Donald Trump remains public enemy No. 1, and in all likelihood the most dangerous person in America today. If the rule of law was applied equally and fairly Donald Trump and his criminal confederates would have already been arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated for their many obvious crimes.
He leads a neofascist movement that attempted to nullify the results of 2020 presidential election. Through willful malfeasance, corruption, and negligence, Trump's regime was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump openly admires Vladimir Putin and other political thugs. He and his allies in the Republican Party yearn for the same kind of power here in America.
Yet Trump still commands the loyalty of tens of millions of Americans. Even after four years of his ruinous regime, Trump won more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016; Sick societies produce sick leaders.
I know that I am not alone in shaking my head, several times a week, and saying aloud, "Merrick Garland, what the hell are you waiting for?"
In an op-ed for Salon this week, Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, summed it up:
The sheer scope of Trump's likely criminality is unprecedented, as is its severity. It is hard to conceive of more serious crimes that a president could be involved in than illegally acting to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power, which is the cornerstone of a successful democracy. Investigating and seriously weighing prosecution would not be political under these conditions.
In fact, the failure to investigate and seriously consider prosecuting such egregious conduct would be inexplicable. Forgoing meritorious prosecutions for fear of political criticism is itself a political act, and one that would do grave damage to the republic. It would send the message that a president can do essentially anything without consequences. If Donald Trump regains the presidency, which he seems poised to try to do, he would most certainly heed this lesson and become still more brazen in illegal steps to consolidate his own power.
At his rally last Saturday in Michigan, Donald Trump again showed himself to be a danger to the safety and security of the American people, American democracy and American society. As has become habitual, the mainstream news media was largely if not almost entirely silent. In its recent coverage of Trump's rallies, the media has become more interested in mocking his followers and the size of his crowds than in calling attention to his threats of right-wing violence.
Donald Trump, like other members of the Republican-fascist movement, has become expert at stoking political and ethnic violence as a tool of political power. In a recent interview with Salon, political scientist Barbara Walter, author of "How Civil Wars Start," explains how Trump and allies such as Michael Flynn get away with "preaching violence":
If I were to show what Trump and Flynn are saying, their actual words, to the average American, they would say, "You're making that up, it can't be true." Thus we have a situation where these things are happening, but the information is not being shared with the general public, or if they are hearing what is happening then it is being distorted or not fully represented ...
Historically, the side that wants to do these horrible things and put themselves in a position of power, to lead a dictatorship or start a "race war" or commit acts of genocide — for example, to kill all the Jews in Europe — will spend a lot of time investing in propaganda because they understand that if they can control the narrative they can control the average citizen. That is exactly what is happening now in the United States. Experts and other people like us see the warning signs because we're paying attention and we're reading widely. Most Americans are not.
Predictably, at his rally last Saturday in Michigan, Donald Trump returned to his repeated Big Lie strategy with claims that the 2020 election was stolen — the clear implication being that he is still the "real" president and that his followers should do whatever is necessary to return him to power.
He wallowed in low-rent bigotry, racism and nativism, slurring Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib because of their names, which sound un-American to him and his followers. He claimed that Joe Biden and the Democrats are "destroying" America and that the country's cities are overrun with violent (black) criminals. He also could not resist his malignant narcissism and sense of victimhood, complaining about how "unfairly" he has been treated by the press.
These tired themes were just cover for his main thrust: threats of violence. Like other fascists and right-wing populists, Donald Trump personalizes the threat of violence for his followers, telling them that Black and brown people, Muslims, Democrats, "the left," LGBTQ people, migrants and refugees, and the Other more generally pose an existential threat to "real Americans" (meaning, of course, white right-wing Christians).
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The solution to such threats is preemptive violence. This is the same logic that was used to justify eliminationist violence and genocide in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and, of course, Nazi Germany.
In the alternate reality of Trump World, hordes of invaders are arriving daily with the goal of "replacing" real Americans, which of course means white people.
For example, Trump told his followers last Saturday that nonwhite immigrants and refugees are coming to America from the Middle East and elsewhere to take away their homes and communities. In the deranged alternate reality of TrumpWorld, hordes of invaders are arriving with the goal of "replacing" real Americans, which of course means white people. Although there are many minor variations, this "great replacement" theory has become common currency across the American right.
Trump also raged about "woke" leaders, "far-left gender theories" and "extremist" transgender "ideologies," aligning himself with the right movement that literally wants to make gay, lesbian or trans people into second-class citizens once again. This too is an encouragement of hate crimes and other violence against those deemed to be the Other in order to "defend" the American family by standing up for "parental rights."
The low point (among many) during Trump's speech last Saturday came when he told his followers, "The American people will not sit idly by and allow our children to be indoctrinated, segregated and mutilated by the lunatic left."
When a person's family and children are (apparently) threatened with such harm, the natural response is to do whatever is necessary to protect them. Trump is going beyond "mere" stochastic terrorism here. This should be understood as a direct threat of violence against the Democratic Party and its supporters. Such language and threats have already gotten people attacked, beaten and killed, and will continue to do so.
Again, the media did not widely report on Trump's incitements to violence.
All this is part of a larger cultural problem. Trumpism and American neofascism are a cult-like movement organized around a charismatic personality who gives his followers a sense of meaning in their lives. The cult also isolates followers and believers from "outsiders" who reject the "truth" by providing an alternative reality and belief system. Trumpism and contemporary right-wing politics more generally function as a political religion immune to outside facts and empirical reality, in which Donald Trump is a messiah or semi-divine figure.
Trump's rally last Saturday began with an evangelical pastor offering this "prayer":
So we pray, father in heaven, we firmly believe that Donald J. Trump is current and true president of the United States…. Bless and protect him and his family from any physical, spiritual attacks and may his voice still the people to righteous action to bring godly men and women into elected office, in Michigan and across America. We declare that he will be back in office soon — very soon — in Jesus' name.
In total, Trumpism and Republican-fascism, like other authoritarian movements, creates and is sustained by a state of malignant normality. Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton explains this phenomenon in his book "Losing Reality":
Donald Trump is a special kind of cultist. He is in no way totalistic — his beliefs can be remarkably fluid — nor is he the leader of a sealed-off cultic community. Rather, his cultism is inseparable from his solipsistic reality…. And in his way he has created a community of zealous believers who are geographically dispersed. A considerable portion of his base can be understood as cultists, as followers of a guru who is teacher, guide, and master. From my studies of cults and cultlike behavior, I recognize this aspect of Trump's relationship to his followers....
In recent work I have referred to "malignant normality," by which I mean the imposition of a norm of destructive or violent behavior, so that such behavior is expected or required of people…. [W]e have experienced a national malignant normality of our own: extensive lying and falsification, systemic corruption, ad hominem attacks on critics, dismissal of intelligence institutions and findings, rejection of climate change truth and of scientists who express them, rebukes of our closest international allies and embrace of dictators, and scornful delegitimization of the party of opposition. This constellation of malignant normality has threatened, and at times virtually replaced, American democracy.
The damage caused by the Age of Trump and what it unleashed upon America and the world is both a symptom of "malignant normality" and a factor that continues to nurture it. Joe Biden may be president, but malignant normality has not faded away. The disease is too great for any one person or president to vanquish.
Trump's cult-like power over his followers and the larger neofascist movement is also maintained through the use of projection, gaslighting and other thought-control techniques. Last Saturday in Michigan, Trump told his followers that the "Democrat Party," with its "extremist sex and gender ideology ... is waging war on reality, war on science, war on children, war on women…. The Republican Party is now the party of American women and American children, and we will protect women in sports."
In reality as it actually exists, the Republican Party is, of course, exactly the opposite of Trump's claim. He and his followers literally live inside an alternate reality that would have impressed George Orwell, where up is down and down is up. People living within such an environment have lost the ability to know right from wrong, or to engage in other fact-based ethical decision-making.
As documented by social scientists, investigative reporters and others, the Republicans' embrace of the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory is now a central factor in this dynamic. A significant percentage of Republicans and Trump supporters actually believe that Democrats and liberals are part of a "globalist" movement that is kidnapping, torturing and killing children. These themes are no longer confined to the "fringe"; they are within the mainstream of the Republican Party and the larger white right.
In a democracy, it is supposedly the task of the free press to help the public better understand what is important, and in turn how to respond to it. Throughout the Age of Trump and beyond, the American news media has largely failed in this most basic responsibility: to inform the public about existential threats to democracy. Moreover, it appears very likely that editorial decisions have been made to not issue such warnings in any consistent way.
In a recent essay at Medium, Wajahat Ali offers this blunt truth: "Fascism will be welcomed and applauded by media institutions as long as it's profitable, helps with ratings, and grants them access to power."
We will miss media critic Eric Boehlert's bold truth-telling, at exactly the moment we so badly need it.
I'd like to close this essay with a tribute to the media critic (and former Salon writer) Eric Boehlert, a voice of clarity, wit and compassion who died tragically this week. In a recent issue of his newsletter Press Run, Boehlert addressed one of his signature issues: the American news media's massive failures in response to the Biden presidency:
The glaring disconnect between reality and how the press depicts White House accomplishments means a key question lingers: Why is the press rooting against Biden? Is the press either hoping for a Trump return to the White House, or at least committed to keeping Biden down so the 2024 rematch will be close and 'entertaining' for the press to cover? Is that why the Ginni Thomas insurrection story was politely marched off the stage after just a few days of coverage last week by the same news outlets that are now in year three of their dogged Hunter Biden reporting? ("ABC This Week" included 19 references to Hunter Biden [last weekend]) …. Biden is facing not just one organized opposition in the form of the GOP, but another in the form of the Beltway press corps ….
Whatever the justifications or rationalizations may be, the American news media and other prominent public voices are not protecting the American people from harm by refusing to report on Donald Trump and the white right's threats of violence. Rather, the media is actually aiding and abetting such forces, because to ignore those dangers and threats is to normalize them. Ultimately, fascism and other anti-human movements operate best in darkness. Too many in the media appear to have decided to look away, as if that will minimize the danger. They should be shining the light ever more brightly and sounding the alarm.
That's what Eric Boehlert was doing. We will miss his urgent truth-telling, at exactly the moment we so badly need it.
NOW WATCH: Trump's political future 'in limbo' because he can't let go of 2020 loss
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