked like they wanted to kill them. They built a gallows with a noose hanging from it.

Many of them carried signs like “Jesus and Trump. 2020.” They actually prayed in the House Chambers that they were occupying.

This was a religious event. Is this not what religious devotion is all about?

 

 

Patriotism as fascism

 

I heard Trump is saying he will start a new party and he wants to call it the Patriot Party. That has a ring to it doesn’t it? Yes I think it has the ring of fascism. Bill Maher said there was something “brown shirty” about it.

Oscar Wilde said “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

Nesrine Malik, an astute observer of politics offered a

“rule of thumb: the more that “patriotism” is invoked by a country’s political elites, the less healthy its political culture will be. From McCarthyism in the US to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the imperative to love one’s country has often been used as pretext for persecution and submission.”

I don’t have a problem with love of country. I love my country. But I don’t love it blindly. I reserve the right to criticize it when I think it has gone astray. I don’t want to sacrifice my critical judgment to love of country. I don’t believe in love of country right or wrong. I don’t like patriotism that has been weaponized. As Malik added,

“What has passed for patriotism for too long in this country is, in fact, chauvinism: an attitude that defines itself by who it excludes, rather than who it brings together…Sometimes loving your country involved kicking up a fuss. It means telling the uncomfortable truth about a government that is letting its people down.”

Malik was talking about her country—England. But it applies just as well to any country. Particularly to mine. And yours.

Sometimes patriotism really means fascism.

Fascism with a Flag and a Cross

It was either Huey Long or Sinclair Lewis who said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), was one of America’s many great novelists. They included, classics such as Main StreetElmer Gantry, and Babbit. But he also wrote one about fascism coming to America. Sadly I must admit I have not read it, but I have heard it discussed so often I know a little bit about it. As faithful readers of this blog will know, ignorance on a subject has never stopped me from blogging about it. So why start now?

The book is called It Can’t Happen Here, and was published in 1935 when populist and authoritarian demagogues were achieving a lot of popularity in Europe. I intend to blog more about that era because I think it was very important for the birth of fascism. Americans, always thinking (wrongly) that this could never happen in the land of the free, were grossly overconfident that they had nothing to worry about. Until the invasion of the Capitol by rabid Trumpists that is. Now some people know better.

Sinclair Lewis showed in his persuasive book that this confidence was not justified. He believed, as do I, and as did Philip Roth in his book, the Plot to Destroy America, which I have blogged about, that the United States could easily slip into fascism.

I learned this about the book: The main character, Buzz Windrip, appeals to voters with a mix of crass language and nativist ideology. Once elected, he solidifies his power by energizing his base against immigrants, people on welfare, and the liberal press. The novel has been called “frighteningly contemporary” in the wake of the Trump campaign and election.

Does this not sound eerily familiar?

It is not easy to define fascism. Many definitions have been proposed. A friend of mine told me a number of years ago that the US was infested with fascists.  I thought he was exaggerating. I did not think Trump was a fascist. I thought he was an authoritarian—sort of a fascist light.  Now I think he was right.

As Bill Maher said on his television show, “Yes there are many definitions of fascism, but if you can’t call the people who wanted to undo an election that even a lot of judges appointed by Trump said was basically fair, then I don’t know what fascism is.” When you not only try to undo the election but encourage your supporters to storm the Capitol to overturn the election by force—that is fascism.

A while ago, I said fascism was the philosophy of the bully. You could say it is the philosophy of might is right. Is that not exactly what we saw on January 6, 2021 at the insurrection of the Capitol in Washington? People who don’t accept a democratic election. That is what all fascists have in common. A lot people forget that Adolf Hitler was originally elected, before he destroyed democracy in Germany.

And don’t get lulled into a false sense of security that this problem has gone away because Trump is ensconced in Mar-a-Lago. Right after it happened, 45% of Republicans approved of the rampage! After the riot was quelled, a large majority of Republican Senators and Congressmen and Congress women voted for exactly what the rioters were demanding—i.e. that the election be ignored!

Did you notice all the flags and signs that referred to Jesus and Trump? Maybe Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long were right? And this battle is not over.

Fascism is alive and well in America.

 

 

Trumpism and the Unimaginable

 

Fintan O’Toole is a wonderful political commentator who writes for the Irish Times and frequently contributes to the New York Review of Books. He was recently interviewed on Amanpour and Co. He has been studying American politics closely. Sometimes it helps to get a view from afar to see clearly what is going on.

O’Toole said this about Trump the day before the Trump Insurrection in Washington on January 6, 2021:

“Donald Trump does not hide his feelings…He has been saying for over a year that losing the election is inconceivable… This is the language of autocracy. In an autocracy is not imaginable that the great leader can be removed. And for 75 million people who voted for Trump they voted effectively for autocracy not democracy. That is the profound consequence of what Donald Trump managed to do. He has created an enormous base for anti-democratic politics in one of the world’s oldest democracies.’

 

In other words, Trump created Trumpism. Trumpers made it clear that a defeat for Trump is not possible. You can hear it when television interviewers asked the Trumpers what they would be doing the next day—January 6, 2021. Of course they were going to the Trump victory to certified by Congress after which on January 20, 2021 they were going to the inauguration of Trump. There was no question about this. The followers of Trump, just like Trump see an alternative reality. That is what Trumpism is all about. It is a window into an alternate reality that is more to the follower’s liking—a reality posited by their spiritual leader.

O’Toole wrote this in the Irish Times,

“Trump has kept his eye on the great strategic prize—the creation of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics. This is his legacy.  He has unsuccessfully fed a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable end point—disdain for the electoral process itself.”

 

This is exactly the movement of Trumpism—a vast and impassioned base who have hatred of government, contempt for rational deliberation and disdain for the electoral process. The death of truth leads to the death of democracy. In fact, they are both opposite sides of the same coin—they are conjoined twins with a birth defect.

O’Toole also said in the Irish Times,

“Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands.  It is for him, not a good-bye, but hasta la vista. Instead of waving him off those who want to rebuild democracy will have to put a stake through his heart.”

O’Toole, like me, takes enormous comfort from the fact that Joe Biden has won, and ordinary government officials have done their duty and not bent to the will of the president and the catastrophe of another Trump term in office has been avoided. At least temporarily it has been avoided. But this danger has not passed. The United States has millions of Trumpers left and they are resentful and believe their saviour has been robbed of a second term. Many of those supporters think their government and their country has been stolen from them. These people are passionate in their devotion to that man. To me it seems insane, but it is real. They are devoted to him. Trump might be right that he could have stood on 5th Avenue, shot a man, and not lost any of that support. Only one with religious followers could say that. Now these passionate people are hugely disappointed. Resentment is a powerful toxic force. There is no telling what can happen if it is set loose. It could explode and there is no predicting exactly how explosions will turn out, except we know it won’t be pretty. These dangers are real.

Trump the Saviour

Some people are now saying Trumpism is a cult. There is some substance to this claim. Trump said that he could stand on 5th Avenue in New York, shoot someone, and he would not lose any support! That is theological support. Trumpers are accustomed to believing without evidence. As a result, the lack of evidence for Trump’s claims, such as his claim that he won the presidential election by a landslide, for example, can readily be believed by the Trumpers. That is why, I believe, Evangelicals in general have had such fondness for Trump. They find it easy to believe in him. That is why I have been saying beliefs have consequences.

Rick Wilson the co-founder of the Lincoln project had some interesting things to say about Trumpism:

“Trumpism is a cultural problem. That culture is defiant of reality and tradition and morality. It is a fundamentally unconservative culture.  They are not believers in limited government, the rule of law or the constitution. They believe in Trump. If he says something, that’s what they believe. If he said tomorrow ‘I am in favour of child sacrifice,’ they would say, ‘we ought to reconsider child sacrifice,’ because that is the power he has over them. It’s the most astounding diversion from what American politicians have traditionally been.  Traditionally, even powerful and charismatic American politicians have been in response to people.  These are in response to a leader.  He is a perfect authoritarian figure in terms of the charisma, the control, and almost religious devotion to him.”

 

The only thing that rings false in that statement is the word “almost.”  It is in fact religious devotion. The word “almost’ waters it down too much.

Trump is the saviour of Trumpers. As a result, Trump does not have to worry about his supporters being disappointed in. It does not matter. It is unlikely to vanish. It is possible it will vanish but unlikely. Other politicians can only envy Trump.

The Essence of Trumpism

One of the most insightful commentators on modern international politics is Anne Applebaum. She was interviewed recently on Amanpour & Co. She talked about  something new she called Trumpism:

“Trumpism is not as it was advertised. It’s not what it has been analyzed as.  It isn’t anything to do with economics. It has nothing to do with foreign policy or bringing home the troops. It isn’t anything to do with the issues it is attached to. The essence of Trumpism, the deepest meaning of Trumpism, is that it is a rejection of reality. It is a projection of victory for Trump by his followers no matter if that victory is real or not. The essence is the president declaring victory where he has lost…  So we have the Vice-president, the United States Secretary of State, also following the same pattern. They aren’t contradicting the president. They know he has lost, but because they too are vying for the same mantle, hoping to someday lead the same political movement. They need to keep telling their followers that they’ve won even though they’ve not. And that is actually the essence of the movement.  That is the piece of it that will carry on. We are now seeing the political successors to Trump   who are trying to create that same feeling…We triumph over reality no matter what happens.”

Anne Applebaum is an expert on the undemocratic movements in Europe that have been expanding in the past few years. She lives in Poland and writes for The Atlantic. Europe and other parts of the world that have political leaders that want to follow the lead of Donald Trump from democracy to some form of autocracy. This Applebaum says is very important. They see how America has done it. They will likely want to use the same methods to achieve the same goal even though it looks like Trump, so far at least, has failed to achieve his goal. But he clearly showed it could be done. As Applebaum said, “the great power of American politics was always its example…that 250 years of peaceful change of power that inspired people, and this will now inspire in the opposite direction.”

As Applebaum reminded us, “We now live in an era when rumour and conspiracy theories travel much faster than real news.” According to the fascinating film “The Social Dilemma” lies travel 7 times as fast as truth, because lies are amplified by social media while truth is boring and ignored.   We are in a highly volatile situation. Anything can happen. Explosions are hardly unlikely. We had better beware. All of us.

As Applebaum said,

“Distrust” is an insufficient word. People don’t have faith any more in so called mainstream media that involves going down with fact-checking, conversation, and research. They are willing to believe material they find on Facebook. The essence of Trumpism is also based on that. It’s developed out of that world in which rumour, imaginary victories, and the imaginary world is much stronger and more appealing than the real world.      How do you deal with people who believe that Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 21, 2021? Or that believe there is a cabal of pedophiles that is trying to rob the country? None of us have thought through the implications of this new world view It is all over the world.”

 

That is the problem. We have a world in which millions  of people have given up on believing things based on evidence and prefer to believe what is convenient to their world view. They have lost respect for the truth. Such people can be convinced by their leaders of any conceivable lie. Such people can be convinced to do unimaginable things. Such people are dangerous. And we have to live with them. And we don’t know how we can do that.

 

Is Impeachment a Good Idea?

 

The Democrats are so keen on impeaching Trump they are doing so with unseemly haste. Is that smart?  All of them seem to think so. I have yet to hear one opposed. Every Democrat in the House of Representatives voted for impeachment today.  But is impeachment a big mistake?

Even though I am a lone wolf on this issue, I think it is a big mistake even though I think he is clearly guilty as sin and deserves to be impeached. Impeachment is a political process where facts are not very important. That is great for Trump and his fans. It is not so good for the rest of us.

Prosecutors have a rule that they should not prosecute unless they have a reasonable likelihood of a successful prosecution. That is a good rule. It reserves a court for what it was designed for. It is not designed to send a message or make a point. An impeachment trial is sort of like that.

Before Trump’s first impeachment trial in which Trump was acquitted the Democrats said they wanted to demonstrate that Trump could not get away with all the nasty things he had done.  They wanted to teach him and future presidents a lesson. Well what lesson did Trump learn from the first impeachment trial?  He learned he could get away with obstructing justice because the Republicans would back him up no matter what he did or said. He was emboldened by the victory.  I remember the Maine Senator who was interviewed after the trial said she was sure Trump had learned a lesson and would be more careful in the future. That was hopelessly naïve.  He learned he could do a lot with impunity.

If Trump is likely to be acquitted again, as many say, and as I believe, what will happen?  He won’t be president anymore so it won’t matter for that purpose. But even worse it will embolden the Trumper out there that no matter how bad they act their political brethren will save them. We cannot forget that Trumpism is alive and well. Even after inciting a deadly riot against the sacred temple of American democracy and encouraging and unleashing an angry mob that vandalized the Capitol, terrorized the politicians, and nearly led to a successful insurrection, if the Senate acquits Trump then Trumpers will get the same message. They will know they can get away with anything. Then the next Trump, who is likely to be smarter than the first Trump, will be emboldened.  America could be in for serious trouble.

Everyone must remember impeachment has the form of a trial but really it is a political process. At the first impeachment trial only 1 Republican voted to find Trump guilty of only 1 of the charges. This time to reach the required 2/3rds  majority in the Senate at least 17 Republican Senators must vote to find him guilty. In the House only 10 agreed to charge Trump.  Why does anyone think 17 Republicans can be turned against him. Trumpism is alive. His devoted fans are still exactly that.  Republicans will have to be brave to vote guilty.  I have never seen much bravery in the Republican party.  I hope I am wrong but I am deeply pessimistic.

After Bill Clinton was acquitted at his impeachment trial, where voting was largely on partisan lines,  he was charged up after the trial and became more popular than ever.

I fear the same thing will happen if Trump is acquitted, which I believe is probable.  He and his supporters—i.e. the Trumpers–will  be turbo-charged. If he is found guilty it will make no difference. They believe he was elected and that he can do no wrong and that the evil Democrats are out to get him.

The thing that Trump likes most besides himself is attention.  Another impeachment trial will give him abundant publicity, when it would be to the advantaged of Democrats to have the attention given to Biden and his new team instead. The Democrats should do whatever they can to take attention away from Trump. He will still get attention, but let’s not amplify it. James Comey said “The greatest punishment for Trump would be to be left at the lawn at Mar-a-Lago  yelling at cars as they go by.

Don’t give Trump what he wants. Give him what he hates–i.e. to be ignored. The Democrats have a lot to lose and little to gain by impeaching Trump again.

 

Insurrection Day or Epiphany

 

January 6, 2021 was an astonishing day. It was a day of insurrection. It was a day when the things I have been blogging about and warning about almost happened. It was not surprising. Yet it was really surprising.

 

Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic referred to January 6, 2021 as insurrection day. Some call it epiphany. Both are pretty good names. There certainly was an insurrection. But was there an epiphany—what James Joyce in his great novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, called an  “a sudden spiritual manifestation?” I hope there was that but frankly I doubt it. America may be too far gone for spiritual enlightenment. How could anyone see Trump as a saviour? Could you?

Goldberg also said this about that astonishing event:

 

“This gathering was not merely an attempted coup but also a mass-delusion event, not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics. Its chaos was rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety. One man I interviewed this morning, a resident of Texas who said his name was Don Johnson (I did not trust this to be his name), told me that the country was coming apart, and that this dissolution presaged the End Times. “It’s all in the Bible,” he said. “Everything is predicted. Donald Trump is in the Bible. Get yourself ready.

The conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally. “Give it up if you believe in Jesus!” a man yelled near me. People cheered. “Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!” Louder cheers.

 

Watching the events unfold on TV in real time, I noticed a number of signs from Trump supporters that conflated Trump and Jesus. One sign said just that: “Jesus and Trump.” What kind of a Christian would see anything Christian about Trump?

As I have been saying in my posts, speaking lies and untruth has consequences. The United States saw that today. America has a long way to go before delusions can be turned into a sudden spiritual manifestation. But that is precisely what the country needs.

 

How Much Truth Can you Stand?

 

Nietzsche did not always get it right, but sometimes he hit the mark dead on. He hit the mark when he said, “a man’s worth is determined by how much truth he can stand.” But sometimes the truth is just hard to bear. That’s why it’s worth so much.

What Nietzsche said about individuals is also true of countries–their worth too depends on how much truth they can stand and frankly, most of them can’t stand very much. The United States and Canada are pretty good examples.

After the storming of the Capitol, the so-called sacred hall of American democracy, Joe Biden had this to say in his calm reassuring tone of voice so pleasant after 4 years of Trump’s hysterics:

“Let me be absolutely clear, the scenes of chaos in the Capitol do not reflect the true character of America; do not represent who we are.”

Is he right? Violence for political ends is particularly American. Entitled white men demanding their rights, while denying those of so many others is exactly who they are. People harbouring crazy beliefs without evidence is what Americans do best. Did you see the Qanon Shaman in the video of the Capitol under siege dressed in animal skins, a fur hat with horns, spear, face painted in the colours of the American flag, shirtless chest covered with hostile looking tattoos, chanting “USA’ over and over again with his fellow rabble-rousers? He looked pretty American. Where else could he be from?

 

A host of politicians and pundits after the rampage repeated “We are better than this,” or “This is not who we are.” I beg to differ. This is exactly who they are.

The New York Times posted an amazing video that did tell the truth. It said no one should be surprised at what happened. The speaker on the video pointed out the pictures in the rotunda behind the occupiers. They showed American soldiers (or at least their British ancestors) forcing native American women and children to submit to their dominance. The speaker on the video said,

“We have always been like this. America is a nation built on stolen land by stolen people. And if the rampage feels historic it’s because violence is in our national DNA. A mob razed a whole block in Philadelphia because they didn’t like the election results.”

 

America is a country where as soon as slaves were freed the rules of elections were changed to ensure that their voting would never disturb the real American choices made by their white superiors. It is a country where people don’t really believe in democracy at all, but they love to brag about it. They don’t believe in democracy because they only want the votes their own side to count. Where districts are twisted into impossible shapes so that the votes of opponents don’t count so much.

As the Times video said,

“And for the purest expression of the American way, just look at the man responsible for Wednesday’s violence–the man who leads by Twitter who knows that if you have enough money they’ll let you do anything. He told us who he was and we picked him, because this is exactly who we are. America the land of the snake oil salesman.”

 

You think snake oil is too harsh? Does that not describe the president who said he would lead the group of insurgents into the Capitol and then returned instead to the comfort of the White House to watch the proceedings on his big screen television?

To say, as Biden did, that the scene of chaos at the Capitol does not describe them is absolutely false. It is an uncomfortable truth, but as the Times video said, his “platitudes spin a fantasy as absurd as Qanon.” It is painful to admit but America prefers fantasies to hard truths. As the video pointed out,

“We can only realize our strengths if we stop whitewashing our sins. We are a nation forged in racist violence. A society that values wealth over wisdom. A country where personal ambitions mean more than morality. Masked with false piety where citizens wreak havoc with the very institutions that enable them.”

 

Now there is a new president. Many look to him as their saviour. I love Joe Biden. He’s dull, he’s boring, and I hope he won’t be a strong leader. That’s my kind of leader. But unlike Nietzsche, Biden got it wrong. He got it all wrong when he said, “this is not America.”

I am not saying this everything they are. The are fine people on both sides. Americans are also people who work together to get things done, giving a helping hand to a fallen friend, or even in some cases, a fallen foe. But these other Americans seem to have been silent for so long. Where were they when they elected a mean-spirited, cruel, and relentless bigot?

Not that Canadians are very different let me hasten to add. We have built this country by stealing land from the inhabitants contrary to promises we have not fulfilled. Often Canadians do this without resorting to war. We often have subtler and more corrupt ways of doing the same thing. We have sent  Indigenous children to schools where they were brutally assaulted in the name of “civilization” and “religion.” We are governed by unjustified beliefs as much as our neighbours to our south. Our claims to piety ring hollow. Just as it does for the Americans.

The video claims that everything we saw on January 6, as ugly as it was, was exactly who they are— because it’s the product of what they have always been. Until Americans and Canadian face that truth, we’ll never change it.