Late January saw the opening acts in a calliope of crime and calumny that will entertain, irk and frighten the world as the United States lurches into the final months of this year’s presidential election campaign season. A pair of preliminary contests has now determined the people’s choice—people of the Republican Party that is—to oppose President Joe Biden on Election Day come November 5.
The man of the hour:
• A bloviating, orange-complexioned, professed billionaire with poufy yellow hair, freshly ordered by a federal court to pay $83.3 million (€76.79 million) to now 80-year-old E. Jean Carroll, whom he was found to have raped in the mid-1990s in a posh Manhattan department store—then defamed her when she made the crime public;
• A likely petitioner to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court as he nervously awaits a decision in New York court in the penalty phase of a fraud trial last year that found him guilty of inflating the value of his properties in applications for millions in real estate loans. New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks $370 million ( €341 million) and a state ban on his engagement in the real estate industry. The decision could come as soon as the first week of February;
• A defendant facing additional trials, from now to Election Day, on ninety-one other civil or criminal charges that include financial fraud, theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, and inciting a deadly insurrection against the government in January 2021 when he inspired a devoted army of club-wielding thugs to trash the Capitol building in Washington in an attempt to locate and murder then-Vice President Mike Pence;
• An aspiring right wing authoritarian who keeps or kept a collection of Adolf Hitler’s speeches on his nightstand, according to his late first wife and phony Olympic ski champion Ivana Zelnícková, now buried in a makeshift grave at the golf course he owns;
• Defendant in an upcoming New York trial linked to his payment of $130,000 (€120,000) to pornographic movie star Stormy Daniels, with whom he had a Las Vegas fling while former nude model Melanija Knavs, his current wife, was back home in New York and pregnant with their son Barron.
About the department store rape:
Manhattan Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan presided over a trial in May 2023, in which a jury found Donald J. Trump guilty of sexual abusing and battering journalist E. Jean Carroll back in the mid-1990s. The lawsuit Carroll v. Trump was brought under special state legislation allowing for sex assault claims formerly time-limited for prosecution. The jury in ‘23 stopped short of labeling Mr. Trump a “rapist,” per statutory definition requiring penile penetration.
Rather than his penis, jurors noted that the disgraced former president, at the time of the crime a flamboyant real estate developer who talked and acted like a movie mobster, pinned Ms. Carroll against a changing room wall, pulled down her tights, and then jammed his fingers into her vagina. Post-trial, Judge Kaplan said the verdict was a matter of semantics. “He is a rapist,” the judge said of Mr. Trump, “as commonly understood.”
The enormous financial penalty lodged against Mr. Trump last month was caused by the wealthy defendant’s repeatedly defaming Ms. Carroll in claiming, variously, “I never heard of this woman… She’s a sick person…She’s a whack job…She’s not my type.”
Ms. Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan (no relation to Judge Kaplan), told reporters that an additional defamation suit remains “on the table” should the ex-president’s mouth continue unrestrained. In pre-trial deposition proceedings last year when Ms. Kaplan questioned Mr. Trump on camera, he told the attorney, “Frankly, you’re not my type either.”
As I write, Donald Trump’s congregation of prayerful true-believers praise his every utterance, however inartful or cringeworthy. For instance: In January 2016 during a speech on the virtually all-white campus of Liberty University, the evangelical Christian in the southern state of Virginia, he cursed twice, mispronounced the Bible chapter Corinthians II as “Two Corinthians,” and apologized for speaking the name of assassinated African American civil rights icon Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Fast forward to 2020 when Worshipful Leader strolled outside the White House past the crowds of people protesting against him, perchance to attract television news cameras sure to oblige him by recording his stalwart faith in good triumphing over evil. As he pontificated on such divide, he held aloft his purported copy of the Holy Bible—upside down.
Never mind the gaffe, he marched onward like a good Christian soldier. He lost his bid for a second term that year and now marches onward again in ‘24 in the cause of achieving a victory he sees as “retribution.”
A few weeks prior to his being walloped in court by women who failed to whet his appetite for eroticism, Mr. Trump posted the following old-timey, sermon-like incoherency on “Truth Social,” the near bankrupt internet platform he owns:
“And on June 14th, 1946 [Mr. Trump’s birthday], God looked down on his plan Paradise, and said, I need a caretaker. So God gave us Trump.
“…I need somebody willing to get up before dawn. Fix this country. Work all day. Fight the Marxists…So God made Trump…somebody to ruffle the feathers. Tame the cantankerous.
“…I need somebody who can shape an ax but wield a sword. Who had the courage to step foot in North Korea…Who can make money from the tar of the sand turned liquid to gold…willing to go into the den of vipers. Call out the fake news for their tongues as sharp as serpents. The poison of vipers is on their lips.
“God said, I need somebody who will be strong and courageous, who will not be afraid or terrified of the wolves when they attack a man who cares for the flock.
“…a shepherd to mankind, somebody to build our military. Fight the system all day and finish a hard week’s work by attending church on Sunday…So God made Trump.”
Even such messengers from Glory Beyond as Donald J. Trump—whose cult believes the middle initial stands for Jesus rather than John, a mere saint—will have their grumbly days. Mr. Trump’s own dark mood landed last December 25, when his Truth Social post castigated “sick” people “looking to destroy once great U.S.A.,” after which he declared: “May they rot in Hell…Merry Christmas!”
It is a remarkable thing, the strong relationship between churchly rectitude and the extreme rightwing political worldview. Sociologists, some of them, consider it a patch in the fascist quilt.
In modern times, the first and most grievous example of this came in 1938 when Germany forcibly annexed Austria. After meeting with Hitler, Vienna’s Cardinal Theodor Innitzer (1875-1955) issued a rousing statement of support for the Nazi takeover of his country in a sermon preceded by an unusually long chorus of church bells and displays of swastikas throughout the city.
From the altar, the cardinal declared: “Those who are entrusted with souls of the faithful will unconditionally support the great German State and the Führer [who is] obviously accompanied by the blessings of Providence…Heil Hitler!”
The archbishops of Salzburg and Graz were quick to follow the cardinal’s lead.
Begging your pardon for my impudence, dear Lord in Heaven, but I can imagine times that you might prefer those of us down here on Earth who do not so fervently believe in you.
The aforementioned Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)—is imploding, as has been observed before in this space and elsewhere in media. The implosion is worrisome here in the U.S., a duopoly of Republican and Democratic Party institutions.
All the more worrisome because half that duopoly is presently eclipsed by a fascist movement under the leadership of Mr. Trump and enforced by a confederation of the morbidly rich, the resentful poor, white supremacists, anti-Semites, heavily armed goon squads, a plethora of mouth-breathing idiots, and “social media” liars peddling outlandish conspiracies.
In a January 5 campaign speech, President Biden paused for a long moment before saying of the zeitgeist, “Something dangerous is happening.”
Of his November opponent, Mr. Biden added, “There’s no confusion about who Trump is. The question is, Who are we?”
Who are we indeed. We who weathered the four years of Donald Trump’s fascistic regime (2017-21), with its concentration camps for immigrants exercising rights under domestic and international law to seek political sanctuary in the U.S.; appointment of three rightwing justices to the nation’s high court, thus the overturning of a woman’s long-held dominion over her reproductive health, free of forced-birth government diktat; feckless policy initiatives during the coronavirus pandemic, with the consequential deaths of more than 104 million Americans; the armed invasion of the Capitol, violence unseen in Washington since British forces burned the White House during the War of 1812…
…I could go on.
The television documentary “Unfit: the Psychology of Donald Trump” makes its titular case through long interviews with mental health professionals. Released in September 2020, doctors diagnosed Mr. Trump as a “malignant narcissist,” blinded to the circumstances of state or citizenry because of a lifelong struggle with his demons. Though he remained unnamed in the documentary, the ghost of Hitler was the unmistakable specter throughout.
On many occasions, reporters have asked Mr. Trump’s response to those who draw unpleasant parallels between himself and Der Führer. The usual response is too much a protest: “I know nothing about Hitler. I am not a fan of Hitler. I have not read his works.”
Most vociferously, he denies having read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”—in English, “My Struggle.” A fellow malignant narcissist, Herr Hitler’s autobiography became the blueprint for achieving a fascist manifesto; the resistible rise of one man’s diseased story cursed a great nation, and now maybe another.
It is the nature of an individual’s über narcissism, such as seen in the criminal suspect Donald Trump, to spread malignantly to many others, even unto multitudes. We are seeing exactly this America, where tens of millions voted Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. Mr. Trump has taken us to a crucible now in 2024: Will we allow his struggle to become our struggle? Sein Kampf ist unser Kampf?
Election Day in November will not solve the question. For it hardly matters whether the narcissist wins or loses. There will be “bedlam” should he lose, as Mr. Trump himself predicts, or a repetition of chaotic disaster that followed his win in 2016.
Either way, the Church of Donald Trump seems to be a scab on the American skin unlikely to heal. The former star of “reality TV,” that oxymoron of delusion, is just too damn entertaining for too damn many of us to stop watching.
We tremble at the possibility of soiling the White House one more time, of the sour promise of what that would mean.
As the journalist Jennifer Senior put it in an essay published by the Atlantic magazine, “You get Trump once, it’s misfortune. You get him twice, it’s normal; it’s what this country is.”