BY MATTHEW HERBERT
Two years ago I stopped commenting directly on the deprivations of Trump World. This was basically for two reasons. One, I concluded that Trump was below comment. I try to keep a certain tone here, and it would be brought down if I were I to opine, say, that Trump is 300 pounds of orange dogshit in a suit. Hardly salutary stuff, even if true.
Two, discussing our current politics on social media doesn’t accomplish anything. I got tired of the pointlessness of flame wars long ago. No one actually learns anything from Facebook fights. Temperatures are raised, hours are wasted. Notice how similar are the feelings produced by “winning” and “losing” an argument online.
But the insurrection in the capital Wednesday pushed me to comment one last time. You see, I had already referred to Trump’s movement as a mob several years ago. On Wednesday it took concrete form. When Trump’s footsoldiers actually went marauding through Washington, I thought, What did the “respectable” enablers of this virulently ignorant cult think would come from their efforts? That they would just get their juicy tax cuts and the rabble would fade back into 4chan?
In the Atlantic yesterday, Graeme Wood answered a related question. “Every decent person knew,” he wrote, “that Trumpism would lead somewhere like this, with red-capped mobs befouling the halls of government and terrorizing the very Republicans who had indulged their leader for the past four years.”
The lunacy of firing up the crassest, stupidest, most loathsome people in the country and expecting a politically desirable result seems self evident. But here’s the main thing that galls me about yesterday’s unrest: it reflected who we really are, not the bizarre outcome of a secretive scheme.
In run-of-the-mill autocracies, the oppression can always be blamed on the one strongman in charge. The people get a pass, morally speaking. Who can doubt, for example, that millions of powerless North Koreans suffer the cruel whims of their dictator simply because of the coercive power he has concentrated in a small ruling clique? It’s not their fault.
But it is different with Trumpian tyranny. This is us.
Wednesday’s rabble may not represent a majority of our society, but, linked to more than 70 million voters, they are terrifyingly strong.
Furthermore, this mob draws real strength and purpose from a deep well of toxic illiteracy. There is nothing fake about its political culture, which is unmistakably made in the USA.
Although shameful, this is hardly surprising. Our churches have taught the mob to privilege faith over reason and to worship their leaders as prophets. Gun culture and toxic individualism have produced reverence for political violence. Our laws and lobbyists have put guns everywhere. The self-help movement has persuaded millions they are the center of the universe and they can believe whatever they wish and achieve whatever they believe. Our racist historical legacy has convinced millions that violent protest–no matter how uninformed–is a sacred right reserved for white Americans.
At the bottom of this well is an inexhaustible fund of credulity. And, hard is it may be to believe, this constitutes real power. Once you convince a mob that two plus two equals five, you have bestowed on them a sense of invincibility; that whatever fantasies they believe–bigoted, outrageously stupid, or otherwise–will effect an endless series of victories. When they attack policemen while carrying Blue Lives Matter flags, they draw strength from the moral whiplash they induce in the rest of us. We’re stuck with those pitiful artifacts of reality–logic, facts, rational inquiry and so on. We can’t make sense. And they know this signals a loss of power for us.
In the meantime, the rest of the world may or may not recognize how perilous this moment is. The world’s leading superpower is ruled by a lunatic whose only recognizable loyalty is to a nihilistic cult that has put him at its center and highest altar. Yes, this is us.