By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2021 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
Tyrants worthy of the name understand that truth does not matter; what matters is what is believed. Tyrants know that so long as the mighty force of stupidity lives, many will not respect the evidence of their own experience.
Tyrants, being cynics worthy of the name, rely on these underpinnings of the human tragicomedy, as those with willing eyes have seen in the modern history of fascism—from Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler back in the day, forward to Donald Trump in our time.
Buttressed by tactical coöperation from bigots and religious institutions, the Axis bullies of yesteryear built powerful autocracies that brought the world to war in the 1930s and ‘40s. On January 6 of this year, our homegrown American bully incited some five thousand of his followers—tattooed brutes and brutettes, wife beaters, gun fanatics, anti-Christian christianists, QAnon crackpots, traitorous military veterans, and rogue cops—to carry out what appears to have been a test run for a fascist war on American democracy.
Despite documented facts of their crimes against humanity, Signore Mussolini (1883-1945) and Herr Hitler (1889-1945) have apologists and ardent admirers to this day, nearly eight decades out from the close of World War 2. Beloved these vile bullies, notwithstanding Der Führer’s cowardly suicide in a Berlin bunker and Il Duce’s untimely passing upon being caught fleeing to Switzerland and hanged upside down in the central square of a northern Italian village whose citizens beat him to death with hammers.
Now in America comes Mr. Trump (1946—), vengeful loser of last year’s presidential election yet still an idol to a cult tens of millions strong. Even in defeat, he commands half the governing duopoly of the United States: namely the Republican Party, whose sycophantic leaders collaborate in the Big Trump Lie about a “stolen” election.
Sycophants are keenly aware that 79 percent of their party’s hoi polloi approve of Mr. Trump, according to a poll by the research firm Morning Consult Political Intelligence—a poll conducted one week after the dangerously sore loser inspired January’s deadly siege of the Capitol in Washington. Republican leaders have sold their souls to Mr. Trump, lest he turn loose his cult on them, lest they fall short of his demands for deference as de facto head of the party.
As my grandfather told me, “Tommy lad, the trouble with the world is that so many people are docile and obedient. Even the smart ones.”
When not laying siege to the Capitol, ordinary Republicans happily give in to the Big Trump Lie—to their idol’s Hitleresque slogan that he would “Make America Great Again.” They do not consider a rising fascist structure to be an “enemy of the people,” as Donald Trump indicts tellers of the truth about him. It is as if Republicans collectively shrug their shoulders and parrot the watchword of Alfred E. Neuman, the dimwitted cartoon mascot of the satirical Mad Magazine: “What, me worry?”
It is unwise to shrug off Mr. Trump’s appeal to our worst angels, no less the continuing threat represented by his violent cult. He is not about to step away from his fascist pulpit. As I write, in the final days of February, he is schedule to kick off a post-presidential schedule of raucous political rallies, beginning with a speech before a crowd of so-called conservatives in Orlando. Cue the marching boots.
In accordance with the sorry truth of docility and obedience and other such un-American behavior, let us review February’s highlights of crime and politics in the United States—
• On February 13, thefinal day of Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial in Washington, forty-three of the U.S. Senate’s fifty Republican members effected his formal exoneration on the charge of fomenting insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Like others in Congress, the senators cowered in fear for their lives on Insurrection Day as a howling mob of Trumpers beat a police officer to death, maimed more than a hundred and fifty other cops, smeared walls and walkways with their urine and excrement, and otherwise rampaged through the building, with boisterous intent to kill any politicians in their path—Vice President Mike Pence in particular.
• Outside the Capitol, according to federal prosecutors, the mob’s “capture/kill” unit had erected a gallows, complete with noose and platform—the necessary equipment for the presumed dénouement to corridor chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” Inside, der Trumpenführer’s personal squad of Sturmabteilung hunted for Mr. Pence, whose duty it was to preside over a Senate controlled at the time by a Republican majority.
A devout Republican himself, Mr. Pence was, for four interminable years, the lickiest of the ex-president’s bootlickers. But in the regime’s waning days, he infuriated his orange-faced, yellow-haired boss by declining, for once, to heed an impossible diktat: that he somehow reverse Mr. Trump’s resounding loss to Joe Biden in last November’s presidential election. Hence, an impudent vice president, even of the Republican persuasion, must die. “Hang Mike Pence!”
Closed circuit video shown during the Senate trial revealed a terrorized Mr. Pence being hustled away from danger by quick-thinking cops. Behind the fleeing vice president galloped a U.S. Secret Service agent cuffed to a satchel carrying what is casually known as “the football”—a device in the prolate spheroid shape of an inflated pig’s bladder, containing nuclear codes and launch apparatus to the U.S. military’s most fearsome weaponry.
The characteristically mousy Mr. Pence has yet to squeak a single public word about his near assassination, not to mention global peril should Trumpists have intercepted the football.
• Beyond Washington live seventy-four million benighted voters who deemed Mr. Trump worthy of election to a second four-year term. When Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden prevailed, the Washington Post surveyed Republican reactions to Mr. Trump’s baseless complaints that the process was “rigged” against him; that, in fact, he had won “by a lot.” According to the Post survey, seventy-five percent of Republicans truly believe that “millions of fraudulent and absentee ballots were cast,” as Mr. Trump claimed; that “voting machines were manipulated” to benefit the opposing Biden campaign; and that “thousands of votes were recorded for dead people.”
Further, forty-six percent of the Republican polity believes that God wanted Donald Trump to be reëlected. Another eighteen percent were uncertain as to whether or not the Lord in Heaven was partisan.
Of late, according to opinion polls, a range of thirty-five to fifty percent of Republican voters have faith in the conspiracy theories of an international confederation known as QAnon—led by a mysterious luminary called Q, who informs us: Hollywood élites and marquee names of Democratic Party officialdom are devil-worshipping cannibals engaged in global sex trafficking of children; although in exile at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump labors behind the scenes (when not playing golf) to smite evil Democrats and Satan’s thespian acolytes; that the twice-impeached former White House tenant, ever insistent that he was indeed reëlected, will be honored with a “real” inauguration on March 4, as opposed to the “fake news” of Mr. Biden’s inaugural on January 20.
Further, according to QAnon: Before killing them and drinking their blood, Hillary Clinton slices off the faces of captured children and applies the bloody scalps to her own face in order to revive a youthful complexion.
Fearing an encore of January 6, authorities in Washington have ordered seven thousand troops from the National Guard to patrol the Capitol grounds on March 4. Perhaps the authorities are mindful of a warning by a philosopher of the European Enlightenment—François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), aka Voltaire, who famously said, “Anyone who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
At first blush, authoritarian strongmen are perceived as cartoon characters. Recall Benito with arms folded in insolence, a jutting jaw to complement his sneer; and limp-wristed Adolf with his little scrub brush moustache, fingering away a greasy hank of hair forever drooped over his forehead. They wore knee-high boots, jodhpurs, and stern-looking hats, these two. And Sam Browne belts over military grade tunics when blustering before admiring throngs. But neither man knew personal experience in the combat of world war they instigated.
Presently, consider the comical visage of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, habitually biting his lip as if under treatment in a hospital psychiatric ward…Oh look, there’s double-chinned Victor Orbán of Hungary, befuddled as usual…and Andrjez Duda of Poland, a man with the facial contour and color of a canned ham…Behold “His Excellency Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,” as the president of Egypt enjoys being referenced, especially on military dress-up day at Heliopolis Palace…If you can, remain awake at the sight of Recep Erdogan of Turkey, the doppelgänger of a doltish assistant high school principal from my youth…Beware the deceivingly dead eyes of Vladimir Putin, lest his bloodless adder lips flick open to spit forth deadly poison…Get a load of Kim Jong-un, “supreme leader” of North Korea, a chubby Asian lad aboard a school bus.
And let us not forget the burlesque of Donald J. Trump: he with the gold-dipped weasel pelt draping his bald scalp, blowfish mouth gushing forth malapropisms, pudgy orange jowls as a storehouse of emergency cheeseburgers. Clear through middle age, Mr. Trump towered over most others, at an impressive height of six feet, three inches (1.91m). But now, at 74, gravity and gluttony have had their way and the man has shrunk. Luckily for his ego, a once towering fellow gets a rise out of “elevator shoes” or “lifts,” as semi-discreet footwear are known. Newspaper photographers delight in capturing images of the substantial chunks of extra shoe leather that boost Mr. Trump north from the heels, tilting his upper flab awkwardly forward during tête-à-têtes with men he once looked down upon.
DANGER AHEAD: Do not laugh at these men, risible as they may be on appearance alone. History informs us of their treacherous tendencies.
Repeatedly, we fail to learn from history. Repeatedly, we forget, until it is too late, that accumulating political power is the sole interest of an authoritarian strongman who cares nothing for the rest of us—for instance, the half-million Americans who have died thus far from the coronavirus pandemic, victims of Donald Trump’s refusal to institute government response to a health crisis that has now taken more lives in my country than the combined U.S. combat fatalities of both world wars and the war in Vietnam.
“Malignant narcissism” is the illness ascribed to Donald Trump by hundreds of American psychologists, who might well have diagnosed the fascist model.
Fascists come and go, a cycle that applies to Mr. Trump as well as all others of his ilk. Americans will eventually tire of him, but not of the false “patriotism” he represents—thin camouflage for the racism, proud ignorance, and lively stupidity of a flock in his own image.
Which begs the question: Who shall become the next Trump?
At the invitation of Mr. Trump, a small parade of ambitious Republicans trek to Mar-a-Lago these days to the man with a mango-colored face, to kiss his ring, and to score second to him in a round of golf—all in hopes of winning a dubious political blessing for the presidential contest of 2024, apex of a multi-billion dollar American campaign industry.
I do not believe for a moment that Donald Trump will himself be a candidate in ’24. For one thing, it’s possible that state prosecutors in either New York or Georgia will see to his being imprisoned on conviction of felonies ranging from election crime to tax and insurance fraud. For another, Mr. Trump has way more fun pretending to be a politician than in doing the actual work required to be effective at the job.
To my mind, the Republican most likely to be anointed by Mr. Trump is a 41-year-old senator from Missouri by the name Joshua David Hawley. He is, of course, more intelligent than the ex-president, a low bar of comparison. He has positioned himself in smarty-pants speaking venues as an anti-Pelagius—referencing the seventeenth-century monk who espoused the freedom of men and women to fashion their own moral codes, as distinct from strictly conforming to church doctrine. Mr. Hawley’s detractors have called this high-tech lipstick applied to a Trumpian pig.
Further, detractors who show up for Mr. Hawley’s orations will sometimes greet him with an under-the-breath jeer: “Heil Hawley!” Behind his back, congressional aides refer to the Missouri senator as “kid Hitler.” Naturally, Donald Trump, a famous Manhattan heathen, is exceedingly fond of Josh Hawley, a stalwart of Presbyterian evangelism. Campaigning for Mr. Hawley in 2018, the then semi-popular president was instrumental in helping the bright young man to victory in deposing Democratic veteran Claire McCaskill. Mr. Hawley’s winning message was rooted in his religious rhetoric.
A regular on the Christian right speaker’s circuit, Mr. Hawley often declares, “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not lord. We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm. That is our charge. To take the lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”
This year and last, Mr. Hawley won the heart of the disgraced ex-president with his enthusiastic participation in failed legal effort after failed legal effort after failed legal effort to overturn results of the 2020 election, each effort more ludicrous than the last. Two statewide newspapers in Missouri have called on Senator Hawley to resign his office. His principal mentor, the distinguished former Missouri senator John C. Danforth, described his support for Mr. Hawley as “the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.” The New York publishing house Simon & Schuster found a way to cancel its contract with Mr. Hawley for a book for release as a traditional presidential campaign autobiography.
One might think these rebukes would dim Mr. Hawley’s future as the New Trump. On the contrary, rebuke from “élites”—Republicanspeak meaning those with expensive educations and/or capacity for critical thinking, and residency in either the west coast or east coast—is catnip to the Trump cult. (Never mind that Mr. Hawley holds a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Stanford University of California and a law degree from the prestigious Yale University of Connecticut.)
Stay tuned. And watch out for the docile and obedient, even the smart ones.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag firstname.lastname@example.org