January 6th, 2021
Donald Trump was the leader of a very large, deeply devoted cult. He won the cult by stoking fear and anger in people already feeling dispossessed and rejected by their society, and then hardened it by consistently promising his followers, in mantra-like fashion, to stand athwart history as the only man willing and able to serve as their protector and avenger. (“The Wall,” “Stop the Steal.”) All of his promises and cult-building claims were obvious and brazen lies, but as a lifelong brand salesman, self-promoting media star, and utter sociopath, Trump was ideally gifted to present those lies without a hint of self-doubt, repeating them vociferously with that aura of righteous indignation which he had learned to channel from the souls of his desperate millions — Trump’s well-practiced mask for the currents of childish insecurity and megalomaniacal vanity swirling continuously through his overgrown toddler’s heart.
On January 6th, 2021, Trump’s lie to end all lies, namely that the 2020 election he had lost had been “stolen” from him — from “us,” as he liked to say, conflating the demagogue’s rhetorical identification with his mob and the royal “We” of one asserting his divine right — bore its inevitable and pathetic fruit. There was no evidence of widespread fraud. Trump certainly knew of none, as is clear from the fact that he had been laying the rhetorical groundwork for this lie for months before the election, as well as the fact that he declared the election stolen on election night, while the votes were still being counted, and when he obviously could not provide even a plausible theory as to how this alleged fraud was being perpetrated — it just had to be fraud, because there was no way Donald J. Trump could ever lose, since as everyone knows, he is a winner. But by repeatedly and incessantly shouting the lie as though it were a self-evident certainty, his own word became a bond in the hearts of millions of believers who were only too desperate to will this insupportable blather into reality. Trump saying it was so was enough for them. “After all, why would he say it if it were not true?” (The obvious answer — “To escape the wee man’s shame of public humiliation and failure” — would never seem the least bit plausible to followers whose own egos were so thoroughly invested in the Truth and Goodness of their new god, for whose fantasy world they had already completely abandoned all their past principles, friends, families, and aspirations.)
In the final days when his bubble of foot-stomping denial of reality was about to burst before all the world, and all of history, Trump’s rhetoric became increasingly unhinged and unguarded. Having publicly attacked virtually everyone who had ever been his ally, due to their having distanced themselves from his insanely dangerous pack of lies about the election, he finally went all in on almost his last friend standing, his own vice president. By repeatedly telling his followers, not only through internet blurbs but, much worse, in desperation-charged public rallies, that if Mike Pence merely “did the right thing,” The Steal would be stopped in its tracks, Trump was recklessly planting dynamite.
Trump’s word never being doubted by his millions, it followed necessarily that if “all Mike had to do” was send the electoral college votes back to the states, then his failure to do so would have to be judged a dereliction of duty, and much worse, an open betrayal of the cult’s godhead. By deciding to follow his true constitutional duty and fulfill his necessary function in Congress on January 6th (the alternative being to invent the authority to decide the winner of his own election), Pence was, to the cult’s (and Trump’s) way of thinking, engaged in treason, and revealing himself as having been a deep state plant and anti-Trump subversive all along. A Judas, a blasphemer, an agent of evil. Something had to be done to end this outrage against America and Trump before it was too late.
True, most of Trump’s true-believing followers stayed home and shouted at their televisions, as I had always predicted they would when push came to shove. But a significant few actually followed through on what they sincerely (and understandably) believed were their master’s orders. They had to stop the steal, in the name of saving their country and their president.
It is now well-documented that on that ugly day, when hundreds of Trump cultists stormed the Capitol building and destroyed things, many of them shouting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump’s backers (or coattail riders) in the “conservative media” and beyond, including his own son, were anxiously trying to get a message through to him to put a stop to the violence, which he surely could have done, just as he had personally triggered it. But Trump resisted, hesitating for hours, presumably because the spectacle of men engaged in a violent siege of the government on his behalf was just too heady and ego-gratifying a scene not to be savored as long as possible, a culminating triumph of all his years of self-aggrandizing vanity and salesmanship. “They will do even this for me!” We must never forget that this is the cult leader who announced at a press event early in the 2016 GOP primaries that his followers would not leave him if he shot a man on Fifth Avenue. He believed it in all seriousness then, and he believed it on January 5th and 6th, when he was telling his followers, in effect, that Mike Pence’s worth as a man and a patriot would be determined by his willingness or unwillingness to violate his constitutional duty on Trump’s behalf.
For the record, I do not care about Liz Cheney or the January 6th committee performance artists, although the ease with which Trump and his moron lieutenants have roused millions to abject hatred of Cheney and her cohorts over their simple refusal to call Trump’s lies truths is startling — or rather would be if we had not watched the same thing happen a hundred times before, essentially anytime Trump feels personally miffed about anyone who rejects his carnival barker bull crap. And I certainly do not care about Joe Biden’s presidency, and regard his administration and his party as effectively a front for Marxist subversion. I also do not care about the 2020 election as such, which had no candidate worthy of any decent person’s support. To hell with all of that entertainment-politics rot. Shouting at the TV, or, alternatively, shouting with one’s favorite media celebrity, is the substitute for political seriousness that got the “grassroots” into all this trouble in the first place. Let that nonsense burn itself out from both ends. Who cares?
What I care about is this: On January 6th, a friend of mine, a man I respected and regarded as a model of a good American and a sincere constitutional conservative, but who, after having long marveled with me at American conservatism’s loss of its marbles, finally succumbed to the inanity himself (on the standard “But the Marxists!” canard that has dragged down so many good men over the past five years). He was in attendance at the Capitol “protest” before it became a riot, a Trump supporter hoodwinked by the stolen election lies. He subsequently became one of those excuse-makers who insisted that the rioters were mostly Antifa imposters, or were somehow prodded and “tricked” into bad behavior by Antifa provocateurs. As a man who joined the Trump cult late after having held out for a long time, and who still presumably had some of his reason and his dignity left, he just could not admit to himself what his eyes had seen, or more specifically what he had allied himself with, what he had been party to, even if only passively and at a non-violent distance. Understandably, no one who had once thought deeply and lovingly about freedom and the American republic, as my friend certainly had, could easily face the truth of what he had fallen for, or fallen into.
We all make mistakes. My friend’s was a grievous one, namely succumbing to the pressure of feeling abandoned by former allies, feeling marginalized where he had previously felt relevant. I hope he admits this to himself and comes to terms with his best self again. We are all getting older, and no good life should end in a final bout of indignant clinging to a desperate foolishness.
Leave the indignant clinging and desperate foolishness to Trump himself. It is time for the good minority among those men and women who gave up so much of themselves to this peddler man’s fakery to come to a reckoning with reality and their souls, and move on — not looking for a substitute or a new hero, but looking for hard truths and the courage to hold onto them. Leave that fraud and everything he stands for once and for all. He never loved his country, he never cared about “making America great again,” he never respected you. He never saw his country or his supporters as anything but means to his personal glory and self-aggrandizement. He has no idea what America is, what leadership is, what citizenship is, or what truth is. He represents nothing but himself and his own trivial interests. He has been the greatest gift of all to both the Marxist left and the old boy Republican establishment. His fraudulence, ignorance, and vulgarity have effectively sullied and demeaned the final traces of constitutionalism, public decency, political seriousness, or principled conversation on “the right,” smearing them with the slime of idolatry, violent irrationalism, aimless outrage, and frightened submission before the “protection” of a convenient delusion.
A mass reawakening of the grassroots conservative temperament that was so prevalent in middle America as recently as six years ago is highly unlikely, and would come too late to turn the tide now, even if it were to happen. But this is not about movements and national renewal anymore. This is about souls, specifically those good and decent souls temporarily lost to populist demagoguery, and to the natural weakness of the resigned and purposeful man engaged in a long, strenuous journey — the weakness for being lured from the true path by those twinges of insecurity and apparent futility upon which demagoguery preys, with its false promises of immediate salvation and “winning.”
I feel compelled to note, in conclusion, that I strongly doubt any of these souls (my old friend’s included) will in fact extricate themselves from the rubble of the Trump disaster. Personality cults are like drug addiction. I am merely describing what ought to happen, what would have to happen. I am quite sure, however, that it will not happen. I have resigned myself to that as well. Add it to the list of truths and probabilities to which I have resigned myself. For that is what a person who seeks understanding rather than comfort, reality rather than fantasy, must do.