NEW YORK CITY, near America
Nine months ago, Donald J. Trump incited a fascist insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, citadel of the world’s oldest continuing democracy. Over these months, we began the awful process of absorbing what has happened to us: the physical, psychic, and political horrors launched against the United States by Mr. Trump and his mob.
Mr. Trump is a free man, for the moment, and will be for some time to go before that blessed day when history books not yet written release us from his corrosive spell. Meanwhile, his freedom is an affront to common decency which I very much hope to see addressed by the Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives currently investigating the grotesque crime of January 6—and all who played rôles in its commission.
Beyond the threat of ignorant brutes dolled up in military combat gear spurred to the grunt work of treason by Mr. Trump’s tirades over the past five years, the nation is confronted by a dangerous enemy confederation: feckless politicians, rightwing propagandists, QAnon conspiracists, imbeciles, white supremacists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, domestic terrorists, and the usual clan of corporate oligarchs who profit from confusion and violent chaos.
In short, the Republican Party.
Once a respectable organization—among its founders was President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)—the party was expropriated over recent decades by the foregoing ugly forces. It now stands as the retrograde half of America’s governing duopoly.
The threat posed overwhelms normal sensibility. How is it that a significant portion of society flaccidly accepts the shameless conduct of an aggrieved Republican who presumes himself a monarch? Large and small nations alike have suffered under such leaders, and continue to suffer. Some nations survive the ordeal: Germany endures, for instance, despite an earlier period under the evil sway of a rejected artist. Here in America, we are afflicted—still—by the lies and malevolent fantasies of a vicious know-nothing soundly rejected by voters; thus, the question of our survival is an open one.
Vicious leaders channel their personal failures and pathologies into grand political purpose and use their charisma to attract partisans willing or sufficiently stupid to excuse their destructive acts, past or present. Willing or stupid enough to elevate the preposterous over the empirical, cruelty over kindness. Psychologists define the syndrome as malignant normality—bred, led, and fed by a malignant narcissist, of course. In America, our malignant narcissist is allied with merchants of absurdity, including fabulist rightwing media and the lunatic QAnon movement that declares Covid-19 a hoax and hails Donald Trump as an avenging hero in a secret war against cannibals and child sex traffickers of the Democratic Party—a movement taken seriously by millions of Americans, including Republican members of Congress.
Consider a few highlights of malignant normality in America:
• According to a survey by Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health, forty-six percent of Republicans who rely on Fox TV News and its online offspring Newsmax and One America News believe that government-certified, cost-free vaccinations against Covid-19 are dangerous; therefore, they refuse or resist inoculation. When not in treatment for internal poisoning, tens of thousands of these suckers now seek to ingest a chemical compound meant to battle parasitic disease in horses, pigs, and cattle—the generic ivermectin, latest in the line of ludicrous elixirs with which to confront the Covid-19 and its Delta Variant. The latter is a pandemic unto itself that each day kills more than seven hundred unvaccinated Americans and hospitalizes several thousands more. A new and resistible rise in disease that has rippled emergency care capacity across the country, mostly in states controlled by Republicans who deny the severity of the twin plagues as an article of inscrutable faith and party loyalty.
• In the name of preventing virtually non-existent “voter fraud,” Republican state legislatures are hellbent on adopting laws designed to suppress voting by those subsets of the electorate that trend toward Democrats—racial minorities, the physically disabled, students, the young and elderly.
• In the name of “freedom,” suckers for the rantings of Fox TV yakkers swoop into school board meetings in objection to requirements that children either prove vaccination against Covid-19 or wear facemasks in classrooms. (Never mind that proof of childhood inoculations against polio, chicken pox, mumps, and whooping cough have been mandatory since the 1950s.) School board members have been intimidated and, in a few cases, assaulted by the freedom lovers.
• As I write, the same fascist paramilitary groups and rightwing street brawlers seen at January’s insurrection are likely plotting an encore—this according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and units of the National Intelligence Service. Despite dozens of vote counts and recounts that confirm Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden’s thumping victory in November 2020, they and sixty-one percent of Republicans believe the presidential election was “stolen” from their man Trump, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published in May of this year.
• Further according to Reuters/Ipsos, twenty-nine percent of Republicans believe that Mr. Trump bears no responsibility for unleashing his cult of thugs to carry out the January insurrection, despite video evidence of his lengthy, spittle-flying jeremiad to some five thousand of his admirers shortly before most of them stormed the nearby Capitol, where Congress was meeting to certify Mr. Biden’s victory—where the marauding cult, with murder on its mind, hunted for Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Pence.
Donald Trump cannot alone overthrow the government, nor oversee the extermination of American democracy—which together constitute the crime of treason under Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. To twist up a well-known aphorism, It takes a village to tear itself apart. To paraphrase another adage, There is but a thin blue line between the preservation of civility and its ruin. Ruination sure to come unless the officers of goodness and truth prevail in the arrest and conviction of the country’s foremost traitors, at least metaphorically.
With a nod to those lurid F.B.I. fliers that once graced every post office bulletin board in the land, I propose a personal “Ten Most Wanted” fugitives from justice—
• The unholy trinity of Republicans especially responsible for debasing the U.S. Congress: duly elected House members Andrew Clyde, Paul Gosar, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Mr. Clyde of Georgia said of January’s rampage at the Capitol, seen by everyone with eyes glued to live television coverage, “It looked like a normal tourist visit.” Mr. Gosar of Arizona labeled Mr. Trump’s Sturmtruppen “peaceful patriots.” Ms. Greene, a vulgarian kook also from Georgia, posted a YouTube video in which she sneered into the camera to address the president of the United States in this manner: “Joe Biden, you’re not the president,” she declared. “You’re a piece of shit.”
• The attorneys Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani and Sidney Powell, each forever slimed by association with Donald Trump and by their own crackpot behavior. A former New York City mayor and federal prosecutor who made a star turn in a Sacha Baron Cohen cinéma-vérité by tucking a hand into his underpants when he believed himself the hot desire of a sexual temptress, Mr. Giuliani was until recently consiglieri to Mr. Trump’s capo di tutti capi. Authorities in New York State suspended his law license due to “false statements” he allegedly made in court, in the cause of overturning the presidential election results and thereby returning Mr. Trump to the White House. In his defense, Mr. Giuliani said the legal universe is determined to “shut me up.” Ms. Powell, a former Texas prosecutor and ardent supporter of QAnon conspiracy theories, was sanctioned in late August by a federal judge in Michigan for filing a “fantastical” lawsuit based on speculative accusations that cost Donald Trump the presidency. In a damning 110-page decision, Detroit-based U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker ordered defendant Powell to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to plaintiff counsel and to attend special legal education classes on proper litigation procedure. In addition, the judge cited Ms. Powell’s “profiting” from her numerous frivolous election-fraud suits by way of soliciting donations to a Powell website that speaks of a secret international cabal thwarting Mr. Trump—a cabal of communists, “globalists,” the prominent Jewish philanthropist George Soros, the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Unrepentant, Ms. Powell is appealing Judge Parker’s decision.
• Most abominable of rightwing propagandists are Fox “News” personality Tucker Carlson and his boss Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Fox television operation, among other international media properties. Mr. Carlson (né Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson) is a world-class bigot who once deemed the Iraqi populace “a bunch of semi-literate primitive monkeys.” Of his hero’s reëlection defeat, he wrote: “The 2020 presidential election was not fair, and no honest person would claim that it was. The system was rigged against one candidate and in favor of another, and not in ways that were hidden from view.” Mr. Murdoch, the Australian/British press baron and a regrettably naturalized U.S. citizen, is described as “deviant scum” by journalist Matt Taibi in a Rolling Stone magazine article. He wrote further that Fox News “constantly [presents] Barack Obama as a mongrel, a kind of Manchurian president raised in madrassas and weaned on socialism, who hates white people and yearns to euthanize them.” According to the business magazine Forbes, the latest Fox rating clocked its twenty-fourth consecutive week as America’s most-watched news channel—with Tucker Carlson’s slot as the nation’s Number One news “analysis” show.
• Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a blank-faced Justice Department official during the Trump administration, demonstrated love for the boss by attempting what his superiors refused to even contemplate. Mr. Clark sought to overturn last year’s presidential contest by convincing the Georgia state legislature to toss out votes for Biden the Democrat, thus tipping the election to Trump the Republican. Mr. Clark’s plan was ultimately quashed by higher-ups in the department, who nevertheless failed to object to his post-Trump golden parachute—a lucrative job as chief of litigation and director of strategy at the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a rightwing law firm in Washington that regularly sues what it calls the “administrative state.” In a country mired in malignant normality, ethical corruption has little or no consequence.
• Florida Governor Ron DeSantis presides over the nation’s sickest state, where not a single bed is to be had in the intensive care units of any of its hospitals—a perilous shortage due to his obstinate rejection of science-based advice on responding to the Covid-19 and Delta Variant plagues. Among other noxious proposals, Mr. DeSantis vows to stop paying salaries to teachers and school superintendents who require students to wear facemasks. All in the governor’s cause of remaining in the good graces of Donald Trump, whom he imagines will anoint his bid to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2024. Meanwhile, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is pleased that “the people of Florida are beginning to stand up [against] this.” Mr. Dean said further in an August 13 television interview, “In the last twenty-four hours, there are a number of large school districts that have ignored DeSantis’ crazy order [to ban facemask requirements]. …What he doesn’t realize is that Covid sank Donald Trump’s presidency, and it’s going to sink DeSantis. I don’t think DeSantis could carry Florida if he ran for president.”
• Finally, the queen of malignant normality herself—Kellyanne Conway, a presidential special advisor who defended Mr. Trump’s trail of 30,573 bald-faced lies told during his four years in office, according to a Washington Post tally. With her customary cynical smirk, Ms. Conway famously proclaimed Trump lies to be “alternative facts.”
Three esteemed Americans—two living, one lost to assassination in the year following the U.S. Civil War—have sounded alarms about the country’s slide into malignant normality, of which they offer trenchant comment.
Filmmaker and blogger Michael Moore wrote, “Those in power have defunded and closed our libraries, attacked our teachers and their unions, eliminated civics classes, art, poetry and anything that encourages critical thinking. Even handwriting is no longer taught—one of those few things that make us each unique and gives each of us a voice.”
Mr. Moore added, “Science [is] ridiculed. The point of [it all is] to make us stupid and simple and confused—so much so that if we ever found ourselves in the middle of a deadly epidemic, we would actually believe that the cure was more deadly than the plague itself.”
Michelle Goldberg, columnist for the New York Times, seemingly threw up her hands in despair when she titled a recent essay “It’s Time to Yell and Scream.”
A note of optimism for us arrives, ironically, from the writings of Abraham Lincoln. As head of the brand-new Republican Party, still in its dawn of enlightenment and respect for intelligent discourse, he was president from 1861 until being gunned down in 1865 during an evening at theatre. Mr. Lincoln’s pre-presidential career—lawyer by trade, a mostly failed candidate for public office—earned him an expansive education in the marketplace of mendacity. He speaks to us now in our time of what he might have called the fundamentally hopeful truth of a politician’s lies:
“You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag. His posts here.