Barton Gellman’s dark, dark truth, Democracy may already have lost its last, second chance…
“In mid-December an image started circulating on social media. The image was taken in Washington, D.C. and featured a man standing alongside a group of Proud Boys and wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the cryptic text “6MWE.” This code for “6 Million Wasn’t Enough” is a not-so-veiled reference to the Holocaust.” — ADL.org
Gypsys, tramps, and thieves
The latest iteration of the Republican Party would remind you of a dysfunctional family whose leader was “born in the wagon of a traveling show” — -except that he wasn’t. And watching the antics of this family of coarse and illiberal losers, one wonders who are these people and who think they are worthy of election to govern in the House and Senate of the premier democracy on the face of the earth? As of this moment, there are majorities of voters in states and districts across the country who agree with poseurs like Marjorie Green, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, et.al. Who are these people who vote for them, support them, and elect them?
The attack on our democracy from the right stoked by the purveyors of the “big lie” is telling. Our concern should be heightened by an unconscionable campaign to recast the January 6 insurrection as merely a protest. A corollary action in furtherance of the lunacy of the right includes the ongoing moral perversity of the resistance to support the COVID vaccine distribution, especially by Republican governors. We are witnessing the end of party politics as Republicans simply refuse to govern in the face of multiple crises facing the nation.
Last week Republicans in the Senate relented on their crazy scheme to withhold their vote to avert a government shutdown as a cudgel to block President Biden’s vaccine requirements. This cancer at the center of the Republican Party refuses to govern and their leadership either refuses or is incapable of controlling the trolls who have taken over. We have come a long way from JFK’s charge to the nation to “ask not what your country can do for you…” These are leaders whose challenge to the nation is to beg us to stop them before they do any more harm.
The next time it may just work…
The recent article by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic (“Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” 12/6/2021) explores possibilities that should make us stand up and take note. Gellman’s subtitle propels a reader to read on:
“January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election. “
Far from opening our eyes to an original scheme concocted by evil geniuses, Gellman plumbs the depths of human nature. His article suggests a well-worn script repeated throughout history with similar themes and a revolving cast. The recent euphemism trotted out by the loser of the 2020 election that rechristened the January Insurrection as “a protest” reminds us of other manipulations of language. Harnessing the power of language and of controlling nomenclature is part and parcel of most of history’s Big Lies. A common denominator for most all coup attempts is the lie that supports them. The Holocaust is perhaps the most egregious corruption of language in service to a lie. Six million human beings were exterminated and their deaths were planned and executed with gruesome efficiency using the code words “the final solution” As part of today’s Big Lie, Proud Boys in support of a seditionist political cabal resurrected the genocidal fever. “Replacement theory” is the latest white supremacist trope. Some have been seen in a mid-December rally in Washington wearing shirts emblazoned with the letters “6MWE” — -for six million wasn’t enough- and “Camp Auschwitz” as they made preparations for storming the Capital on January 6. Whether out of a thirst for power, or, more likely, a fear of their own supporters, today’s “Good Republicans” join a long line of those who claim ignorance as a shroud to hide their complicity in the crimes committed on their behalf. While they may not have bought the shirt, they have bought the hate.
A history of lies
There have been a series of lies-big and little- in our history, some of which have been exposed and chronicled. Whatever one believes about the events surrounding the death of JFK, a disturbing memo written by then-Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to Bill Moyers asserts a position that within 3 days of the assassination that places in suspicion the motives of those in charge of the investigation. The Katzenbach memo promotes a lie, that for whatever his motive, Robert Kennedy’s deputy demonstrates a fear of the truth:
“The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.” — Katzenbach memo, November 25, 1963
To be sure, Katzenbach’s memo describes the formulation of a lie that may be more politically motivated than sinister, yet, three days after the assassination no one could assert with any certainty Katzenbach’s attempt to spin the truth about an event so important to the body politic was either innocent or naive. He is in effect asking Moyers to relay to the newly appointed president a preemptive verdict on one of history’s most public and controversial crimes. The best interpretation of the memo is that it reveals a mistrust of its citizens to even explore the truth.
And who can forget the lies of Ronald Reagan surrounding Iran-Contra:
“In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories of arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not, repeat, did not, trade weapons or anything else for hostages. Nor will we.”
— or the fusillade of lies emanating from the George W. Bush presidency surrounding 9/11 and the materially false rendition of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Their lie was shared with the world by Ambassador Colin Powell who began with an assertion that was manufactured by neocons versed in falsehoods. The resultant war was waged against the people of Iraq- a country with no known ties to the attack on September 11, 2001.
Our current Big Lie is similarly repeated to disorient and confuse the public. It gives cover to crimes by those in power and denies us the right to sanction those involved. In a democracy, in fact, there are no “little lies.” As with Hitler and so many despots, any lack of candor has to be seen for what it is a disrespect and mistrust of the electorate. Without that trust, democracy morphs into fascism.
A more apt comparison?
The current Republican Party has adopted an untenable position of serving a leader who was defeated and replaced by a duly elected president. Their obstruction is heightened by the knowledge that the basis for the lie has been disproven by many of his own political appointees and confirmed by the courts. The continued attacks on the rightful authority of the current government, and his interventions using elected officials to carry out his wishes to overthrow it, places Trump in a similar position as Hitler pre-1932. Trump’s irregular “army” made up of white supremacists, antisemites, and neo-Nazis, and other assorted fascists are his Sturmabteilung, or brown shirts. Their allegiance was to their leader and not their country. Trump may not be Hitler, and his crimes may be nowhere near those committed by der Fuhrer, but both share a mutual addiction to power and a will to use it against innocents. For those who are reluctant to compare the current former guy to the Fuhrer I will defer to a passage in Gellman’s insightful Atlantic piece in which he quotes Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor who studies and has written about political violence and who prefers a comparison to Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević :
Milošević, Pape said, inspired bloodshed by appealing to fears that Serbs were losing their dominant place to upstart minorities. “What he is arguing” in the 1989 speech “is that Muslims in Kosovo and generally throughout the former Yugoslavia are essentially waging genocide on the Serbs,” Pape said. “And really, he doesn’t use the word replaced. But this is what the modern term would be.”
Pape was alluding to a theory called the “Great Replacement.” The term itself has its origins in Europe. But the theory is the latest incarnation of a racist trope that dates back to Reconstruction in the United States. Replacement ideology holds that a hidden hand (often imagined as Jewish) is encouraging the invasion of nonwhite immigrants, and the rise of nonwhite citizens, to take power from white Christian people of European stock. When white supremacists marched with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, they chanted, “Jews will not replace us!”
The Serbian strongman may be a better model for what a Trump second term might yield. All three were emboldened by popular support of their racist and xenophobic beliefs, yet in terms of rhetoric, Pape’s comparison may be the better one. The sheer breadth of the European despots’ hateful turn far exceeds the hamhanded truculence that Trump has exhibited to date. But as Gellmam suggests, there’s still time:
Donald Trump came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again, and his position is growing stronger. Republican acolytes have identified the weak points in our electoral apparatus and are methodically exploiting them. They have set loose and now are driven by the animus of tens of millions of aggrieved Trump supporters who are prone to conspiracy thinking, embrace violence, and reject democratic defeat. Those supporters, Robert Pape’s “committed insurrectionists,” are armed and single-minded and will know what to do the next time Trump calls upon them to act.
If Gellman is right, the lies and ineptitude that had been so blatant in his first term could be simply, as he calls it, a dress rehearsal for the main event. Democracy may have already been dealt a fatal blow. If Trump is given a second chance, Democracy in America may need one of its own. In the end, the biggest lie may be that enough of us will care to stop him.
Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on December 11, 2021.