American Carnage

Mr. Trump is doing his best at the moment to realize the American Carnage he angrily conjured in his first State of the Union — a violently divided, crime-infested, cynical, angry, corrupt, lawless, vicious, violent, terrifyingly disordered United States of America.  A vision of national horror that, according to Mr. Trump, also, by the way, makes the US, humiliatingly, the world’s laughing stock.  Now the pandemic seems to be giving him the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make this vision a reality to an extent even he couldn’t have imagined.  He needs things to be as bad as possible if he has any hope of remaining in office.

If you have a highly infectious deadly disease raging out of control, continually blame another country (and have your surrogates constantly attacking China), blame partisan traitors in your own country for spreading it (instead of mobilizing the country to defend itself in the same ways other countries have controlled the spread), encourage your supporters to spread it as part of resistance to “tyranny”, demand policies, like immediate school re-openings, that will ensure it continues to rage out of control— well, you are well on your way to the mass chaos, terror, death and desperation you need to make your vision of American carnage a reality.   Why would anyone do this?   I leave that conclusion to you.

Years ago, after a lot of reading about the Nazis, I enrolled for what turned out to be one semester in a PhD program in Modern European History (it wasn’t for me).   At one point I read a great book on propaganda/political advertising by an influential sociologist of the 1940s (I think it was Harold Lasswell) that recommended Mr. Hitler’s chapter in Mein Kampf about propaganda.  The author wrote that Hitler’s views on effective propaganda were lucid and chilling.  They were.

I always remember my effort to find those cogent pages in Mr. Hitler’s ranting manifesto as slogging through a bad translation of badly written page-long paragraphs transcribed directly from the snarling of a rabid animal, sincerely, excitedly attempting to explain exactly why it must bite you in the face, immediately.   

To my astonishment, when I found the pages analyzing effective propaganda, I saw that Lasswell was absolutely correct about their lucidity.   Just as we get to those pages on propaganda, Mr. Hitler wipes the rabies foam off his lips and launches into maybe a dozen crystal clear pages about what makes effective  propaganda — a visceral appeal to the lowest emotions, using any conceivable lie or distortion that will inspire terror, hatred and rage.   Gripping fear, Mr. Hitler stresses, is the only thing that can move masses of people to violent action.

At the end of Mr. H’s analysis, which begins with his expression of admiration for the audacious and effective lies propagated [1] by France, Britain and the US in what was then called The World War, incendiary lies that made soldiers hate the enemy, and contrasting it to the pathetically ineffective German appeals to national pride and cultural superiority, the foam immediately returns to Herr Hitler’s lips and the book once again becomes the unreadable muttering of a rabid dog.  (A rabid dog, we note, who less than twenty years later, shot his own beloved dog, poisoned his new wife and then put himself down, in a bunker under Berlin).

How’s this for American Carnage:

Every poll shows that your reelection campaign (launched the day of your inauguration in January 2017) is in bad shape, your hope of winning the Electoral College swing states that put you over the top last time (by a surgical 78,000 votes) are even dimmer than in 2016.    You demote your campaign manager– as you did last time when firing Paul Manafort and having Roger Stone step away.  You state in a televised interview that if crazy Democrats had their way and every American vote was counted no Republican would ever be elected to public office again.   Suppressing voter turn out would seem to be a key to another Electoral College win, something a divided Supreme Court already helped out with by gutting enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.    Making claims of massive voter fraud that benefits Democrats is always good, even if the claim has been conclusively debunked as false many times. 

Check this out (from Business Insider at link above):

And in the context of the coronavirus crisis, expanding early voting and vote-by-mail would greatly benefit older voters over the age of 65, who the CDC say are most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, lean more Republican than younger generations, and backed Trump 53% to 45% the 2016 election. 

NO MATTER!   You continually attack mail-in voting during a dangerous pandemic (while defending absentee voting– go figure) as an invitation to massive fraud and appoint a large campaign donor to, literally, slow down mail delivery.   You have a 5-4 Supreme Court that already intervened to crush a Democratic governor’s plan to postpone a state primary, and overturned two federal courts that ruled a six day extension for mail-in voting was reasonable during a pandemic, particularly since many voters hadn’t received mail-in ballots by election day. 

Let’s pause here for just a moment for this witty tweet from Representative Eric Swalwell:

OK, let’s compromise. No mail-in ballots. Let’s go with absentee voting instead. 

At the same time, your party blocks continued financial relief to the 20,000,000 plus Americans unemployed because of the wildly spreading pandemic.  Now millions of Americans have another huge, very tangible, reason to be terrified.  Without government assistance during this once-in-a-century catastrophe, millions of Americans face the terrifying prospect of eviction, foreclosure, homelessness, hunger, increased likelihood of death from Covid-19. 

Mass evictions would make voting impossible for many of the new homeless — win-win for Mr. Trump.   Luckily for him there are no laws protecting Americans from immediate homelessness for failure to pay money owed to a bank or landlord, in a country where most people don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency and no law protecting a homeless person’s right to vote.  What effect would a few million newly homeless families have on American life?   A very scary thought, for them and for everybody else.

Mr. Trump has his American Carnage at last.   Babies plucked from their crying mother’s arms?   We’ve all shed our angry tears about that, courts have ruled that the president and his men can’t do it, countless kids are still in cages.  A rouge’s gallery of America’s most corrupt, unrepentant felons, sprung from prison by Mr. Trump?   What can we do?  He has the absolute constitutional power to pardon any federal felon he chooses.  Constant lying that serves only to confuse, divide and infuriate?   The absolute right of any public official who has no scruples about doing so (note that almost none of them will take an oath not to lie since Bill Clinton was forced to– with disastrous results for him).

See the living landscape of American Carnage coming into focus? September, October, millions of newly homeless Americans, governors and mayors unable to feed everyone, hospitals overrun, pandemic killing tens of thousands a week, desperate people stealing food, looting, sullen police departments standing down necessitating the mobilization of militarized federal shock troops from Homeland Security, the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, moving into disloyal “Democrat” cities, restoring order.   A terrifying vision of hell.   On election day, long lines at the few open polling places in every urban area where anti-Trump voters are concentrated, surrounded by highly militarized anti-insurgency units who wear no insignia, are accountable only to William Barr.   A little chemical irritant dispersed here and there, like spraying some weeds, as you do, for the TV cameras and the traumatized folks at home.

What is the only way to fight this fearsome fear machine?  Fearlessness and mobilized public demonstrations of courage, conviction and caring.  Like the Wall of Moms in Portland.   Standing arm in arm, peacefully, as they are sprayed in the face with the equivalent of mace, for the “crime” of opposing illegal federal violence against people exercising their First Amendment rights.   Citizens willing to be sprayed in the face like cockroaches, by secret police, to defend our beloved community.

In the inspiring words of historian Howard Zinn [2]: 

“I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.”

He concludes:

“I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.”



[1]  Propaganda, as I recall, was a word coined by the Roman Catholic church to describe its efforts to propagate the One True Faith. Let’s see who that innovative Pope was.

Here ya go, first hit on google:

The term “propaganda” apparently first came into common use in Europe as a result of the missionary activities of the Catholic church. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV created in Rome the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.


[2]  the following is worth seeing in its entirety.   The full post is  here.

I will end with Howard Zinn’s inspiring message, delivered as an older man, talking about why he studied and taught history, why he wrote A People’s History of the United States:

“I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

“I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.  And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

“I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.”

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