To Donald Trump’s MAGA minions, I ask a tripartite question: Do you know, and do you care, and do you care to know?
In other words, do you really know, care, and care to know Donald Trump’s actual character: that he only cares about himself and his self-interests while caring little about the concerns and needs of the people of the country he once was elected to serve and protect?
Do you know, care, and care to know of his incompetence in business and in politics, and that he is a scam artist who hasn’t any glimmer of understanding anything even approaching the art of any deal?
Do you know, care, and care to know of his severe personality flaws and narcissism rendering him literally incapable of functioning as an effective President of the United States? Rather, this man (dis)functions as an exceedingly dangerous force in undermining our standing around the world and bringing us to the point of rupture in our constitutional form of government.
And if you know this, those of you who are apparently so concerned with maintaining and expanding your “personal freedom” and “liberty,” why would you even consider supporting and voting for Trump? By doing so, you have essentially relinquished your personal freedom and your liberty as the cost of admission to his personality cult and some intangible promised security.
As someone who has studied World War II and the Holocaust virtually all of my life, I have struggled to comprehend how authoritarian leaders gain ascendancy in presumably liberal democracies built on guiding principles of freedom and the rule of law.
Authoritarianism as a form of government is characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. These regimes may be either autocratic (concentrated in the hands of one person) or oligarchic (small number of powerful, often rich people) and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.
Influential political scientist Juan José Linz defined authoritarianism as composed of four qualities:
- Limited political pluralism with severe constraints on the legislature, political parties, and interest groups.
- Political legitimacy based on appeals to emotion and identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat “easily recognizable societal problems, such as underdevelopment or insurgency.”
- Minimal political mobilization and suppression of anti-regime activities.
- Ill-defined executive powers, often vague and shifting, which extend the power of the executive.
During the late 1940s, researchers led by Theodor W. Adorno studied the historical conditions that paved the way for the rise of fascist regimes in the 1930s, World War II, and the Holocaust. They theorized about individuals who supported the growth of these regimes.
They suggested that people of a certain personality type, which they labeled the “authoritarian personality,” were most ripe for extremism, referring in this case to those most susceptible to anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-democratic political beliefs.
These individuals suspended their autonomy and critical thinking facilities. They pledged obedience, allegiance, and freedom to a powerful leader or social institution for the promise of going back to a future reminiscent of a (mythic) idealistic past, one of economic, political, social, cultural, and personal security where their “ingroup” won and led, and “outgroups” served obediently and acquiesced to “ingroup” needs and demands.
In other words, they surrender their freedom for the promise of social and personal security, which usually includes suppressing and even oppressing those outside the circle, the “others.”
Now enters the would-be mighty authoritarian strongman, Donald John Trump, who has painted a gruesome image of a post-apocalyptic America, replete with vicious marauding gangs, gunshots whizzing throughout inner cities, decrepit crumbling structures and highways, rampant poverty, declining health care systems, imminent terrorist attacks, and ruthless criminal-drug-dealing-rapist invaders from our southern border.
After inciting violence at his rallies – leading to the deadly insurrection by his fascist militia at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and his second impeachment – and after stereotyping and scapegoating all Muslims and so-called “illegal aliens,” after promising to punish women who had abortions and their doctors who performed them, after asserting that he will re-establish the Supreme Court to an ultra-conservative majority, and after promising to reverse both Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, and most importantly, after promising to “Make America Great Again,” Heir Donald non-so-solemnly proclaimed during his meandering diatribe in 2016 at the Republican National Convention:
“I am your voice! I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.”
Trump never asked anything of his supporters other than their total loyalty and complete faith in him. And the authoritarian personalities followed in lockstep.
Trump had his followers wax nostalgic to the television shows from many of their youths: Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Ozzy and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, and Full House, all reflecting the mainstream popular image of the American family as white, middle class, with a nice home in the suburbs, and with all family members accepting their assigned raced and gendered scripts.
Democracy, though, demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine their politicians and the issues of the day so they can make truly informed decisions. Democracy demands us never to relinquish our freedom and authority for some promise of a comfortable security by returning to a fairytale past.
Those peaceful bygone days where lovely children played in beautifully landscaped yards within lily-white neighborhoods surrounded by rainbows above and unicorns strolling down the freshly cleansed sidewalks never existed, except in the mind of the cult believers.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” -Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” -Voltaire
Now Trump wishes to invade the Oval Office again.
He shot his latest salvo of democracy-killing lies and deceptions at CNN’s supposed “townhall” on May 10, hosted by reporter Katlin Collins. But this was no regular town hall since the audience members came directly from central casting of the MAGA world to bow to their cult leader.
Though Collins tried to constrain the twice impeached failed former president by calling out his continual stream of lies and dehumanizing characterizations of Trump’s critics and attacks upon herself, Collins was simply no match for the would-be dictator and his minions.
Though Trump has been convicted of sexual harassment and is under investigation for conspiring to lead a coup to remain in power, to abscond with classified documents, to change the outcome of the electoral vote in Georgia, and to submit false tax forms in New York State and to the Internal Revenue Service, his minions kept cheering on their deranged leader.
Even though he would not address whether he wished Ukraine or Russia to win the deadly incursion by Russia against its neighbor; stated that if reelected he would continue to separate children from their migrant parents; said he would support a national ban on abortion; and doubled down on his contention that it is both normal and natural for men to grab women’s genitals; his minions kept cheering on their deranged leader.
We have long known that Donald Trump is a liar and a racist neo-nationalist. Republican leaders and their supporters who don’t speak out are enablers and are themselves co-conspirators.
“Enabler” is the term given to those who fail to act to help abusers. “Passive bystander” or “bad Samaritan” is the name for people who are conscious of bad actions developing around them but fail to intervene.
I often wonder how Trump enablers can sleep at night and get back up in the morning, still willing to degrade and prostrate themselves by attacking our democratic institutions and seriously dismantling our country’s standing in the world.
Each time anyone enables an abusive action, they keep perpetrators and themselves further from the truth and from help, and they diminish themselves and their integrity more than just a bit.
I have been stuck time and time again by Trump’s lies and deceptions throughout the past post-factual seven years –since he first announced his campaign for the presidency, through the transition following his election, his four years in the White House, and his constant promotion of the Big Lie that led to an attempted coup, and now in his newest campaign.
He continues to spread his lies – his verifiable lies – big and small.
So questions remain:
How long will it take for Trump’s supporters to finally realize they have been duped by this con artist who sold them his snake oil of a campaign and presidency of little value, which can have disastrous consequences?
How much longer can Trump’s enablers and passive and active supporters understand that they are hurting the country and sacrificing their own integrity and sense of dignity for the mere promise of a few shiny coins of glittering gold and the hot glow of fleeting power?
When voters relinquish their freedom for some sort of promised security, we are left with nothing at all.