Can a propaganda calamity not sabotage a party splitting at the seams?
A terrifically-revealing, if disgraceful White House exit caps the destruction of the very propaganda Trump and Republicans used for years to manipulate the base and cement power. Fantasies of American exceptionalism are even more laughable now than four years ago. The Electoral College disaster of 2016 propelled a reign of blundering politics that advanced a decline well on its way. That America was never the “best country ever” (only the richest and thus best defended) is a delusion that needed crushing. So be it.
Ditto, the farce of the MAGA fraud, sounded by greatest (sore) loser in American history—awash in endless, chronic losing, normally considered the opposite of unlimited greatness. In what ways is America better now than four years ago? Okay, Trumpism did inspire a matchless, moral and political revulsion against Retrumplicans, racism, inequality and fascist criminality by elected officials. So be it.
A boomerang for the ages
There will be no greater, enduring boomerang than Trump’s irrational, disastrous assault on a fair election in which 84 millions voters sent the most explicit message possible: once was more than enough, too much painful losing. By sustaining the lunacy of being cheated by a “rigged” election he won “easily,” Trump stamps himself the worst, most conspicuous cheater in our history—an enemy to popular voting, to democratic process, and to the simple logic of majority rule. This refusal continues to undermine faith in the electorate that what we do matters. This refusal is as inexcusable as inciting an insurrection (a desperate, despicable move) and barely, if at all, edges out a fatal, year-long denial of the horrors of an unchecked pandemic.
On the positive side: the universal condemnation for demonizing an election, then inciting a riot, proved the absolute fraudulence of right-wing “patriotism” or Trumpian “America First” nationalism. Even Republican leaders had to indict what Trump and his thugs pulled off as a model of anti-patriotic, anti-American violence. In one afternoon, years of phony right-wing patriotism showed itself in the open light as extremist Trumpers betrayed the heart of Constitutional republicanism—at both the real and symbolic center point of this “beacon of democracy.” Another empty right-wing myth has fallen hard and with permanence. Imagine the glorious impact of such treason on Republican candidates had a similar insurrection occurred before the November election. Neo-nazism bit America in the ass like nothing anyone sane could have imagined—and that, I trust, is a good thing.
A dose of double cults
More widely, what was always a Republican cult of power morphed (one hopes not permanently) into the Trump cult. With insane, recent Republican-wide support for anti-election betrayals, both cults are suddenly suspect as well as legally (and morally) worthy to run a national party. Fighting over the reduced party leverage is what’s left as Republicans split wide open, its oligarchic, “ruling class conservatism” in shambles. So much for all that propaganda about small, limited government intervention (pressured relentlessly, as reported over the weekend by a crooked president to overturn a fair election), or family values (at odds with caging children or breaking up famalies), genuine Christian convictions (Jesus would weep), and Constitutional restraints (how about enforcing emolument rules or respecting impeachment as a mandate of justice). All gone, bye, bye, eaten by cultism and naked, partisan ambition.
Like Trump, the Republican gang had no problem defending the absolutism of minority rule (thus voter disenfranchisement, trying to rig elections), the epic sovereignty of white nationalism, entrenched racism (reinforced by terrifying police abuses), or lower taxes for corporations and billionaires (with the same, fixed sales, gasoline and FICA taxes for all). Most tellingly, the rightwing pulled no punches when openly opposing diversity, immigration, and the idealistic remnants of America as cultural and ethnic melting pot. In short, the right, thanks to Trump, makes clear it’s all (and only) about discrimination against suspect “outsiders” and denial of fair opportunity for all, whether educational, economic or health care.
A cult is propaganda plus hypocrisy
In the process, propaganda plus hypocrisy cements both right-wing cults, especially apparent as Trump destroyed the very empty mythology by which he gained office. American exceptionalism and MAGA have never been less true. The bizarre, reactionary linkages of “America First” have never been clearer. Trump fascism made it all too clear that America is now the deviant outlier, hardly the model for western democracies (just think Yankee anti-science, pro-creationism, hysteria about abortion, and millions of misguided Biblical literalists).
And it all started with lies, with creating a cult with its own truth, its own (im)moral standards, and its own “exceptional” values wherein TV or twitter gestures of contempt trash democratic ideals. In that sense, there is good reason why the ruthless, conniving, Machiavellian McConnell is the top Republican, in charge of his own slavish Senate cult—and why the ruthless, conniving, instinct-driven Trump fabricated a popular, rancid GOP cult of personality. Not all cults are the same, but they all depend on self-interested, hardline divisions of us vs. them. Absolute selfishness makes for not so strange bedfellows.
Big questions remain: Are cult leaders born or made by moronic suckers? Was Trump smart enough to realize the cult he was starting when descending that 2015 elevator? I doubt it: after all, how smart was the party to allow a cult nominate one of the least attractive, quasi-human earthlings—knowing that guaranteed it would end badly? Half the country saw immediately who Trump was—and others, apparently highly aggrieved, non-analytic types, suspended all their disbelief (and rationality). Trump lies abused commonsense truth and so off and running was a marriage made in facing now an unforgiving majority seething over the last four years. Who can’t wait for the Trump Patriot Party, when endless failure and immeasurable tragedy graduate to unspeakable farce?
How long before redemption?
And yet, despite all, a majority of the Republican/Trump cult still favor what the other 2/3s judge a horrendous trade-off. Apparently the “novelty” having a racist insurrectionist who couldn’t get anything done was worth having, damn the phony tax relief, lost prosperity, job stagnation, or unsafe work and living conditions. And yet this particularly defective cult leader (defective at everything but self-promotion) corralled 74 million voters capable enough to sign up, visit the polls (no mail-ins for them), and pick the right con man for the ages.
I appreciate good propaganda like the next guy, but what yahoo stays with President Misfit to “enjoy” a few, unfunny tweets plus endlessly self-pitying, untrue and boring victim claims? For how long are sneering Trump smirks amusing, or violent threats entertaining, or merciless attacks on opponents just good, old-fashioned entertainment? Obviously I lack the cult gene, but how deranged must one be not to quickly get one’s fill of constant bad faith punctuated by constant bad manners?
The final truth: everyone in America paid hugely for letting Trump complete his term. In retrospect, even cults should have minimum standards, and Trump never merited a call-back. A cult of empty-headed, arm-waving stunts, as with the “rigged election,” is in the end no more than absurdist tomfoolery. America may take years, if at all, to regain the world’s trust that we can govern ourselves as adults, even that our functional democracy is intact. Yes, Biden represents a definite reversal, but already cult Senate obstructionism rears its ugly head, and it may take years before sanity and rationalism—even a return to mediocre governance—will again rule. Optimism rocks.