Trump’s Torching of America

Some Reflections on the Demolition of Democracy

In the looming spectre of a Trump triumph in November 2024, democracy finds itself ensnared in a dark and foreboding web. Much like Grendel, the malevolent creature of ancient myth whose lineage traces back to the Biblical figure Cain, Trump prowls the political landscape tormented by a relentless hunger for power and dominance. Like Grendel, who was plagued by the melodic strains of joy emanating from the mead hall of Heorot, built by the noble King Hrothgar, Trump is driven to madness by his inability to tolerate any realm where he is not the supreme arbiter of all actions. With a monstrous fury, he descends upon the halls of governance, unleashing chaos and destruction in his wake through the actions of his lickspittles in Congress, who slavishly do his bidding. For long and arduous years, akin to Grendel’s relentless assaults on Heorot, Trump’s rampage knows no bounds, laying waste to the very foundations of democracy. With each strike, he devours the essence of liberty and justice, leaving behind a trail of desolation and despair. The poet’s depiction of Grendel consuming his victims whole mirrors Trump’s insatiable appetite for power, as he voraciously consumes all semblance of democratic norms and values. Yet, just as the heroes of old rose to confront the monstrous Grendel, so too must we stand united against the encroaching darkness of authoritarianism. Our collective resolve must serve as the beacon of hope in these tumultuous times, lest the legacy of democracy be forever marred by the shadow of tyranny.

Trump’s conception of governance, likened to a corporate enterprise, where citizens are reduced to nothing more than passive consumers of its offerings, heralds a seismic shift in America’s political landscape – a recalibration of the Overton window of unprecedented magnitude. The current seismic upheaval in the Overton window has left American lawmakers staggered and ill-prepared. Politics now mirrors the insidious foot-in-the-door technique, a manipulative method aimed at coaxing consent from individuals. Much like the psychological ploy, initial acquiescence to minor requests heralds a dangerous progression towards more audacious demands – demands that would have been met with staunch opposition if presented outright.

What ensues is a regressive descent reminiscent of the 1950s era, a chilling journey aligning precisely with Trump’s domestic vision. Here, the looming spectre of a ‘great replacement,’ a fearful narrative propagated by Trump and his ilk, where migrants from South America purportedly threaten to supplant the white population, is normalised and stripped of its sinister connotations. Trump’s vision of a second term entails a radical reconstruction of the relationship between the populace and the state, wherein privacy safeguards for the public would be dismantled and regulatory bodies relegated to oblivion. This agenda entails the dismantling of the nation’s tax infrastructure, bureaucratic apparatus, regulatory framework and trade agreements. Initially appealing, this proposal promises a reduced tax burden – or even its elimination – on our bi-weekly paychecks. At first glance, it seems enticing. Who wouldn’t relish a lighter financial burden with more disposable income for our true priorities?

Yet, the reality is starkly different. While a streamlined bureaucracy may yield short-term gains, its long-term consequences would be dire. Trump peddles the illusion that deconstruction would grant us greater autonomy over our lives. But would it? Deconstructing the bureaucracy means fewer guardians overseeing vital aspects of our well-being, such as ensuring clean water, air quality, food safety and enhancing educational standards for our youth. This absence of regulatory oversight imperils the very fabric of our society, yet Trump remains conspicuously silent on who will champion the interests of ordinary individuals once the bureaucratic edifice is dismantled. I suppose Trump would argue that it is he alone who can protect ordinary citizens. But, in reality, who stands to profit from the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’? The affluent and influential elite. Geopolitically, Trump, the grifter and confidence trickster and head of America’s most notorious crime family, harbours a desire to transport us back to the 1930s era of the Christian Front, where America aligns itself seamlessly with authoritarian populism, fascism and Nazism.

As the calendar turned to the fourth month of 2024, the air in the United States became putrid with foreboding whispers of political unrest. These ominous murmurs, once relegated to the fringes, now echo loudly through the corridors of power and the heart of mainstream discourse and daily coffee and doughnuts chitchat. Among the cacophony of voices, one stands out with a chilling clarity – that of former President Donald Trump. His dire warnings of impending chaos, should legal proceedings against him culminate unfavourably in the upcoming election, reverberate with a haunting resonance: there will be a ‘bloodbath’ that will engulf the nation if he is not elected. Already through his cantankerous proxy, Congresswoman Marjorie Traitor Greene, he has signalled that he will allow Ukraine to be overrun by Russia through his refusal to supply necessary military aid, bringing Europe ever closer to a World War III footing. But foreign wars are not the only cause for alarm as the US is edging closer towards a civil war.

Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware (2024) warn that even routine political manoeuvres now carry a weighty undertone of violence, as evidenced by the seismic ripples that appeared when the Alliance Defending Freedom won its case at the US Supreme Court, overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion. Hoffman and Ware cite the seminal work of esteemed political scientist Barbara F. Walter, How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them, which paints a grim portrait of contemporary society teetering on the precipice of civil strife. She identifies a dangerous cocktail of political extremism, deep-rooted polarisation, social and cultural fragmentation, the insidious spread of conspiracy theories, the proliferation of firearms and the rise of well-armed factions of accelerationists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Walter pinpoints accelerationism as a pivotal factor, describing it as a fervent belief in hastening the collapse of modern society to usher in a new order. Hoffman and Ware write:

Walter argues that ‘we are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe’ because of a toxic mix of political extremism and polarisation, social and cultural tribalism, the popular embrace of conspiracy theories, the proliferation of guns and well-armed militias and the erosion of faith in government and the liberal, Western democratic state. Among the key factors she cites is accelerationism – which Walter describes as ‘the apocalyptic belief that modern society is irredeemable and that its end must be hastened so that a new order can be brought into being.’ Accelerationism is embraced by a spectrum of white supremacists, white nationalists, racists, antisemites, xenophobes and anti-government militants as a clarion call to revolution. They fervently believe that the modern Western, liberal state is so corrupt and inept that it is beyond redemption and must be destroyed to create a new society and way of governance. This is what the cult of Trumpism professes to secure ideological advantage for the MAGA wing of the Republican Party.

Hoffman and Ware note that among the adherents of accelerationism are a motley crew of extremist groups – white supremacists, Christian nationalists and anti-government militants – united by their shared desire to dismantle the current liberal democratic framework that they consider to be ‘woke.’ Through targeted attacks on marginalised communities and institutions, they seek to sow seeds of division and chaos, with the goal of inciting a catastrophic breakdown of the existing system and igniting civil conflict. Yet, this strategy of terror is not a new phenomenon but rather a dark thread woven into the fabric of far-right violence that stretches back to the late 1970s. Events like the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot serve as stark reminders of this trajectory, fuelled by societal upheavals such as the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the economic turbulence of the Great Recession. The proliferation of social media and heightened political polarisation in recent years have, Hoffman and Ware (2024) point out, only served to amplify these dangerous tendencies.

Echoing these concerns, Hoffman and Ware (2024) cite former National Security Council staffers Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, who issue a stern warning about the precarious political equilibrium the United States currently finds itself in. They caution that even minor disturbances could trigger a cascade of violence, pushing the nation further toward the brink of chaos. Hoffman and Ware report on Canadian journalist Stephen Marche, who goes even further, prophesying in his 2022 book The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future that a new civil conflict is not merely a possibility but an inevitability, signalling a troubling descent into sectarian strife reminiscent of war-torn nations.

While such predictions may sound alarmist to some, empirical evidence lends credence to these apprehensions. Surveys reveal a disturbing trend of growing acceptance of violence against the government, particularly among conspiracy-laden Republicans, indicating a worrisome erosion of democratic norms. Though the likelihood of a traditional civil war may seem remote, especially given the evolving nature of political divides in the country, the spectre of widespread, sustained terrorism looms large as a more plausible threat, transcending geographical and ideological boundaries.

While the spectre of a conventional civil conflict may seem remote, the looming spectre of widespread and persistent terrorism emerges as a much more palpable threat, transcending geographical and ideological boundaries. Especially egregious is the propagation of unfounded conspiracies, where adversaries are wrongly portrayed as covert factions of Democratic paedophiles, purportedly revelling in abhorrent acts of mutilation and sapping the innocence of youth in diabolical rites reminiscent of the darkest feasts of Hannibal Lecter. This insidious conspiracy theory, peddled by some, alleging the existence of clandestine cabals of paedophilic Democrats who grotesquely filet the faces of children and wear their flayed and bloodied visages while getting high on their daily adrenochrome fix after drinking their victims’ blood during regular Satanic rituals lays bare a profound malaise within certain circles of Trump supporters.

Hoffman and Ware underscore that central to this ominous landscape is the United States’ unparalleled status as the global leader in private firearm ownership. With a staggering proportion of the world’s guns held within its borders, the US boasts an estimated 393 million privately owned firearms, surpassing the combined total held by the top 25 countries globally. This proliferation of weapons amplifies the viability of decentralised resistance strategies championed by militia theorists of the late 20th century, now embodied by groups like the far-right, anti-authoritarian Boogaloo Bois. Hoffman and Ware ominously point to the fact that among the staunchest proponents of Second Amendment rights are individuals who openly advocate for a new civil conflict. The fervour surrounding gun rights fuelled the militia movement in the early 1990s and played a significant role in motivating individuals like Timothy McVeigh to perpetrate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil prior to September 11, 2001.

While the United States may ultimately avoid descending into an outright civil war, a myriad of ominous scenarios loom on the horizon. From politically motivated violence to deeply entrenched divisions that undermine the government’s ability to safeguard its citizens, the road ahead is fraught with peril. Hoffman and Ware describe the sobering analysis of the erosion of democratic norms in America by former President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, who draws parallels to Northern Ireland’s protracted conflict, known as the ‘Troubles.’ Haass warns of the potential for a similar trajectory in the US, citing the Northern Irish experience involving paramilitary groups, law enforcement and a substantial toll in lives lost and economic damage.

Drawing inspiration from the Troubles and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), leading figures within American white supremacist circles envision a comparable struggle unfolding within the US. Despite significant events such as the certification of the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent legal actions against perpetrators of the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, the spectre of far-right terrorism persists in America. Given the deep-rooted historical context leading up to January 6, the continued proliferation of conspiracy theories and the rising tide of racism, antisemitism and xenophobia in mainstream discourse, combined with widespread access to firearms, the potential for further acts of domestic, politically motivated violence – including mass shootings, attacks on critical infrastructure and bombings – remains a sobering reality that cannot be discounted or overlooked. Scott Bennett notes that in the warp and woof of American political discourse, the portrayal of Donald Trump’s supporters, affectionately termed the MAGA nation, often emerges as a caricature steeped in ignorance, racism and blind allegiance. Critics point to a paradox: how can one fervently champion a leader beset by legal entanglements, flirtations with authoritarianism and threats to constitutional order?

But perhaps, in our quest for understanding, we’ve been gazing through the wrong lens, according to Bennett. What if, instead of dismissing their support as irrational folly, we sought to comprehend it as a rational response to a landscape fraught with disillusionment and decay? What insights might we glean from this alternative perspective, one that pierces through the veil of mainstream commentary? Bennett invites us to embark on this journey of re-evaluation, where we witness, in real time, the unravelling of the American political fabric. Texas challenges federal authority, judicial manoeuvres stifle electoral choice, and the courts tilt ever rightward. The Capitol siege of January 6, 2021, remains a visceral reminder of our fractured state.

The erosion of trust in government corrodes the very foundation of our democracy. Polls reveal historic lows in public confidence, a damning indictment of a system perceived as unresponsive and beholden to entrenched interests that we could liken to a morbidly rich American oligarchy. Faith in institutions wanes, casting a shadow of doubt over the pillars of society. Bennett argues that both major parties, complicit in perpetuating a status quo that serves elite interests, bear responsibility for this malaise. He further warns that economic policies favouring corporations over citizens sow seeds of discontent, nurturing a fertile ground for disillusionment.

Thus, against this backdrop of systemic decay emerges the dichotomy of the 2024 election. On the one side, argues Bennett, we have the guardians of the status quo, urging continuity in the face of mounting dysfunction. Biden’s appeal lies in the illusion of stability, masking systemic rot with a veneer of normalcy. On the other side, we find the torchbearers of upheaval, epitomised by Trump’s rallying cry for disruption. To his supporters, he embodies defiance against a broken system, a beacon of change in an era of stagnation. Trump’s ascent from pariah to champion among Republicans underscores his intractable physicality as a leader with an uncanny ability to channel popular discontent. His meaty and utterly bizarre rhetoric resonates with those disillusioned by a political elite out of touch with their needs. The Capitol siege, far from dampening enthusiasm, galvanised Trump’s base and, as Bennett notes, cast him as a martyr in the struggle against entrenched power has galvanised his base. His legal battles, once perceived as liabilities, now serve as badges of honour, proof of his defiance against the establishment.

Yet, behind the dime store façade of Trump’s populist appeal lurks a spectre of authoritarianism, of a hideous fascism lacking any aesthetic finesse. His jests about dictatorship and flirtations with autocracy evoke both laughter and unease, blurring the line between jest and earnest intent. For all his talk of being the Chosen One, to new-covenant believers, he doesn’t seem at all to be part of God’s eschatological people, no matter how many Bibles or golden sneakers he hawks.

In this binary narrative of upheaval versus continuity, Trump emerges as the avatar of discontent, offering a tantalising promise of renewal. His supporters, weary of a sclerotic system, gravitate towards his vision of upheaval, viewing it as a necessary catharsis for a nation in decline. But Bennett warns that the path to renewal is fraught with peril. A Trumpian reset, cloaked in promises of change, risks descending into chaos and oppression. Authoritarian regimes seldom favour the masses, their promises of prosperity mere smokescreens for corporate interests. Bennett cites Thomas Frank, who aptly observes that the allure of upheaval often conceals the true beneficiaries of change: the wealthy and powerful. Trump’s crusade against the establishment may well culminate in the empowerment of entrenched interests, leaving his supporters disillusioned and betrayed. In our pursuit of change, let us not forsake prudence for passion. The sounds of upheaval may beckon like the sirens in Greek mythology, but its shores harbour treacherous reefs of uncertainty. As we navigate the tempest of political upheaval, let us remember that the true measure of progress lies not in destruction but in the arduous task of reconstruction.

The cult of Trump turns on the promise of mystical materialism, where Trump is regarded as a divine being, of Quixotry and vengeance, where Trump is able to create an open totality where every cheap trick can be elevated to a promise that America will recover its greatness (in other words, taking the country back to the 1950s prior to the Civil Rights Movement when people of colour knew their place and opportunities for advancement were great for Anglo-Americans).

Since he was elected president in 2016, the figure of Donald Trump has evolved into a floating signifier, adaptable to any chosen reference point within the entrenched terrain of American politics, whether stygian, crepuscular or triumphalist – or a mixture of all three. For some, he embodies a champion of the working class, while for others, he represents a dictator, a fraud, a mean-spirited pathological narcissist, a grifter. A significant portion of the Republican Party perceives him not as a puzzle to decipher or a figure warranting scepticism but rather as a beacon – a man divinely chosen to guide America back to greatness. He is simultaneously a palimpsest, as many different fragments of his identity are visible as traces beneath the dominant narrative – that America is a stinking rot of a country and only Donald Trump can bring it back to greatness.

In his public-service book, Profile of a Nation, a forensic psychiatrist and president of the World Mental Health Coalition, Bandy X. Lee, explained Trump’s pathological appeal. In an interview with Tanya Lewis in Scientific American, she outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis.

Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence – while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a ‘lock and key’ relationship.

Lee spearheaded a consortium of psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts in a ground-breaking endeavour documented in the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Through this collective effort, Lee and her colleagues boldly challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s revision of the Goldwater rule, an ethical guideline dating back to the 1970s. This rule traditionally discouraged mental health professionals from offering diagnostic assessments of public figures without direct examination. Rejecting this constraint, Lee and her collaborators argued that in the face of potentially harmful governance, physicians have a moral duty to speak out, invoking the principles outlined in the Declaration of Geneva – a response to the atrocities of Nazism.

Members of cults and victims of abuse often find themselves emotionally entangled in destructive relationships, blinded to the harm inflicted upon them. Over time, the sheer magnitude of deception aligns with their own psychological defences, shielding them from painful truths. Similarly, the dynamic between Trump and his supporters mirrors this abusive pattern. The risk looms that another manipulative figure will exploit their vulnerability with a false ‘solution,’ perpetuating the cycle of exploitation. Addressing this complexity proves daunting, as the bond between Trump and his followers is fraught with manipulation and coercion. When minds are subjugated to serve the abuser’s agenda, the pursuit of facts or logic becomes futile. While removing Trump from power is a crucial step towards healing, direct confrontation of his supporters’ beliefs only breeds resistance. Instead, the focus should shift towards altering the circumstances that foster these misguided convictions. Maintaining personal well-being amidst such tumult is paramount, as those entrenched in delusional narratives often reject reality in favour of their own distorted perceptions. When confronted with ‘mini-Trumps,’ establishing firm boundaries becomes imperative, even necessitating severing ties if necessary. Though treating individuals ensnared in such dynamics is challenging, intervention remains possible, albeit often requiring external pressure to initiate. Trump capitalised on this deep-seated anguish, harnessing and fuelling anger and hatred for his own manipulative ends. Through these emotional bonds, he engendered a shared psychosis on a massive scale, a by-product of the societal conditions we have allowed to persist.

To foster healing, Lee advocates for a threefold approach. First, we must remove the influential figures who perpetuate such toxicity. Secondly, we must dismantle the pervasive systems of thought control prevalent not only in advertising but also in the realm of politics. Lastly, addressing the root causes of socioeconomic distress is imperative to cultivate collective mental well-being. In Profile of a Nation, Lee stressed the interconnectedness of the president, his followers and the nation, urging us to view them as part of a larger ecological system. The trajectory of Trump’s actions hinges upon our collective response. This urgency prompted Lee to write her book since she believes active intervention is necessary to prevent further harm, including the potential establishment of a shadow presidency. Without constraints, Trump’s destructive potential knows no bounds, underscoring the need for his removal and accountability, possibly through prosecution. Lee elucidates the concept of ‘shared psychosis’ or ‘folie à millions’ (madness for millions), particularly when it manifests at a national level or as ‘induced delusions.’ This phenomenon transcends typical group psychology, as severe symptoms become infectious, spreading through emotional connections. When an individual with pronounced symptoms holds a position of influence, these symptoms can disseminate throughout the population, exacerbating existing pathologies and fostering delusions, paranoia and a propensity for violence, even among individuals previously unaffected. The remedy lies in removing exposure to the influential individual, thereby interrupting the cycle of contagion. Lee warns: ‘When mental pathology is accompanied by criminal-mindedness, however, the combination can make individuals far more dangerous than either alone.’ Lee adds that: ‘if one cannot have love, one resorts to respect. And when respect is unavailable, one resorts to fear. Trump is now living through an intolerable loss of respect: rejection by a nation in his election defeat. Violence helps compensate for feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy and lack of real productivity.’ Lee further cautions that Trump ‘is certainly of an autocratic disposition because his extreme narcissism does not allow for equality with other human beings, as democracy requires. Psychiatrists generally assess delusions through personal examination, but there is other evidence of their likelihood. First, delusions are more infectious than strategic lies, and so we see, from their sheer spread, that Trump likely truly believes them. Second, his emotional fragility, manifested in extreme intolerance of realities that do not fit his wishful view of the world, predisposes him to psychotic spirals. Third, his public record includes numerous hours of interviews and interactions with other people – such as the hour-long one with the Georgia secretary of state – that very nearly confirm delusion.’ As for Trump’s followers, Lee observes:

Cult members and victims of abuse are often emotionally bonded to the relationship, unable to see the harm that is being done to them. After a while, the magnitude of the deception conspires with their own psychological protections against pain and disappointment. This causes them to avoid seeing the truth. And the situation with Trump supporters is very similar. The danger is that another pathological figure will come around and entice them with a false ‘solution’ that is really a harnessing of this resistance.

Lee’s advice is that

we should consider the president, his followers and the nation as an ecology, not in isolation. Hence, what he does after this presidency depends a great deal on us. This is the reason I frantically wrote the book over the summer: we require active intervention to stop him from achieving any number of destructive outcomes for the nation, including the establishment of a shadow presidency. He will have no limit, which is why I have actively advocated for removal and accountability, including prosecution. We need to remember that he is more a follower than a leader, and we need to place constraints from the outside when he cannot place them from within. If we handle the situation appropriately, there will be a lot of disillusionment and trauma. And this is all right – they are healthy reactions to an abnormal situation. We must provide emotional support for healing, and this includes societal support, such as sources of belonging and dignity.

Chauncy DeVega, who writes for Salon in the United States, has gifted us with brief interviews with experts on a wide range of political topics, many of which focus on the danger of Donald Trump. Marcel Danesi, Professor Emeritus of linguistic anthropology and semiotics at the University of Toronto, is one of the most incisive observers of Trump. In an interview with DeVega, Danesi notes that

Trump is a master at creating what Daniel Boorstin called, in the 1960s, ‘pseudo-events,’ that is, events intended solely for publicity and self-aggrandising purposes. From his angry tirades in front of the television cameras after a court session to his blistering oratory at rallies filled with hateful allusions to whoever stands in his way, Trump has grasped intuitively that pseudo-events, like any form of spectacle or performative fiction, have great appeal and can be deployed to tap into the tendency of people to react in unison as a group, as audiences in a theatrical setting. Over time, the pseudo-events become ritualised. As Neil Postman put it in 1985, since P.T. Barnum, America has evolved into a world in which there is ‘no business but show business,’ descrying the descent of politics into mere performance spectacle.

In 1967, French philosopher Guy Debord used the expression ‘society of the spectacle’ in reference to the circus-type fantasy world that had evolved in modernity – a world in which spectacles influenced worldviews, beliefs and behaviours, rather than rational discourse or logical argumentation. Spectacles obfuscate the past, producing a type of never-ending present. Aware of their power to enfold people’s attention and affect their view of the present, Trump has used spectacles and hate-spewing humour to keep people engaged in his shenanigans.

For Danesi, Trump is a historical sign that must be taken seriously. Danesi continues with a dire warning that is worth repeating at length:

When the con artist despot comes wrapped in piety, he is at his most dangerous. This is a warning found throughout history. Trump’s pious façade is not unlike that of Molière’s character Tartuffe in his 1664 play, whose subtitle is ‘The Imposter.’ Tartuffe is the embodiment of the master con artist – a pretentious person who fakes religious devoutness, convincing a benefactor that he is a moral person. Once invited into his house, Tartuffe uses every nefarious scheme possible to steal from his benefactor, creating chaos for everyone around him. The havoc that a false-pious hypocrite wreaks is astounding and a constant threat we all face with Trump lurking in the background.

Before Trump’s rise to power, the mass media hardly paid attention to the radical white evangelicals, generating a perception among its members of media bias toward a liberal secular agenda and worldview. The sense of exclusion that this demographic continues to feel and the sense that America’s moral standards are decaying allows Trump, through his Tartuffe-like tactics, to assume his ‘spiritual leadership.’ Once he enters your mind, like Tartuffe did with his benefactor, he will reside there manipulatively, never letting go.

Nothing can pull the radical white evangelicals away from Trump. They are hard-wired to see Trump as the only one who can set things right in America. The radical white evangelicals firmly believe (or desperately hope) that there will be a moment of vindication that will prove their beliefs to be right. This will happen after Trump becomes leader for life in America, as some have openly stated. Trump perpetrates the same sense of retribution, equating his problems with theirs, cleverly including a reference to an epic apocalyptic battle with the ‘deep state’ that is coming with the election. This rhetoric is dangerous because it is not limited to online communications among believers but has spread to radical conservatives in the US Congress.

There is only one way to defeat Trump – to make sure that he does not win the election. After a while, communal memory diminishes, and, hopefully, dialogue between the divisions sowed by Trump will be bridged gradually on their own.

While DeVega describes mainstream American news media as fostering ‘a commitment to horserace journalism, fake objectivity and balance, self-interest and fear’ as well as ‘elite agenda-setting,’ he identifies an exception in the person of Dr Elizabeth Zoffman, a forensic psychiatrist and an Associate Clinical Professor of Forensic and General Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. In an interview with Dr Hoffman, DeVega shares her evidence-based preliminary conclusion that Donald Trump is displaying a range of behaviours that suggest cognitive challenges, if not impairment. According to Dr. Hoffman, Trump appears to be suffering from behavioural variant fronto-temporal dementia. Her observations include the following:

  • Changes in speech patterns with many fewer and simpler words (decline in vocabulary) with fewer adjectives and adverbs.
  • A decline in cognitive focus on speech subjects with incomplete sentences and an inability to focus on a topic long enough to complete a sentence when not reading from a teleprompter.
  • Difficulty pronouncing words, word substitution and nonsense words – known as paraphasia.
  • Tangential thinking where the topic switches mid-sentence to some unrelated topic.
  • Frequent repetition of words and phrases as if his mind is stuck in a loop.
  • Disinhibition and an inability to control verbal outbursts.
  • Socially inappropriate behaviour – mocking a man with muscular dystrophy, disrespecting fallen soldiers as losers.
  • Lack of self-awareness in that he apparently cannot see how inappropriate his behaviour has become and use his judgment to stop himself.
  • Changes in movement and gait. His walk appears wide-based, and he has developed a swing of his right leg. He appears glued to the floor when he ‘dances’ for his audience. If caught on camera standing still, he appears unnaturally immobile.
  • The changes in judgment and impulse control have uncovered and perhaps worsened underlying personality traits that others have characterised as narcissistic and antisocial. The changes have led some experts to suggest a diagnosis of ‘malignant narcissism.’

Hoffman’s diagnosis sounds several warning shots and helps explain Trump’s obsession with dehumanisation: ‘The associated disinhibition exposes unfortunate aspects of his personality and worldview where he repeatedly dehumanises anyone he sees as “the other.”’ His repeated statements dehumanising migrants, exaggerating their numbers and suggesting they are all killers is a good example. This meme has caught on with his supporters, and, in situations of mass-thinking, they may pose a danger to migrants seeking refuge. Mr Trump’s memes seem to resonate with a stratum of American society that feels disaffected and maligned in a rapidly changing world. Being blinded to new information and new ways of experiencing scientific discovery poses a risk for those people – for example, anti-vaccine people frequently dying of COVID-19 when they could have vaccines.’

Similarly, our understanding of democracy in the fossilised arena of American politics has undergone a significant shift, its variance depending on the perspective. Among segments of the far-right, democracy is seen as deteriorating to the point of decomposition. In the context of a post-digital, media-saturated world, democracy has become self-referential, rendering it meaningless and insignificant to many – a mere shell of its former self. Critics, both left and right, will argue that democracy has regressed from its idealised form as a government for the people, by the people and of the people. Democratic processes, influenced by cultural liberalism such as ‘cancel culture,’ are perceived as bogged down, hindering substantive progress. The prioritisation of individual rights over collective needs is seen as fostering moral relativism, a form of materialism leeched of spirituality and a focus on individual interests at the expense of communal welfare.

Not only has contemporary technological society provided a target for the far-right, but it also occupies a special place of derision among the left. The chloroformed milieu of everyday life in capitalist society with its aerosol political analysis captures the deformed image of a contemporary prison house, revealing today’s technological society as it truly is: warmed-up leftovers of experiences dispossessing us of our humanity by its unbroken chain of abstract disaffections, soaking the lineaments of intersubjective space in middle-class banalities, forming that great chain of capitalist commodification where reality becomes just another immutable, pre-existing voice-over telling us who we are and what will become of us – in other words, setting us on the task of restoring bourgeois sensibility. This, of course, makes for a Trumpian form of pushback devoid of any intellectual heft, inciting tribal rivalries, leading to an eerie mayhem that accompanies Republican politics and a larger political climate that seems on the verge of interclan shootouts with the Democrats.

A politically telling historical inquiry has emerged from the series Ultra, developed by respected journalist Rachel Maddow, that resonates eerily with recent events in the United States. Ultra, a production of MSNBC and NBC News, is an eight-episode podcast series that examines the history of a seditious plot to undermine US democracy 80 years ago and the legal struggle to try to stop it. The series was executive-produced by Maddow and Mike Yarvitz and produced by Kelsey Desiderio. The brilliant series, which dates prior to World War II, focuses on Nazi agents working in the US, often with the support of US politicians in Washington. In a spirited discussion of her series with NPR’s Terry Gross, Maddow reveals that the primary aim of these agents and their co-conspirators during World War II was to dissuade the United States from entering the conflict. Their strategy involved fostering distrust and disdain towards our allies, particularly Britain, who stood resilient against Germany by the summer of 1940. The intention was to sow seeds of hopelessness among Americans, portraying Germany as an inevitable victor and downplaying the severity of its actions, including Hitler’s regime and the spread of fascism. George Sylvester Viereck was one such notable German agent with strong ties to Hitler’s government during World War II. Viereck’s past involvement in pro-German activities, including a scandal related to the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I and his successful prosecution as a Nazi agent, rendered him unmistakably associated with Hitler’s regime, according to Maddow. Thus, any collaboration with him couldn’t be mistaken as a mere association with an ordinary publicist.

The extent of collaboration between Viereck and certain Congress members was often driven by financial incentives. Viereck would either craft or obtain propaganda materials from Berlin and request Congress members to deliver them as speeches in Congress or publish them under his imprint. By leveraging ‘the franking privilege,’ which allowed free distribution of materials set on the congressional floor, Viereck effectively utilised taxpayer resources to disseminate German propaganda across millions of American homes. Maddow reveals that some of the Congress members who collaborated with Viereck were affiliated with the America First Committee, a prominent political group opposing US involvement in World War II whose activities would eventually lead to 17 members being put on trial for plotting an armed overthrow of the United States government. Founded by influential figures and boasting a million members, the committee aimed to maintain American neutrality. However, as Maddow points out, allegations of pro-German sentiments, particularly fuelled by leading spokesperson Charles Lindbergh’s antisemitic rhetoric, tarnished its image and significantly eroded support.

Members of Congress often served as speakers at America First Committee rallies, lending legitimacy and prominence to the organisation. Despite attempts to distance themselves from extremism, the committee attracted individuals with antisemitic, ultra-right ideologies, not unlike those seen among today’s Trump supporters. Maddow highlights figures like Father Charles Edward Coughlin, a radio personality known for his virulent antisemitic views, who had one of the most popular radio shows in the United States, and arguably the world, and who played a significant role in promoting such toxic sentiments. Coughlin was among the most pestilential personalities to come out of American politics. During the tumultuous 1930s, a stirring symphony of discord and jingoistic fervour echoed across the airwaves of America, orchestrated by Coughlin’s magnetic and acrimonious voice that transformed sliminess into its own aesthetic category. Amidst the cacophony, which included members of the German American Bund and Crusaders for Americanism, an estimated 30 million fervent souls tuned in regularly, drawn to Coughlin’s venomous charisma, unaware of the dark currents lurking beneath his words. From his pulpit in the summer of 1939, this Canadian Roman Catholic priest unfurled a chilling manifesto, summoning forth what would soon emerge as the Christian Front, a spectre of zealotry and intolerance cloaked in the guise of patriotism.

J.P. O’Malley writes about the journalistic efforts of Charles R. Gallagher, a 55-year-old Roman Catholic Jesuit priest and associate professor of history at Boston College whose 2008 book Vatican Secret Diplomacy won the John Gilmary Shea Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association. Gallagher is the author of the Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, the product of a nuanced reading of intelligence files such as the FBI’s file for the Christian Front (which amounts to some 2,500 pages) that revealed the Christian Front to be much more than their usual depiction as a group of clownish political extremists in coxcomb hats. Gallagher reveals the Christian Front to have been a serious threat to American democracy that came close to violently overturning the country’s political system. A maestro of historical revelation, Gallagher delved deep into the shadows of espionage, peeling back the layers of secrecy that veiled the true intentions of this clandestine brotherhood. What emerges from his symphony of research is a harrowing melody, resonating with the echoes of a forgotten history, whose notes still reverberate in the sotto voce whispers of today’s Republican Freedom Caucus.

The Christian Front harboured a fanatical conviction, according to Gallagher, that Sovietisation was not merely a threat to democracy and capitalism but a looming peril to the very soul of Catholicism. Gallagher’s quest for the truth about Christian Front spanned a decade, navigating through the labyrinth of intelligence files previously shrouded from view. With the grace of a master craftsman, Gallagher deftly traced the genesis of the Christian Front to the fertile soil of Coughlin’s propaganda, sowing seeds of hatred amidst the tumult of global upheaval. Within this cauldron of discontent, the Christian Front emerged as a bastion of fanaticism, its creed forged in the crucible of age-old prejudices and antisemitic conspiracies. Gallagher’s narrative unfurled a damning portrait of complicity, where the clergy of Rome lent their benediction to this unholy crusade, providing sanctuary to malevolence under the cloak of piety. Yet, it was the common folk, the foot soldiers of intolerance, who bore the standard of the Christian Front, marching blindly into a battle against perceived foes, their hearts inflamed with a hateful zeal directed at Jews and Communists.

As the drama unfolds, notes O’Malley, Gallagher unveils a chilling tableau of treachery and subterfuge. From the alleys of New York to the halls of power, the Christian Front conspired to overthrow the American government, amassing arms and fervour in equal measure, their ambitions reaching for the very heart of the American republic. Coughlin’s formation of the Christian Front, effectively an antisemitic militia, further intensified the spread of hatred and violence against Jewish communities, reflecting a disturbing convergence of extremism and mass influence during that era.

Maddow reports that Coughlin

wants the groups to form in platoon-sized units. So, he’s essentially calling for sort of a cell structure, which is a traditional terrorist cell structure. And he wants them to stand ready, basically to be ready for his call. And he’s smart enough to not be explicit in terms of what he’s calling them to do. But given his rhetoric on his radio program, given his rhetoric, which was even actually more extremely antisemitic in his newspapers, which is called Social Justice, ironically enough – he wants these groups to get armed and start training.

And it happens all over the country particularly in New York and Boston. There are large chapters formed. And they do form these platoon-sized units, but then, they also start holding mass events. In New York, they’re often street corner rallies. In Boston, they rent out big halls and have major events, sometimes with up to 10,000 people at them. And they are rallying in support of Coughlin as if he’s sort of a semi-deity, talking about him as the greatest American, the greatest human on Earth. And they start effectively rabble-rousing in a way that results in street violence against Jewish people, boycotts of Jewish businesses and calls to support the German military in some cases.

Maddow notes that the culmination of these activities led to what is described as the largest sedition trial in American history. However, the trial was beset with chaos and controversy from its inception. During the trial proceedings, the defence engaged in tactics aimed at delaying or derailing the trial, leading to a tumultuous and protracted legal ordeal. Maddow reports that, in a surprising turn of events and despite compelling evidence implicating several congressmen in collusion with Hitler’s Germany, the Justice Department ultimately chose not to pursue indictments against them. This decision came after the prosecutor, John Rogge, presented damning evidence collected from interrogations of Nazi leaders in Germany, confirming the central charges of the sedition case. However, the report containing this evidence was suppressed by President Harry Truman, ensuring that the collaboration of these congressmen with the enemy would never be officially exposed or prosecuted.

The failure to indict these congressmen raises significant questions about the political and judicial dynamics at play during that tumultuous period and underscores the enduring challenges of holding powerful figures accountable for their actions. Viereck, the lead German agent, was charged, but few others paid a price for their treasonous activities. The story is fascinating and, as Maddow is quick to note, has parallels with the political scene in the United States today. According to Maddow:

It’s another throughline that we can see with the sedition trial of groups like the Oath Keepers. Two senior members of the Oath Keepers were just convicted on seditious conspiracy charges, and others are still facing those charges. In both instances, in both the Christian Front and the Oath Keepers, I don’t think there was anything particularly about members of the military or about members of law enforcement that made them inclined toward these extremist views. It rather went the other way. These extremist groups deliberately targeted members of the military, members of the National Guard, members of law enforcement for membership recruitment because they wanted the weapons that those guys would have access to. They wanted people who were trained in the use of physical force and the use of weapons. And they wanted the credibility that would accrue to their group from being associated with people in uniform. And so these extremist groups aggressively targeted their recruitment toward people who had those kinds of skills and associations.

According to JP O’Malley, the success of the propaganda efforts of these American traitors reached as far as key officials of the Third Reich:

In downtown Boston, the Christian Front put on a private screening of Sieg im Westen (‘Victory in the West’), a German propaganda film that portrayed the expanding Third Reich in noble terms and also compared Jews to rats. During the showing of the film, Moran spoke several times, emphasising the hopelessness of a US army fighting a mechanised Nazi army. Word of this Nazi propaganda screening made it as far as Berlin, where the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, Joseph Goebbels, and his Nazi comrades privately noted how the film had been shown to an enthusiastic American audience. On October 20, 1941, at another packed meeting of the Christian Front, Moran described the Jews as a ‘hindrance and a source of evil to any country that held them.’ It was under these circumstances that antisemitism in Boston began to rise. Gallagher says the ‘anti-Jewish violence in Boston became pervasive in 1943.’ The violence was perpetrated largely by Irish Catholic gangs, some of whom were former Christian Front members. Gallagher says the Boston Police abetted crimes against Jews by turning a blind eye, arresting Jewish Bostonians, and sometimes even directly joining in and participating in the beatings of Jews.

By the end of 1943, the violence came to an end in Boston. Over time, so too did Moran’s career and the Christian Front, disappearing from both daily life and historical memory.

Maddow describes how the FBI, armed with what seemed like an airtight case, had meticulously cultivated an informant within the Christian Front’s ranks. The evidence piled up – stolen military weapons, elaborate plans for insurrection, and chillingly precise details of their intended targets and timeline. The imminent threat loomed large; the FBI believed the group was on the brink of executing a violent coup that would plunge the nation into chaos. With swift determination, the FBI intervened just as the Christian Front’s nefarious machinations neared fruition. Arrests were made, the evidence laid bare, and the wheels of justice set into motion. Yet, when the dust settled, and the anticipated cataclysm failed to materialise, scepticism clouded the public’s perception. The audacity of the plot seemed to defy belief, dismissed as the stuff of fantastical fiction rather than grim reality. Maddow reports that within the hallowed halls of the Brooklyn courtroom, where the trial unfolded, a different narrative emerged. Here, amidst a sea of familiar faces, the accused found unexpected allies. Guardsmen, police officers and local heroes packed the gallery, their unwavering support casting a formidable shadow over the proceedings. It was a community united, fiercely loyal to their own, and their presence exerted a palpable influence on the jury. In a twist of fate that defied all logic, the forewoman of the jury, a staunch advocate of the Christian Front, stood as a blood relation to one of its influential figures. It was an oversight that would have far-reaching consequences, casting doubt upon the integrity of the trial itself. In the heart of Brooklyn, where allegiances ran deep, and justice teetered on the edge of bias, the fate of the accused hung precariously in the balance. Well, you can watch Maddow’s series to find out what happened.

To me, the trial seemed eerily like current attempts to indict Donald Trump. O’Malley notes that, even in the aftermath of the trial, the spectre of the Christian Front lingered, its tendrils of hate weaving through the fabric of society. Those tendrils have now been rejuvenated by the cult of Trumpism. Rachel Leingang asserts that Trump’s vindictiveness – ‘the sheer breadth of his menace and animus toward those who disagree with him’ – needs to be heard to be believed. Leingang writes that Trump’s rhetoric towards migrants has taken a disturbing turn, with comments that increasingly dehumanise them. He has gone so far as to claim they are ‘poisoning the blood’ of the US, a clear reference to the Great Replacement Theory, a far-right conspiracy alleging orchestrated migration to supplant white populations. Trump has labelled those arriving as ‘prisoners, murderers, drug dealers, mental patients and terrorists, the worst they have,’ while repeatedly referring to migrants as ‘animals.’ During a recent speech in Michigan, he defiantly stated, ‘Democrats said, please don’t call them “animals.” I said, no, they’re not humans, they’re animals.’ In another instance, he remarked, ‘In some cases, they’re not people, in my opinion,’ adding, ‘But I’m not allowed to say that because the radical left says that’s a terrible thing to say. These are animals, OK, and we have to stop it.’

Additionally, Trump has made peculiar statements regarding military defence, likening the use of an ‘iron dome’ missile defence system to a rapid sequence of sounds and actions – ‘ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Whoosh. Boom’ – and has drawn an odd comparison between himself and Al Capone, boasting of being indicted more times than the notorious gangster. He also compared his appearance to Elvis Presley. Furthermore, he made disparaging remarks about the name of Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis, ridiculing it and suggesting it sounds like a slang term for buttocks while mocking her decision to add a touch of French to her name upon becoming a District Attorney. Some of Trump’s bizarre asides are best seen in full, like this one about Biden at the beach.

Somebody said he looks great in a bathing suit, right? And you know, when he was in the sand, and he was having a hard time lifting his feet through the sand, because you know sand is heavy, they figured three solid ounces per foot, but sand is a little heavy, and he’s sitting in a bathing suit. Look, at 81, do you remember Cary Grant? How good was Cary Grant, right? I don’t think Cary Grant, he was good. I don’t know what happened to movie stars today. We used to have Cary Grant and Clark Gable and all these people. Today we have, I won’t say names, because I don’t need enemies. I don’t need enemies. I got enough enemies. But Cary Grant was, like – Michael Jackson once told me, ‘The most handsome man, Trump, in the world.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Cary Grant.’ Well, we don’t have that anymore, but Cary Grant at 81 or 82, going on 100. This guy, he’s 81, going on 100. Cary Grant wouldn’t look too good in a bathing suit, either. And he was pretty good-looking, right?

At the end of his speeches, Leingang notes that Trump frequently outlines the potential agenda for his second term in a manner resembling a meditative recitation, likened by the New York Times to a sermon. Given the possibility of these policies becoming a reality, here are some of the key ideas:

  • Instituting the death penalty for drug dealers.
  • Creating the ‘Trump Reciprocal Trade Act’: ‘If China or any other country makes us pay 100% or 200% tariff, which they do, we will make them pay a reciprocal tariff of 100% or 200%. In other words, you screw us, and we’ll screw you.’
  • Indemnifying all police officers and law enforcement officials.
  • Rebuilding cities and taking over Washington DC, where, he said in a recent speech, there are ‘beautiful columns’ put together ‘through force of will’ because there were no ‘Caterpillar tractors,’ and now those columns have graffiti on them.
  • Issuing an executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender and other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content.
  • Moving to one-day voting with paper ballots and voter ID.

Gregg Barak warns that, envisioning Trump 2.0 (2025-?), we must brace for a seismic shift from its predecessor, Trump 1.0, for myriad reasons:

Firstly, the Trumpian ethos of lawlessness, corruption and the weaponisation of state attorney generals has metastasised within the Republican Party, ensnaring it in a web of moral decay.

Secondly, the forthcoming Trump administration will wield a seasoned and finely honed organisational prowess, laser-focused on advancing Trumpian objectives with unprecedented efficiency.

Thirdly, internal dissent and the once-robust defence of institutional norms will have waned, allowing Trump to operate with brazen disregard for the rule of law, viewing it merely as an inconvenience.

Fourthly, under the next administration, merit will yield to political loyalty as a prerequisite for employment, with loyalty oaths, not to the Constitution but to the autocratic figurehead himself, becoming commonplace.

The unabated assault on American democracy, coupled with the GOP’s embrace of authoritarian tendencies, including attacks on the press and the erosion of democratic institutions, mirrors global trends towards illiberalism and xenophobic populism.

In the international arena, Trump’s nationalist’ America first’ ideology finds common cause with other illiberal regimes, characterised by a penchant for standardisation, disinformation and totalitarianism. From Putin’s expansionist ambitions to Bolsonaro’s authoritarian flirtations, the world witnesses a troubling trend towards fascist tendencies. He should have been put in prison on numerous occasions for his courtroom antics, but he has been accorded a special deference. Barak warns that

The deference to Trump thus far has had absolutely nothing to do with the First Amendment or the fact that he is running for president. It has had everything to do with the institutional failure of the US criminal justice system to treat Trump – who faces 88 felony charges across four separate criminal cases – the same as anyone else who threatens the fair administration of the due process of justice.

A victory this fall by Trump threatens the end of American democracy as we have known it for some 250 years.

At best, a second Trump administration would usher in a new domestic order of illiberal democracy and disinformation. At worst, it would result in the United States’ entry into an anti-democratic axis of autocratic, plutocratic and kleptocratic nations.

Open recognition of these realities must become an everyday part of the 2024 presidential election.

Trump’s desired illiberal democracy or authoritarian regime is being brought to the nation by the thinking and planning of Turning Point USA, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Conservative Partnership Institute.

This coalition of conservative ‘stink’ tanks led by the Heritage Foundation are all in with Trumpism, and they have helped to produce Project 2025. This 920-page report was published in 2022 and ‘promises revenge, oppression and autocratic rule,’ says Thomas Zimmer, who was writing for Democracy Americana.

Clearly, fundamental reforms to our electoral and constitutional systems are imperative. However, immediate action is needed to prevent further erosion. The re-election of Biden in 2025 becomes paramount, transcending partisan divides to thwart the existential threat posed by Trump and his rage-filled cohorts, a threat that promises to build a state within a state, absent of compassionate pity and covered by a loyalty that echoes the fanatical oaths of allegiance in Munich’s famous Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall), a monumental loggia on the Odeonsplatz. ‘So wahr mir Gott helfe. I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich, that I will be loyal and brave. I pledge obedience unto death to you and those you appoint to lead. So help me, God.’ It is a state designed to resist until death what is perceived to be a majoritarian, authoritarian world where a more liberal view of sexual ethics has become the majority view in America, an ethics that is being forced upon an embattled minority in the red states. Should Trump be elected in 2024, he will likely create a monument to the ‘incarcerated’ January 6 ‘hostages.’ Perhaps it will be modelled after the famous Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall), a monumental loggia on the Odeonsplatz in Munich called the Mahnmal der Bewegung, decorated with a banner commemorating the death of Ashli Babbitt, not unlike the infamous Blutfahne (Blood Banner) of the Nazi movement.

Donald Trump has recently assumed a role akin to a modern-day Messiah, passionately proclaiming his personal sacrifices for the sake of his followers. He evokes imagery that intertwines his fate with that of Christ, even circulating a faux courtroom sketch depicting himself alongside Jesus. Actor Jon Voight’s peculiar assertion that Trump is enduring a fate akin to Jesus further fuels this narrative. According to Laura Brodie, such Christ-like comparisons haven’t been so fervently invoked in American politics since the aftermath of the Civil War, when both Unionists and Confederates elevated their leaders to near-divine status. However, this practice bore ominous fruits, notably perpetuating a violent white supremacist ideology across the South. Brodie reminds us that it is absolutely imperative to reflect on why analogies to Jesus should remain outside the realm of politics, as their consequences are invariably unsightly. The echoes of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 resonate profoundly. In the wake of his tragic death on Good Friday, Unionists, from politicians to clergy, immediately likened him to Jesus. James Garfield, foreseeing his own tragic fate as the nation’s second assassinated president, drew parallels between Lincoln’s demise and the crucifixion of Christ. Ministers across the country echoed this sentiment, proclaiming Lincoln’s resurrection as a national saviour.

However, such reverence sparked a backlash in the South, where comparisons to Jesus had previously stoked ire. Before the war, Southerners were incensed by the Northern likening of radical abolitionist John Brown to Christ. Lincoln’s deification only intensified Confederate fury, Brodie notes, with some labelling him as the epitome of Northern malfeasance. Edward Pollard, a key figure in the Lost Cause mythology, bitterly criticised this Northern apotheosis, denouncing it as a peculiarly Yankee sin. Yet, the South soon found its own messianic figure in Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis, incarcerated post-war, was hailed as a martyr, his suffering likened to Christ’s. Even Confederate veterans were encouraged to see themselves as Christ-like figures, enduring their own trials and tribulations akin to Jesus’ ordeal.

According to Brodie, it was Robert E. Lee who emerged as the foremost recipient of Christ-like adoration in the South. Following his death, eulogies likened his suffering and sacrifices to those of Jesus, cementing his status as a Southern icon. This portrayal persisted for decades, contributing to the proliferation of Lee memorials across the South. However, the deification of Lee had dire consequences. Brodie argues that it perpetuated a mythos that glorified the Confederate cause and reinforced white supremacist beliefs. By venerating Lee as a martyr, Southerners evaded confronting the realities of slavery and the Civil War, leading to a century of racial violence.

Considering recent events, such as the violence in Charlottesville and the Capitol insurrection, where Trump’s followers invoked his messianic image, one cannot help but fear the potential for further violence stemming from such distorted faith. As Brodie has made clear, Trump’s response to Charlottesville and the events of January 6, 2021, only exacerbates these concerns, leaving Americans to ponder the consequences of such twisted devotion. What will happen in Israel’s war against Hamas is yet unclear under a Trump administration.

Ukraine faces the prospect of fighting a war without the support of the United States. Financial support for Ukraine is being held hostage by the Republican far right in the person of Speaker Michael Johnson. The prospect of Speaker Michael Johnson halting billions of dollars worth of aid destined for Ukraine is not just tragic; it’s a gut-wrenching betrayal of humanity, a dark stain on the conscience of nations and a chilling testament to the depths of political callousness.

Imagine the scene: in Ukraine, where citizens have been enduring the ravages of conflict, their buildings targeted for destruction, their hopes flickering like fragile flames in the wind. They’ve been counting on that aid, clinging to the promise of assistance to rebuild their shattered lives, to staunch the wounds of war, to feed the hungry and to shelter the displaced. And then, just as the beacon of hope begins to shine, it is snuffed out, extinguished by the stroke of a pen, the whim of politics in the hands of fanatics such as Marjorie Taylor Greene. What will history have to say about Greene, creating more favourable conditions for Russia’s murderous aggression? The Ukrainian military is running out of ammunition and air defence systems.

Billions of dollars – not just numbers on a balance sheet, but lifelines, lifelines that could mean the difference between survival and despair for those both fighting on the front lines and vulnerable civilians unable to protect themselves and their homes from ballistic missiles. To deny them this aid is to deny their very humanity, their right to dignity, their right to life. It’s a betrayal of the values we claim to hold dear, a betrayal of solidarity, compassion and justice.

The consequences ripple far beyond Ukraine’s borders. It sends a chilling message to the world: that when it comes to political gamesmanship, human suffering is just collateral damage. It emboldens tyrants, it emboldens aggressors, it emboldens those who prey on the vulnerable, knowing that the international community’s promises are as fleeting as the wind. And what of the lives lost, the dreams shattered, the futures stolen? Every dollar withheld is another nail in the coffin of hope, another brick in the wall of despair. How many more must suffer? How many more must die before we realise the true cost of our indifference?

We cannot allow Speaker Michael Johnson or Marjorie Taylor Greene to condemn Ukraine to this fate. We cannot stand idly by as billions of dollars worth of aid hang in the balance. We must raise our voices, we must demand action, we must hold those in power accountable. Because the tragedy of Ukraine is not just Ukraine’s tragedy – it’s ours. And we cannot afford to look away.

Colombia University Professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs has been featured prominently on US talk shows, urging the Biden administration to halt funding for Ukraine. Taking issue with Professor Sachs’s position is a collective of economists, including many of Ukrainian descent, who are deeply troubled by the recent statements Sachs made regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The need to address the historical misrepresentations and logical fallacies in Sachs’s arguments has driven them to compose an open letter. They make excellent points, revealing the weaknesses of Sachs’s position.

Firstly, as the authors of the letter point out, Sachs suggests that NATO expansion efforts by the United States were the catalysts for conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine. However, such assertions disregard the grassroots movements within Ukraine, such as the Euromaidan protests, which were ignited by Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and his subsequent violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Ukrainians’ struggle for dignity and sovereignty during the Revolution of Dignity was not driven by NATO aspirations but by a desire to combat corruption and abuse of power. To attribute Ukraine’s plight solely to geopolitical maneuvers is to overlook the resilience and determination of its people.

Secondly, Sachs’s emphasis on NATO expansion as a provocation to Russia overlooks historical context. The actions of the Soviet Union, including invasions of neighbouring countries like Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, highlight the aggressive tendencies that prompted Eastern European nations to seek security within NATO. Ukraine, facing Russian aggression despite its modest military budget, seeks NATO membership not out of a penchant for aggression but out of a legitimate desire for security and peace. Russia’s differential treatment towards Ukraine compared to Finland and Sweden’s NATO aspirations underscores the flawed notion of ‘spheres of influence’ and highlights the need for collective defence against aggression.

Thirdly, the authors underscore Sachs’s flawed dismissal of Ukraine’s sovereignty, particularly regarding Crimea. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 violated international law and various treaties, including the Budapest Memorandum and the Treaty on Friendship, Partnership, and Cooperation. By suggesting Crimea’s de facto integration into Russia, Sachs grievously undermines fundamental principles of territorial integrity and sets a dangerous precedent for future aggression. Upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty is not only essential for its security but also for preserving global peace and stability.

Fourthly, Sachs’s promotion of Kremlin-backed peace plans fails to acknowledge Russia’s belligerent intentions and ongoing atrocities in Ukraine. Proposals to cede Crimea and Donbas to appease Russian aggression overlook the fundamental question of trustworthiness. Russia’s history of broken promises and its avowed goal of destroying Ukrainian sovereignty render any peace negotiations reliant on Kremlin proposals futile and dangerous. President Zelensky’s peace plan, endorsed by the Ukrainian people, offers a more viable path towards a lasting resolution.

Finally, Sachs’s portrayal of Ukraine as a divided nation perpetuates Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining Ukrainian unity. Contrary to assertions of deep ethnic and political divisions, recent polls indicate overwhelming support for Ukrainian sovereignty and unity across linguistic and regional lines. Ukrainians’ rejection of territorial concessions and identification as citizens of Ukraine underscore the nation’s resilience and cohesion in the face of external threats.

The authors urge Sachs to reconsider his stance on the conflict in Ukraine and to refrain from perpetuating narratives that align with Russian propaganda. The future of Ukraine, its people, and global security depends on recognising and defending the nation’s sovereignty and right to self-determination. Biden and NATO may rightfully boast of the significant quantity of ‘unprecedented’ military aid they’ve extended to Ukraine, a stark departure from their initial inaction following Putin’s initial invasion in 2014. However, this aid, while commendable, falls short of what Ukraine truly requires to expel the Russian aggressors from its sovereign territory. As Russia persists in unleashing death, suffering, and devastation upon Ukrainian soil, it becomes painfully clear that the assistance provided thus far is but a fraction of what is necessary to combat the relentless onslaught. The urgent need for more robust support underscores the gravity of the situation and the imperative for swift and decisive action.

In the face of such relentless aggression, mere gestures of solidarity are insufficient. It is imperative that the international community mobilises with unwavering determination to provide Ukraine with the resources and support needed to repel the invaders and restore peace to its embattled land. The suffering endured by the Ukrainian people demands a response commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis. Anything less would be a betrayal of our shared humanity and a tacit acceptance of Russia’s flagrant disregard for international law and basic human rights. The time for decisive action is now.


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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2024). Trump’s Torching of America: Some Reflections on the Demolition of Democracy. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.

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