At around the 6m 50s mark in a podcast from FiveThirtyEight leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the speakers said the following:
“I’m not sure what words to use but there’s something profoundly evil about the Trump campaign at this point… and the people he attracts to it… and I think that’s the right word to use”
Trump and his cronies perfectly embody the phrase ‘American Evil’. They are so utterly and obviously machiavellian, incompetent, dishonest, cruel, cowardly and self serving as to almost be the sort of caricature we might see in a bad movie.
And yet he has been elected by strong support by a majority of the electorate. By ‘good people’. By voters with good intentions willing to overlook and justify almost anything to grant themselves permission to support an ideology based only on preserving power and self interest for themselves in some way.
Evangelicals overlook his clear moral failings. Military men overlook his lack of strategic common sense. Conservatives overlook his lack of ideological credentials. Working class people overlook his abusive and obnoxious wealth. Racists and misogynists derive validation from his rhetoric. People are drawn to his charisma, and his sheer brazen bluster, mistaking it for strength and courage.
And there’s the Alt-Right; the idealists, the true-believers (if ever such a motley band of opportunists could ever be called ‘true’). In front of the camera, these guys talk about their right-wing cultural identity and rail against immigration, the establishment, and political correctness with a cute nod and a wink. But behind closed doors, they just love to throw around Nazi salutes, use Nazi expressions like ‘Lügenpresse’, and self-identify as ‘conquerers’. Given that Steve Bannon (‘The Most Dangerous Political Operative in America’) is now the main strategy advisor for the White House and that the motto that best captures his political mindset is “Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit”, its clear that their policies are simply belligerent, crazy, harmful, unfair, and ill-thought-through.
This is where I use the word ‘evil’.
To my mind, if you voted for Trump, you’re in one of three groups. The first group are those people who have been played for a sucker and actually bought into the lies and hyperbola. The second group are people who understand full well what he is doing and are willing to ignore his failings for their self interest. The third group are those who are true believers in his inhuman, post-truth ideology as an appropriate means to an end.
If you’re part of the first and second groups, likely you hold in your heart some version of the ‘deep story’ described beautifully by Arlie Rothschilde in her book ‘Strangers in their own land’. You might feel that you have been left out and forgotten by the progressive elites who let undeserving minorities thrive whilst ignoring the needs of good, patriotic Americans. You may have squared your decision by arguing that Hillary’s policy positions were going to do more harm than those of Trump, Pence, Reibus and Bannon.
Like all the good people who paid money to the Trump University scam, you’re being played.
Chances are, in the style of the current divisive rhetoric that passes for civil discourse, you likely counter serious questions with pithy, off-the-shelf answers that simplify and belittle the conversation. You probably reduce important weighty issues to one-line counter-arguments because it appeals to your sense of patriotism and makes sense in conservative echo-chambers. Its not your fault, you’re being fed and amplified millions of times over by the newsdesks of Breitbart, Fox, and other misinformationists. At some point though, you’ll notice how the blatant manipulation, lying and bullying impacts us all and realize how this was never what you signed up for.
If you’re in the third group, you are pulling the levers and pressing the buttons of the vast right-wing bullshit machine. You drive so many unethical dealings (voter suppression and intimidation, the FBI leaking like a punctured balloon, private email communication being hacked and relentlessly exploited, routine denigration, flagrant hypocrisy, fraud, continuous and incessant bullying, stonewalling the Supreme Court, ignoring Trump’s conflict of interest, sexual misconduct and strange loyalty to Putin’s Russia, etc., etc.) with so little willingness to ever do the right thing at any level that I now realize that this is a concerted, thought-out strategy.
It is no accident.
‘American Evil’ gave us slavery and the need to have a civil war to abolish it. It gave us segregation and Jim Crow in the south before the showmanship of the civil rights movement was able to force things to change. It gives us 30,000+ gun deaths a year through misinformation and the dark arts of political lobbying. It gave us the sub prime mortgage crash with no consequences to the assholes that caused it. This what gave us the utterly absurd SNAFU of the second Gulf War, our disastrous occupation of Iraq and the subsequent rise of ISIS there.
American Evil is the process striving to preserve power through any means necessary. It is the notion of tough expediency and the need to make money above all other things. It doesn’t recognize it’s own failings. It thrives on belief, authority and loyalty. It demands that you stand during the national anthem and it calls you a terrorist if you say your life matters.
A frankly incredible documentary from VICE news (‘A House Divided’) gives rare insight into the toxic, polemic environment that gave rise to the Tea Party, pervasive Republican obstructionism and Trump. In an interview with the legendary conservative pundit, Frank Luntz, the documentary recorded the following extraordinary exchange:
VICE: Washington is now Toxic and it seems to be galvinized into inactivity.
Frank Luntz: That’s not the way politics used to be. Now they don’t know each other. There’s a segment of the Republican Party that would rather blow everything up than try to fix it; and they believe that they’re acting on principle. But principle is not the be-all-and-end-all. It is a blood sport. It is how much damage can I do to you. How much can I destroy your reputation. How can I hurt you so much so that not only are you destroyed but your dead relatives in the old country can feel it. We fucked up. We killed the goose that laid the golden egg. We fucked it up. Nobody’s listening. Nobody’s learning. It’s all just one big gabfest.
V: If it’s toxic and it can’t be fixed, where does American politics go from here?
FL: That’s why I’m telling people I’m going to New Zealand. I’m going to buy fifteen acres somewhere and I’ll sell off fourteen, so if you want to buy an acre, let me know. I’m not kidding. I’m going in December.
FL: At some point, the economy just stops functioning. The Greeks did not survive. The Romans did not survive. The French did not survive. The British did not survive. Why should we think the American empire will survive? I don’t know and I, unfortunately, will probably still be alive (I wish I wasn’t) when this whole thing comes tumbling down.
If Frank Lutz is right, there will be consequences for all of this; possibly long lasting impact on our civil rights; our economic prosperity; our effectiveness as a society to solve the problems we face and our reputation throughout the world. Echoing Romans 6:23 (“The wages of sin are death”), our communal future rests in the hands of good people, those people who voted for Trump and have not yet realized the likely consequence of their actions on the country, its citizens and its future.
I pray that those people start to see Donald Trump’s true nature soon. I pray that they realized that the course he is driving us towards is disastrous and horrifying. If you are one of those people, I pray that you turn back to the dignified and powerful promise of what American Freedom actually stands for and join us in the fight against, quite literally, the forces of evil.