Donald Trump is the worst kind of fool

On Saturday, January 28, former President Donald Trump made the first speech of his 2024 presidential campaign since he announced his run back in November. Speaking at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Trump claimed he was more committed than he had been in his previous two runs to campaigning and launching a grassroots effort.

He also revealed that he had a new angle to the way he wanted to frame his story of what is wrong in the United States under Joe Biden's administration. According to Trump, he is always thinking about the United States, but the other day, he had an idea of a good way to describe what he thinks is wrong. Then he decided to share it with a few buddies to see if it made sense to them:

"It's sort of strange, but I think of the United States, every day is April Fools' day. And they said, sir, what do you mean by that? I don't like the sound of that. I said, listen to this, and I just gave a couple of ideas. We have open borders when they should be closed. It's April Fools' Day. We have prisoners, people from as we just said mental institutions, and terrorists being dumped into our country when they should not be accepted. April Fools' Day, right? Who would do that? Who would do this? Who would allow prisoners in?"

Yeah, that's right. Donald Trump's big epiphany is that every day that Biden is in office is like April Fools' Day.

We are so accustomed to wading through the linguistic morass that spews out of Trump's mouth each and every time he talks that this particular claim might not get the attention it deserves. So, let's pause and unpack it for the glorious example of Trump-style foolishness that it is.

First of all, Trump has absolutely no idea what April Fools' Day even is. As most of the rest of the nation understands, April Fools' Day is about pranks, hoaxes and practical jokes. And, typically the prank is eventually announced with the prankster shouting "April Fool!" after the pranked person has been sufficiently duped.

Infamous April Fool jokes include the various times that Google has pranked its users, such as including a "Really Advanced Search" function in 2012 that allowed users to narrow searches by filtering for fonts like Comic Sans. Netflix has gotten in on the fun too, adding, for example, a "Netflix Original" of 20 minutes of sizzling bacon in 2014.

Let's follow Trump's odd logic for a minute: If life under Biden is like April Fools' Day every day, then the things that Trump is worrying over aren't real.

Not everyone enjoys the jokester spirit of April Fools' Day, of course. Some consider it a nasty form of manipulation that just leaves the pranked person feeling bad.

There seems little doubt that the mean-spirited nature of the holiday is part of what Trump was trying to tap into. But even if you think that April Fools' day is not nice, Trump's rendition of life under Biden as a perpetual April Fools' Day still makes no sense. Because — and this is critical — April Fools' Day pranks are not real. So, for example, when the BBC famously ran a story in 1957 that farmers were harvesting spaghetti from a tree, that was not actually true, even if some people thought so until the hoax was revealed.

Let's follow Trump's odd logic for a minute: If life under Biden is like April Fools' Day every day, then the things that Trump is worrying over aren't real. The open borders and teams of mental patients he conjures up are a hoax.

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But we know that isn't what Trump is trying to say. He seems to be suggesting that Biden is deliberately putting into place policies that are designed to destroy the country and enjoying himself while he is doing it. The fools are the public who thinks things are fine while Biden is pranking all of us, having fun at our expense.

Again, even if we were inclined to buy that logic, it still reveals that Trump doesn't get the prankster holiday: The entire point of the mischief is to get everyone to take themselves less seriously and to reveal how easily we can get duped. April Fools' Day jokes are designed to expose gullibility, which in turn helps develop critical thinking, while also getting everyone out of their shell for a moment. If you actually believed that Burger King once launched a "Left-Handed Whopper" designed for left-handed Americans, well, perhaps you might need to think about why you'd believe that.

Here is the real takeaway though. We have long known that Trump doesn't understand comedy and can't process jokes. In fact, we know that the only thing that really animates Trump when it comes to jokes is whether or not he thinks they flatter him (even if he often isn't right about that). We also know that Trump's trouble with comedy, irony and satire is common among Republicans who have been shown to have less capacity to process complex forms of comedy that include irony.

Even worse, we now see that Trump equates pranks with evil intent. For Trump, the jokester of April Fools' Day is akin to a cruel bully who intends to do damage, not play a prank that might get missed by the audience. Even more, under Trump, the prankster isn't just a cruel bully, he gets pleasure from it. The fun is in hurting others.

So, Trump isn't just flat-out wrong about the point of April Fools' Day; he is actually describing himself. This is the same guy who viciously mocked a disabled reporter and then claimed he would never do that. Under Trump, mockery is aggressive and angry and mean. The possibility of a prank used to poke fun in a productive way is lost.

We now see that Trump equates pranks with evil intent.

A fool can be silly or stupid, but most importantly, a fool lacks judgment and common sense, which is why the April Fools' Day prank works, ideally, to help them see their foolish ways. The fool is also the playful trickster. The term captures both sides of the game. In the best sense of how this works, the jokester fool plays the prank on the unwitting fool, and when the game is revealed there is mirth, even if the pranked fool feels foolish at first.

But, under Trump, all of these concepts shift. Just as his administration redefined words like "great" and made other ones up like "alternative facts," with Trump the fool loses all of its play and acquires a terrifying severity. He may be describing Biden as the fool playing a game on the public, but we know that all he is doing is describing a projection of himself.

Trump doesn't just misunderstand the purpose of April Fools' Day; he is warping it in a way that makes it deceptive, dangerous and designed to help him play us all for fools. How else to understand his reference to April Fools' Day in a speech filled, yet again, with deliberate misinformation?

As the speech in New Hampshire showed us, Trump will run a campaign based on lies, deception, faulty logic and hubris. But it also served as an excellent reminder that Trump's entire campaign depends on pranking voters into believing in him.

Here is the real reason Trump will go down in flames in 2024

We've all been there. We dive into a much-anticipated first season of a new series and find ourselves intrigued and entertained. Then it's season two, which fumbles a bit, but remains watchable. By season three it is utterly boring, maybe even cringey, and before we get through all of the episodes we've jumped ahead to something else.

This is what is happening to the Trump show. Weeks after the twice-impeached former president announced his decision to run again in 2024, hardly anyone is watching, and those that do are disappointed.

It is such a sea change to consider Trump as a boring has-been, offering nothing more than reruns of himself, but that is exactly what is happening. He may have had an iron grip on the political right and the mainstream media back in 2016, but now that grip has turned into nothing more than a pathetic, tiny-handed, attention-seeking wave.

Wait, you may be thinking. Didn't the Jan. 6 committee just announce four criminal referrals against Trump to the Justice Department? That's a pretty big story, right?

The answer is yes, it is a big story for our democracy and possibly a big story for Trump's future as a free man, but it actually isn't much of a plot shift in the story of Trump. He has literally spent his entire political career (and business career too) running from the law and facing ongoing threats of prosecution. Does the name Mueller ring a bell? Just Security runs a litigation tracker for Trump, covering what they describe as "a bevy of lawsuits and investigations." Ever since he launched his 2016 campaign (and well before), Trump has pretty much constantly been under legal pressure. So for him to come under fire for breaking the law isn't some startling new development. It is his constant status quo.

News coverage of the criminal referrals has been predictable as well, with Fox News claiming that the decision is nothing more than political theater.

The point is that Trump may still top the headlines on any given day, but the way he does it has changed. Now he is alternately a loser, a criminal, a joke or a has-been. What he isn't is politically powerful. Those days are over. Even Ann Coulter has remarked that after three losing election cycles, "he is so done."

Consider the following facts:

  1. Trump-backed candidates largely tanked in the 2022 midterms, leading a number of high-ranking Republicans to blame Trump;
  2. Most of those losing candidates quickly conceded, a move that upends Trump's claim that the only way the MAGA right loses is when elections are rigged;
  3. Rupert Murdoch, long a lapdog to Trumpian antics, announced that his conservative media empire was over Trump and would no longer be offering constant free media for the "has been";
  4. When Trump announced his decision to run in 2024, cameras actually looked away, something they never did during his 2016 campaign, even when all they were showing was an empty podium. This time around MSNBC didn't air the speech at all, while both Fox News and CNN cut away;
  5. Even Trump supporters present at the 2024 announcement were so bored by Trump's "low energy" speech that they wanted out of the room, but security wouldn't let them go;
  6. Since he announced his candidacy, Trump has continued to lose support, dropping in the latest polling of potential Republican voters to 23 points behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A CNN poll revealed that 62 percent of Republicans wanted their party to nominate someone else in 2024.

The critical development to note is that Trump is more than just a loser, which he has been since he started his political career. He lost the popular vote in 2016. He lost the election in 2020. His hand-picked candidates almost all lost in 2022. But now Trump is a boring loser and that's why his political career shows all signs of being like a third-season Netflix series on the slippery slope to cancellation.

If you've missed seeing these signs, that's because folks have overlooked the fact that Trump was and always will be a media-created president. I don't just mean he's a politician who gets media attention. I mean that he's nothing more than a TV actor playing a president in a reality series.

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Think about it. From Day One the main reason Trump catapulted upward in the 2016 race was because he knew how to manipulate his media coverage, control the narrative and mesmerize his audience. In those early days it totally worked.

Building off years on one of the most well-known and successful reality TV franchises, "The Apprentice," which Trump hosted on NBC from 2004 to 2015, he translated those skills into a media spectacle campaign. He knew from experience that the key was to keep the audience watching. Reality TV reviewer Andy Dehnart explains: "Part of what makes reality TV so compelling is its unpredictability, and not really knowing what will happen when cameras start rolling."

As Trump was spewing outrageous comments and completely transforming the traditional political campaign script, he was amassing supporters (that is, viewers) who found his style fresh and exciting. While few media commentators initially understood how Trump's combination of unpredictability and entertainment was attracting support, John Oliver and Michael Moore both recognized that those qualities made him a formidable candidate early on. It's worth reflecting on the fact that it was entertainers who understood the special ingredient in Trump's 2016 campaign.

But if Trump was able to effectively mount a reality TV campaign that got him elected in real life back in 2016, he forgot that in order to have another successful season, you have to follow the rules of good television. In the case of a series, you have to find a way to keep it fresh without being totally gonzo. Instead, he's made both mistakes: He is both boring and unconvincingly over-the-top.

Today Trump is literally breaking every rule required to keep a show going into multiple seasons.

1. His drama is manufactured and unconvincing.

When Trump first ran, his schtick was fresh, even if it was repulsive. Trump created an interesting persona who embodied both an unconventional politician and an unpredictable swashbuckler.

But now, after hearing him ramble on about the same things endlessly, the story seems forced. There are various parts of the Trump story that lack convincing drama, but the most obvious one is his ongoing insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. While it started off strong, that story is getting boring and losing viewers every day. Every poll tracking support for the "Big Lie" shows a marked drop in adherents. For example, not long after the election as many as 70 percent of Republicans thought Joe Biden's win in 2020 was illegitimate. Today that number is much closer to 30 percent.

Think of this in reality TV terms: If you lose more than half of your viewers, you'd expect to be canceled.

2. The hero isn't changing

When Trump ran in 2016, he ran as an outsider. In TV terms that means the protagonist has a core challenge, a fight to win. But then he won.

For a hero who overcomes their central challenge to remain interesting, they need to face a brand new one in season two. While his election-denial narrative arguably sustained Trump's character through the second season — at least for his core fans — it has gone totally stale now. Moreover, in order for a hero to remain interesting, his or her character has to develop. Trump's stagnated, toxic baby-man identity has undergone no development of any kind. Eventually that type of character is just not worth watching.

Even worse, Trump designed a TV identity that is incongruous. Is he a winner or a victim? An insider or an outsider? A seasoned success or an upstart? The hero or the villain? Trump himself doesn't seem clear on any of that. Either way, these types of inconsistencies eventually destroy the watchability of a hero character.

To top it off, even venues that used to take him seriously think he is nothing more than a joke. After his 2024 announcement, the Murdoch-owned New York Post buried a story on Trump's announcement and teased it on its front page with the headline "Florida Man Makes Announcement."

3. His first season was so high-concept that it left no room for development.

As Dehnart explains, one of the challenges of reality TV is that what hooks the audience at first can be hard to maintain. "The struggle comes when a high-concept premise collides with the need to expand a series into something that can repeat itself over and over."

Trump was a high-concept reality TV candidate from the start, more limited-series material than fodder for endless seasons.

Dating back to his birtherism phase when he regularly pulled media stunts designed to discredit Barack Obama and elevate his brand, everything Trump did was big. But that's the problem. You can't keep that sort of momentum or grand spectacle going indefinitely.

This is why, finally, news media ratings started dropping with the past midterm cycle. Only 22.2 million viewers watched primetime media coverage of the 2022 midterm elections, down 32 percent from 2018 midterm viewership.

Even with a full slate of Trump-supported colorful characters in the race, people just didn't care enough to watch the show. They tuned out, even when a number of critical races still hadn't even been called.

4. The story lacks an interesting conflict.

Dehnart explains that reality TV depends on unpredictability and the sense that the conflict isn't manufactured. He further points out that "trying to prevent a boring season" may well lead "to a boring season."

That may help explain what went wrong with Trump's 2024 announcement. It was designed to keep viewers tuned in, but it was too staged, too contrived and too forced. Sarah Matthews, a former Trump White House spokesperson, tweeted during the event, "This is one of the most low-energy, uninspiring speeches I've ever heard from Trump."

Matthews, though, was also watching the audience and seeing that they were totally glazed over. "Even the crowd seems bored," she went on. "Not exactly what you want when announcing a presidential run." If the select group brought in to witness you announce a campaign is rolling their eyes, checking their phones and heading for the door, you have a problem.

For the story to be compelling it needs a good conflict. But there isn't anything interesting here. It's all been said and it isn't going anywhere. And while Thomas E. Patterson suggests that Trump "is still newsworthy," the conflict at the center of his story has just become repetitive and pathetic.

Trump's stagnant, toxic baby-man character has shown no development of any kind. Eventually, that kind of character just isn't worth watching anymore.

In fact, instead of Trump being able to control the story, media coverage is now making his downfall the story. Even National Review, house organ of conservative politics, underscored that the spectacle of Trump had grown passé. In an editorial titled "No," the editors emphasized that the repetitive, predictable and grotesque story of Trump no longer held any fascination. "To paraphrase Voltaire after he attended an orgy," they wrote, "once was an experiment, twice would be perverse." The editorial described Trump as "bruised," and encouraged readers (and by implication, Republican voters) to move on to another show.

5. He is desperate for attention.

Trump's 2024 announcement felt like what happens when your awkward date texts you that they want to see you again before you even make it home. His candidates had lost, he was amassing legal troubles and he was losing the support of political leaders. Rather than backing off, taking stock and regrouping, he cried out for attention.

When he didn't get the attention he wanted, he got even more desperate, performing the equivalent of blowing up the phones of his supporters to see if he could generate a response.

He started with a signature move that has worked many times before, suggesting on Truth Social that he would soon make a "MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT."

But the next day that went badly off the rails, as Trump explained that his major announcement was the release of a set of collectible digital trading cards featuring poorly designed cartoonish images of himself. "My official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card collection is here!" Trump wrote. "These limited edition cards feature amazing ART of my Life & Career!" As Chauncey DeVega reports, the Trump NFTs, which feature Trump's face on the bodies of figures like astronauts, fighter pilots and cowboys, are "worthless crap." Even better, they cost $99 a piece and are in no way a "limited edition."

Underscoring my claim that the story of Trump is now the story of a needy, desperate loser who refuses to move on, scores of social media users, including many of his own supporters, responded to the "major announcement" by blasting him for an obvious attention-seeking scam. One tweet asked, "How pathetic do you have to be to sell nfts of yourself photoshopped into various professions that you could never even dream of having?"

And there's the rub. Unlike when Trump hosted a reality show on NBC, there's no network president to cancel him. His media coverage will wane, his followers will dwindle and his story will get even more predictable and boring. The worse it gets, the more frantic he will be for attention. It's going to make for some pretty ugly TV, that with every boring and pathetic new episode will draw fewer and fewer viewers.

A chilling view of Afghanistan War's end

On the first episode of "The Problem with Jon Stewart" on Apple TV+, he covered the horrifying realities of the U.S. military's use of burn pits. Burn pits are enormous craters that get filled with all kinds of garbage and debris, then set on fire, leaving a trail of toxic waste and often exposing military personnel to carcinogen-laden smoke. For Stewart, the problem with burn pits is that they show a deep disregard not only for the territory in which the U.S. military is operating but also for our troops.

Imagine, though, what happens when the burn pit isn't just filled with garbage; it is also filled with care packages, printers and maps as part of a military retrograde operation. Imagine what happens when the military is destroying valuable materials it doesn't want landing in the hands of its enemy because it doesn't trust its allies enough to protect them. Imagine burning all of those things, because you have been ordered to, even when you think it's a really bad idea.

This is the context of Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning Mathew Heineman's new film, "Retrograde," which captures the final nine months of the U.S. war in Afghanistan when President Biden announced that all U.S. troops would quickly retreat from Afghanistan. Covering the story from the perspective of a team of Green Berets supporting the Afghan National Army, a young Afghan general fighting desperately to defend his country, Afghan interpreters working with the U.S. military and civilians terrified of a return to Taliban rule, the film offers an intimate, chilling portrait of the colossal failures, human costs and destructive consequences of the abrupt end to America's longest war.

The film isn't questioning whether the war should have ended. Instead, it focuses on how it ended; it is the hasty retreat of the military, the retrograde operation, that offers the film's central tension. Heineman's original plan was to offer viewers a close-up view of the operation of a Green Beret unit after almost two decades of war. Arriving in Afghanistan in 2020 around the time Joe Biden was elected, he and his crew soon learned all U.S. troops were to leave Afghanistan. What had been planned as a film about an ongoing operation now had to pivot to a film about the end of the longest war for both the United States and Afghanistan.

The Army describes retrograde as "a defensive task that involves organized movement away from the enemy." The catch, though, in this film is that as the U.S. military is engaging in organized movement away from an enemy, they are also attempting to leave their allies in the Afghan National Army prepared to defend themselves against the Taliban — and that sort of bifurcated strategy is impossible to carry out. As one of the Green Berets in the film explains to a younger soldier as he looks at computer equipment about to go up in flames, conducting a retrograde operation like this is like "s**tting in a trench."

An entirely different approach to the story of Afghanistan

At the center of the film is General Sami Sadat, the unlikely hero of a documentary that was originally about the Green Berets. As the Green Berets were organizing their retreat, Heineman and his team decided to follow their storytelling instincts and stay behind to cover Sadat, who was responsible for an army of around 15,000 Afghan fighters, as he faces the increasing encroachment of the Taliban while the U.S. sets all its equipment on fire and leaves.

If you are looking for a film that explains the background of the war, a historical critique of U.S. imperialism, or a deep dive into the complex realities of Afghan culture, this isn't it.

Unlike most coverage of the war, the focus of the film is not on the larger geopolitical dynamics, but rather on the people affected by them.

Heineman shoots most of the film in Helmand province, for example. Helmand, a stronghold for the Taliban, has notoriously been one of the most complex and volatile regions in Afghanistan, a region that has repeatedly vexed U.S. efforts. Yet viewers only learn when Sadat moves his troops to defend the city of Lashkargah that the city is considered strategically essential to resisting a Taliban takeover of the nation as a whole.

Lashkargah fell to the Taliban on August 13, 2001. Two days later Kabul fell as well. The film covers these strategic losses, but backs away from placing them in a larger context.

But if viewers are looking for a unique, intimate portrait of Afghan resilience, tenacity, camaraderie and resolve, this film is it. Unlike most coverage of the war, the focus of the film is not on the larger geopolitical dynamics, but rather on the people affected by them.

Without question, "Retrograde" is the one film that will chip away at the myriad Afghan stereotypes that have flooded the U.S. imagination since the attacks of September 11, 2011. It refuses to portray Afghans as frightening terrorists, pathetic victims, corrupt leaders or hapless opioid addicts.

Documenting the tremendous losses of the war and the risk that any gains might soon be lost, one of the Green Berets bluntly states as he packs up, "This isn't a win." While the film doesn't offer a lot of finger-pointing, it does make clear that the war on Afghanistan was a colossal tragedy for the Afghan people. And even more important, the film exposes the hypocrisy and hubris of U.S. leadership. In a series of voiceovers opening the film, we hear George W. Bush deploy the name "Operation Enduring Freedom," Barack Obama speak about how Afghans will "see the light" and Joe Biden explain how doesn't want to "repeat mistakes."

This film also completely rewrites the traditional script about U.S. military support in Afghanistan. While some might rightly find fault with the fact that it sidesteps the realities of U.S. disdain for Afghans, both systemically and individually, the film offers a rare view of a collaboration between the U.S. military and the Afghans that is built on mutual respect.

The film documents, for example, the deep fondness between Sadat, his leadership team and the Green Berets. The bonds here are not those of master and apprentice or victim and savior, though it is clear that Sadat values their guidance and leadership. Instead, the film goes to great lengths to show there were real alliances built between the U.S forces and the Afghans. The depth of these ties is underscored as the film ends and we learn that current and retired Green Berets are working along with Sadat to get Afghans they once worked with safely out of the country since the U.S. government isn't adequately coming to the rescue.

Heineman redefines the power of the documentary close-up

He has an uncanny ability to capture his subjects at precisely the moment we think they will break.

Heineman has become famous for a cinéma vérité approach that avoids both interviews and voiceovers, but this film takes that signature style to an entirely new level of art. Framing shots with extreme close-ups of his subjects in profile, Heineman manages to let the characters simply speak for themselves: frustrated, exhausted, worried yet resolved. He has an uncanny ability to capture his subjects at precisely the moment we think they will break, at exactly their tipping point, and film their quiet decision to keep on.

The fact that we see these same moments among the Afghans fighting to defend their country from a Taliban takeover and the Green Berets, who knew that their abrupt leaving would end badly, shows the complex ways these communities became intertwined.

In the final scenes, Heineman captures the devastating images of Afghans at the Kabul airport desperately trying to flee a country that fell almost immediately to the Taliban. Heineman's interest, though, isn't to interrogate whether the failure was the fault of the Afghan army or the Ghani government or the U.S. military. One of the last scenes shows a meeting among the Taliban senior officials and signals there is far more to the story of what drives Afghan history and identity than this film intends to cover.

At its heart, the film asks whether the grand narratives of history really ever tell the story, since the moving story of General Sadat and the relationship he built with his Green Beret allies doesn't fit any predictable mold. Following a similar theme to many of Heineman's films, "Retrograde" shows that if you look really closely at the people embroiled in a conflict, they won't conform to stereotypes or stark notions of good or evil, winner or loser, hero or villain. If the traditional headlines, narratives, and sound bites that have been used to understand the conflict in Afghanistan miss the point, then the film suggests that maybe they are what is truly retrograde.

"Retrograde" opens in select theaters November 11, 2022, and will stream on National Geographic Channel Dec. 8, on Disney+ Dec. 9, and Hulu Dec. 11.

Could he be right again? Michael Moore has a big prediction for Democrats in the midterms

Remember when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election? No, I don't just mean win the popular vote: Win it all and win big. FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's political projection site, had Clinton's chances of winning at 71.4 percent. Frank Luntz tweeted on Nov. 8, 2016, "Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States." One GOP insider declared that for Trump to win, "it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of 'Death to America.'" Pundit after pundit, on the left and the right, joined the chorus of mainstream news outlets to declare that the election was Clinton's.

There was, however, one lone voice of dissent: Michael Moore. In July 2016, Moore wrote "Five Reasons Trump Will Be President." That article mostly went unnoticed by mainstream media after the election, when everyone finally realized Moore was right but it was way too late to make a difference.

Fast forward to the 2022 midterms and we find ourselves in a similar scenario, but turned upside down. Now the media is basically repeating again and again that Democrats will lose in November, while Moore is suggesting the opposite. Moore isn't just echoing the widespread notion that Democrats could hold the Senate while losing the House. He is suggesting that voters "are going to descend upon the polls en masse — a literal overwhelming, unprecedented tsunami of voters — and nonviolently, legally, and without mercy remove every last stinking traitor to our Democracy."

That prediction is likely to cause hyperventilation at all points of the political spectrum. Could he really be right?

To make his point, Moore is going beyond armchair punditry and sending out what he is calling a "tsunami of truth," where each day leading up to the election he offers one specific factual reason why he is right and why it makes sense to be optimistic.

If an 18-year-old high school student can beat a Republican incumbent in Boise, Idaho, Moore argues, something is happening that the media can't see.]

In his second installment, he covered the story of the recent election for the Boise Board of Education, in which Republican Steve Schmidt, an incumbent, was up for re-election. Considering that Trump won Idaho's capital city with 73 percent of the vote, it made sense to assume Schmidt would win again. But as Moore explains, Schmidt had been endorsed by a far-right extremist group, the Idaho Liberty Dogs, that led a campaign against the local library, calling their LGBTQ+ and sex ed materials "smut-filled pornography." According to Moore, they even showed up at local Extinction Rebellion climate strikes brandishing AR-15 assault rifles.

So in a surprising turn of events, the Idaho Statesman, Boise's daily news paper, chose not to endorse Schmidt because he refused to denounce the Idaho Liberty Dogs. Instead, the paper endorsed his opponent, an 18-year-old high school senior and progressive activist, Shiva Rajbhandari, who was also co-founder of the Boise chapter of Extinction Rebellion.

Rajbhandari won. A teenager beat a Republican incumbent in a traditionally red city in one of the reddest states. Moore's point is that if these kinds of seismic shifts are happening at the polls in Boise, there's reason to think that this election won't follow traditional patterns. Voters, he believes, have had enough of the power of right-wing extremists and the threat they pose to democratic values.

In his next "tsunami of truth," Moore reminded readers that despite all the ways that the media tends to make the American right seem massively powerful, they're really just a big bunch of losers. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the eight last elections. As Moore explains it, "Only because of the slave states' demand for the Electoral College — and the Republicans' #1 job of gerrymandering and voter suppression — do we even have to still deal with their misogyny, their destruction of Planet Earth, their love of guns and greed, and their laser-focused mission to bury our Democracy."

That leads to the next installment: Republicans will lose because this time around they are "running the biggest batch of nutters nationwide in American electoral history." He then promises to offer a list of the top 10 "biggest whackadoodles on the Republican side of the ballot."

No. 10 on Moore's list is Mathew DePerno, Republican candidate for attorney general in Michigan. Like nine other candidates in the 30 state attorney general races this fall, DePerno is an election denier. But he's not just a common, garden-variety election denier; he was allegedly personally involved in a voting system breach. That's right: the Republican candidate who hopes to become Michigan's top law enforcement official is under investigation by the current attorney general for "unauthorized access to voting equipment."

But that isn't the half of it. DePerno also thinks that the Plan B birth control pill is a "form of murder." Moore explains that DePerno "believes that 'life' doesn't begin at conception — he insists it begins BEFORE conception and it should be against the law for anyone to interrupt a sperm on its way to do its 'job.'" As if that weren't enough to categorize DePerno as batshit extreme, he has attacked his opponent with memes that include the white supremacist symbol of Pepe the Frog while comparing his campaign to delivering Michiganders a "really big red pill." Not a Plan B pill, which he likens to fentanyl.

Confirming Moore's view that DePerno's extremism will only appeal to a narrow Trumper base, the twitter replies to DePerno are uniformly critical and sarcastic. Like this: "I did nazi that coming. (actually, I did.)." Or this: "I want what you are smoking." Or this post, from @NeverTrumpTexan, "You could just say you were Nazi. It is much easier than what ever that is." Surveying the 50 most recent replies to his tweet, among which include one from Keith Olbermann, every single one is critical and sarcastic.

Moore's 45-day "tsunami of truth" is a clever way to tap into the energy he has described as "Roevember." Moore coined the term back in August, when a funny thing happened in Kansas. Six weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kansas held an election, which included proposed amendment to the state constitution that could have allowed the legislature to ban abortion. In a surprising shift from typical voting demographics, turnout for the vote was massive, 60 percent higher than in 2018 — and Kansans overwhelmingly voted to reject the anti-abortion amendment.

So if we're seeing a swing away from Trump-style Republicans in Kansas and Idaho, there is reason to believe that the combination of Trump fascist nutters on the ballot, the revelations from the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the various investigations into Trump and, last but definitely not least, the fact that the Supreme Court put abortion back on the ballot could lead to the type of voting tsunami Moore is predicting.

Which leads us to wonder why the media isn't covering that story, but is still offering the same stale script about Biden's low favorability and Republican chances of taking back both the House and the Senate. Even Jen Psaki, Biden's former White House press secretary turned MSNBC commentator, offered the downer view that the president wasn't helping his party win.

Media coverage matters. And the fact that the media is largely sticking to pre-established coverage patterns doesn't just mean that it's missing the story, as Moore claims, it also means it's likely influencing the outcome of the election — and not in a good way.

Scholars of media effects know that when news coverage focuses primarily on negative personality coverage, i.e., the "horse race," turnout is depressed. When media focuses on policy, however, including contentious issues like abortion, turnout improves. So all the attention to Biden's supposed unpopularity is not helping.

Further, if the news media tells you the results are a foregone conclusion, that also depresses turnout. I mean, if you are told over and over again that you are going to lose no matter what you do, why bother voting? Even more important, research shows that if the media suggests an election will be close, turnout increases. Some scholars have speculated that the fact that right-wing news outlets reported that the election was close in 2016 elevated the Trump vote, while smug reporting from more liberal outlets, assuming Clinton would win easily, depressed her vote.

Yet almost all news media in the weeks before a major election focuses on predicting the outcome, rather than debating the issues. What's more, the flurry of attention paid to polling, and all the hand-wringing over whether the polling is accurate, only exacerbate the problem. Obsessing over whether or not a given candidate or party will win does almost nothing to help energize voter turnout and engage citizens.

But there's more. For decades, media scholars have described what they call the "protest paradigm." These are the predictable patterns journalists follow when covering protests. They include, for example, a habit of focusing on "small, inappropriate samples of individual protesters," which leads the audience to misunderstand the true nature of the larger movement. The protest paradigm also refers to the news media's habit of allowing elites to frame the story, which misses the positions of average citizens. Even worse, Indiana University professor Danielle Brown explains that this type of coverage "favors spectacle, conflict, disruption and official narratives over the substance of movements that challenge the status quo."

Moore suggests the media is "either too overworked or too lazy or too white and too male to open their eyes and see the liberal/ left/progressive/working class and female uprising that is right now underway."

We can observe many of the same habits when the press covers elections. And given that this election in particular could be understood as a protest vote — protesting the assault on women's rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants' rights, democratic rights, etc. — it makes sense to think of this election more in terms of a mass movement than as an example of democracy as usual.

Framing the upcoming vote as a mass uprising of nonviolent civil resistance is exactly Moore's plan. As he explains, his goal isn't just to offer the public another version of the truth; it is also to call out the problems with media coverage. "Much of what many in the media are telling you is patently false and just plain wrong," he writes. "They are simply regurgitating old narratives and stale scripts. They are either too overworked or too lazy or too white and too male to open their eyes and see the liberal/ left/progressive/working class and female uprising that is right now underway."

Moore has a long history of questioning the status quo and bucking conventional thought patterns. Whether getting booed off the Academy Awards stage for opposing the war in Iraq or being the lone voice predicting that Trump would win, Moore has never shied away from disagreeing with the pundit class and political elites. But he doesn't just do it for shock value; he does it because he's paying attention to the political climate in ways the mainstream media tends not to.

Is Moore right that there will be a tsunami of voters determined to defeat the enemies of democracy? The only way to learn the answer is to stop trying to read the tea leaves and focus on making it happen.

NOW WATCH: 'They never want to show how massive the crowd is' Trump continues to boast about Jan 6.

'They never want to show how massive the crowd is' Trump continues to boast about Jan 6

How Trump redefined shameless hypocrisy — and made it politically indispensable

When George W. Bush announced that the United States had begun military action in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda, he emphasized that the mission would also focus on providing humanitarian aid to the citizens of Afghanistan. "The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies," he explained. "As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine, and supplies." The hypocrisy of a military strike framed as a humanitarian mission was on full display. For those of us who could immediately see through Bush's hubris and his malignant American exceptionalism, the global war on terror epitomized the toxic nature of America's culture of political hypocrisy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

It all seems quaint now.

Today we live in a world where chanting "lock her up" at Hillary Clinton for her handling of sensitive documents runs in tandem with outrage over an FBI seizure of classified documents as "un-American;" where unsubstantiated concerns over election fraud are best handled by attempting to overthrow the democratic process; where you chant "Blue Lives Matter" except during the Jan. 6 insurrection or when you attack the FBI; where invoking the Fifth amendment means a person is definitely guilty, except when you do it; where you call for bipartisan unity on one day and then stoke party division the next.

It's actually kind of exhausting to try to list even the best highlights of Trump-era hypocrisy. As columnist Don Kahle writes, since the election of Trump, "GOP hypocrisy has become strategic."

For some scholars, the Bush-style hypocrisy of the War on Terror is considered indispensable for the functioning of the world order. In fact, University of Cambridge professor David Runciman argues that politics isn't possible without hypocrisy. For Machiavelli expert Ruth Grant, hypocrisy is essential to politics because a political life and a moral life are simply incompatible.

For others, hypocrisy threatens democracy because, as political science professor Austin Sharat puts it, hypocrisy "erodes trust and breeds cynicism." For Sharat, Trump's extreme and excessive hypocrisy poses a danger to the future of U.S. democracy because he has normalized it and, thus far, not been held accountable for it: "He has been a master of saying one thing and doing another. He has held up others to ridicule and then done the very things for which he shamed them."

But that's the thing. Whether or not you justify hypocrisy in politics, you have to admit that Trump-style hypocrisy is entirely different from previous examples. Sure, Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" while unashamedly owning slaves. Lyndon Johnson said "we will seek no wider war" in reference to Vietnam and then did just that. Richard Nixon said "I am not a crook" when he was. Bill Clinton stated he hadn't had sex with Monica Lewinsky when he had. But not one of the above examples of hypocritical presidents comes even remotely close to the hypocrisy of Trump.

Trump hasn't just been a hyper-hypocrite. He hasn't just mastered it; he has redefined the very meaning of it. Part of this shift lies in the fact that Trump may be the chief hypocrite, but every single one of his political allies and supporters is one too. You literally cannot support Trump or work alongside him and not be a hypocrite. In fact, if there is one recognizable element of the Trump party platform it is collective, weaponized hypocrisy. Without the hypocrisy, there literally is nothing else left.

Before we decide what to do about the new turn in political hypocrisy, we first have to understand it. Here are four key changes to keep in mind.

To say that the hypocrisy of Trump and his supporters is flagrant, shameless and extreme is to state the obvious.

In April 2017, Chauncey Devega wrote an essay for Salon in which he called Trump's hypocrisy "flagrant." The trouble is that when you used a word like "flagrant" to describe excess Trumpist behavior in 2017, you ran out of effective adjectives by 2022.

But the in-your-face style of Trumpist hypocrisy isn't just limited to the hypocrite-in-chief. Perhaps there is no better example of the mass approach to Trumpist hypocrisy than its contradictions over health care. One day, pro-Trump Republicans are freaking out over needing to wear a mask during a pandemic; the next they are mandating control over women's health. One ad targeting the hypocrisy of the "pro-life" position pointed out that Republicans only care about policing women's bodies, not supporting them or their children.

So, we have both a spate of inconsistencies and a mass movement practicing them, but the additional in-your-face feature of Trumpist hypocrisy is the lack of shame. Think, for example, of all of those Trump nominated members of the Supreme Court who blatantly misled the public during their confirmation hearings about their position on Roe v. Wade, but also showed zero remorse, embarrassment, or even concern that doing so was not just hypocritical; it was deliberately deceptive.

Trumpist hypocrisy is just there all the time, in your face, and proudly on display.

Here's where it gets really weird, because while it is on display, openly, all the time; it is also invisible. The difference is that some of us see it and some of us can't.

Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argued in a 2017 essay for Foreign Affair that it was a mistake to consider Trump a hypocrite. "Trump's No Hypocrite," they claimed. Rather, they described him as inconsistent rather than hypocritical. "Hypocrisy requires a minimal degree of self-awareness," they argued, as well as "clear understanding of both one's own interests and of public norms." Their point was that Trump simply couldn't even "recognize" his hypocritical behavior, which meant he wasn't actually a true hypocrite.

Here's the catch — and it explains why some of us see the hypocrisy and why those who practice it don't. Farrell and Finnemore's point rests on the premise that hypocrisy depends on being aware of a moral compass and deliberately not using it. But that's the thing about the new hypocrisy: Its moral compass is its hypocrisy.

Once you recognize that the issue here isn't failing to effectively compare one's actions to an ethical code, but rather, embracing selfish, self-serving, irrational, inconsistent and illogical behavior as an ethical code, then you get why those who practice it can't see it. Inside the Trump hypocrisy bubble, nothing that is done by them can be judged against an external ethics. Therefore, they simply can't possibly be a hypocrite.

For the Trumpist hypocrite, everyone else who doesn't agree with you is the real hypocrite, but you never are. Sure, it's absolutely batshit logic and an ethical code that lacks anything resembling ethics, but that's how it works.

In 2017, professors Emile Bruneau, Nour Kteily and Emily Falk published a groundbreaking study on the power of revealing hypocrisy. Studying how communities commonly resort to collective blame after mass violence — like when individuals blame all Muslims for acts of mass violence committed by a small group of Muslims — they tested a range of interventions that could be used to disrupt that habit. What they found was that showing individuals that it was hypocritical to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few, when they don't blame all Christians for the acts of a few, was a highly effective tactic.

The catch, though, was that the study wasn't looking at Trumpist hypocrisy but hypocrisy in general. What is important to note, though, from the study, is that for the average person, it is possible to become aware of one's hypocrisy and alter one's beliefs. That simply isn't true in Trumpland.

Sharat notes that one of the core problems with Trumpist hypocrisy is the fact that calling it out just doesn't make any difference. He points to a piece in the philosophy and politics blog, Vim, that argues that the reason why calling out Trumpist hypocrisy doesn't matter is because "charging a fascist with hypocrisy is especially pointless." This is so because fascism requires that exposing its inconsistencies and incoherence has no effect on its adherents. Whether we want to use the F-word to describe Trumpist hypocrites or not, we do have to agree that calling it out has made absolutely no difference whatsoever to its grasp on American society.

If you have any doubts, check out the work of Jordan Klepper, who has done brilliant work satirizing the absurdity of Trumpist hypocrisy. His recurring segment for "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" — "Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse" — has him out in the field interviewing Trump supporters and literally repeating their hypocrisy back at them. In every case, the interviewee hears Klepper ironically explain their hypocrisy. They then respond by unironically repeating it back to him. The contrast between Klepper cleverly exposing the hypocrisy and the hypocrite happily and obliviously owning it is stunning. As one viewer quips, "This would be so much funnier if it wasn't so existentially terrifying."

When you think about it, Trumpism doesn't just practice hypocrisy — it needs it. How else do you explain defending democracy by literally trying to destroy it? Whether attacking pizza or the vice president, this is a politics grounded in unethical inconsistencies and immoral irrationality.

Hypocrisy has now become the signature feature of Trumpian politics. In fact, every single party platform is rife with it. There is literally nothing else.

But it's worse than that. Because Trumpist hypocrisy has also overtaken most anti-Trump politics as well. In race after race this primary season, non-Trumpy candidates have literally defined themselves over and against Trumpist hypocrisy to the detriment of offering alternative policy platforms.

It's not entirely clear how we escape the vicious cycle of constantly needing to respond to the latest hypocritical move of the Trump camp. It isn't wise to ignore it, but it's also problematic to let it take up the whole room. It sparks legitimate outrage but also sucks the air out of productive political engagement. And given the fact that signaling it isn't going to affect those who practice it, giving it too much energy isn't tipping any political scales.

It may well be that the most effective challenge to Trumpian hypocrisy comes from satire, like the Klepper segments highlighted above, since satire's creative use of irony is uniquely suited to revealing ironic behaviors. In one excellent example, Trevor Noah offered a highly effective takedown of Trumpist media when he ran tape of Fox News covering Hillary Clinton, but paired it with footage of Trump.

There is a real benefit to allowing comedians to be the ones to skewer the hypocrites. They are experts in irony and they know the difference between the kind of inconsistency that sparks critique while getting a laugh and the kind that makes no sense. Even more important, they get that the best challenge to weaponized hypocrisy may well be to mock it. Since if there is one thing Trumpist hypocrites are worse at than recognizing their own hypocrisy, it is taking a joke. And that's pretty funny.

Ted Cruz just handed Democrats a gift for the midterms — if they're willing to use it

There was so much to say about Senator Ted Cruz after his bizarre line of questions at the Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson last week. Many, for good reason, focused on how the episode showed that Cruz has transitioned from an "unctuous asshole" to an aggressively deranged demagogue. As Ed Kilgore pointed out in The Intelligencer, during the hearings Cruz outdid himself "with the most disgraceful display of thuggish senatorial behavior I've personally seen in my many years of watching the upper chamber."

This article first appeared in Salon.

Cruz shouted, asked inane questions, seemed to search Twitter for himself, and even went after his fellow senators. It was such a grotesque performance that it was hard not to want to comment on the spectacle. But after we finish being distracted by the confirmation hearing car wreck, Cruz's behavior opens up a door to a far more significant takeaway — one that offers Democrats a strong strategy for midterm victory, if they pay attention.

To fully appreciate the gift Cruz handed his opposition, consider that the same week that Cruz was using his time to question Judge Jackson by ranting about children's books, we also received a pivotal opinion from Federal Judge David Carter. Carter had been asked to rule on whether or not the House committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, could obtain emails from Donald Trump's lawyer and political advisor John Eastman. In his opinion, Carter remarked that Trump and Eastman "launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history."

The anti-democratic nature and civics stupidity of the GOP has been gaining momentum.

The evidence has been in plain sight for some time. From Mitch McConnell blocking Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee in 2016 to GOP efforts to suppress votes to a party base that hates Democrats more than they love their country, the anti-democratic nature and civics stupidity of the GOP has been gaining momentum.

Thus far, Democrats have not capitalized on that fact and have instead tended to focus on the GOP's racism, misogyny, xenophobia and extremism. Think of it this way: As debates have raged over the question of critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 education, Democrats have alternately pointed out that the GOP doesn't understand CRT, that it isn't taught in K-12 schools and that those critical of CRT are racist.

RELATED: The critics were right: "Critical race theory" panic is just a cover for silencing educators

All true. But it's the wrong approach.

What Democrats should be doing is saying that it is a national embarrassment that our citizens have such low civics knowledge, with the latest poll from Annenberg Public Policy showing that only 56 percent of U.S. adults can correctly name all three branches of government—made more astonishing by the fact that that number is the highest the poll has recorded since 2006. Even worse, 61 percent of Americans incorrectly said that Facebook "is required to permit all Americans to express themselves freely on Facebook under the First Amendment." We have a country that can't tell the difference between freedom from government censorship and the operating policies of a private business.

"It is a sad commentary on the public's civic literacy that half of the public considers an effort to disrupt the certification of an election an exercise of a First Amendment right."

This lack of knowledge becomes even more acute when Americans are asked about the Capitol riot. Half of those polled confused rioting with a constitutionally protected right to petition the government. According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, "It is a sad commentary on the public's civic literacy that half of the public considers an effort to disrupt the certification of an election an exercise of a First Amendment right."

For years it's been clear that we are terrible at teaching our kids how our democracy works and that we have been reluctant to invest in a robust and effective civics education program, despite efforts to pass legislation to support it. Those kids grow up and vote. Yet, as we can see, they still don't understand even the most basic civics concepts.

The problem isn't just that average citizens don't understand our democracy; it is that our elected officials and their advisors don't either. Or, perhaps worse, they do understand it, but refuse to uphold it.

In this way Cruz, aided and abetted by the release of Eastman's emails, handed Democrats the key strategy they need to win the 2022 midterms: Hammer home, again and again, that Republicans don't understand democracy, won't defend democracy and are woefully in need of a basic civics lesson.

When Cruz chose to barrage Judge Jackson with questions about a children's book called "Antiracist Baby," he offered the public a dress rehearsal for the sorts of arguments we can expect GOP candidates to make in the upcoming election. But Judge Jackson's response also offered a clear counter-platform.

RELATED: Racist babies: Republicans reduced to white wailing at first Black woman nominated to Supreme Court

Recall that she consistently prefaced any reply to Cruz, by referring to him as "Senator" as if to remind him of his actual reason for being there. She then went on "I have not reviewed any of those books. They don't come up in my work as a judge, which I'm, respectfully, here to address." In one graceful line Judge Jackson schooled Cruz on how he was not fulfilling his duty as a senator and pointed out that he seemed to be confused about what a Supreme Court justice actually does.

She was graceful and poised as befitted the moment.

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To win in November, though, Democrats need to come after the democratic failures and civics blind spots of the GOP relentlessly. Rather than deal with the GOP painting Democrats as the party of CRT, they need to turn the tables and paint the GOP as the party that doesn't even understand the government they want to lead. Democrats need to portray GOP candidates as entirely unqualified to work in our government and whenever they get the chance they need to grill their opponents on basic facts related to the constitution, the branches of government and the core principles of a democracy.

For too long it has been expected that the GOP will offer media spectacle in the form of a civics dumpster fire.

For too long Democrats have let the GOP set the terms of debate and have let them frame the political narrative, leaving Democrats in the unappealing position of always running political defense. For too long it has been expected that the GOP will offer media spectacle in the form of a civics dumpster fire. Yet, rather than focus on their horrendous failure to earn their paychecks, we have become too accustomed to covering the show.

But what would it look like if, rather than express outrage at the antics of the GOP, we just kept asking them to explain how our democracy works? That plan offers a positive counter-offense and would allow Democrats to set the terms of debate. Even better, rather than offer an endless platform for the GOP circus, the media would be forced to point out that these jokers have no idea what they are doing.

When Senators ask stupid questions like, "What is a woman?" or "Can I be Asian?" imagine what would happen if they were swiftly countered with, "What is a Supreme Court justice?" and "Can you be a senator?"

The conservative urge to be a victim: Why right-wing victimhood is spreading so fast

In late November a new variant of COVID-19 was detected by researchers in Botswana and South Africa. Within days, the omicron variant had reached California, marking the first documented case in the United States. By the end of December, omicron had not only become the dominant strain in the U.S, but it had also rapidly spread to push daily case counts well above the recent delta surge.

One of the greatest risks of omicron is the high degree of breakthrough infections, where vaccinated individuals still contract the virus. While the vaccinated, especially those who are boosted, tend to have much milder symptoms, if any at all, they still have the capacity to spread the virus. In only a few weeks, omicron has ripped through the country, stressing hospital capacity, canceling flights, disrupting holiday gatherings, and, most importantly, threatening lives. According to Johns Hopkins University data, between Dec. 1 and Christmas, over 39,000 Americans died of the virus

By all accounts, the principal reason why omicron is causing such havoc in the United States is our low rate of vaccination. The United States, at slightly over 61 percent full vaccination, is among the lowest of the developed world. Cuba has over 84 percent fully vaccinated. Even Brazil, under anti-vaxxer President Jair Bolsonaro has almost 67 percent fully vaccinated. Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been skeptical of the threats of COVID from the start. Yet, he took Trumpian irrationality to a whole new level, claiming a year ago that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine "could turn people into crocodiles or bearded ladies" — and even his country is more vaccinated than the United States.

RELATED: Biden beware: GOP sees opportunity in new COVID variant

While there remains much to be learned about omicron and its consequences to public health, one thing is clear: The only reason why the nation is at such extreme public health risk is because the GOP weaponized the pandemic for political gain, convincing their supporters to distrust science and resist any policy, no matter how reasonable, if it came from a Democrat.

We've spent time analyzing the head-scratching right-wing ploy of sowing distrust in vaccines within the GOP constituency, a move which has literally killed off supporters and occasionally GOP leaders and pundits as well. But what we haven't done is recognize that the right-wing response to the pandemic is part of a larger political practice: Victimized Bully Syndrome.

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Some of you will be familiar with DARVO, an acronym for deny, attack and reverse victim and offender. DARVO describes the behavior of psychological abusers when they are being held accountable for their behavior. Donald Trump and his supporters clearly exhibit DARVO habits. Rather than accept blame for anything they do, they turn around and accuse those blaming them of creating the problem. Victimized Bully Syndrome (VBS), as I'm describing it, though, is slightly different from DARVO. With DARVO the abusive behavior comes first and DARVO only emerges if the attacker is asked to take responsibility. But with VBS the cries of being victims come first and are used to justify the underlying bullying behaviors. The bully under VBS is always already acting in self-defense.

Take this example: In a recent interview with Fox News, Dr. Mehmet Oz, candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania suggested that Americans had been victimized by President Biden's "one-size-fits-all" COVID-19 "rules that limit our freedom." According to Oz, U.S. citizens "want government to get out of their way to stop scaring them into submission."

If we set aside the sheer stupidity of a doctor suggesting that we need "as many different approaches as possible" to the pandemic, the critical takeaway is Oz's claim that Biden's policy is designed to victimize the public by scaring them, taking away their freedoms, and destroying their dignity. According to this logic, refusing to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or support public health policy is a valid defense, rather than bullying behavior that puts everyone in peril.

And lest there be any doubt, the right isn't just refusing to be vaccinated and to follow public health guidelines; in the face of the pandemic they have chosen to respond with aggressive bullying: engaging in violent confrontations over masking policies, attacking teachers, threatening school board members, violently trolling scientists who speak to the media about COVID, and more. In fact, the violent far-right has exploded in the United States along with COVID-19.

Similar to the "sore winner syndrome" we saw emerge in the wake of former President Trump's election, VBS posits that those on the right are all the time being victimized by their government and that it makes perfect sense to respond aggressively.

It is this exact same logic that was the backdrop to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and we can see the same logic in play in right-wing responses to the House investigation into the attack. Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich claimed, "Democracy is under attack. However, not by the people who illegally entered the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, but instead by a committee whose members walk freely in its halls every day." That's right, according to Budowich the real threat to our democracy are those elected officials investigating what happened on January 6, not the actual people who attacked the Capitol. Those people were, according to this twisted logic, simply victims of election fraud.

It gets worse.

The victim card was at the heart of the Kyle Rittenhouse case as well. Rittenhouse claimed he shot three men, two fatally, with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in self-defense. In his testimony, Rittenhouse stated the only reason he even went to Kenosha, Wisconsin on the night of the shootings was to provide first aid to people in need. Rittenhouse, then, was no average vigilante. Instead, he was an already victimized one, prepared to claim self-defense if he attacked anyone. In a post-verdict statement issued by the victims' parents, they nail the dangers of Rittenhouse's VBS. The verdict, according to them, "sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.

VBS, then, isn't only being used by the right to foster a public health catastrophe, it is literally being used to justify armed murder and armed insurrection. As long as we allow the right to continue to describe themselves as victims who have been harmed, injured, threatened and therefore need to act aggressively in self-defense, the closer we get to civil war. In fact, a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll showed that 30 percent of Republicans believe that "true American patriots" might need to resort to violence in order to save the country. Nearly 40% still think the election was stolen.

So as long as the victimized bully syndrome pandemic is transmitted across the right-wing community, it will continue to surpass any threats to our nation from any new variants to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we address the real threats to our nation, we not only won't stop COVID-19; we will allow the true risks to our health and the health of our democracy to continue to spread.

IN OTHER NEWS: Fox News guest exposes Jim Jordan to viewers: 'This is the same Jim Jordan who covered up a sexual crime'

Fox News guest exposes Jim Jordan to viewers

Why it's (almost) impossible to argue with right wingers

Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, my mom accused me of hating my country. By then she had fully fallen into the Fox News world, having married a far-right man late in life. But her position still surprised me. I was, after all, her own daughter. Didn't she have a basic idea of what I thought?

I explained that being against the war in Iraq, opposed to invading Afghanistan and all-out critical of just about everything the Bush administration did was not akin to hating my country. We went around in circles. But there was no convincing her that she held the wrong premise and that critique was not hatred.

That wasn't the only time in those years that I dealt with being told that I hated my country, but it certainly was the most frustrating. Again and again, then as now, those of us who make critical arguments about the United States, those of us who question conservative policies, those of us who point out examples of right-wing hypocrisies, aggressions, abuses and lies find ourselves in the strange position of having to argue against a warped understanding of what we advocate.

My mom and I never discussed what I actually thought about the United States, because the entire conversation was framed by her assertion that I hated it and my efforts to explain that I didn't.

I don't think I fully captured the core of the problem until I recently read an essay in The Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi on how there is no debate over critical race theory. As Kendi puts it:

The Republican operatives, who dismiss the expositions of critical race theorists and anti-racists in order to define critical race theory and anti-racism, and then attack those definitions, are effectively debating themselves. They have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation's defenders from that fictional monster.

Kendi brilliantly lays bare that which many of us have been ensnared in for ages — that pundits and politicians create their own version of many progressive, liberal and leftist views, and then they fight with their version. There is no real debate and certainly no dialogue, because the entire game is to offer up a distorted version of a position, then freak out about it.

Once the pattern is recognized it can be seen everywhere. Kendi refers to the way it has been used with Black Lives Matter, the New York Times' 1619 Project, cancel culture, and critical race theory, but we can see the same play made with almost all progressive political positions. Professors are trying to brainwash students to become socialists, feminists think all men are rapists, abortion rights defenders don't care about life, the gay community doesn't respect marriage, and so on. We can even see it in claims that young people are snowflake whiners.

They distort from the start and then take up all of your bandwidth in fighting their distortion. They don't just set the terms; they singlehandedly define them — for both sides.

It isn't just that the right argues with itself. It is also that they do it really loudly.

There is little question that the vituperative, bullying nature of the right's so-called debating is also a core part of the problem. First, they misrepresent you, then they spin up into an incoherent meltdown. Think for a moment of how we now have such a high-profile chorus of right-wing gasbags, all of whom make their illogical points really loudly. Sometimes, as in the case of Alex Jones, they do so while shouting so intensely that they seem to spit into the microphone.

Take, for example, the recent scare over President Joe Biden's door-to-door vaccine strategy. The White House has noted that there is a growing disparity in communities receiving the vaccine. So, Biden proposes the notion that in some communities it might be beneficial to go door-to-door to spread information about vaccine safety and efficacy in order to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Yet, that's not what the GOP hears. Instead they turn this plan into a sinister strategy, which according to GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), could be used to take all manner of items away from citizens: "They could then go door to door and take your guns. They could go door to door and take your Bibles."

So, what should the White House do? Refute these loony claims? Doing so only allows the right an ongoing platform to repeat them and forces the White House to engage in an exhausting repeat loop of trying to explain themselves. Yet leaving these unfounded accusations out there unchallenged has the real risk of costing lives. It's an impossible situation because it shuts down any form of reasonable exchange.

You can't debate with someone who isn't even listening to your point.

The rub, as Kendi makes clear, is that one simply can't argue with someone who won't even listen. "How should thinkers respond to monstrous lies?" he asks. "[T]alking with people who have created a monologue with two points of view, theirs and what they impute to you, gets old."

But what doesn't get old is finding a way to expose the rhetorical games played by the right. You might not want to bother trying to debate them, but there is much to be said for finding ways to reveal the faulty logic, hubris and bluster that so often characterizes their manufactured outrage.

This, of course, is why irony and satire do a better job of diving into the fray than reasoned critical discourse. Satire can take the absurdity of these right-wing faux debates and expose their spectacle. Think, for example, of how Desi Lydic Foxsplains for "The Daily Show." Even better, check out her takedown of the fake debates staged on cable news. Or consider how Samantha Bee drives home Kendi's point in her bit, " What Are Conservatives Screaming About today?" where she dissects the irrationality of the critical race theory backlash. Trevor Noah underscores the point the right has manufactured their version of CRT with a segment called, "Do Any Republicans Know What Critical Race Theory Actually Is?"

What this critical satire does is both refuse to debate with someone incoherent and irrational, while also refusing to let their claims remain unchallenged. Using irony is often the only way to fight the illogically absurd.

Who can take a joke? Not conservatives

Satire has been bothering the right more than usual lately. The catch is that it seems they can't decide if they want to defend it or attack it. First, the right-wing satirical site The Babylon Bee, a conservative version of an Onion-style comedy-news publication, made headlines when it demanded the New York Times correct a claim that the site promotes misinformation behind a guise of satire. Then we learned that Donald Trump had actually asked advisers and lawyers to investigate whether the Department of Justice could probe or mitigate sources of satirical late-night comedy, like "Saturday Night Live," that made fun of him.

What's sort of fun to watch is the whiplash performed when the right expresses outrage in both directions. For example, Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee, made a classic free speech, anti-censorship argument when he complained about Facebook possibly limiting the circulation of their posts. "It's people in positions of power protecting their interests by telling you what you can and cannot joke about. Comedians who self-censor in deference to that power are themselves a joke," he wrote.

Funny to think that that same comment could have been used to defend Stephen Colbert when he was hammered for "going over the line" in his roast of George W. Bush back in 2006.

On the one hand, the Babylon Bee argues that the left — the umbrella under which the right assumes the mainstream media and Big Tech fall — is trying to censor and police their satire. On the other hand, Trump actually did try to censor satire because he was freaked out that he was being mocked.

The buzz over the Babylon Bee stems from the debate over whether the site is — depending on who you are and how you read it — hate-speech masquerading as comedy, deliberate misinformation, or actual right-leaning satire. (Dillon says the latter.) But what's more interesting is how the arguments made in its defense are quite similar to the ones that have been made to defend satire critical of the right, and especially Donald Trump.

And yet, for the most part, conservative pundits have either sidestepped responding to Trump's desires to censor satirical comedy critical of him or have defended him. After a 2018 segment on "SNL" that riffed on "It's a Wonderful Life" and suggested that everyone would be happier if Trump weren't re-elected, there was quite the stir. Essentially, the argument was in the reverse from what is being said to support the Babylon Bee. In defending Trump, the arguments were that Trump satire needed to be reined in because it was too one-sided, too negative and possibly too successful at affecting his image.

For example, Trump himself took to Twitter to complain, "A REAL scandal is the one-sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?" And his anxieties led to debates over what conservatives should do to defend themselves against liberal bias in late-night comedy.

The fact that Trump would melt down after he saw satire critical of him was news enough, but we later found out that Trump did more than complain; he actually looked into whether he could find other avenues to restrict political comedy targeting him. As Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley reported for the Daily Beast, "According to two people familiar with the matter, Trump asked advisers and lawyers in early 2019 about what the Federal Communications Commission, the court system, and—most confusingly to some Trump lieutenants—the Department of Justice could do to probe or mitigate SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, and other late-night comedy mischief-makers."

This story is all the more noteworthy for its coincidence with the Babylon Bee censorship brouhaha. Where were the defenders of the Babylon Bee when Trump was literally asking for late-night comedy shows to be restricted in their jokes about him? If the argument is that comedy should never concede to power, then surely Seth Dillon would be outraged over the story that Trump considered having the DOJ, the FCC and the courts look into ways to limit satire.

The Babylon Bee's claim of discrimination stems from a line in a New York Times article, which was subsequently edited, and the site's allegation that their content is being restricted on social media platforms like Facebook, which has had a notoriously difficult time figuring out what to do with satire anyway. Comedians on both the left and the right deal with having their posts removed because, despite attempting to create community rules, Facebook is ill-equipped to process irony and often takes satirical posts as literal.

But the Babylon Bee's complaints of censorship fit the pattern of a broader right-wing victim rhetoric that suggests their views are being silenced even when there is considerable proof this is not the case. We hear ongoing cries of conservatives being silenced on social media — often surrounding the launch of yet another social media network claiming to be a haven for "free speech" — but in reality, the right rules online. Politico tracked millions of social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and found that "Right-wing social media influencers, conservative media outlets and other GOP supporters dominate online discussions." Working with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonpartisan think tank that tracks extremism online, Politico found that "a small number of conservative users routinely outpace their liberal rivals and traditional news outlets in driving the online conversation."

What's even funnier (and concerning) is the fact that most of the cries that social media discriminates against the right are simply anecdotal. Stories of one tweet taken down, one post on Facebook removed, etc., don't line up with data. If anything, it's the reverse: The more that the right whines that they are being censored, the more bandwidth their whines receive on platforms. Even more disturbing is how their stories of being censored have shaped public perceptions. A 2020 Pew Research study found that most Americans believe social media sites censor political views, with 90 percent of Republicans saying that they believe that social media censors them.

The hypocrisy over the right's reaction to censoring satire reveals their consistent position that they are victims. The victim narrative is the common denominator. The right constantly argues that they are being discriminated against, whether because someone is making fun of them or someone is not letting them make fun of them. For those of us who really love satire, the irony of that twisted logic is both pretty funny and pretty disturbing.

Is political comedy dead in the Biden era?

In the days following the attacks of 9/11/200, no one wanted to laugh. Jon Stewart burst into tears as host of "The Daily Show" and Bill Maher got fired from ABC for suggesting that you could call the terrorist attackers many things, but "coward" wasn't one of them. Then on September 18, 2001, Graydon Carter, then editor of Vanity Fair, suggested that the attacks signaled "the end of irony."

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Carter's intervention was noteworthy, since he was the co-founder of one of the most significant U.S. satirical magazines, Spy Magazine. If one of the masters of satire thought satirical irony was dead, then, surely, we were doomed to live in an era of boorish, literal communication.

Except Carter was wrong. As Michiko Kakutani explained in a piece for The New York Times, what Carter missed was the fact that irony always comes back, even if it is briefly held in abeyance during moments of extreme social upheaval. Sure, 9/11 led to a momentary pause in black humor, irony and cynicism, but those all-too-common forms of human expression popped back within weeks of the attack. By September 26, 2001 — a mere eight days after Carter suggested irony was dead — the satirical magazine The Onion ran the headline ''U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're at War With'' in a special edition called "Holy Fucking Shit: Attack on America." Some might have bristled that the issue was an example of "too soon" dark humor, but it was clear evidence that only days after the shocking events of 9/11, American irony was alive and kicking.

This story is revealing because it reminds us that just as irony is a social constant, irony's critics are, too. In fact, we might take as the greatest sign of irony's social force the ironic reality that there will always be pundits out there signaling its demise. Isn't it ironic that the proof of irony's power is the never-ending parade of pundits suggesting it is dead?

This ironic fact was never more apparent than during the Trump years, when we kept hearing how Trump was killing comedy at the exact same time that Trump comedy was peaking. Perhaps the best example of this doublespeak was Dan Brooks' piece for The New York Times, "How President Trump Ruined Political Comedy," which offers a sweeping overview of a wide range of Trump comedy at the same time that it suggests that none of it matters. What Brooks hints at in his piece — and what is much more accurate — is that irony adapts with each historical transition.

Irony never dies; it just changes with the times.

Nevertheless, that truism isn't stopping a new wave of comedy pundits from suggesting that with the election of Joe Biden, U.S. political satire is now on its way to being truly dead. Given the penchant for old man Biden jokes, such a view could be wickedly ironic, except it's wrong.

First to come under fire was "Saturday Night Live" (SNL), which Lorraine Ali described as "remarkably weak" now that Trump was out of office. Much has been made, as well, over whether or not anyone will want to make fun of Biden. Fox News, unsurprisingly, claims that "liberal" comics are "scared" to make fun of Biden, but others have suggested that our new president will get a pass. Richard Zoglin noted that Biden has so far "been impregnable" to satire because his mannerisms and policies simply don't give comedians much material to work with.

But just because Biden comedy has faltered in these early days doesn't mean it's doomed to failure.

In fact, it makes sense that the shift to Biden from a bombastic and absurd blowhard like Trump would send comedy through an adjustment phase. That does not mean, however, that we won't see plenty of political comedy under Biden. In fact, we can count on it for the simple reason that political comedy is a staple of American expression.

There are a number of reasons you don't need to worry that Biden's win means comedy's loss.

Trump isn't in office, but he still offers good material

When George W. Bush left office, political jokes about him quickly abated. Not so with Trump. Trump jokes have not stopped, even if they have stopped taking center stage. From Trump leaving the White House memes, to jokes over his farewell note to Biden, to jokes over the bizarre Trump statue at CPAC to political cartoons that mock Trump there are plenty of signs that Trump is still on the comedy radar.

The good news is that he is no longer the center of comedic attention and that variety is a welcome development. In a study done by Robert Lichter, communications professor at George Mason, he found that a whopping 97 percent of the jokes Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon told about the candidates in September 2020 targeted President Donald Trump. Thankfully, Trump isn't getting that degree of bandwidth today, allowing comedians a wider range of targets for their material.

Trump may be gone, but he has plenty of allies still in government

What we also have to remember is that Trump may have been the cherry on top of the absurd sundae, but he was never alone. The only reason why Trump political comedy got to take such center stage is because much of it focused on more than the man himself. The bluster, braggadocio and bullying of Trump are emblematic of a wide range of right wing politicians. When we bundle that with an aversion to the truth and the egocentric policy platform at the center of the Republican party, it is easy to see how there is no shortage of things to mock.

Think, for example, of the Ted Cruz jokes that emerged in the wake of his trip to Cancún as Texas faced a weather emergency. And who could forget the roasting Mitch McConnell got on Twitter during the second impeachment proceedings?

Probably one of the best recent Trump ally sources of satire has been the story of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a notorious supporter of the former president and who is under investigation over allegations of sex trafficking of a minor. Gaetz was often referred to as part of the "warrior class" that pledged to defend Trump, making his fall from grace even more spectacular, thereby offering satirists an irresistible target. Andy Borowitz, who has a regular column with The New Yorker, has taken to just posting his Gaetz satire straight to Facebook with mock headlines like "Gaetz Blames Liberal Media for Getting his Girlfriend Grounded," "Gaetz Fears that if He is Arrested He Will Miss Prom" and "CDC Urge Social Distancing to Stop the Spread of Matt Gaetz."

Comedians will eventually make fun of Biden

The sea change from Trump to Biden has clearly caught the comedians a bit off guard, but that hiccough doesn't mean they won't eventually find their comedic footing. It is worth remembering, too, that when Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama he was regularly roasted. In one example, a viral piece from The Onion held the headline "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway." It got folks so riled up that there was even an effort to try to buy Biden a Trans Am.

The easy jokes about Biden's age, or the jabs mocking his stutter, may feel like punching down these days. And that's all for the good, since such jokes are just mockery and not satire. Soon enough, though, comedians will find ways to satirize his policies. Remember that even Obama came under fire from comedians like Stephen Colbert, who, on "The Colbert Report" liked to target Obama's hypocrisies. He delivered an especially scathing take-down in 2012 of Obama's drone program, for example.

"SNL" is not a barometer for the state of political comedy today

It is worth noting that many of those who fret over the current state of political comedy may overemphasize the role of "SNL." There is little doubt that the show plays a central and significant role in the history of U.S. satire, but it has historically had an uneven status as a source of U.S. political comedy. During the George W. Bush years, for example, "SNL" offered little in the way of biting political comedy. And, while it is true that a lot of powerful Trump material came out on Saturday nights, it is a mistake to think that if Jim Carrey's impersonation of Biden was uninspiring that that means political comedy for the nation as a whole is in decline.

In fact, late night comedy overall is not really the source of the most innovative political satire today. For many, the real source of cutting-edge political comedy this last election cycle was TikTok. For those of us older than our teens, we may have first stumbled onto TikTok thanks to Sarah Cooper's brilliant Trump impersonations. But Cooper is just one small example of the massive amount of political satire on the platform.

TikTok has offered a unique space for a very particular type of political comedy, one that is radically different from the style of late-night comedy. As Hannah Giorgis explains in The Atlantic, "Young people on TikTok don't need to supplement their short videos with lengthy explanations of the sociopolitical ideas they're poking at, nor do they justify their own antics by fitting them into an established format."

What makes the satire on TikTok so powerful and so edgy is the fact that some miss the irony. In one example, the teenage owners of a TikTok account called POCRepublicans found themselves being criticized by both the right and the left when their videos went viral on Twitter and were interpreted un-ironically. When your satire confuses people, it can be a promising sign that it is smart, creative and subtle.

The best political comedy isn't personality-driven anyway

One of the truisms of satire is that it isn't interested in balance or covering "both sides" of an issue. Instead it focuses on BS, abuses of power, human folly, and hubris. This gives satirists a never-ending supply of material, regardless of who is in the White House.

If we look back on the comedy of a number of on-air satirists over the past four years, we see that there are quite a few who were never Trump-obsessed. Sure, Trump was a staple on both "The Late Show" hosted by Stephen Colbert and "Late Night" hosted by Seth Meyers, but a number of late-night comedians made a point of not letting Trump dominate their material.

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, is one of the few late-night comedians to regularly satirize race relations on his show. One of his most viewed segments is "White People Unnecessarily Calling the Cops on Black People," which has been viewed over 11 million times. Noah also likes to cover a range of topics, especially global politics, that aren't personality-driven. In fact, only two Trump-related segments even show up in his top ten most-viewed segments.

In contrast, Trump is featured as the top-viewed segment of Samantha Bee, host of "Full Frontal." Her Full Frontal Investigation, "Trump Can't Read" was seen over 5 million times. Still, a number of her best segments are issue-driven, especially when she takes up gun violence or women's rights. Her second-most viewed segment, "Sam Has Had Enough of the Thoughts and Prayers for Gun Violence," has been seen over 3.6 million times.

For a satirist like HBO's John Oliver, who tends to investigate complex issues and package them in ironic comedy, the question of who occupies the White House is of even less consequence. Segments on televangelists, multilevel marketing, sex education, tobacco and FIFA are perfect examples of how his work isn't going to change under Biden.

So, while it is true that we now have an administration in office that can speak English, name the branches of government, do basic math, and understand science, it doesn't mean that our nation's satirists won't have plenty of chances to mock what they find stupid, absurd, and unjust. Biden may have a new job in the White House, but that doesn't mean that the satirists will be out of work.

Rush Limbaugh’s toxic patriotism will be his worst legacy

Back in 2014 I pissed off Rush Limbaugh. The source of his ire was a piece I wrote for Salon on the eve of Stephen Colbert stepping down as host of "The Colbert Report." In it, I suggested that Colbert's character on that show had played a valuable role in redefining patriotism for the left.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Limbaugh wasn't pleased. It led him to deploy his characteristic misogyny and call me a "professorette" as he twisted my argument in order to make his point. His angry rant included the fact that I was part of leftist academe, that I dared to criticize American exceptionalism, and that I had something positive to say about the legacy of Stephen Colbert's character.

Well, now that he's dead, I have something negative to say about his legacy.

Rush Limbaugh made America worse. He made the media worse, he made his party worse, and he made our democracy worse. He made toxic masculinity worse. He made white nationalism worse. Actually, he made a wide spectrum of noxious bigotry worse. Even more, his twisted invective passed off as reasoned arguments made our collective intelligence worse.

Rush Limbaugh left our country more angry, more divided, more stupid, more intolerant, more prejudiced, more arrogant and more incapable of solving any of our problems. Limbaugh created chaos and he fed off of it. There was never any moment when he wasn't trying to make everything worse so he could profit from his followers' fear and anger over it.

Much will be made of what will be Limbaugh's most lasting legacy. Will it be the way that his radio show single-handedly opened the floodgates for alt-right punditry? Will it be that his unique brand of manufactured outrage and angry hysteria became a seminal feature of right-wing rhetoric? Will it be that his vicious bigotry came to epitomize the "values" of the right? Or that his celebrity cult following paved the way to Trump?

These, of course, will all be a central part of his story, but they will not be the most significant. Instead, as we unpack the devastating consequences of his life on this nation, it will be his unique brand of toxic patriotism that will be his worst legacy.

Limbaugh certainly wasn't the first one to suggest that the left "hated" their country, but he was the most successful at amplifying that view and embedding it as a core feature of right-wing identity.

In Limbaugh's world patriotism was synonymous with right-wing politics. Thus, if the left criticized the right, it meant they hated their country. And when the right criticized the left, it demonstrated love of country. It was a perfectly circular logic that allowed the right to understand any form of critique as hatred and any disagreement as treason.

The consequences of this twisted version of nationalism have been devastating. Limbaugh offered up a fascist version of U.S. patriotism and, at least for many years, till he lost his edge to even more lunatic incarnations like that of Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, his toxic patriotism was his trademark symbol.

As Limbaugh put it in his rant against me: "I can't escape these professors and these lies and all this crap that's in the media about everything that's so-called wrong with America. Meanwhile, we're losing everything this country's known for."

The number one goal of the left, according to Limbaugh, is to destroy the right. For him, the left sees the right as its enemy. "I really do think that they are so twisted with this hatred for us," he cried.

But who exactly hates whom? I mean, yes, I — along with many, many others — critique the right. Yet, critique is not akin to hatred. Nor is questioning American exceptionalism. Debating the core values of U.S. nationalism is not hatred, either. But for snowflake Limbaugh and his followers, any questioning of them feels like a full-on assault.

In this way Limbaugh manufactured liberal hatred of the right in order to stoke right-wing hatred of the left, all in the service of merging partisan hatred with patriotism.

It was a brilliant move, because it allowed Limbaugh to suggest that the right is both a victim of left-wing attacks and also the only ones who care about the country. The left, according to him, is too busy hating the right to care about preserving the nation. Thus, the right are aggrieved nationalists left to fight off treasonous liberals while elevating their nation to greatness.

And that's where Colbert comes in, because his in-character persona on "The Colbert Report" did an excellent job of parodying toxic right-wing patriotism and suggesting that it was high time for the left to fight for an alternative version of the country. As I argue in "Colbert's America," Colbert was uniquely focused on wresting the notion of patriotism away from the right and suggesting that an active, engaged and critically thinking citizenry could offer a powerful contrast of national values.

Colbert's parodying of exaggerated patriotism on his show had him swooping in on the opening credits accompanied by a bald eagle and an American flag only to take a seat in a studio that was filled with Americana. Colbert often used his satire to poke at Limbaugh, who functioned as one of his character's alter egos, alongside those based on other right-wing pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.

In a clip from March 5, 2009, Colbert highlighted the fact that Limbaugh loved to suggest he was more patriotic than anyone on the left — in this example, President Barack Obama, who Limbaugh claimed was violating the principles of the Constitution. In his anti-Obama rant, Limbaugh then offered up a quote of the sacred document. Except that the quote was from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution; and even worse, Limbaugh got it wrong anyway.

Colbert's bit did an excellent job of pointing out what a bunch of buffoons these so-called patriots are. They don't even know the patriotic documents they accuse the left of disparaging.

But, in contrast, Colbert did. He used his character to not just mock the faux patriotism of Limbaugh, but also to give his own viewers a lesson in U.S. history. Throughout his show, through recurring segments like "Better Know a District," Colbert outed self-proclaimed patriots by showing how little they actually knew about their country. Instead, he suggested, all they really knew was that they hated the left.

So, it was my defense of Colbert's patriotism that really set Limbaugh off. Because for the most part, up until Colbert and Jon Stewart used their satire shows on Comedy Central to satirize right-wing "values," there really hadn't been an effective counter to the vicious nationalism on offer from Limbaugh and his allies. Their satire served as a particularly good foil for the rise of extremist patriotism because it was able to use satirical irony to expose the absurdity of saying that the best way to love your country is to hate the left. Colbert and Stewart suggested that hatred wasn't a patriotic value, but reason, debate, attention to the truth and critical engagement were.

Shortly after Limbaugh decided to attack me to the over 3 million listeners who tended to tune in to his show every hour, I got death threats. They came via social media, via email and even in the form of creepy hand-written letters that I had to turn in to campus police.

My experience wasn't unique. In fact, it was common for Limbaugh's listeners to use death threats, nasty messages, and social media stalking to harass anyone Limbaugh had chosen to single out on his show. As has been noted by Dannagal Young, the rise of outrage as the core "virtue" of the right has been decades in the making. And, as Peter Isackson explains, death threats have "become one of the standard means of expression for aggravated outrage."

But Limbaugh's special contribution was to make death threats, aggressive attacks, and belligerent bullying the ultimate act of patriotism. He infected conservative patriotism with vicious hate.

He might be dead, but as we all witnessed on January 6, the legacy of his toxic patriotism remains very much alive.

Another mess left by Trump: A cult of die-hard followers whose delusions run deep

We all have them. The handful of Trump supporters who somehow still show up on our social media. The ones that we didn't block or unfriend because they seemed like the "reasonable" ones. We thought, maybe, that staying connected would be valuable, might offer a chance at dialogue, might provide insight.

One of my token Trump supporters sent me a direct message the other day. It was a meme that has a photo of the National Guard troops arriving at the Capitol building. The text reads, "If you need 10,000 armed soldiers to protect your inauguration from the people, then you probably weren't elected by the people." On The Right Can't Meme Reddit thread trashing this particular meme the comments follow a predictable pattern of pointing out the astonishingly bad logic that frames it.

How exactly do you blame Joe Biden for the presence of troops at his inauguration and infer that he is the one that wasn't elected? How exactly does harming elected officials make sense for a group that claims to honor law and order? The deep ironies that underpin these false beliefs are as stark as they are common.

As we all know, it has been tremendously exhausting to deal with the faulty logic, made up truths, and cognitive bullying that has characterized Trumpland these last years. Well before Trump even took office, many of us were calling attention to the collective brain rot his administration was sure to cause. We documented the lies, the BS, the tortured reasoning, the gaslighting and the outright absurdity of many Trumpist claims. And we worried that having such a disinformation machine occupy the White House would pose a grave threat for the future of our democracy.

On January 6, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob of insurrectionists hellbent on disrupting the electoral process, we got a chilling glimpse of what many of us had predicted. It is not just that 70 percent of Trump supporters don't think the election was free and fair. It is that a significant subset of them thought that the appropriate response was to enter the Capitol by force and violently stop the certification of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.

These people believed that the best way to defend our democracy was to destroy it. That literally made sense to them.

What this means is that the problem we face is far deeper than a community trapped in its own delusional reality. The problem is not just the culture of lies and deception and bluster and bragging; the problem is the cult itself.

This vocal subset of Trump supporters didn't just swallow falsehoods; they were brainwashed. Moreover, they weren't just confused about the facts. The core concern is not just disinformation; it is the violent response to it. So, if we are going to recover from the Trump years we will have to recognize that we need to do more than stop the lies. We also have to stop the actions and behaviors that have been justified by these lies. His diehard supporters will require collective deprogramming.

The Cult of Trump

Over the last four years various commentators have flagged Trumpism as a cult. Former White House director of communications Anthony Scaramucci, of all people, called attention to the idea that his supporters were part of a cult. In June 2018, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) suggested that Republicans were in a "cult-like situation" with Trump because most refused to even consider disagreeing with him.

To make matters even more disturbing, when Donald Trump Jr. was asked on Fox & Friends about Corker's claims, he replied "You know what? If it's a cult, it's because they like what my father's doing."

The reason why it matters to think about Trumpism as a cult is because it allows us to consider that the problem is not simply a consequence of falsehoods consumed via right-wing media. Yes, the culture of disinformation was severe, but those listening to the falsehoods did much more than fall for a bunch of BS. They blindly adored their leader, refusing to question any of his actions, and then they were prepared to use violence to protect him, even if, in the case of the Capitol marauders, it meant risking their own lives.

Yet, as Benjamin E. Zeller points out, describing Trumpism as a cult misses a few critical distinctions and may not be an effective strategy to counteract the negative effects of Trumpian ideology. There are a few reasons for this, he argues, including the fact that Trump supporters are not a fringe minority as most cult members tend to be. In fact, they come close to representing half of the voting electorate. But, perhaps, most importantly, Zeller argues that focusing too much on brainwashing absolves those holding false beliefs from being responsible for themselves. Brainwashing conjures up victimhood and turns the brainwashed into innocents.

Will a cult pushed to the extreme fracture?

That's what leads to the silver lining of the terrifying and disturbing attacks of January 6 on the Capitol. The good news is that they were so bad.

Certain rioters planned and schemed and deliberately and coldly sought to overthrow the government. They were not just caught up in a frenzied swoon caused by Trump's incendiary speech that day. They were not innocent victims of brainwashing, though they were clearly delusional. They were openly and unabashedly attempting to perpetrate an insurrection. The images of them attacking a Capitol police office with a U.S. flag, for example, are too disturbing for most Trump supporters to justify. The awful truth of it, it turns out, could prompt an encouraging step forward.

Sure, the rioter who was shot and killed by Capitol Police is now being martyred as an innocent victim. Sure, there are rumors circulating that the attackers were actually Antifa. Sure, there are those who try to insist that Trump wasn't to blame. But as the truth comes out, thanks to the fact that most of the rioters had a compulsive need to document their every move on social media, it becomes harder and harder for those Trump supporters who are not part of the fringe extreme to ignore the horror of the attacks.

The chilling reports that the rioters may have been given tours of the building in advance by Republican representatives, that they had guns and bombs, that they intended to abduct and harm Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress, and that they spent weeks preparing to storm the Capitol combine to offer such a grotesque picture of the insurrection that few can stomach it. The promising news is that the type of "patriotism" on display in the attack was so obscene that it is serving as a wake-up call for many of those aligned with Trump ideology.

Consider it this way: Trump's call for carnage was so grotesque that it may well have broken his spell.

In fact, a recent PBS New Hour/Marist poll shows that 80 percent of Republicans oppose or strongly oppose the actions of the Trump supporters who broke into the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the process of certifying the presidential election. While a disturbing 18 percent of Trump supporters still back the rioters, it is the 80 percent in opposition that offers a glimmer of hope, because it shows a stark division among the mass of Trump supporters, a crack in the cult, that offers the possibility that Trump's ideological grasp on his "base" may no longer be complete.

We have seen defections from the Republican elite in the form of Mitch McConnell's condemnation of Trump and the fact that ten Republican members of the House voted to impeach. But if we look at the general public, we see that the percentage of the population that voted for Trump, yet condemns the attacks, is far higher than what we are witnessing in Congress.

This offers a unique opportunity to dismantle Trumpism and its cognitive hold on his supporters. The more that the violent rioters can be separated out from other Trump supporters, and the more that Trump supporters can be separated from the Republican party, the better our chances of fragmenting the right and unraveling Trump's psychic hold on the party.

On one of the few lawns that has a Trump sign in my neighborhood, the name "Pence" has been cut out. When I first saw it, I wondered why someone would deface the sign that way only to quickly realize that the Trump household itself had cut out "Pence" from their very own sign. It struck me to see an act that was so openly childish and silly and also so deeply anti-democratic and aggressive. The worse it is, the better it gets.

And it made me hopeful to think that it may well be exactly through these sorts of absurd, cult-like actions that others might start to question their allegiance to Trumpism. What if the excessively delusional dogma of Trumpism might actually be its own undoing?

Here's why Donald Trump is failing at making his dictator dreams a reality

Well before Donald Trump won the 2016 election, there were worries that his autocratic tendencies would threaten the future of our democracy. His lack of respect for democratic institutions, his predisposition to put self-interest over civic duty and his narcissistic disavowal of any rule of law all combined to suggest that, if elected, he would desire dictatorial powers.

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Losers: How Donald Trump's loss is further inflaming his already delusional base

Shortly after the 2016 election, a funny thing happened. Rather than celebrate the victory of their candidate, Trump supporters took on the position of aggrieved victims. When they should have been happy, they were angry. When they should have been confident, they were insecure. When their votes showed that they had power, they felt marginalized. And, even though they won, they felt that the process had been unfair.Their mood was vengeful and their attitude was combative. And that was when they won.

Now that their candidate has lost fair and square, we need to brace ourselves for their predictably vicious response.

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Trump and his supporters have made a mockery of US patriotism

On September 17, in a speech delivered at the National Archives Museum, President Trump announced he was signing an executive order establishing the 1776 Commission, aimed at promoting what he called a "patriotic" and "pro-America" education.  The announcement was a direct attack on the 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative that explores the legacy of slavery in the United States. For Trump, teaching critical race studies is akin to committing child abuse "in the truest sense of those words."

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