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The first lies...
the ones we tell ourselves.
After the events of last Wednesday, we are left to deal with the residue. Four years ago the nation elected a fascist as our president and believed we could reform his worst tendencies. Pundits made a case for surrounding him with “adults ” and the “guardrails” they would provide. Some even believed that he was simply unsophisticated and needed to be schooled. Jared and Ivanka would certainly soften his administration as uber-sophisticates who would interpret for him the rules of the road. For too long there were those who explained Trump’s coarseness with a fantasy that he was just a buffoon, a reality-show host in training—that he could not get out of his own way, so, therefore, he was not so dangerous, They would restrain his urges through subterfuge, in effect they were hiding grandpa’s car keys.
The White House staff, cabinet members, and his lawyers prided themselves in their ability to get around his more egregious schemes. He wanted them to lie for him, so what, they were only telling presidential “little white ones.” Crowd size was simply a more refined version of the infamous (but highly entertaining) hand size kerfuffle. In the end, they were the fools. John Kelly, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, Rex “effing” Tillerson, Anonymous, and the rest were simply kicking this can down the road. Donald Trump outlasted them, outsmarted them. He was far worse than they could have imagined, Just look at last Wednesday.
His enablers in the Congress, too, were fooled into believing that they could control this oafish pretender who thought he was running a country. They were played. Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Susan Collins represent an entire party of power-famished dolts who were asleep when the memo came down that Trump was really in charge here. While they were building excuses for why they went along with his reaction to Charlottesville, racist murders in the streets, the caging of children, and violence toward asylum seekers, he was building an army of insurrectionists who would on January 6 attack them in their seats at the Capitol. He showed them who’s boss!
I have used Maurice Ogden’s Hangman poem too often here, but read it again at your leisure and consider the message of the “frog-boiling” strategy used by fascists to lull their victims into quiet submission. The message is so clearly applicable to our present circumstances, their success demands our own complicity. Trump played us all like a fiddle. He was never better than the worst of his deeds, he was never better than this. At each juncture when he could have been curtailed, his friends in Congress were appeased by Trump’s promise to slay their dragons. Now that he had turned on them, all that is left is the lesson and the lie.
Just as with Hitler and his brown-shirted bucket of nazis—Mussolini and his black-shirted fascisti-— the question remains what to do with Trump and his red-hatted deplorables. History has shown us the fate of other movements and their deposed leaders. We are a nation of laws and, therefore, our revenge is tempered by Justice. Trump and his army deserve a full review of their offenses by our justice system. It begins with the immediate removal of Trump’s hold on power—the presidency. All of the levers of our system of justice should be unleashed on him. It begins with impeachment and follows with an indictment for his role in the insurrection last week. It means that the other leader-enablers who have supported his movement should face a reckoning. That includes Rudolf Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz who are among the worst offenders. Finally, in measured and precise campaigns, each of the leaders of the groups who sponsored and plotted the attack should be dragged from their mostly comfortable middle-class homes and tried for the crimes of violence they inflicted on the nation. The five deaths that were caused by their actions should head the list of their indictments.
The first lie, however, is the one we tell ourselves. It is a lie that somehow we Americans were above all this. That we owed our teams support for even their bad decision and poor policies. Many of the MAGA army of extremists who have led the charge against many needed democratic reforms like racism, voting rights, sensible gun control, and economic equity were stirred up in the cauldron of a former reflexive era ushered in with another undeserving and frankly overmatched president. The aftermath of 9/11 and the minor-league fascism of the Bush 43 administration, was informed by the philosophy neo-conservatism that believed in interventionism, American dominance, and the projected use of force to gain our international objectives. After 9/11, Bush’s neocons sent many of these men to far-flung outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan to learn war and to forge a distrust in civilian leadership that many thought had failed them. Nineteen years of war and mayhem later their distrust has found a movement and a firebrand leader with his own failed philosophy. The lie was inherent in their believing that might made right, and in the confusion of means and ends. We allowed leaders like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to authorize torture and battle-field justice to supplant reason and the rule of law.
The origins of the neo-conservative political movement was a counterforce during the Cold War as a reaction to the New Left that was, by the way promoting Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation and a host of economic reforms espoused by the Great Society. It began, however, as a philosophical movement much earlier:
Neoconservatism was born in New York—specifically goes back to the early rejection of totalitarianism in the 1930’s at the City College of New York in the 1930s where Trotskyist-inclined students ate together in the cafeteria’s “Alcove I.” (Self-styled Stalinists claimed “Alcove II.”) “Arguing the world,” they opposed totalitarians abroad and isolationists at home. They remained liberal or even leftist during World War II, when some like (Irving) Kristol served in Europe, and in the postwar period.
By the 1960s and 1970s, they were feeling “mugged by reality”—recoiling, above all, from New Leftist campus protests and counterculture, as well as reflexive Vietnam War opposition.
--The New Republic
In the ‘60’s the cause was taken up by Democratic Party Hawks who supported the Viet Nam War and were aligned with those who they feared were moving the nation too far to the left. This was at a time when Southern Democrats were among the staunchest critics of integration and voting reforms. The sickness is not a foreign pathogen and is not based on party affiliation, it is rooted in beliefs. This current infection is a purely American disease---a political virus that has exploded at the same time we are afflicted by a medical pandemic. The irony is cruel and telling.
The first lie is always the easiest and most banal. It is akin to children believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, the ones we were taught to believe in our early history lessons in school. On further review, George Washington never did cut down that cherry tree, and Jefferson wrote but never did mean “all men” were equal. Add to those the lie that Donald Trump believed in “America First” and he was intent upon making it great again. Or that the virus killing hundreds of thousands of us is a hoax—that the election was rigged. These are the lies we relive every time we stop short in our attempts at real institutional reform and settle for a less satisfying but more comfortable tweak. The ones Trump’s dullards so dearly want to believe because if they prove untrue they make liars of them all.
It is the first lies that cut deepest. Of all the lies that follow, they are unforgivable, the most damnable.
Had enough of Trump? Who hasn’t? If you want a review of all the turmoil as it unraveled a presidency and has come close to taking down our democracy, You may consider “What the hell were we thinking?: A blogger's guide to the Trump era...” a compilation in real-time of the antics and crimes committed over the past five years. From the campaign in 2016 to the thumping he took in 2020, this book chronicles the events as they happened and records how we felt living through the worst presidency in history.