Violence, Trumpian Cultspeak and What Could Happen in Ukraine

Domestic massacres are soon to be afoot, to twist a famous utterance of Sherlock Holmes. Violence looms large. Thousands of members of Trump’s cult of violence are anxiously awaiting the moment when they feel God’s call to slip on their ballistic vests and draw their weapons. Lock and load, baby!

Do you have an AR-15, Buck?

I do Bubba, plus a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm.

Boo and Ace both have a Ruger Lightweight Compact Pistol.

I didn’t know that.

Missy and Karen own a Springfield XD-S.

Now I like that. Shuggy and Dave have a Sig Sauer P938.

And Boo, bet you didn’t know he’s got that Glock G19, a 9mm.

Whoooeee! Good choice.

After being groomed for years by the most powerful man in the world to detest Democrats, when they finally see Trump climb onto the stage and begin to declaim his nasty views on the state of America, they seem to enter some kind of hallucinogenic zone, a hypnagogic state where they want to do anything for Trump, even kill for Trump. They are already prone to violence, you see. They are already rage-filled and swollen to the gills with a steaming hatred for the Democrats, whom they blame for their crummy jobs, their lack of health care, and for desecrating their traditional Christian values with all this crazy ‘woke’ talk about teaching sex classes in primary school, insisting that White students feel guilty for slavery, and for not being able to say ‘Merry Christmas.’

Donald Trump has demonized Democrats for these and other crimes, displaying propaganda skills exceeding even those designed by the infamous Joseph Goebbels, the Gauleiter of Berlin, chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, and then Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945. When Trump is not deprecating the Democrats, Fox News is filling in for him by unleashing a poisonous invective that drives the cult mad. Hence, they are salivating, anticipating a tongue-flicking high that only blood lust can foment. They are aching for violence; their auto-suggestion cranked up to full. Trump’s ability to induce ecstatic states and non-rational behaviour among his followers is legend. His supporters are made to see red, but, in this case, it is the red of MAGA hats. There is almost a loss of consciousness as the Trump devotee is taken over by the God of Hate and acts accordingly. Listen to the Chosen One’s words. Imagine his pursed lips hydrated with Chapstick, delivering them directly to your brainpan, groomed by years of Trumpthink. Here is what he said at a recent Delaware, Ohio rally:

In this moment together, we’re standing up against some of the most menacing forces, entrenched interests, and vicious opponents our people have ever seen or fought against. Despite great outside powers and dangers, our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our own country.

There is no threat as dangerous to democracy as they are. Just look at the un-select committee of political hacks and what they’re doing to our country while radical-left murderers, rapists, and insurrectionists roam free: nothing happens to them.

They created unyielding and unsustainable and totally horrific mandates and radical mask regulations – and we did just the opposite, and we had far better success in every single category.

The very same people who piously claimed to be defending democracy are the ones throwing open your borders, surrendering your sovereignty, defunding your police, prosecuting your politicians – like nobody’s ever seen before, by the way … desecrating your laws, crushing your wages, diluting your vote, and handing your country over millions and millions of illegal foreign nationals – illegal aliens, I would call them – all without your consent.

You haven’t consented to that. On top of that, you had a fake, phony election….

But no matter how big or powerful these corrupt radicals may be, you must never forget this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you. This is your home. This is your heritage, and your great American liberty is your God-given right.

Chauncey DeVega describes Trump’s words as ‘George Orwell’s ‘two minutes of hate’ from ‘1984,’ expanded to two hours or so.’

But these are words from the ex-Commander-in-Chief of the United States military, the onetime supreme commander of by far the greatest military force in world history, charged with the singular, and some would say ‘sacred,’ responsibility of protecting and defending the United States. His words and deeds, the values he talks about, the example he sets, every action he takes or does not take – are all part of his influence on others. He has been proclaimed ‘the Chosen One’ by those very same evangelicals that you are duty-bound to watch on your flat screen while you munch your Fritos and make out your modest donation to help purchase Jesse Duplantis’ fourth private jet – a Falcon 7X for $54m – because he said Jesus ‘wouldn’t be riding a donkey.’ Whoooee! Praise God! And when Trump is a master of cult mind control, this makes matters all the worse, much worse. He has the power to destroy the world many times over. And when the audience is packed with QAnon cult members who believe the Democrats are shape-shifting paedophile lizards from another planet who devour infants as smoothly as a sweaty patron at the local 7-Eleven might down an ice-cold Big Gulp candy-flavoured Slurpee, then the rage inspired by Trump can only lead to infinite disaster.

Trump is a motivator; he understands the needs and desires of others. He is able to align and elevate individual drives into collective action, into a gluttonous frenzy of fang-bearing mob activity. Megan Gannon describes successful cult leaders as sharing certain key traits. The key trait is traumatic narcissism:

‘I’d say first and foremost, probably every cult leader is a narcissist, and the extent to which his or her narcissism is negative – as one scholar called it, ‘traumatic narcissism’ – that’s going to have an effect on how the group is shaped,’ said Janja Lalich, a cult researcher and professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico.

Traumatic narcissism isn’t the narcissism of a movie star, for example, who is full of himself and inspires the admiration of others, Lalich said. Traumatic narcissism has a ‘deleterious effect’ on others. For a good example of traumatic narcissism at work, Lalich said you could look at the alleged sex-cult NXIVM (pronounced ‘nexium’) that sold itself as a self-help group to empower women. NXIVM founder Keith Raniere will go on trial in New York later this month on sex trafficking and forced labour charges. An exposé in New York Times in 2017 detailed how women in NXIVM were branded with a symbol that included Raniere’s initials and forced to follow ‘near-starvation diets’ to be physically appealing to him. Former members have also alleged that they were coerced into sex with Raniere.

Successful cult leaders are charismatic and intuitive and like to create crisis situations because they thrive on chaos. Gannon asserts that ‘[t]heir unpredictable nature and charisma allows cult leaders to be in control – which is by design, as these people are often power-hungry and authoritarian.’ Cult leaders also typically make tantalizing promises. On the basis of these comments, I would strongly suggest that ‘traumatic narcissism’ needs to be added to the frequent characterization of Trump as a ‘malignant narcissist.’

According to Mark Esper, Trump’s former defence secretary, Trump demanded Black Lives Matter demonstrators be shot as they protested outside the White House following the May 2020 death of George Floyd. That’s the charge Esper makes in his forthcoming book, A Sacred Oath. ‘Can’t you just shoot them?’ Trump inquired, sitting in front of the Resolute desk inside the Oval Office.’ Just shoot them in the legs or something?’ Michael Bender of the New York Times wrote in his book Frankly, We Did Win This Election that Trump wanted the military to ‘beat the fuck’ out of Black Lives Matter protesters. According to Bender, Trump gave the order, ‘Just shoot them,’ on multiple occasions. Bender added that Trump toned down his rhetoric about shooting the protesters by instructing the military to shoot them in the ‘leg’ or ‘foot.’ This second-order achromatized command from Trump’s puckered lips came only after Attorney General William Barr and Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, rolled back on his initial request.

In 2019, Trump famously fantasized about stabbing and shooting migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and eventually feeding them to snakes and alligators in a water-filled moat. The New York Times reported:

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

Trump has been connected to acts of violence, with perpetrators claiming that he was their inspiration. The more widely known examples include: ‘Cesar Sayoc, who mailed 16 inoperative pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and referred to Trump as a ‘surrogate father’; and the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 that left 23 dead, where the shooter’s manifesto parroted Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants.’ Fabiola Cineas has meticulously compiled a list of Trump’s more incendiary statements that serve as an accelerant to violence, some of which I attempt to summarize in my following remarks. Cineas writes that ‘Trump’s campaign rallies have always been incubation grounds for violence, sites where Trump spewed hate speech that encouraged physical harm against dissenters. And as president, he has used his platform to encourage violence against American citizens, whether through the police and National Guard or militia groups – unless those citizens are his supporters.’

For example, Trump has made disparaging comments about Mexicans, inciting violence against immigrants: ‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.’ Later, he would reaffirm his statement: ‘What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.,’ he said on July 6, 2015. Cineas reports: ‘At a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump demanded the removal of Black activist Mercutio Southall Jr. after he yelled, ‘Black lives matter!’ Onstage, Trump exclaimed, ‘Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!’ In a video captured by CNN, Southall fell to the ground as Trump made his statements, and white men appeared to kick and punch him. As security guards removed Southall from the rally, the crowd chanted, ‘All lives matter,’ according to the Washington Post.’ Trump told Fox News the next day, ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a troublemaker who was looking to make trouble.’ Cineas observes that, ‘At campaign rallies, Trump models the violence that he encourages by making a spectacle out of ejecting protesters.’ Trump often yells ‘Get ’em out!’ even if they had remained stone silent, or peacefully held up a sign, or chanted. Trump has advocated for violence against then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton by seemingly approving the chant ‘Lock her up!’ that became a facet of Trump’s rallies. I once tried to counter this by wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Lock Him Up.’ Trump called for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ in December 2015.

At a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump famously described the loyalty of his supporters by declaring, ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.’ Trump is almost certainly correct on that point. At a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Trump uttered: ‘If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you; I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us,’ he said. At a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Trump became angered by a protester, remarking, ‘I’d like to punch him in the face.’ Cineas writes: ‘As security guards escorted the protester out of the rally, Trump mocked him, saying, ‘He’s smiling. Having a good time.’ He then reminisced about being able to get away with violence: ‘There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. We’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.’ Trump also called the protester’ nasty as hell.’ At the same rally, relays Cineas, Trump reiterated his support for an infamous torture technique that had been banned for use by CIA operatives: waterboarding. ‘They said to me, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?’ I said I think it’s great, but we don’t go far enough. It’s true. We don’t go far enough. We don’t go far enough.’ If this wasn’t bad enough, at a February 6 Republican debate in New Hampshire, Trump said he would ‘bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding’ if he were elected president.

Trump has even advocated for police state violence, reports Cineas, lamenting how officers are afraid to do their jobs because America is ‘becoming a frightened country.’ ‘You see, in the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this. A lot quicker. In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast – but today, everybody’s politically correct,’ Trump said. ‘Our country’s going to hell with being politically correct. Going to hell.’ Some of Trump’s supporters have called for Hillary Clinton to be ‘hung on the Mall in Washington, DC’ or ‘put in a firing line and shot for treason.’ Trump has called the press and news media’ dishonest’ and an ‘enemy of the American people,’ which has provoked graven hostility toward journalists that many say led to violence. When he failed to condemn white supremacist and white nationalist groups that organized in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, that seemed to lead to a turning point for many Americans.

Cineas writes: ‘One of the clearest moments in which Trump refused to denounce violence, and thereby encouraged it, was when he equated the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of a ‘Unite the Right’ rally with the leftist protesters who demonstrated against them. During the rally, a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The evening before, on August 11, the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups marched at the University of Virginia, carrying lit tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic slogans in response to the impending removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.’ Cineas discloses that ‘[d]uring a speech to law enforcement officials in Long Island, New York, Trump encouraged police to be more violent when handling suspects and potential offenders:

Now, we’re getting them [criminals] out anyway, but we’d like to get them out a lot faster, and when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?’

Cineas reports that numerous studies released between 2017 and 2019 ‘showed how hate crimes reached a high during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. A report from the FBI found that hate crimes, especially against Muslims, increased by 5 per cent in 2016 and were up 17 per cent in 2017; in 2018, hate crimes reached a 16-year high, with a significant rise in violence against Latinos. According to a 2019 report, counties that hosted a rally with Trump as a headliner experienced a 226 per cent increase in hate crimes. The report’s authors noted: ‘Trump’s rhetoric may encourage hate crimes.’ As a result of Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy, which featured ICE raids and migrant detention facilities, between October 1, 2017, and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children were split from their families at the border. And how did Trump respond?’ We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents,’ he wrote.

And how did Trump respond to the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party known as ‘the Squad’? He said on Twitter that they should ‘go back’ to the ‘crime infested places from which they came.’ Cineas writes:

Trump didn’t initially name the lawmakers he was attacking, but it was clear he was directing his ire at first-term members Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The women, who advocate for progressive policies, became the target of backlash and scrutiny…. Trump’s rhetoric toward Omar and the rest of the Squad led to death threats and increased security for the women. In April, just hours after a man was charged for threatening to assault and murder Omar, Trump again told harmful lies about her at an event.

The list that Cineas so diligently put together of Trump’s racist and violent threats is too long to repeat. There are so many more incidents related to Trump’s racism, sexism and misogyny. And we can’t forget when Trump incited his mob to take over the Capitol Building on January 6, 2020, to prevent Biden from being certified as president. Essentially, Trump incited a coup – a flagrant takeover of the US government. He had help, of course, from the infamous legal scholar, John Eastman, then a law professor at Chapman University, whose office was across the street from mine. What will happen in the United States if or when Trump returns?

Noam Chomsky, one of the leading foreign policy experts in the United States, shocked many viewers in an interview this week when he said ‘fortunately’ there is ‘one Western statesman of stature’ who is pushing for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine rather than looking for ways to fuel and prolong it. ‘His name is Donald J. Trump,’ Chomsky said. He also said that he regards Trump as a ‘deeply dangerous figure,’ but he was being honest in reminding us that Trump did call for a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. ‘There is, fortunately, one statesman in the United States and Europe who has laid out … [and] made a very sensible statement about how you can solve the crisis, namely, by facilitating negotiations instead of undermining them, and moving toward establishing some kind of accommodation in Europe, in which there are no military alliances,’ Chomsky said. This was before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

True, Trump was unwilling to appease NATO’s expansionist plans. Trump’s anti-NATO position was made clear before the war broke out and before Trump called Putin’s invasion, ‘genius.’ Whether Trump would have been able to stop a Russia/Ukraine conflict once Putin had invaded is another question. Chomsky was trying to draw attention to the war-hungry media and to the importance of a negotiated peace. Clearly, we need to push for a negotiated end to the war. This needs to be our priority before succumbing to the goals of the US military strategists, which is to keep the war going until Russia is sufficiently weakened. In the meantime, yes, we need to support Ukraine and assist them in defending their country, which is being ruthlessly attacked by an invading and occupying army. By invading, Putin has played right into the hands of NATO and the US since he has stoked fears that he will invade other countries that share a border with Russia or are in close proximity. Now some of those countries want to join NATO. If and when Trump returns to power, there is no telling what his position will be regarding the war. Perhaps Putin will feel he can get away with occupying more of Ukraine than he presently has in his sights.

Trump described the Russian president as ‘very savvy’ for declaring two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – as independent days before launching a full-scale attack. At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on February 28, Trump claimed that there would be no crisis in Ukraine if he was still in the White House. He also said: ‘The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he’s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb … So dumb. They so far allowed him to get away with this travesty and assault on humanity. That’s what it is, an assault on humanity.’ Trump also said Putin was ‘playing Biden like a drum.’ Trump has remarked: ‘When you look, this doesn’t seem to be the same Putin I was dealing with…. But I will tell you; he wouldn’t have changed if I were dealing with him.’

Trump made these comments at a recent rally in Florence, South Carolina: ‘The fake news said my personality is going to get us into a war … but, actually, my personality is what kept us out of war…. This could lead to World War III…. I see what’s happening. Because if you think Putin is going to stop, it’s going to get worse and worse. He’s not going to accept it, and we don’t have anybody to talk to him. You had somebody to talk to him with me.’ Referring to Putin, Trump said this: ‘It happens to be a man that is just driven; he’s driven to put it together.’ Discussing Putin’s motive for the invasion with Jeanine Pirro, Trump stated: ‘They wanted to rebuild the Soviet Union,’ he said. ‘That’s what this is all about to a large extent. And then you say, what’s the purpose of this? They had a country. You could see it was a country where there was a lot of love, and we’re doing it because, you know, somebody wants to make his country larger, or he wants to put it back the way it was when actually it didn’t work very well.’ Regarding Putin, Trump maintained that he is ‘in a very bad position in many ways,’ but said he will continue to ‘go forward and continue to get more and more ruthless…. He’s got a tremendous ego, and he wants to save face.’ If Ukraine is partitioned and there is an uneasy peace when Trump takes office, Trump will take credit for the situation not being any worse. But, in the meantime, there are too many variables at play to know what will happen in Ukraine beyond speculation.

What we do know is that Trump is a fascist, and his environmental policies will bring us closer to planetary destruction. He will give the far-right White Christian evangelicals, who await his second advent, what they want – a country premised on Christian values and culture. Trump exclaimed at a recent church service in Dallas: ‘It’s impossible to think of the life of our own country without the influence of [Jesus’] example and of his teachings. Our miraculous founding, overcoming civil war, abolishing slavery, defeating communism and fascism, reaching boundless heights of science and discovering so many incredible things…. And the United States ultimately becoming a truly great nation, and we’re gonna keep it that way. We’re not going to let it go.’ The promise that America should be for White Christians is what is driving so many Americans towards Trump. They are willing, of course, to forgive Trump for his penchant for violence, for his misogyny and racism. As long as it is White violence, White misogyny and White racism directed toward non-White others, then it seems fine with Trump supporters. And what does that tell us about the state of America? Whatever political alternative to Trumpism comes into play, we can only hope that it is democratic and humanist. And this is our hope for Ukraine as well.

Ukraine has defended itself from the charge of being a Nazi country in various ways, one being that President Zelenskyy himself is Jewish. Tia Goldenberg reports that, in an interview with an Italian news channel, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made claims that Adolf Hitler was Jewish and that the biggest anti-Semites are Jewish. He said: ‘In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time, we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest anti-Semites were Jewish.’ Israel condemned Lavrov’s remarks, arguing that this is equivalent to blaming Jews for their own murder in the Holocaust. ‘The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,’ said Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. ‘The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.’ Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticized Lavrov’s remarks, claiming that they unmask the ‘deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites.’ An article by Agence France-Presse has led to renewed speculation over the identity of Hitler’s paternal grandfather that surfaced as far back as the 1920s. Hitler’s father, Alois, was an illegitimate child whose own father was unknown. Hitler’s political rivals encouraged this rumour. Nazi war criminal Hans Frank, who governed occupied Poland during the war, revived the story after WWII. Hitler’s paternal grandmother Maria Anna Schicklgruber gave birth to Alois in 1837. Frank claimed to have discovered that, at the time, she was employed as a cook for a Jewish family by the name of Frankenberger in the Austrian city of Graz. Apparently, Alois’s father came from this Jewish family. Since, at the time in question, Jews did not have the right to live in Graz, this casts doubt on Frank’s claims. That Lavrov would bring this up as a way to justify the notion that Ukraine, with its Jewish president, could still be a Nazi country illustrates Russia’s sense of callous desperation.

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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.