My friend and colleague on SiriusXM radio, Dean Obeidallah, reminded me yesterday when we were chatting on his show that he pointed out last week that "air rage" incidents have exploded this year. He wrote a great op-ed about it for CNN here.
The FAA says there have been 2900 reports of air rage since the first of the year, and 2200 of those involved people becoming enraged over mask requirements.
And we're not just seeing it on airplanes. Road rage is up, people challenging (and, yesterday, murdering) retail workers is up, even mass shootings are up right now.
Dean correctly points out that a lot of this has to do with wearing masks, and Donald Trump set the tone for the nation in ridiculing them and even ridiculing candidate Joe Biden for wearing one, saying it made him look "weak."
Other commentators point to the confluence of stressors hitting Americans right now ranging from having spent a year in lockdown to fear of illness to a devastated economy that has destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans.
These are all excellent points, and all are no doubt highly causal to today's situation.
But what concerns me beyond what may be a transient mask kerfuffle is that Trump didn't just set the tone for defying authority or generally acting like an asshole. The truly deadly thing he did, in and to our society, was to put down the psychopath marker and use it to call together his neurological tribe.
About 1% of Americans are psychopaths, although such people tend to be concentrated in some areas: as many as 12% of major corporate CEOs are believed to be psychopaths, and about 15% of people in prison.
A psychopath, for all practical purposes, believes that he's quite literally the only "true human being" on planet Earth.
Everybody else is an actor of some sort, a prop, in the grand play of the psychopath's life. Everybody else is here to make him happy and meet his needs, and he doesn't have to worry about hurting them or not meeting their needs because they are not "real people" like he is.
The clinical terminology is that psychopaths "lack the ability to feel empathy." Weirdly, this lack of empathy can make them more successful in big business and in criminal and prison environments.
This defines Donald Trump, as numerous mental health professionals have pointed out over the past few years on my show, in numerous books and articles, and across other media.
When Donald Trump was just a corrupt real estate developer in New York his psychopathy only damaged the people in his immediate circle: his family, the people who did business with him, and people he fleeced like students for Trump University or contractors he refused to pay.
But when he became president, he became our nation's "father." This can't be emphasized enough; in the US the president is both head of government (like Prime Minister Johnson) and head of state (like Queen Elizabeth). The president thus sets the tone for the country and establishes the norm for how a person with privilege and power is expected to behave.
And Americans have a history of emulating our presidents, from FDR's enthusiasm to JFK's haircut to Bush's war fever.
It's sort of like how you can generally predict that the kid who cheats at the high school football game, gets caught, and goes off on a loud, profane against the referee is going to have a parent who taught him those behaviors.
Thus, Trump's presidency has massively empowered the psychopaths among us. The people who, if their life had taken just a slightly different turn at some point, would today be a member of a prison gang or a CEO. They recognize themselves in him and are empowered by him.
As president, Trump made being a psychopath fashionable, and his fellow psychopaths across the nation are having a huge coming-out party.
This is how Trump has unleashed a wave of newly-empowered psychopaths who are now rapidly rising up through Republican political and judicial ranks, pushing the non-psychopaths out of the way (as psychopaths are wont to do), and generally terrorizing the American public.
Elderly people who've spent their lives volunteering or working as election workers are getting phone calls telling them that they will soon die a slow and painful death if they don't quit and turn their jobs over.
People who dare have a Biden/Harris bumper-sticker on their car or a Pride flag in their window find themselves the victims of vandals, arsonists and worse.
Asian Americans, including elderly Asian Americans, are increasingly victims of these Trump-psychopathy fueled individuals chanting Trump's racist virus epithet.
Teachers simply trying to explain the simple history of America are on the receiving end of not just death threats, but a loss of livelihood that could leave them homeless and without healthcare.
Trump's tribe of psychopaths are finding each other on social media and coming together in armed groups, plotting their revenge against a society they feel has unfairly tried to constrain their selfish impulses and behaviors.
The last time this happened in a major western nation was 1933, when Adolf Hitler — another high-functioning psychopath — took over leadership of Germany. For a republic, having a psychopath at the top of leadership is extraordinarily dangerous and usually leads to the psychopath so corrupting the political process that democracy is badly damaged or even destroyed and replaced with oligarchy or fascism.
Joe Biden is doing a great job of showing the country what a "normal parent" politician is like, but a large handful of psychopaths with major rightwing media platforms continue to stir Trump's tribe in order to get higher ratings and make money.
And the more money these performers make for their psychopathic CEOs, the more they're rewarded for this insanely destructive behavior.
At some point, hopefully, the fever will break. It will probably take a disaster of some sort, the way it took the 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania to wake up Australians enough to institute rational gun control and re-stabilize their society.
Ideally that scenario can be avoided, but as long as the awesome, multi-billion-dollar radio and TV media infrastructure conservatives have built over the past 40 years continues to crank up the heat, the pot will continue to boil until it explodes.