Gore Vidal once said that the “four most beautiful words of the English language are ‘I told you so.'” For the sake of the United States, and the world, I wish that I could not utter that boastful declaration after reviewing the monstrosity of the Trump administration and his far right movement, which culminated – one hopes – in the terrorist siege of the US Capitol .
Throughout the past four years, countless naifs were in denial of the danger that Trump, and his enablers, present to the lives of Americans, and the survival of American democracy. There were pseudo-intellectuals who insisted that critics should “take Trump seriously, but not literally.” There were so called “conservatives” who argued that Trump was no more than a “showman,” whose “performances” of fascism were tolerable eccentricities as long as he cut taxes for the rich, allowed corporations to pollute the environment, and appointed right wing justices to the court. Most baffling remains the “Trumpenleft,” to use historian Paul Street’s term – a ragtag of phony leftists who either sympathize with Trump, gluttonously ingesting his working class hero propaganda, or demonstrate an astounding level of stupidity with the insistence that white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and violent maniacs are no worse than the corporate-friendly officials in the Democratic Party.
In the brooding western, “Open Range,” Kevin Costner’s character tells his friend, played by Robert Duvall, “A bad man will tell you his intentions if you allow yourself to hear.”
What follows is not merely the equivalent of an “I told you so” brag, but the record of one writer who allowed himself to hear. I am compiling this record of my own work so that it is available to those who want to revisit the horror show of the last five years in the interest of seeing the warning signs in hindsight. It is also to show that not all American analysts are dense. Some of us saw this coming. In addition to my own essays and stories, I would emphatically recommend everyone read, among others, Noam Chomsky, Jason Stanley, Christian Picciolini, Timothy Snyder, Anthony Dimaggio, Umair Haque, Masha Gessen, Anne Applebaum, Lawrence Rosenthal, Mike Lofgren, and the aforementioned Paul Street.
It is important to note that, with only one exception, all of my essays below were originally published on Salon, where my fellow writers, Andrew O’Hehir, Amanda Marcotte, Erin Keane, Chauncey DeVega, and others, also provided urgent and thoughtful analysis of Trump’s tyrannical threat, and the movement that supports him. Few publications could equal Salon’s consistency, intelligence, and force of argument in these troubling times.
Our work should, finally, serve as sufficient rebuttal against the fools and frauds calling for “unity” with fascists who want their adversaries dead.
“In Defense of American Elitism,” October 15, 2015: If the people bust down the barricades, seize control, and occupy the thrones of power it does not seem likely that they would nominate Putnam or Chomsky as President. It seems even less likely that they would govern according to their ideas. The voters who preferred George W. Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry because he seemed a better companion for sharing a six pack of beer — and those currently propelling Donald Trump to the top of the polls — seem to offer a better insight into America’s future, should the populists triumph. It is unpleasant to look into the hideous face of reality, but delusion is even worse. The truth shall set you free, as The Bible instructs, and the truth right now is that America is not ready or ripe for rebellion from below. Such a rebellion would result in catastrophe for civil society.
“The Man who Warned us about Donald Trump,” October 27, 2015: In one of his final essays from 2006, Vidal wrote that America had “entered the Dark Ages.” “What we are seeing,” he explained, “are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; as well as, today, the political and economic marginalization of our culture.” None of the horror is possible without, at least, the tacit approval of a large percentage of the American public. Polls reveal that Americans are comfortable with drone killing and torture, that they do not believe in evolutionary biology, and that they no longer read much.
“Donald Trump is the Bloated Narcissist the Christian Right has been Searching for All Along,” December 29, 2015: Evangelical Christians believe they are a persecuted minority because anything less than total ownership is unsatisfactory. God blesses America, and God has selected them to carry out his will. “Making America great again” will require the execution of God’s plan through the exclusion of those who do not share the religious vision of America as a white Christian paradise…Arthur Miller once remarked that Christian conservatives don’t want a president. Instead, they “ache for an Ayatollah.” Right now, they have Trump.
“We let the Idiots take the Wheel: Donald Trump, Fox News and how we let our Democracy Rot,” April 12, 2016: Benjamin Franklin even went so far as to predict that “the people shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”
“Which American dream will win?: Donald Trump as existential hero and the ugliness lurking in the “dream life of our nation”, April 13, 2016: Donald Trump, in the eyes of many voters ranging from uninformed to mentally disturbed, appears like an existential hero. Should he pull off the increasingly unlikely nightmare of becoming President, he would multiply and intensify his already repugnant and destructive cultural movement. It is a movement that empowers many of the bigots who were once shamed into silence by decades of social and political progress. Trump as President would notify every antisocial and anti-intellectual American that their time to speak ignorantly, act cruelly, and threaten the civility and decency of American diversity has arrived. The hate and violence at his rallies offer a horrific preview into the cultural transformation that might occur if Trump were to become the country’s character and cultural leader.
“We must shame dumb Trump fans,” April 30, 2016: It is much wiser and more moral to politically destroy the enemies of liberalism, especially those who are hell-bent on preaching dislike of people they don’t know, and obstructing the progression of America into a more peaceful, just, and – yes – loving society. The Bible says that the meek shall inherit the earth. Not in this political climate.
“The right wing hates America: The loudest flag-waving patriots are always the dangerous hypocrites,” May 22, 2016: The right wing often accuses liberals of disliking America, but upon scrutiny, this accusation reads like projection. While liberals have spent the last century making America more inclusive, just and loyal to its foundational promise of liberty and equality, the right wing has dreamt of living in an imaginary autocracy. The right wing nation looks nothing like the place that they clearly despise: the America that actually exists.
“Who’s the real insane clown posse? Trump fans give Juggalos a run for their money in “7 Days in Ohio,” September 24, 2016: “A Trump presidency would be disastrous and potentially calamitous for society, and it might take decades to recover (Nathan Rabin from my interview with him).”
Children’s crusade: Trump’s “movement” is a bunch of whiny, frightened infants who can’t handle democracy,” October 2, 2016: For all the contempt that Trump deserves, he has provided the invaluable if troublesome service of exposing certain unpleasant truths. There is now no doubt that large numbers of Americans, with a childlike resistance to diversity and democracy, are proud of their prejudice and willing to act on it. They hope to inject it, like a carcinogen, into the lungs of the body politic, eventually choking it.
“Walt Whitman saw Donald Trump coming: “Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believed in”, November 1, 2016: The American electoral system, according to Trump and his cultists, is nothing more than a massive conspiracy to undermine the will of the people.
“White flight from reality: Inside the racist panic that fueled Donald Trump’s victory,” November 12, 2016: Currently, the beast wears tanning spray and sports a hideous combover, but he is a beast all the same, and he and his aggrieved coalition of Caucasians threaten to devour years of social and political progress.
“Vulgarians at the gate: The next 4 years could be a long, slow, messy slide into cultural oblivion,” January 21, 2017: Trump will enforce the same degradation of public standards from the most powerful office in the country.
“Steve Bannon’s dark pursuit of a meaningful life,” May 28, 2017: There is always the suspicion that one’s sense of meaning is illusory. The zealot, uncomfortable with uncertainty, must convert as many people as possible and seek validation through imposition. If America becomes the country of Bannon’s dark dreams, he has not wasted his life, he is not wrong, and he is not delusional. The entire world’s stability is now at risk so that Bannon can guard his acumen through therapeutic gestures of political change. “A reason for being” sounds wonderful until you realize that your reason differs from the person in power. “What is the meaning of life?” is the ancient question. When someone claims to have the answer, you might want to take cover.
“Anti-Semitism in the alt-right age: It’s “the bellwether of society”, October 7, 2017: The ADL has 26 regional offices. Whenever we hear of an anti-Semitic incident, we put it into our system. It is our own science — not perfect — but it is 26 offices over the past 30 years putting data into a database, and then kicking out the numbers. From 2015 to 2016, we saw a dramatic spike — a 34 percent increase — in anti-Semitic incidents. What’s even more shocking is that from 2016 to ’17, first quarter — so first quarter ’16 to first quarter ’17 — we’ve seen an 86 percent increase. That’s huge…In the Trump campaign, there was a usage of white supremacist flyers, particularly the piece with Hillary’s picture and money and the notion of Jewish control…Anti-Semitism is the bellwether of society. Where there is anti-Semitism, you can be sure that there is going to be racism, and homophobia, and all the rest. When societies embrace one -ism, other -isms start to attach themselves to it. We cannot begin to normalize or tolerate any of this behavior. If we do, our society is in trouble (Lonnie Nasatir, from my interview with him.)”
“America flunks freshman comp, putting our democracy at risk, November 4, 2017”: As long as the focus remains solely on easily identifiable villains — foreign dictators, greedy tech magnates — American democracy will remain an easy target for illusionists and conmen.
“Homeland” is warning us: The domestic right-wing terror threat is real”, March 10, 2018: In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported on the “resurgence in right wing extremist recruitment and radicalization activity,” warning law enforcement agencies to take specific action in order to mitigate the threat. Due to snowflake political correctness, Republican senators quickly moved to ridicule the report, and with cooperation from conservative media, largely succeeded in banishing it from political discussion. The DHS event went so far as to “dissolve the team” of the analyst responsible for the document. The cowardly move to mute any conversation about right wing violence is particularly irresponsible, considering that since 2002 right wing militants have killed more people in the United States than jihadists…After years of Donald Trump continuing to throw meat on the raging fire — accusing former President Obama of tapping his phone, calling members of the mainstream media “enemies of the people,” expressing hatred of multiculturalism and globalism — how will the populist mob react to sudden feelings of displacement or suspicions of disenfranchisement? In the words of one of America’s great novelists, James Lee Burke, “no mob ever formed to do something good.”
“Can America recover from Trump? A radicalized right wing suggests dangers ahead,” March 9, 2019: Trump’s base does not represent a political movement as much as it constitutes a nervous breakdown in motion. Like any psychotic detachment from reality, it will not happen without painful consequences. Two-thirds of terrorist attacks in the United States are now tied to right-wing extremist groups, the ADL reports a staggering increase in right-wing incidents of anti-Semitism, and everything from white supremacist organizations to state militias continue to show an increase in membership as “conservative” Americans are becoming radicalized to believe anything, and adopt hostility toward the very idea of multicultural democracy…Two Trump supporters, just in the past year, have plotted to assassinate leading figures in the Democratic Party and the most prominent pundits of the “fake news.” Neither story attracted the attention it deserved, perhaps because the would-be terrorists were unsuccessful. Will we be so lucky next time? America is playing with matches. Eventually, it will get burned.
“Trump’s racist delusions and the global threat of white hate,” March 19, 2019: Albert Camus wrote that “the State is always criminal in its dreams.” Former Presidents have joked about how they would prefer to have dictatorial powers, and there is not much that citizens can do to censor the dreamlife of a leader. Trump is unique in his overt ambition to redefine American political life. Already working the soil to plant seeds of electoral nullification with his talk of “voter fraud” and “illegals voting for Democrats,” Trump has programmed his supporters into hostility toward the essence of American democracy. According to poll results first published in the Washington Post, 52 percent of Trump voters believe that their emperor should have the power to postpone the 2020 election if he believes that voter fraud is a concern. Trump also recently told an interviewer that things could get “very, very bad” if his “tough” supporters in the military, police departments, and biker gangs decide to “play it tough.” Is that what happened when Brenton Tarrant, who cites Trump as an inspiration, opened fire on a mosque in New Zealand? Christopher Paul Hasson, another Trump supporter and white supremacist, attempted to play it tough with his foiled plot to assassinate the most prominent politicians in the Democratic Party. As the country inches toward another presidential election, Trump and the Republicans will attempt to distract the public from genuine dangers with phony warnings about Mexicans, Muslims and socialists. It is an old tactic of manipulation. One white nationalist put it this way in the 1990s, “I believe we are turning into a socialist government. The government is continually getting more powerful, and people need to defend themselves against government control.” That was Timothy McVeigh explaining why he decided to “play it tough.”
“Trump’s authoritarianism can never be treated like business as usual,” April 23, 2019: To call this anything but fascism, especially in the aftermath of Trump’s degradation of immigrants as “animals” in 2018, and his family separation policy under which children were put in cages, often after ICE officers ripped them out of their mothers’ arms, is a dereliction of journalistic responsibility, and a violation of everything that is elemental to democracy.
“The Punisher skull: Unofficial logo of the white American death cult,” April 28, 2019: White Americans appear to have enlisted in a death cult…In his modern classic, “The Things They Carried,” poet and novelist Tim O’Brien writes that one of his fellow soldiers in Vietnam, Dobbins, expressed a desire to truly believe in God, not because he had any particular interest in religion, but because he believed it would help him “be nice to people.” “Dobbins meant the he just wanted to be nice to people and be a decent person,” O’Brien writes, “Because in war you are opposite of that.” A powerful strain of American culture has embraced the ethic and ethos of war, and it shows in its rejection of kindness and decency — in public policy, in political rhetoric, and on the clothes they wear.
“Independent of everything: Is America too dumb for democracy”, July 4, 2019: American provincialism also functions as insulation of the brain, preventing the average citizen from seeing and hearing the warning signs that history offers into the transformation of democracy into despotic rule. Fascism is not an overnight development, and when your country is earnestly debating whether its treatment of immigrant and refugee children qualifies for the term “concentration camp,” you have already taken a few large steps down that deadly road.
“Donald Trump and the Republican Party hate America: It’s time to say it,” August 18, 2019: Trump cut funding for programs aimed at recruiting young neo-Nazis to leave their hate groups, and Dave Gomez, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, tells the Washington Post that the FBI is “hamstrung” in its attempts to investigate the growing white supremacist movement in the United States. “There’s some reluctance among agents to target what the president perceives as his base,” he explains. This is not political strategy. It is sympathy for terrorists. Trump, and the operative administration of his political party, have made a cold calculation that dead Americans are collateral damage in the effort to advance their own repugnant ideology.
“America’s fatal flaw: The founders assumed our leaders would have some basic decency,” February 8, 2020: When it comes to President Trump, the overwhelming majority of Republican officials and the right-wing media system that propagandizes America on their behalf, the answer to Welch’s inquiry is a definitive “no.” The consequences, as Rita Dove warned, will manifest far beyond Trump’s acquittal and even the election of 2020, regardless of the outcome. The threat is here. The lasting damage to American government, and to the people it is intended to represent, is real.
“Trump is insane: And it’s time for leading Democrats to say that out loud,” April 18, 2020: It becomes increasingly evident, with Trump’s every social media post, public utterance and policy directive, that our president suffers from a severe form of mental illness. His insanity threatens millions of lives, and has become particularly dangerous during the most devastating public health crisis in the last 100 years.
“The president wants you dead — and so do his friends and advisers. It’s that simple,” September 27, 2020: Recent revelations should force Americans to consider an even darker reality, and gather insight into the malevolence of humanity that is typically accessible only in barbaric episodes of history and frightening stories of literature. The most powerful man in the federal government delights in the infliction of pain, misery and grief.
“There’s only one political party in the United States — the other one has descended into madness,” October 3, 2020: Gore Vidal, one of America’s best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president’s inability to react with equal aggression: “Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”
Noam Chomsky: “If you don’t push the lever for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump,” October 17, 2020: My position is to vote against Trump. In our two-party system, there is a technical fact that if you want to vote against Trump, you have to push the lever for the Democrats. If you don’t push the lever for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump. We can argue about a lot of things, but not arithmetic. You have a choice on Nov. 3. Do I vote against Trump or help Trump? It is a simple choice. He’s the worst malignancy ever to appear in our political system. He is extremely dangerous. (Noam Chomsky, from my interview with him)”