Category Archives: Trumpism

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.