Trump's 'slow-motion coup' is becoming a runaway train

Comedian Bill Maher, former National Security Council member Fiona Hill and NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat have all recently used the term "slow-moving coup." In fact, that term, in various formulations, has appeared numerous times in Salon, beginning in 2017, Donald Trump's first year as president. It refers, of course, to the assertive and toxic maneuvers of Trump and his right-wing sycophants aimed at subverting democracy — and since his electoral defeat last year, at regaining power at any cost. Trump's apparent goal is to recapture the highest office in the land so that his power, grifting and corruption can run rampant again. For our country — and our democracy — this coup would have disastrous consequences. This is not hyperbole or melodrama. Trump and his enablers are coming at us like a runaway train. And democracy is tied to the track.

It is important to understand how this coup is playing out — how the runaway train is gaining steam. Several actions are occurring simultaneously. First, changes in state legislatures will allow partisans to determine election winners regardless of the actual vote and the will of the people. These changes in legislatures have already begun in Texas, Georgia and South Carolina. Second, voter suppression laws are being enacted in numerous states, with the almost overt priority of preventing people of color from voting is a top priority. Third, gerrymandering by Republicans is a growing strategy to affect election results: This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approved a pernicious new plan. Fourth, Trump's promulgation of his Big Lie and other disinformation continues. He keeps claiming that the presidential election was stolen from him and that Democrats must be defeated because they are "socialists."

Taken collectively, all of these moves by Trump and his allies represent an unmistakable and potentially life-changing assault on democracy, now under threat from a man and a party who seek to establish an authoritarian autocracy. Even more ominously, such yearnings have been unleashed in a large segment of the American public.

Millions of Americans continue to voice their support for Trump. In fact, recent polling indicates that two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to retain a major political role, and 44% of them want him to run for president again in 2024. What is both amazing and frightening is that Trump's appeal is based largely on his propaganda, his victimhood and his fake personal attributes of superiority and greatness. The fact that he was an accessory to murder of 500,000 pandemic victims during his term in office is completely overlooked. His supporters are willing to turn a blind eye to his incompetence and corruption and cruelty in order to make sure that "socialist," "immigration-loving" Democrats are defeated. These Americans are hungry for a return to power. To them, Trump is their ticket to an America that is racist, intolerant, aggrieved, divided and increasingly violent.

RELATED: Now the GOP has a coup plan — and Steve Bannon's ready to put boots on the ground

Losing our democracy does not seem to feature prominently in the consciousness of most Americans, who do not understand that democracy is inherently fragile and not guaranteed to us by divine destiny. Many seem to take it for granted. But the end of free and open elections would destroy our democracy. Corruption running amok would destroy our democracy. Using the Department of Justice to hide malfeasance and to prosecute political rivals would destroy our democracy. Nepotism and widespread incompetence would destroy our democracy. Undermining our trust in the free press would destroy our democracy. Substituting conspiracy theories for science and truth would destroy our democracy. And unabashed grifting and corruption at public expense would destroy our democracy. All these examples are central elements of Trumpism and the right-wing Republican agenda. It constitutes their plan for America — and democracy is not in their calculus.

This must be said again: Donald Trump is not just another typical politician. He is a malignant narcissist whose worst intentions are to destroy anything and anyone that threatens to deprive him of power, wealth and reverence. He will not stop until he is stopped by others because he has no conscience or moral compass. He is beyond political or personal salvation — he is deceitful, conniving, corrupt and dangerous, without any regard for others. He has no business being the leader of a country; to him, public service is an anarchic playground for his personal gratification. His malicious intentions cannot be overestimated.

Trump's "slow-moving coup" — his runaway train — must be stopped. To accomplish that, several steps need to be taken immediately. First, Trump must be prosecuted for his misdeeds, his incitement of the insurrection of the Capitol and his attempts to sabotage the election by trying to alter the vote count (for example, in Georgia). Second, the congressional investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack must be fully completed. Third, elected Republican officials who supported the insurrection must be held accountable. All the saboteurs must be rooted out — otherwise, they are like a cancer that is metastasizing with deadly force. We know with a high degree of certainty that Reps. Mo Brooks, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert and others had contact with the insurrectionists in the days leading up to the Capitol attack. These members should resign or be expelled.

Trump is hoping that his efforts will pay off in the election of 2024. He does not care about the safety and happiness of the American people, and he sure as hell does not care about democracy. If it is up to him, America's democratic tradition will be cast aside on the day he places his hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office again. That would mark the final triumph of his coup.

Americans are left with a dramatic choice: Save democracy by rejecting Donald Trump and his Republican comrades, or allow them to run roughshod over our hard-won democratic principles and institutions by completing their coup — which now appears to be a runaway train.

Trump has made it clear: He thinks his own supporters are discardable losers

In May of this year, Donald Trump began telling associates that he plans to run for president in 2024 if he is healthy enough. In July, he told dinner pals that he is running. Just this month, he reiterated that he is likely to run again. The twice-impeached ex-president is increasing his media appearances and planning campaign-style rallies in Georgia and Iowa.

This article was originally published at Salon

Trump's humiliating defeat to Joe Biden — which he refuses to acknowledge even occurred — has fomented a yearning for redemption. Whether he actually runs again remains uncertain, but he wants his supporters to be ready, willing and primed.

As Trump keeps his millions of supporters in suspense, they must answer one difficult question: Do they really want to continue to support a man who despises them and hurts them?

Donald Trump has always abhorred his supporters. He does not feel an ounce of empathy or affection for those who profess their devotion to him. He sees his supporters as weak, stupid and inferior. They are losers to him. He hates his supporters as much as he wants to destroy his detractors.

Actions speak louder than words. Just look at Trump's actions toward his supporters.

The best example is his detached, irresponsible and inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died on his watch. He relied on conspiracy theories, magical thinking, blatant lies and distractions to fool the American public. Trump followers in red states have died in huge numbers because they erroneously and foolishly believed he was the benevolent master of their fate. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was, in fact, an accessory to murder. His supporters' lives meant nothing to him.

Another example is Trump's incitement of the insurrection of the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was willing to overthrow democracy in order to remain in power. So he fabricated the Big Lie, knowing full well that his cult followers would carry out his anti-democratic mission. Was he on the front line with his supporters? Of course not — because he is a coward. He watched it all unfold on television as he cheered them on from the protected and comfortable surroundings of the White House. Trump wanted the election undermined and demanded that followers accomplish that goal. The result was failure, destruction, deaths, arrests and widespread condemnation. Trump has left his followers dangling in defeat. He has taken no responsibility for his incitement and has demonstrated no concern or remorse for his loyalists who face damaging legal consequences. He has thrown them under the bus because he detests them.

Millions of aggrieved Americans have tethered themselves to Trump's fake persona of superiority and strength. They think he is the answer to their prayers. They think he cares about their lot in life. They think he will remedy their grievances. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Trump is a shameless opportunist. He manipulates people to achieve his personal goals, then discards them. He does not care if his supporters are racists, felons, crooks or murderers. He does not care if they are xenophobes or misogynists. He will accept the support of anyone who will blindly follow his lead and put him on a pedestal — after all, exalted status is what he longs for. He desperately wants to be a dictator so that his grifting and corrupt impulses can run wild. And, remember, dictators only care about themselves and loathe people who expect anything from them.

Trump scorns those who are weak or foolish enough to need him. He does not want to be needed — he wants others to serve and satiate his needs. He thrives on their praise, adulation and unconditional loyalty. The whole concept of public service is foreign to him because he perceives every interaction is a transactional game that must be won. And winning, for him, inevitably means defeat and humiliation of the other person. In Trump's psyche, even his supporters need to be humiliated and defeated.

It is puzzling that Trump supporters have not realized that he does not give a damn about their grievances or station in life. His Republican Party literally has no platform or set of guiding principles — all that was abandoned during the 2020 campaign. Nor does the Republican Party have a single substantive policy initiative on the table. Other than conservative judicial appointments, Trump did absolutely nothing for his supporters during his miserable presidential term. Except, of course, to let them be killed by a virus and incite them to a failed overthrow of democracy.

Until Trump is gone and the Republican Party reinvents itself, Trump supporters are all alone to fend for themselves. Their cult leader is an illusion. He is a pied piper leading them only to destruction. He has brought them only pain and suffering and sold them a bill of goods consisting of lies and conspiracy theories.

All because he despises his supporters. That's the best reason why they should dump him now, before he harms them even more.

Mental health expert: Trump's not delusional — it's actually much worse than that

A growing and prevailing view is that Donald Trump has become delusional. His fixed and intractable obsession with his Big Lie is seen as proof of his psychosis.

But Trump is not detached from reality at all. He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows the difference between truth and a lie — he just doesn't care about that, if a lie gets him what he wants. He is devious, conniving and hell-bent on satisfying his needs, wants and desires at any cost.

Trump's "delusion" is simply a conspiracy theory that he thinks has gained the most traction with his millions of supporters. His "delusion" is purposeful and intentional: The election was stolen from him; he will be reinstated as president in August (or at some other time); he could run for speaker of the House in order to impeach President Biden; he is likely to run for president again in 2024. He holds onto his "delusion" because it has successfully kept him the cult leader of the aggrieved and the victimized. His "delusion" has made him the pied piper of the Republican Party.

Calling Trump psychotic misses the point. It creates an excuse for a man who deserves none. Trump is a fearful, vindictive, anti-American megalomaniac. It is this combination of features that accounts for his "condition" or "state" since leaving office on Jan. 20.

Trump is terrified because he is looking down the barrel of a long list of potential criminal charges. The empaneling of a grand jury in New York has intensified his worries. He thinks that if he is somehow returned to the presidency, he will be protected from the indictments against him. So he is seeking a way to have the November election reversed through "audits" and spreading the fiction that he will be reinstated to the presidency in August. This is not a delusion. It is the wishful thinking of a humiliated and disgraced ex-leader who, it turns out, may be a criminal as well.

Trump thrives on destroying people who have been disloyal to him. He is actively trying to tarnish the reputations of Republicans who have not supported him. Look who he hates now: Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Liz Cheney — and the list goes on. His vindictiveness is a far cry from delusion. Who he hates can change instantly, depending on how he perceives the transaction of the moment. McConnell was almost his buddy at one time.

Trump proved he was anti-American by inciting the insurrection against our government on Jan. 6. He does not love democracy and does not care about the will of the people. He wants to be a dictator, pure and simple. Disregarding the Constitution and overthrowing our government are nothing to a man desperate for the continued taste of power, greed and adulation. Nothing about that is a delusion.

Trump is a megalomaniac who thinks he is smarter, richer and stronger than anyone else. Everything he says and does is aimed at fortifying his grandiose and superior persona. He never admits to a mistake. He never acknowledges a loss. He always doubles down on a position. He does not care a whit about the people of this country. Grifting others is his sport. Despite being impeached twice and losing the national election by 7 million votes, Trump marches on with his false self of grandiosity. That is not a delusion — it is his psychic machinery of self-preservation.

It is a mistake to consider Trump psychotic. That would be to assume that psychiatric medication might alleviate his delusional thinking. But medication cannot fix a psychopath with malignant narcissism. Medication cannot fix a manipulative and exploitative opportunist. Medication does not affect shamelessness and lack of a moral compass. Medication cannot make a self-serving "delusion" disappear.

Trump remains a grave risk to democracy. He will throw anyone and anything under the bus to save his own hide and to advance his personal power and greed. If democracy gets in the way, he is more than ready to smash it or flick it away. Do not forget his glee as he watched the attempted coup against our nation our on television. He thought Jan. 6 might be his de facto coronation as dictator. That was his plan all along. He is an authoritarian, not a psychotic.

How long will we continue to enable this dangerous ex-leader? How long will the GOP remain lost, wandering through the wilderness of his psychopathic mind? How long will democracy be on the chopping block? When will a new, fresh Republican leader come forward?

These are the pressing questions of the day. Not whether Donald Trump is delusional. He is not. He is something far worse.

Here's one thing we should be happy Trump destroyed

The role of the free press is critical in a representative democracy. It is covered in the First Amendment of the Constitution for a reason. The overarching purpose of the press is to keep in the spotlight every deliberation and decision that is made in our government. The press is the watchdog of our elected officials.

Politicians have tried to undermine the importance of the media by questioning their motives and intent. The most obviously self-serving and disingenuous case in point is Donald Trump, who spent his entire presidency trying to convince the public that the mainstream media is "the enemy of the people." Whenever he didn't like a story, he called it "fake news." His purposeful and relentless effort to undermine the public's trust in the media will be one of his worst legacies. Why? Because a free press is indispensable to democracy. We depend on it to inform, to explain, to interpret and, yes, to warn. To a large degree, that is what separates us from authoritarian regimes and "managed" pseudo-democracies.

But the "duty to warn" should also apply to mental health experts, who should feel compelled to speak out when their expertise and experience lead them to perceive a political figure as dangerously unfit. In fact, they have a social and ethical responsibility to voice their opinions and to inform the public.

That brings us to the "Goldwater rule," an ethical guideline advanced by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 that hardly anyone knew about or cared about until Donald Trump became president. The Goldwater rule states that psychiatrists should not comment about political figures because they have not interviewed them personally. (Its name refers back to Sen. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, who was seen by some mental health professionals at the time as unstable or dangerous.)

Almost immediately after Trump's election in 2016, mental health professionals were faced with an ethical dilemma imposed by the Goldwater rule. How could experts speak out in their duty to warn the public when they were prohibited from doing so by an ethical restraint imposed by a major professional organization? That conundrum was compounded by the mainstream media's collective decision to abide by the Goldwater rule — when they were under no obligation to do so — and not allow mental health experts to voice their opinions.

The Goldwater rule is outdated and antiquated, functionally obsolete. Today, mental health professionals have access to thousands of audios, videos, tweets, interviews, speeches and books from virtually all politicians, which can be studied carefully over time. Tremendous amounts of behavioral data are publicly available. As a result, expert opinions about a politician's mental health are grounded in data and should be viewed as professional, ethical and accurate. A personal interview would certainly be helpful in many cases, but is not to be understood as comprehensive or sufficient in itself. Behavioral information over time is much more revealing, instructive and diagnostic.

Beyond that, mental health experts do not need to be shackled. They are highly trained and possess a wealth of knowledge. They are highly ethical and will not try to discuss matters outside their area of expertise. They voice opinions that are grounded in science and data. They work hard to remain fair and balanced and have been trained to acknowledge their personal limitations. They are careful not to permit their political leanings sway their well-considered opinions.

Mental health experts are treated much differently than experts in other medical specialties. If a politician has a heart ailment, cardiologists are encouraged to discuss the problem in the media. If a politician has arthritis, rheumatologists are invited to share their knowledge. If a politician has cancer, oncologists are summoned by the media. There is obvious precedence for the mainstream media to solicit medical experts to voice their opinions about political figures.

The same should be true for mental health experts, given that mental health problems can be just as serious and incapacitating as the other medical issues mentioned above. They certainly have a major impact on public safety and welfare. We should not pretend that they do not exist because they make us feel uncomfortable. Nearly everyone now understands that to ignore or conceal mental health problems is only likely to make them worse.

Media professionals and mental health experts share the same fundamental mission: to serve and inform the public. They are not adversaries, and their goals are not in conflict.

A "duty to warn" the public should be a central guiding principle for both the media and mental health experts as we strive to recover from the trauma of the Trump years. The Goldwater rule should be discarded at last — its relevance is long in the past. At least that's one norm obliterated by Donald Trump for which we can be grateful.

Our psychopathic president has finally imploded -- and all this was totally predictable

Donald Trump's attempted coup against our government was predictable. He had it all planned out. He would incite thousands of supporters to attack the Capitol, disrupt the proceedings of the Senate and find a way to maintain his grip on power. He knew full well that his violent insurrectionists had blood on their minds and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence were in harm's way. He knew there was a chance that both Pelosi and Pence could be kidnapped or murdered. He did not care one whit. He was partying and celebrating as the attackers formed and began their deadly march. He was inciting an insurrection against the United States for his own personal gain. Democracy and human life were of no concern to him.

This article was originally published at Salon

But his efforts failed. The Senate was not overtaken. Joe Biden was certified as the next president. Pelosi and Pence were both safe. The attackers are being hunted down one by one and arrested. Trump has now been impeached for the second time, with 10 Republican members of Congress joining with every Democrat. Pence apparently contemplated the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment (although he has now said he will not do so). The majority of Americans believe that Trump should be removed from office immediately for his treasonous behavior.

After last week's insurrection attempt, Trump is now trying to act as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. What is the big deal if some looters swarmed through the Capitol? As he has always done, Trump relies on lies, denials, conspiracy theories and fake bravado to skirt through life and through his presidency. But rhetoric and actions are observable truth. And Trump's clear incitement of insurrection means he is a traitor. It means he disavowed the will of the people and the rule of law. It means his personal gain is more important than the Constitution and his oath of office.

This all makes sense because Donald Trump is a psychopath. He is fueled by his narcissism, his sadism, his paranoia and his antisocial proclivities. We have been eager to ignore these things, but Trump's sadism and violence have been front and center in his psyche the entire time. This is the man who separated young children from their families at the border. This is the man whose inaction has killed 372,000 Americans due to the coronavirus. This is the man who has tried to encourage violence multiple times at his campaign and presidential pep rallies. And this is the man who glorified violence in Charlottesville and in other cities.

We should not be surprised that Trump's sadism and violence boiled over in response to his humiliating election defeat. He has been hell-bent on hanging onto power at any cost. He has been willing to throw anyone and anything under the bus to ensure his self-preservation and his survival. So a violent insurrection in the sacred halls of the Capitol was the perfect plan in his mind. A few deaths would be palatable, even entirely acceptable, if it meant he could remain in power.

What should now be clear to everyone is that Donald Trump does not love democracy or our country. He is an authoritarian. He wants absolute authority and control over people. He loves adulation. He is a greedy opportunist. He is a master of demagoguery. He is corrupt and criminal. He is a traitor of the highest order. He was virtually the worst possible person to become president because everything about him is antithetical to our nation's principles and ideals. Being president is so much more than being rich. Personal character, love of democracy and love of country are far more compelling attributes.

Trump is a cataclysmic problem that will be solved soon. He will be booted out, or simply leave. Social media platforms have banned him. Companies are halting their financial contributions to his party and his supporters. The PGA has pulled its 2022 championship tournament from his New Jersey golf course. More and more Americans are rejecting him by the day. His mantra as a traitor is beginning to take hold. Ultimately, it will be set in stone.

Millions of supporters followed Trump for four years as if he were the pied piper. They did not realize or understand that he is a con man who thrives on hoodwinking and exploiting others. He lies every time he opens his mouth, and uses conspiracy theories and fear-mongering to seduce the allegiance of citizens who believe in him for various largely irrational reasons. Trump is no public servant, no brilliant businessman, no rich savant and no political leader. He is a fraud, a failure and a coward who ran for president in the first place to enhance his brand and make money off the public. Once in office, he became enthralled with power, adulation and grifting. He realized that being an authoritarian leader would allow him to express his sadistic and cruel tendencies — and that being a dictator would allow his racist and xenophobic and misogynistic impulses to run wild, without oversight or accountability. In the end, Trump decided that he wanted to remain in office so that he could establish an endless regime of Trumpism — all in his psychopathic image.

Americans should have realized back in 2016 that Trump was a bad actor who had nefarious and cruel intentions. He did not want to protect and serve the people. The oath of office was a bunch of isolated words that had no meaning to him. It was all a big lie and a big con from the beginning. Trump believed he could pull it off because he had spent his entire life promulgating a kind of alternate universe, with the help of enablers and a host of lawyers.

Trump's lies, conspiracy theories, magical thinking and corruption rapidly became normalized in our country, such that millions of Americans were radicalized. Fantasy and blather became more important than truth. Trump's alternate universe seemed to replace the real one. Our Constitution and the rule of law were corrupted. Our democracy was threatened. A psychopath was threatening democracy, and the media pretended not to notice. The opinions of mental health experts were rejected.

Ultimately, the judicial system and our Constitution stood tall throughout this presidency. Elected Republican officials did not. They either drank the Kool-aid or saw loyalty to Trump as a vehicle for personal political advancement. Either way, the Republican Party has been complicit and anti-democratic. Some of its members, perhaps most of them, want to carry on the mantle of Trumpism despite its malicious and destructive impact on our democracy. They will face their reckoning in due time.

Many of Trump's supporters will have a rude awakening when they realize that their esteemed cult leader was nothing more than a fraud. Once they see him prosecuted for his many crimes, they will understand his destructiveness to them and to our democracy. Truth will again become important. We will all be able to agree on observable facts. Negotiation and compromise will once again be central to our politics. Tribalism will gradually melt away as our interest in unity and cohesiveness expands.

Yet in many ways Trump has been a symptom rather than the sole cause of major divisions in our country. Racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, misogyny and other extreme forms of hate have been simmering in this country long before Trump. But these harmful and demoralizing issues will be easier to grapple with without a national leader who is psychopathic, anti-democratic and anti-American in his mental DNA.

Donald Trump has been an unabashed menace to our country. Many lessons need to be learned. The biggest is that we should never allow a psychopath to run our country, no matter what divisions and hostilities are brewing among the people. His rhetoric, his motives, his intentions and his actions have all created chaos and turmoil — all with the goal of keeping him in power so he could serve himself, not others.

Donald Trump must be pushed out of public awareness and our collective consciousness. His pernicious and nihilistic influence must be washed away by the sunshine of optimism that we as a people can bring to our politics.

It is time to make that happen. It is long overdue.

Donald Trump's desperation is pathological — and deeply dangerous for the nation

Donald Trump knows his re-election fortunes are fading. He knows his time is about up. He thinks he is entitled to eight more years "because they spied on his campaign." He thinks he is "the greatest of all presidents." He thinks he has "done more for women than just about any president in history." These grandiose and false statements belie a man who is scrambling, flailing, agitated and plainly desperate.

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