By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2021 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
Had the events of three consecutive Wednesdays occurred elsewhere in the world, we Americans would voice serious doubts about a viable future for such a chaotic nation. Here in the United States, let us consider the highlights of last month’s Washington calendar:
• January 6 — Inspired by two months of hate-soaked lies, several thousand of Donald Trump’s storm troopers mount a putsch at the Capitol building, two miles east along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Five people die, including a police officer beaten with flagpoles and a fire extinguisher. (Seven dead, if you include officers who committed suicide days later.) More than a hundred cops will suffer from crushed vertebrae, cracked ribs, and lung damage from pepper spray; one stands to lose an eye.
Marching under the racist banners of “Trump” and the Civil War era stars and bars, the gun toting mob smashes doors and windows and statuary, urinate and defecate on marbled and carpeted floors, swipe computers and documents, erect a functioning gallows in the street, and bellow lusty threats to hang the vice president, along with Democratic Party lawmakers from both chambers of Congress. They ransack offices in search of them. They are unsuccessful, though not for lack of trying.
Trumpist goons yet to be arrested are home now, with blood on their hands, waiting for a knock at the door that will likely mean prison.
• January 13 — Having had his fascist day on the national stage, Mr. Trump now must pay. As pied piper of a treasonous cult of aggrieved white supremacist louts and loutesses, der amerikanische Führer is impeached in the House of Representatives—for the second time in the space of a year. On this latest occasion, the formal charge is “incitement of insurrection” against America, a first in history’s annals of political crime. Most specifically, the impeachment papers cite Mr. Trump’s hair-curling rant to fire up the insurrectionist mob minutes before they invaded the Capitol with murderous intent. His trial in the Senate is set to begin on February 8.
• January 20 — Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., whom Mr. Trump and his mob claim to this day stole the election last November, is sworn into office as America’s forty-sixth president. Dignitaries on the dais with him wear body armor, as suggested by the Secret Service. In his inaugural address, delivered from the majestic steps of the very building under siege by a lynch mob only last week, President Biden declares the immediate crisis over.
“America has been tested anew,” Mr. Biden acknowledges. “ We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
On the morning of January 7, international news media were not as sunny as Joe Biden in evaluations of the Zeitgeist here. The Italian journal Il Riformista, for instance, plastered its front page with a question: C’ERA UNA VOLTA L’AMERICA: TORNERÀ A ESSERE AMERICA? (Once upon a time there was America: Will it be America again?)
As our new president said, the Trump regime has sorely tested the nation. Four years of inept governance, four years of demonizing anything and anyone a dim-witted man under a bouffant hairdo was incapable of comprehending or respecting, four years of bigotry and corrosive mendacity, four years of kowtowing to the Kremlin, four years of neglecting medical and economic emergencies arising from the coronavirus pandemic, four years of gangster camaraderie in the Oval Office…
…Four years of pusillanimous complicity in Mr. Trump’s corruption on the part of Republican Party officials and corporate éminence grises.
Nobly launched by Abraham Lincoln in the nineteenth century as a socially progressive anti-slavery movement, Republicanism was defiled in the twentieth by Nixon and Reagan and a host of lesser lights—e.g. anti-communist bully-boy Joseph McCarthy and genteel right-wing extremist Barry Goldwater—and then utterly debauched in the twenty-first by Trump.
For Republicans, lately in thrall to the fevered fantasies of the QAnon hoi polloi, it becomes clearer by the day that the party—their party—may well be over. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes of fully one-half the American governing establishment:
“The Republican Party is stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro. If the Trump-incited Capitol insurrection didn’t snap the party back to sanity—and it didn’t—nothing will.
“What isn’t clear yet is who, exactly, will end up facing doom. Will it be [Republicans] as a significant political force? Or will it be America as we know it?
“The [Republican] national leadership…has surrendered to the fantasies of a fringe. Cowardice rules.”
Certainly the party is over for a good number of louts and loutesses who advertised their insurrectionist conduct as “patriotic.” Most of them subscribe to QAnon’s lurid gobbledegook, which holds that a cabal of Satan-worshipping, politically liberal cannibals and pedophiles has infiltrated the U.S. government, constituting a “deep state” whose diabolical commanders were to be heroically executed by Donald Trump on January 6.
As I write, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested some hundred and fifty insurrectionist nutjobs, with an expectation of nabbing an additional two hundred and fifty still walking free. Charges range from vandalism, theft of government property, weapons possession, sedition, and homicide conspiracy—felonies variously punishable by incarceration in U.S. penitentiaries for as many as twenty years.
Rounding up “patriots” has not proved difficult. They are a proudly brainwashed bunch, boiled in Trumpian lies about election theft (never mind Joe Biden’s plurality of better than seven million votes). They are not shy about proclaiming their lunacy, insisting they possess evidence of election perfidy that courtroom judges in more than sixty challenges to the Biden victory failed to see. Their numbers are rife with self-entitlement, white privilege, and the courage of personal limitations. They sport bluntly branded clothing to drive home their worldview—attire such as the “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt worn by some of these charmers. The “patriots” used cell-phones to record one another grinning in self-made videos and still shots at the scene of their crimes. They wanted to be identifiable.
Further, there was the usual element of garden-variety stupidity so common among Trumpists—per the case of one Bryan Becantur. A Christian bible distributor by trade, and sympathetic to murder plots hatched by nazi confrères, Mr. Becantur was apprehended courtesy of a GPS ankle monitor mandated by a Maryland state court following his conviction for burglary.
According to an officially grateful F.B.I., tips as to the whereabouts of other suspects are pouring in by the thousands from disgusted acquaintances of those they feel in need of being locked up in cells or bedded down in mental wards.
“Some of you have recognized that [the insurrection] was such an egregious incident that you’ve turned in your friends and family,” said Steven D’Antuono, assistant director of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office in a conference call with journalists. “We know that these decisions are often painful, but you picked up the phone because it was the right thing to do.”
—Given that many of the tips have come from ex-spouses, the phone calls might not have been all that painful.
Some among the brainwashed are rueful, witness one Jacob A. Chansley, aka “QAnon Shaman,” an ex-Navy officer so monikered as a sign of his devotion to delusion. Memorably, the heavily tattooed Mr. Chansley burst into the Capitol wearing furs and Viking horns, with his mother in tow. Before leaving the Senate chamber, where the vice president presides, he left a note for Mike Pence: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Mr. Chansley’s lawyer, Al Watkins, informed media outlets that his client has seen the light. A bit clumsily, he told a St. Louis television station, “Jacob regrets very, very much having not just been duped by [Trump], but by in a position where he allowed that duping to put him in a position to make decisions he should not have made.”
Mr. Chansley’s petition for a pardon was denied on January 19, the day prior to transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden. Nevertheless, Jacob’s mother declared that she still loves her boy.
Among the successful petitions was that of Mr. Trump’s one-time chief political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, the seemingly inebriated author of right-wing screeds whose White House rivals for the president’s ear described him as “the most handsome guy at the liquor store.”
Thus, the indictment against Mr. Bannon—for defrauding Trumpists who made private donations amounting to $25 million (€20.62 million) toward construction of a ludicrous concrete wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico—was voided. Out of that booty, the accused liquor store habitué pocketed a cool million, according to the indictment, which he spent for personal luxuries including first-class global travel, a boat, and a 2018 model Range Rover.
While living the millionaire’s life, usually aboard a yacht far from the covid plague, the paunchy polemicist saw fit to attack Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world-renowned immunologist and unhappy member of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, muzzled as he was by a president who believed the plague a “hoax” that would “go away one day, like magic.” Mr. Bannon prescribed beheading the doctor for publicly dissenting from Donald Trump’s view.
It is a wonder that so very many American voters, overwhelmingly white, are spellbound by the narcissistic buffoonery of Donald Trump, let alone the rank craziness of his followers and allied grifters, à la Steve Bannon. These people are not all slack-jawed dopes, or kluxers. They navigate a world of reading, writing and arithmetic; they are employable; they have homes and driver’s licenses.
They are aware of Donald Trump’s shortcomings, to put it charitably, and of the criminals and nincompoops who surround him. They understand that Trumpism is untenable, if only because Dear Leader is rather a lazy oaf who spends way too much time playing golf—cheating at golf—to sustain his accidental autocracy. They know of the numerous times Dear Leader has dangled on the rim of ruin: businesses gone belly-up, some three thousand pending lawsuits for nonpayment filed by vendors, ongoing criminal investigations by prosecutors in the states of Georgia and New York, tens of millions paid out in settlement of fraudulent conduct litigation and racial discrimination, six bankruptcies, some twenty-five pending lawsuits filed by women claiming sexual abuse…
…The list goes on.
Someone once said of the Trump spectacle, “It’s like a multi-car crash on the highway. You can’t not stare at it, completely fascinated.”
Yes, but something quite more. In Donald Trump, millions of Americans who claim not to have “a racist bone in my body” have found in him an ethno-nationalist martyr—the sine qua non of a new Lost Cause of white supremacy and white privilege. The original Lost Cause was the insurrectionist Confederate States of America, commenced in 1861 with a civil war in defiance of President Lincoln’s determination to emancipate African slaves.
“History does not repeat itself,” according to the old saw, “but it often rhymes.”
History is memory written down in fluctuating degrees of accuracy, dependent on the author’s mindset. Some accounts are true, or mostly so, some flat out false. History often reveals that a lie tastes better than a truth. And history tells us that truth is much like democracy, as characterized by President Biden—precious and fragile.
“To heal, we must remember,” Mr. Biden also said in his inaugural address. “It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
It is likewise important for a nation in chaos to find and value truths. To find and discard lies. The notion that Donald Trump lost his presidency to what he and his cult call a “rigged” election is a little man’s Big Lie.
Racism and race itself are lies as well, useful as excuses for all manner of frustrations.
Heed the truth of Professor Timothy D. Snyder of Yale University, a specialist in Central and Eastern European history and the Holocaust, who decried the lack of it in his most recent essay—
„When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fiction.
“Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump—like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia—is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.
“Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term ‘fake news’ echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse (lying press); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people.’ Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to newspapers what the Great Depression [of the 1930s] did to German ones. The Nazis thought they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.”
And so, as the Reformista headline asks: Will there be an America again? A nation whose people will again know righteous honor in being among the world’s oldest democracies? A people set free one day from the embarrassment of fascism? A nation returned to its foundational pledge, to “form a more perfect union?”
The truth of a young woman’s poetry provides an uplifting answer.
On January 20, as my country set forth on a journey to decency, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman forged the path with her Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill we Climb.” She summoned the better angels of the American soul, as President Lincoln counseled, and captured the nation’s heart with these words:
When the day comes we ask ourselves,
Where can we find the light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast,
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
…Let the globe, if nothing else say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped…
[B]eing American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it…
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
…When the day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Additional Photo Credits
Thomas Adcock — Jürgen Bürger