Governance by stunts exposes the worst of Trumpism, now under justifiable siege
Among the most memorable images of Capitol rioters, aside from brutal homicides, are videos of disrupters carrying off spoils, gaping like rape-and-pillage raiders leaving burning rubble. Plus, with a stupid you can’t teach, deplorables advertised their crimes with selfies, reveling in mayhem. Trumpism is now outed as never before: this mob invaded, destroyed, then walked off untouched with stolen goodies, forever branded as the spawn of Trumpism. Most shocking wasn’t only the easy mob access, by pliant or overwhelmed defenders, but how cockeyed were the haphazard motives of most disrupters.
Unlike ‘60’s sit-ins and protests, few of last week’s low-lifes displayed any intention of staying long enough to obstruct Congressional approval of the election. That would have implied a plan, an ideology, even a single, focused thought process. Instead, with all the phoniness of Trump’s scorched earth rhetoric, a filthy wind simply rushed through corridors of power. And the trivial message from the showboating, “Look at our prowess, gaining forced entry to a holy of holies, trashing the trappings of representative democracy, then escaping with prizes, like Pelosi’s podium!”
Does this qualify as a genuine insurrection, per media hyperbole, or evidence of breaking the law and demolishing icons? The rioters proved enough street protestors could invade where no one had gone before. Thus, one degenerate desecrated the Capitol with the first-time Confederate flag parade, then disappeared (though CNN published his picture, asking for ID help).
Empty-headed Lightness of Being
“Zero respect for restraints,” and the gall to pull off whatever he can, is the Trump motto. What’s new here is that Trump finally, perhaps for the first time, hit a wall that stopped him cold. Until now, lies were mere lies, pathetic ploys to gain an advantage. And when one lie failed, he dumped another. Rules were never limits, simply tests of manliness. The more outlandish the conspiracy, the better – mere hurdles that tested the obedience of slavish followers. Who cares about masks or spreading disease? Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. If that sounds like chicanery, pushing symbols over substance, welcome to the empty Trump politics of stunts, charades and demolition.
Though light years from Trump, P.T. Barnum and Oscar Wilde share an assumption. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” allegedly said P.T. Barnum, probably seriously. The wittier Oscar Wilde quipped, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” The first Trump commandment, indeed how he fooled some diminished people all of the time, is convince them politics is a contemptible parade of stunts. Successful ploys gain visibility or power and profits. Failed ones are scurrilously disowned, for nothing matters but staying on top.
The politics of shock value defines Trump’s worst, uncivil crime: the obliteration of content. Since substance (facts, logic, evidence) never matter, Trump and Trumpers readily scorn laws, norms, precedents, and national values like fairness or justice. Just as this emperor has no leadership clothes, Trumpism has no content, committed only to the facade of fleeting leverage. Making a mockery of the diversity that is America, Trump substituted cultist hero worship, a flame drawing equally insular, bigoted fanatics eager to stomp on the rights of others.
Predecessor to Trump?
A world only of crude transactions obliterates any higher, moral principles or serving any higher good. Loyalty is corrupted into slavishness, genuineness into righteous indignation, and ignorance about American history into ethnic hatred. So much for the ideal of the melting pot, let alone the Golden Rule. In fact, Christian ideology identifies one ultimate transactionalist – Satan hawking worldly gain to capture a divine soul. Like Trump, Satan must be exiled from civil society because he cannot transcend the dead end, toddler mindset of “What’s in it for me?” What hellish devil wouldn’t embrace the core Trump mantra, “I win because you lose and are humiliated”?
What the Sedition Caucus, or direct followers storming the Congress, imitate is Trump’s compulsion to corrupt politics into a vacuous, fabricated reality. He who scorns moral values as sucker plays must end up worshiping domination. That’s why “everything Trump touches dies,” per Rick Wilson. And thus we come to the current teaching moment, the revelation for those in denial that Trump’s world is without substance, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Besieged and increasingly rejected, the Sedition Caucus’ hold over center stage is, like Trump, crashing and burning. Because Cruz, Hawley et al dreamed of replacing Trump, they joined him at the hip and now walk the same gang plank. Pressure is amplifying for a forced resignation, and the longer Trump stays, the less payoff he gets. Cruz is buried in calls for him to resign, fitting for the worst political blunder in modern politics. Both will go down as permanent icons that pride still goeth before the fall. Cruz, Hawley et al prove that colossal ambition leads to over-reaching, then infamy, and that always invites just retribution. No one can simply apologize for inciting even a failed attempt to overthrow elections and the Constitution. The Sedition Caucus is learning to its horror that there is something absolutely worse than bad publicity – career obliteration, perhaps indictment.
An inevitable teaching moment
Thank goodness we’re finally having a meaningful teaching moment, however painful, and before Trump escaped relatively unscathed. On full display is that epic misrule is a threat to all that America claims to stands for. Was there really a different finale for a scoundrel who stuck to this folly, “I either win or the election must be rigged”? That treason against democracy must be tarred and feathered. Of course, the best news is that not just Trump, nor rioters, but traitorous, treacherous Republicans are now fully outed. The party of primitive deplorables, thinking it too could play with fire, is facing an outraged majority. Too bad it took so long.
Further, facing the darker sides of what has forever haunted America provides an opportunity to uncover what’s under the rug and behind white supremacist sheets. Nothing but today’s ordeal begins to heal the deep wounds that Trump has unearthed. Perhaps an awakened majority realizes what’s at stake: that Trump exposed the fragile line between what separates civilization and civilized behavior from regression to a dog-eat-dog world of savagery. This could be the one gift that Trumpism inadvertently delivers, and the rest of us perhaps more together than in four years get to choose where we go from here.