America at a crossroads
Watching Mr. Trump again engage in and gleefully escalate his shameful and dangerous pattern of stoking racism, hatred, and division at one of his “rallies” as he did just the other night, and watching his fervent red-hatted hardcore followers passionately follow his lead as they started chanting “Send her back!” targeting a non-white Democratic Congresswoman who had the gall to criticize Mr.Trump and many of his policies and whom he stated should “go back to where she came from” was truly and deeply chilling. As was the deafening silence by GOP leaders which followed. Rather than leading by example and striving to unite us by calling to the “the higher angels of our nature,” Mr. Trump continues to plumb the darkest depths and recesses of our human psyche in order to divide us and further his own ego-driven goals.
Is this what the GOP has become? Is this what America is becoming?
I know I’ve pointed this all out before, but clearly, it is time to briefly review two critical and intersecting factors unfolding before our eyes and demanding our attention.
First, the behavioral patterns displayed by Mr.Trump on a daily basis (and throughout his history) clearly and undeniably reflect deep-seated sociopathy and malignant narcissism. That’s a mouthful, so let me back up for a moment and very briefly layout just a few of the features which characterize such individuals so that you can compare them to what we’ve all been witnessing over the past 3+ years: 1) a grandiose sense of their own importance, success, power, and brilliance, paired with an insatiable need for praise and deference from others and a deep-rooted belief that they are above the rules and norms which apply to everyone else; 2) a lack of empathy for others, except for what is often described as “predatory empathy” and an associated charisma allowing them to read and play upon others’ emotions in order to manipulate them; 3) little if any capacity to feel guilt; 4) a pervasive disregard for the rights of others, with deceit, threats, bullying, lying, and cheating readily employed to achieve desired ends, and reflexive rage and retaliatory responses to perceived criticism and insufficient deference from others.
With that in mind, the second factor involves the process by which democracies have historically been twisted into fascist autocracies, as described by Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist who studied numerous fascist regimes in recent history, in 2003. He identified 14 warning signs, which include such things as 1) stoking rabid nationalism; 2) disdain for human rights; 3) identification and targeting of “enemies” as the main cause of the nation’s problems; 4) supremacy of the military; 5) controlling the mass media; 6) an obsession with national security; 7) protecting corporate power and keeping such wealthy backers happy; and 8) rampant cronyism and corruption.
One could add to this list a various other things, with the following two seeming especially pertinent in these times: 1) the progressive installation of loyal henchmen in critical positions of power (e.g., Attorney General Barr as just one example); and 2) the weaponization of political power and its use against any who question, challenge, criticize, or otherwise serve as a check on the leader’s power – e.g., the Justice Department, the FBI, political rivals, and especially the independent media, who can best be undermined by relentlessly calling them “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” (a favorite of dictators around the world), while insisting that he is the only reliable source of truth (also a favorite ploy of cult leaders).
The convergence of these two factors here and now in America is undeniable – and dangerous. It is our responsibility as citizens to speak out against the racism, divisiveness, cruelty, and hatred being fueled by Mr. Trump’s dark rhetoric. Those who remain silent and choose to look the other way in the face of our leaders engaging in such shameful and un-American words and actions are not just allowing them to continue along this dark path, dragging our nation along with them, but are emboldening them to pull us all ever deeper into this moral abyss. Our democracy (to be more precise, our constitutionally-limited democratic republic) is at stake.
And here is a story well worth repeating given these pivotal issues now facing us, speaking to us across the centuries. At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked, “Well, Doctor – what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.” Wise words, indeed – and a most timely warning.