Trapped in the Trumpocene nightmare

Gun Rights

Are we closer to the end of the Age of Trump or still somewhere near the beginning? Stuck and wandering in circles in the middle of it all?

I do not know. There is solid evidence to support all those propositions.

Donald Trump has (finally) been arrested and arraigned in New York for alleged crimes connected to hush money payments he made to his mistresses during the 2016 Election. This is the first of other, far more serious indictments that likely await him for election fraud, financial fraud, and stealing top secret and other highly classified documents. These legal cases could, in theory, force Trump out of the 2024 presidential contest. Of course, Trump has publicly stated that he will not end his presidential campaign even if indicted or on trial.

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Trump and his era have cleaved our culture and history in two.

Trump remains very popular among his MAGA base and Republican voters more broadly. He almost quite literally owns the Republican Party and remains its presumptive 2024 presidential nominee. However, Trump’s support continues to soften among the right-leaning independent voters that he would presumably need in order to capture the White House again. Republican Party elites and other insiders are continuing their efforts to undermine Donald Trump because while they agree with his neofascist agenda they increasingly view him personally as a liability and not the best vessel for injecting that poison into American society long-term.

He increasingly appears to be listless and bored. His crowds still adore him, but he does not have the same awe-inspiring command over them that he did even several months ago. If Trump is not getting enough narcissistic energy from his followers he may choose to skulk off, claiming some type of “victory”, and then play kingmaker.

As seen in Wisconsin and other parts of the country, there appears to be a growing pro-democracy resistance movement that is finally winning substantial victories, however belatedly, to slow down if not reverse – at least for now – the rising fascist tide. But navigating these possibilities and realities requires that we must first take a full accounting of how we, the Americans, arrived at the Age of Trump and the larger social and political disaster it embodies.

In an excellent new interview with The Lincoln Project podcast, journalist and author Jeff Sharlet describes this horrible journey and destination as the “Trumpocene”:

The Age of Reagan, many political scientists and historians would say it goes from 1980 to 2016. And that Reagan was so influential, for better or worse, he shaped some of the fundamental terms of how the United States thinks of itself, how it acts in the world. Democrats like Obama and Clinton deal with that in one way, Republicans another, but it’s the reigning paradigm. That changed. We’re now in the Trumpocene. How long it goes? Who is its avatar? That I don’t know. But we’re in the Trumpocene. That is a definitive change. You take down a major party, you have transformed American life.

He continues:

There is this undercurrent in the book of grief but not mourning, which is to say, we’ve lost some things….Weirdly, at a young age, 44, I had two heart attacks. That actually helps me understand some of what’s going on in the book. … Part of your heart wall is dead. It’s scar tissue. Now you can learn to live with that. I am healthier now than I was before, but that part’s not coming back….The GOP is not coming back. The Age of Reagan, for better or worse, is not coming back….We’re in the Trumpocene, what do we do now?

In many ways, the Age of Reagan laid the rotten foundations that spawned the Age of Trump.

As political scientist Bertram Gross warned in 1980, Ronald Reagan was “the friendly fascist.” In that role, Reagan, a B-movie celebrity pitchman actor and supporter of the Red Scare, who then became governor and soon after President of the United States, was an agent and symbol of a culture of distraction and intellectual and emotional immaturity. The embodiment of capitalism and consumerist excess, Reagan was a man who used racism and white supremacy as political weapons and was among other horrible things a tool of the moneyed classes and other financial elites who gutted the social safety net and placed the American Dream even further out of reach for the average American.

In his book, “Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America”, Gross offered this prescient warning about Reagan’s rise to power – one that applies even more to the Age of Trump some four decades later:

I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting undeserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds.

As unseemly and frightening as it may be to the mainstream news media, the political class, and many among the general public, Donald Trump and ascendant neofascism are not as a blip or aberration in American history. They are actually the result of decades and centuries-long forces and processes. In many ways, Donald Trump is a “great” man of history.

And, as Jeff Sharlet points out, Americans are not the same people anymore. Trump and his era have cleaved our culture and history in two.

For example, in a speech to the National Rifle Association last Friday, Trump amplified fascist threats and white supremacist conspiracy theories, lies, and encouraged political violence against transgendered people (a group of human beings whose only “crime” is existing) that he vilified as being violent predators who are part of a cult that is creating death and destruction all over the United States. Trump’s claims are willful lies and inversions of reality.

Then, in an “interview” last Tuesday night with Fox “News”, Trump told Tucker Carlson that he will not end his campaign for president even if he is found guilty and convicted of a crime, such as the felonies he is charged with in New York. As seen on Jan. 6 and throughout his public life, Trump truly believes himself to be above the law. He also continued with his megalomaniac delusions and lies, telling Carlson that the court officials cried and apologized to him when he was arrested and arraigned in New York.

As repeatedly demonstrated by his public behavior, Donald Trump “the great man of history” is also very vengeful and actively wants to commit acts of violence and other harm against his “enemies” and all others who would dare to oppose him. To that point, Donald Trump, in a series of Hitler-like speeches and proclamations, has promised his followers that he will be a force of vengeance and “justice” for them and that upon his return to the White House in 2024 he will initiate a “final battle” against their shared enemies.

In a recent conversation here at Salon, psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank, who is the author of the book “Trump on the Couch”, warned:

[T]rump is dominated by the death instinct which includes pleasure in being destructive. A person who has that temperament is going to manage his anxieties and fears and other stress by escalating fantasies of destructiveness. In Trump’s mind, he is visualizing burning things and blowing them up. He is fantasizing about hurting other people. Those fantasies of harm and destruction bring him great pleasure. A person like Trump may be fantasizing about committing acts of mass murder.

If Trump were a mafia boss, he would get his consiglieres to act on his behalf. For Trump to truly be calm and at peace he would need to rule the world, to dominate everyone and everything around him. Trump lives to make other people scared. He will also not let himself feel dependent on, or need, other human beings.

At their core, fascism, and other anti-democracy death cult movements are a politics of emotions, the imagination, dreams, revolution, dystopian-utopian dreaming and nightmares, violence, Armageddon, and the irrational. These are among the defining features of the Trumpocene.

The book “Moving Beyond Fear” explains the awesome power of the irrational in the context of Hitlerism:

Hitler believed fervently in the politics of emotion that would turn an insecure people from democracy to dictatorship. He could appeal to an anxious populace ready to surrender everything for the great leader who alone can protect them and restore their greatness….This illustrates one of the darkest sides of fascism and Hitler’s Security Story. It is based not just on extreme authority and emotionalism, but a cultivation and worship of the Irrational. Embedded in religious mysticism and exclusionary and violent devotion to the Tribe, Nation or Great Leader, this authoritarian version of the Security Story became a legitimating force behind some of history’s worse tyrannies, whether brutal Roman emperors like Caligula or Nazi leaders such as Hitler.

Hitler made no bones about the power of the irrational and his commitment to an emotional racialized politics that spoke to ordinary people’s most primitive needs for security, survival and pride or respect.

In all, the Age of Trump and the Trumpocene are a fascist fever dream. The American people, after seven years of experience, are only somewhat closer to seeing its borders. But the American people will not be able to escape unless they and their responsible leaders understand the power of its many dimensions. Only then will the American people, perhaps, finally be able to escape this Trumpocene nightmare.

Read more

about the dangers of the Trump era

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