So far we have explored the nature of myth in a positive sense, a number of useful myths and some destructive myths in America. Now we turn to the myth which some see as creating an American crisis but which others see as the key to our salvation as a nation. We are taking about the Trumpian Myth. Let’s look at what Trump brings to the table.
Greek mythology contains the myth of Narcissus among many others. According to the legend, Narcissus was known for his beauty. A long life was predicted for him as long as he never recognized himself. He rejected the love of a nymph and fell in love with his own reflection in the water and eventually died either of frustration or possibly by killing himself.
There have been many theories about what is going on with Trump. One is that he has narcissistic personality disorder. Another is that he has antisocial personality disorder. Both are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM 5). A third option is that he has a combination of the two.
A person diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder must show at least five of the following symptoms:
1. A grand sense of self importance.
2. Preoccupation with dreams of unlimited power, success,
physical attractiveness and love.
3. Belief that he or she (usually he) is of special or high status.
4. A need for excessive admiration.
5. A sense of entitlement and expectation of favorable treatment or
6. Exploitation of other people to achieve personal goals.
7. Lack of empathy regarding the needs and feelings of other people.
8. Envy of other people or thinking that other people envy them.
9. Arrogant behaviors and attitudes.
A person diagnosed as having Antisocial Personality Disorder must show
at least three of the following symptoms:
Repeated failure to follow social norms resulting in grounds for arrest.
Engaging in deceitfulness.
Impulsivity and not planning ahead.
Irritability and aggressiveness.
Reckless disregard or concern for the safety of other people.
Lack of remorse about hurting others.
I had no difficulty finding all of these symptoms in both groups as being present in Trump. Does that mean it is necessary to choose one diagnosis or another? He clearly shows patterns consistent with both diagnoses.
Although there is no combined diagnosis in the DSM-5, Arlin Cuncic at www.verywellmind.com discusses the idea of a narcissistic sociopath with features of both the personality disorders we just reviewed. Here each of the two diagnoses intensify and make each other worse. As with each of the separate diagnoses, the combined pattern first shows itself during adolescence and most likely is due to both genetic and environmental factors. Cuncic describes a person with both as “on a quest for power and control, who uses the love and admiration of others as a tool to dominate and manipulate. There will be no guilt, no apologies, and no remorse coming from the narcissistic sociopath.” This also appears to me to be a very apt description of Trump.
All of this brings us to the Trumpian Myth. Wikipedia describes A Big Lie as “a propaganda device by a politician used for political purposes- a great distortion or misrepresentation of the facts.” It goes on to describe the term as one coined by Hitler in Mein Kampf as “a lie so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
As I see it there are currently three parts to the Trumpian Myth:
1. The first is MAGA. Paul Blumenthal describes the part of the myth as “foretelling a great and cataclysmic future event where deliverance will arrive through the exertion and sacrifice of believers. The present order will be swept away.” This is the promise on which Trump ran and which he promised to continue if reelected through the slogan “Keep America Great”
as if he had accomplished his goal during his administration of making America great.
In my assessment, he made a good start on sweeping away our democracy by diluting and crippling many of the federal agencies which support democracy. He did this mostly by restrictive policies and installation of agency directors who either had no idea how to run their agencies or who had ideas of how to cripple them. Yet he does deserve credit for supporting the COVID vaccines although he did undermine other aspects of containing the pandemic. Other than supporting the vaccine development, I had trouble finding anything positive unless you were super-rich and wanted a tax cut.
2. The second part of the myth is that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was not an attack but a “love fest” and that Trump did not incite it. In addition, any Republican who does blame Trump for any part in the insurrection (or lack of insurrection) needs to be purged from the ranks.
3. The third part is that Trump actually won the 2020 election. Phony votes were supposedly introduced by Democrats or by others acting in their interest. Seemingly endless recounts and sham recounts have been the order of the day in order to expose the “Big Steal” with more planned across the country.
Under the pretense of voter fraud which must have taken place in their view,
Republicans are hard at work in many states to reintroduce restrictive laws to limit voting by undesirable individuals who might vote against Trump such as Blacks, and other people of color as well as poor and younger voters.
These aspects of the Trump myth are touted by the loudest voices in the Republican Party with practically total support or at least lack of objection on the part of Republican House and Senate members of Congress.
The final post in this series will focus on what to do about all of this.
My friend Bob offered to lend me this book. My first reaction was that I have read and heard enough about Trump to last me a lifetime. Then he told me that it was about how Trump got the way he is and how to understand his followers. For some time I have been looking for a way to have an intelligent discussion with Trump followers without fireworks and so forged ahead.
The book is divided into two parts. The first is an explanation of how Trump’s life experiences led him to be who he is. The second is the authors’ assessment of Trump followers. At the end of the book are rating scales used in research toward understanding the distribution of authoritarian tendencies among Trump followers and among others.
The authors define an authoritarian leader as one who demands complete obedience and denies individual freedom. They also refer to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a demagogue as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.” They apply both terms to Trump.
They discuss early influences such as his mother largely ignoring him and his father demanding that he be a winner at any cost. In response he was a bully in school and escorted attractive young women to events, using them as “eye candy” to enhance his status rather than befriending them. He bragged about attending Wharton School. The reality is that he attended classes at the less competitive Wharton undergraduate school but never attended the elite and prestigious graduate program. He appears to have never been an outstanding student on his own merits.
The authors describe Trump followers as mainly social dominators who view their own group as superior to all others, authoritarian followers, and double highs with characteristics of both groups. The book goes into great detail about the characteristics of all these groups. All three tend to be non-questioning followers with little reliance on critical thinking in deference to what they are told to think. They see Trump as their protector and thinker in their stead.
I was looking for suggestion on how to negotiate with these groups but none were forthcoming. The only alternative the authors presented was beating them at the polls and encouraging others of like mind to vote as well.
I don’t think that everyone who follows Trump necessarily fall into one of the three grouups discussed in this book. I have relatives and friends who I know to be Trump followers and supporters. For the most part I have avoided discussing politics or Trump related issues with them as a way of keeping the peace and avoiding verbal combat with them. I know they have wishes, goals and values, many of which I once shared with them and hopefully still do. Recently I have become quite careful in discussing anything with them.
I have also seen elements in out society whom I refer to as rugged individuals or as having a cowboy mentality as displayed in our country’s old movies. I did not find any treatment in this book of constructive ways to interact with those who share some of your values but also follow authoritarian leaders. I will keep looking for suggestions on how to bridge this gap and hope to contribute to the discussion. President Biden has called for ways to cooperate with each other in rebuilding our society. The only alternative appears to be a war for control which does not enamor me.
I found this book to be generally well written and fairly easy to understand given the complexity of our society. One minor distraction was a number of grammatical/spelling errors which should have been corrected in the editing phase.
How to Get a Grip, Get Real, and Think Critically About What This Moment Means to History, the World, and Us
Written and Published by Umair Haque in Medium, 11/15/2019
Impeachment frenzy!! Maybe, like many people I know, you’re caught up in it. You feel a sense of relief and strength and safety, for a change. Or maybe, like some others, you’re just yawning at it. It’s bizarre twists and turns.
(Now, I have to warn you, if you’re not ready to think critically about impeachment, don’t read this essay. I mean that. Go bask in those good feelings for a few days, and maybe come back if you want. Go right ahead and get that impeachment high. Your feelings are more important than your thoughts, yes really. It’s important not to feel…the way we’ve all felt…for the last few years. If, on the other hand, you do want to think a little bit harder about it, then read on.)
Now. I get the frenzy. Americans have felt powerless for a long, long time. Woo-hoo!! Get this horrific orange jackass out of office! Can we have our country back now? Yup, indeed. But I think a little critical distance in in order. Reading the papers and the tweets and the columns, what struck me most was a total inability to think well, critically, seriously about this impeachment. Sure, we should support it. But in what way, precisely? Happily? Or maybe a little more warily, carefully, reluctantly?
There’s massive support for impeachment. See that pic above. But there are many things to impeach for, many kinds of impeachments. We have chosen a particular impeachment. Not all are created equal. Especially in their aftereffects and consequences. So is this one the right one? The best one? Is this impeachment — the what and why of it — the one we need and deserve?
This particular impeachment says certain things to the world, and to history. And they are not good ones, if we think about them even a little bit. I have lived through many social collapses. And here is what I know. Right about now, we’re riding the wave of a drug-like high. Once the high passes, the crash back to earth is going to say some of the following things. You won’t like them.
I’m going to keep it short and blunt. You can judge for yourself if I’m just indulging in pointless, petty, perfectionism — I invite you to, because I hate it when people do that — or whether my words carry any water worth drinking.
Here’s number one.
America can’t do justice to fascism and authoritarianism. Let’s put all the cards on the table. The President is being impeached for a scandal that involved removing an ambassador to trade influence for military aid. What the President is not being impeached for is any of the following: building camps, putting kids in them, tearing families apart, inciting violence, dehumanizing vulnerable people, and so forth.
(You might say: “but none of that’s breaking the law!” That’s besides the point: Congress can define a “high crime” how it likes. And if putting kids in a camp isn’t a high crime, then…the fascists have won.)
What this impeachment says to the world and to history is that America can’t do justice to fascism…because it’s not actually doing it. Either because it’s scared and intimidated, or because it’s indifferent, or because it actually secretly kind of likes it. One of those things must be true. In that way, this impeachment is a Pyrrhic victory. Sure, we might impeach the Prez. We probably will. But not for the truly terrible things — the things which have torn lives apart. Just for petty infractions of office.
American institutions are broken, and it’s history has poisoned its democracy. The point of doing justice to fascism is to deter it. That was why the International Criminal Court was set up. It’s why the Nuremberg Trials happened. But a society that can’t do justice to fascism also has no real hope of deterring it. You must hold the bad guys accountable if you want to create a reason for there not to be bad guys in the future.
lokInstitutions must have priorities, and so must societies. That applies to justice perhaps most of all. A fascist is a greater threat to a society than a common criminal because the fascist wants to destabilize society and annihilate whole peoples. A fascist in power is perhaps the greatest threat to a society there can be. For that reason, doing justice to fascism is one of the most basic functions of a democracy. It is why, for example, Europe pursues hate speech cases and hate crimes with such vigor and aggressiveness. But America seems not to understand this. And impeachment is the biggest example yet — trying a monster for the least bad things he’s done? What the?
American history is different, though. America was a segregated nation until the 1970s, and Trumpism has fed on that. But none of that has been brought to justice, has it? The hate and violence and rage and dehumanization of the Trumpist movement? It is not a part of this impeachment at all. It is simply politely ignored. But the world sees us trying to ignore history — and history sees us trying to ignore it, too. And they both laugh at us — for still not having learned a thing.
So you, the good American, might see a noble battle for impeachment. But the world sees a society with institutions so broken they can’t perform society’s most basic functions, a society with a history of violence so deep it’s left it unable to even see true evil when it’s staring it right in the face. Seeing fascists, rejecting fascists, holding fascists accountable, punishing them. All those things have been failed at.
“True evil…who cares?!”, America seems to be saying. The world is shocked. Because to the world, that makes America a failed society — barely even worth being a laughingstock. And it does to history, too. Because when we don’t hold true evil to account, we legitimize and normalize it. But what does that say about us?
American society is morally weak, and can’t distinguish true evil from petty infraction. What do you think the world sees when it looks at Americans…in a frenzy over corruption…but perfectly OK with concentration camps and kids in cages in them? I’ll tell you what it thinks, in hard terms. It is revolted. It is horrified. And it laughs. The world has long thought of Americans as dumb and violent and brutal people. And now it has been proven right.
America is a morally weak society — what greater proof can there be than a society which thinks overt, violent, fascism replete with concentration camps…is worth less scorn than garden-league corruption? That normalizes and legitimizes fascism in the truest way, pretending it never existed at all? The world is amused by Americans not being able to fight their very own fascists…because America has been the world’s bully for a very long time. And you know what they say about bullies, don’t you?
Do you know how if you tell anyone across the world you’re American, they kind of roll their eyes? Expect a lot more of that. The world isn’t going to have much respect for people who can’t take on their monsters. Who can’t distinguish true evil from minor infractions of rules. The world knows that if you can’t tell what true evil is, you have lost your moral compass entirely, You are in the desert. And history knows it, too.
America will never regain its self-respect. Wait — what about you and me? What about our self-respect? What about feeling like the kinds of people who can hold monsters to true account?
You see, this impeachment will give us a mania, a frenzy, for a moment or two. But it will not give us back the self-respect we need. To feel that we have power our overselves morally, as true moral agents. That we are capable of saying: “never again!”, or “this cannot happen here!”, or “not in my name!”…and really mean it.
Once the mania and the frenzy is over, what then? When the rush passes, and the adrenaline recedes? Then we will still feel ashamed of ourselves. We will still feel weak. And we will be right to feel those things. Because we are weak, and we are shamed. We will always have to know, deep down, how impotent we really were. We had to get the fascist for corruption. But we could not bring him to justice for his true horrors. All those kids in those cages. Who will speak for them? Nobody. That sense of impotence, of powerlessness, will haunt us. It will corrode us inside, just like it does to every powerless person.
But for us, that reckoning will be truer. We’ll know something terrible about ourselves. When we were faced with true evil…nothing much happened. We are the kinds of people who gave evil a free pass, while cheering on the prosecution of the least bad thing.
What does that make us — in our own eyes? What do people who let evil happen feel? They hurt themselves, because they feel guilty. They abuse themselves, because they feel weak and feeble and powerless. Not worthy of self-respect and dignity. Americans have felt like that for a long time. So it’s no surprise there’s a kind of frenzy over impeachment. But impeaching a monster for infractions is not going to give us back a sense of power, of self-directedness, of self-worth. Once the mania passes, we are going to feel deflated, empty, and hollow. Full of regret and remorse for what we weren’t capable of. And our self-respect will forever suffer for it.
America isn’t worth befriending, and it is worth attacking. You might imagine that impeaching a Prez for a foreign corruption scandal teaches the world that America is strong and you better not mess with us. You’d be wrong.
What do you think the world is going to think of a country — a hyperpower — that can’t do justice to fascism? It’s going to lose respect for it. It’s going to know that such a country is weak, morally and institutionally. That it doesn’t have much fight left in it. And so you can kiss the old America goodbye — the one that was a true hyperpower. The attacks from all angles — Russia, North Korea, etc — will only intensify. Because it is laughable. It does say that you can interfere with us, all you like. The most we’ll ever do is hold weak impeachment hearings a few years after the fact, which give monsters a slap on the wrist.
But it’s not just attacks that will intensify. So will the loss of American friends and allies.
You see, the rest of the world knows how important it is to do justice to fascism. Europe knows it. Asia knows it. Africa knows it, too. Only America doesn’t seem to. But the world also knows that a nation that can’t hold it’s fascists accountable is one that is easy to take advantage of. One that has little dignity. One that has little real power, in the end. And they are right to think so.
Do you think many nations will want to be friends with a country that can’t brings its fascists to justice? Don’t you think they will be forever a little disgusted — and also a little wary? Don’t you think they will find ways around an America that broken, and treat it with the contempt it rightly deserves? I do, and I guarantee you they will too. Now, the way out of that conundrum was to impeach Trump for his true horrors, not just his minor infractions. But nobody much was interested in that.
How much respect do you think Europe will have for an America that gave fascism a free pass? How about Canada? What about Asia? You’re kidding yourself if you think those societies are going to respect us more after impeachment. They are going to respect us less, because they see what we are not doing, what we are incapable of.
I’m sorry to be blunt. You’re welcome to disagree with me. But I’ve lived through fascist collapses — have you? And here is what I see.
We are trying for a President to be tried for the least bad thing he’s done — not his true evils. Among a long, long list of truly terrible and horrific evils to choose from. We might feel a sense of strength and power now — but that is just mania, just frenzy, a high. What trying a monster for the least bad thing he has done tells history and the world how weak the society which tries him really is. The trial indicts the prosecution. The verdict indicts the jury. Many trials are like that. Miscarriages of justice. This impeachment is one.
America will not be respected again. At least not in our lifetimes. Its friends will abandon it, its enemies will laugh at it. And in its own eyes, too, it will lose self-respect. That much is deserved for those who give evil a free pass. Isn’t it? But isn’t that we are doing? Maybe even what you are doing? Think about it. I’m not judging you or shaming you or blaming you. Nobody’s listening. Except you, to yourself.
This impeachment — this weak, forlorn thing — reveals the weaknesses at the heart of American collapse: true evil is forgotten, brushed under the rug, while Americans are told to settle for what they can get. Isn’t that exactly…how we got here? So It is an ill omen for the future. Sure, we should “support” it. But ambivalently. Remembering that real justice for true evil was never done. Never even aspired to. And a society that can’t do justice to its monsters is one that is still collapsing — only sometimes it doesn’t quite know it.
On Wednesday morning, the lead story on FoxNews.com was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.
On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.
Cohen’s admission highlights one of the enduring riddles of the Trump era. Trump’s supporters say they care about corruption. During the campaign, they cheered his vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. When Morning Consult asked Americans in May 2016 to explain why they disliked Hillary Clinton, the second-most-common answer was that she was “corrupt.” And yet, Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history. When asked last month whether they considered Trump corrupt, only 14 percent of Republicans said yes. Even Cohen’s allegation is unlikely to change that.
The answer may lie in how Trump and his supporters define corruption. In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”
Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.
The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion — the corruption — of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.
Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense. Since 2014, Trump has employed the phrase rule of lawnine times in tweets. Seven of them refer to illegal immigration.
Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidenceabout Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition — especially in service of a feminist agenda — in and of itself represents a form of corruption. “When female politicians were described as power-seeking,” noted the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto in a 2010 study, “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust).”
Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt — indeed, anticorrupt — because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity. And in the struggle against that form of corruption — the kind embodied by Cristhian Rivera — Trump isn’t the problem. He’s the solution.
For the world at large, the resignation by the US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Monday is not about an obscure 19th century law that defines a phone conversation between him and the Russian ambassador.
What it conveys are three things. First, the US is sliding into a vicious civil war. A Fox News poll released on February 14 shows that the American public is almost evenly divided over President Donald Trump’s job performance since his inauguration on January 20. When asked if the Trump administration is working on things that will help their family, 47% of voters say yes, while 48% say no.