It was definitely over in July 2015. Donald Trump stood onstage and stated in front of God and everyone that John McCain is, “not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” As we all know, Republicans respect service and sacrifice. Republicans are people who still fly that MIA flag. Republicans may tolerate many things, but insulting the sacred obligation of service to country is the highest blasphemy.
His poll numbers rose. His comments only grew more erratic, racist and offensive. Within a few months he was the clear leader in the GOP race for President, a position he’s never relinquished. A ‘Time for Choosing’ arrived, and our Republican neighbors, almost all of them white (or aspiring to be), chose badly.
What followed of course was a series of disasters that haven’t yet rolled to a halt. In the month before Trump took office I wrote, “It is difficult to map out any credible end to the Trump era that does not place a sad new national holiday on the calendar to remember those we lost.” Our pandemic death toll now approaches a million, a death toll rivaling the poorest, most disorganized nations on earth and Republicans still clamor for more.
Americans cultivate a strange mythology of niceness. We have believed that all our public endeavors are somehow separate from questions of personal decency or morality. We should never lose friends over politics, any more than we would lose friends over our favorite football team or food preferences. For Americans, politics is supposed to be a value-free space, a land of sterile administrata with no real consequence for our lives. This was always a lie. Politics is always, at all times, a matter of life and death. Our cult of civility was a lovely delusion. I’ll confess that I miss it.
What I hate most about the past half decade is what we learned about each other. Call me naive, but I never imagined that uncles, cousins and friends I loved and respected would so effortlessly embrace Fascism. I never imagined they would elevate some TV conman to a deity. I never would have believed that they would threaten my life or sacrifice their own to appease some tawdry, pop-culture god. Anyone who has followed this space for some time knows I’ve long warned of trouble from America’s core of committed racists and religious nuts. I didn’t know how bad it was. I had no idea that my friends, family and neighbors would be willing to kill me for a lie. This lesson cannot be unlearned.
How bad is it?
Back in the fall a maskless, unvaccinated high school friend died suddenly from a COVID infection. He was an impressive, well-loved figure claimed before his time, leaving behind a young family and a burgeoning business. In normal times, one might imagine such a tragedy might inspire introspection. These are not those times. His funeral was held in a church with hundreds of maskless people crammed together. It’s a statistical certainty that his family killed others by holding this event. You can calculate the risks here. This was not an unusual occurrence. As a white Southerner, I can name dozens of these cases. None of them created any evident change of heart.
What have we learned about each other? We’ve learned that Republicans will not only kill you, they’ll kill each other or even themselves over politics without the slightest hint of concern. They need have no reason at all beyond group loyalty or obedience to their god. No rational intervention, no evidence, not even a consequence falling on them personally can be counted on to dissuade them. We are beyond the value-free politics of the past. Our Republican friends and family are playing for keeps.
Elections don’t matter anymore. Laws don’t matter. Respect for flag, country, service family or honor can no longer be trusted. Republicans will literally kill their grandparents if their leaders tell them it’s right. This is not a guess or a projection. It’s what they’re saying in public, on television.
What have my white uncles and cousins and friends taught me in recent years? They taught me that I can’t trust them not to kill me.
COVID brought all these lessons home, transformed them from suspicions to established fact. However, let’s not forget the demonstrations of horror that built up in the preceding years. Those early days of the Trump campaign were confusing. Republicans appeared to have betrayed everything they valued in favor of a skeevy conman. No more loathsome creature could have been conjured from a witches’ cauldron of human darkness. The best that can be said of Donald Trump is that he had never murdered anyone, at least until the pandemic started.
Trump was a party buddy of Jeffrey Epstein who frequently commented on the sexual attractiveness of his underaged daughter. He was sued by one of Epstein’s victims for raping her when she was 13, in a strange case quietly hushed up in 2016.
Married three times, his first lady is a former nude model whose original visa status is, at best, suspect. He made a living through money laundering and shady real estate deals, drawing his first money laundering fine in the 90’s and his most recent just as his campaign was kicking off. While running for President he settled a fraud case related to his phony university, then lost the ability to run charities due to his family’s unapologetic embezzlement from those charities. He got explicit, open help on his campaign from the Russians, part of an espionage case that would land several campaign aides in prison while yet another scam earned him the title “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1.“
Donald Trump is a professional criminal. A horrible, miserable human being with no redeeming qualities. He was a lousy businessman, a failson who turned his massive inheritance into a cascade of failures. His only successes came through fraud or outright crimes. All of this happened out in the open. None of it was hard to discover. My white Republican friends and family just don’t care.
Why? It was never that hard to understand. I just refused to believe that people I otherwise loved and respected had this dark strain in their souls. Donald Trump made his appeal plain in his very first campaign speech, blaming the problems of America’s good, honest white people on “Mexicans.” Apart from his crystal clear appeals to racism, every other element of his campaign was a word salad. One day he promised universal health care, the next he railed on socialism, but he was always consistent on his determination to be the savior of the poor, mistreated white race. Trump is America’s White Messiah.
My white friends and family have proven they’ll kill for no reason more meaningful than the vague suggestion of restored white supremacy. Along the way they’ll tear down everything that works, from public schools and libraries to the environment on which we all depend, to satisfy their white god.
When confronted with the realities of what they’ve done, they called the truth lies. They have done this all in service of an archaic white nationalism, a unifying mythology that can never bind this nation together again. Republicans are not “deceived.” They have the same access to the Washington Post that everyone else has. They have chosen the Orwellian reality they want to experience. They will destroy anything and anyone that threatens their cult reality.
Republicans have already seceded, quite openly and publicly, from our democracy. No common ground can be reached. We will defeat them or they will destroy the American experiment and kill many more of us along the way. We are beyond the reach of electoral politics, regardless what reality we’d prefer to live in. Being nice, appealing to a lost civility, hoping for the protection of the law, none of these plans will work. We have been warned. Our Republican friends, family and neighbors have warned us in the clearest possible terms.
Whatever we thought we might have done in Germany in 1933, it’s time to do that now. What do you do when “Never Again,” comes again, when a toxic political cult threatens to destroy democracy? You fight.