It was never whether Donald Trump’s brand of lame-fisted fascism would brutalize this nation, but when.
We saw it all: Trump as cult, Trumpism deified, truth serially raped by the fabrications of social media’s and Fox-poisoned echo chambers. Mobs described as rallies. Brown shirts masked as patriots. Violence incited, glorified, carried out, never condemned. Baseless, slanderous claims of political opponents’ criminality. Assaults on government institutions, elections, voting rights. The endorsement of extra-constitutional means of subverting the rule of law. Racist, dehumanizing portrayals of minorities, adversaries, challengers, anyone not in line. The methodical vilification of the press at his mob shows and beyond, a choreography cribbed insult for insult from Goebbels’s nazified playbook of propaganda for dummies.
And that was all in the first few days from the launch of his campaign five years ago. Deplorable was a polite understatement. Fascism was being normalized.
The evidence was all there to see, the warnings in our faces every day, at times every hour as even the major media pandered to and profited from what they imagined would be a passing phenomenon even as Trump vulgarly insulted the press at every chance. The miscalculations were everywhere, too, as if simply saying this is America–that old and stupid presumption of exceptionalism–were inoculation enough. They’d imagined his transformation into actual power unimaginable, because “Fascism,” as Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1934, “can’t happen to America. We’re too democratic here.”
It wasn’t long before Lewis realized his mistake and wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” the transformation of Buzz Windrip, a Josh Hawley-type goon, into the unlikely candidate, then president of the United States and leader of the “Patriotic Party” (the name Trump’s goons now want to call their metastatic cancer). Lewis had also predicted the occupation of Congress, with a scene of Windrip’s militia storming the legislature when it accused him of corruption: “The militia rose to Buzz Windrip’s orders as though they were his private army and, occupying the legislative chambers and all the state offices, and covering the streets leading to the Capitol with machine guns, they herded Buzz’s enemies out of town.” (I’d written how “improbable” that was in the margin when I read the book four years ago. How blind of me.) Windrip had his “Zero Hour,” an “Art of the Deal” replica filled with MAGA manifestoes crisp with white supremacy (“My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this Earth”). And of course Lewis had anticipated Trump’s lies, his idiotic ideas, his bogus piety, his “orgasm of oratory.”
Wednesday’s cascades of heaves on the capital, and the Capitol, cannot, as Chuck Schumer put it on the floor of the Senate once the vomit had been wiped off, be another in the “very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.” Not if the last five years aren’t on that list, which isn’t short at all anyway. By the time Trump appeared on the Ellipse yesterday, spitting sedition and inciting violence from behind his bulletproof glass, he’d had five years of encouragement from the same Republican charlatans who would later stand on the floors of the Senate and the House to declare themselves shocked, shocked that the rioters they’d flattered and cajoled and excused and courted and praised and called “fine people” and fellated with as much lechery as their Dear Leader had now invaded and “desecrated” and bloodied their little sanctum.
They were as responsible as Trump. They had enabled him, amplified his power and debased themselves at every turn, starting with Mike Pence, whose shameless, death-bed epiphany last night should not be so moronically credited as anything more than what it was: a poodle’s self-serving pivot to 2024, now that his owner has finally self-destructed. The same can be said for the Lindsay Grahams and Ben Sasses and other supposed brighter bulbs of the chambers who’d spent the last four years pimping Trump’s junta. (All those Trump bans now on Twitter, Facebook, Shopify and wherever else: five years too late, considering his lawless, malicious onslaughts against truth since 2015.)
It was good to see our own Rep. Mike Waltz finally abjure the confirmation charade and vote with the majority. But it was not much different than our own local goon and wishful killer of a county commissioner claiming to see the light yesterday, after he’d spent weeks amplifying lies, insulting the very institutions that got him elected, and paying for busloads of local dopes to be part of Wednesday’s organized insurrection. He was doing nothing less than covering his ass two and a half hours after three fellow-commissioners embarrassed him in a FlaglerLive story reporting the abuse of his position to push the false narrative of a fraudulent election on Florida’s congressional delegation. Victor Barbosa, the Palm Coast City Council member, was also boasting of being there.
These acts deserve infamy, because there was no doubt about the intention of the mob: it was all planned, Trump had been promoting it since Dec. 19, social media had been weaponizing it with his blessing, and as even the local group organizing its troops proved, the weaponizing was not a metaphor, just as Trump’s “stand by” message to the Proud Boys during one of the debates with Joe Biden last fall was not a slip of the tongue, either. It was the arming of the grenade.
You can only imagine how law enforcement, governors and the president would have acted had any of this organizing been done by, say, the Black Lives Matter movement. Washington may not have emptied out of fear, as it did on the approach of Martin Luther King’s famous march in 1963, when, live on TV, King was asked on Meet the Press whether “it would be impossible to bring 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possible rioting.” But we’d have seen similar police-state mobilizations we saw then, saw again all of last summer.
“President Kennedy worried discreetly about the specter of marchers rushing the aisles of Congress” during King’s march, Rick Perlstein writes in “Before the Storm,” his now-so aptly titled first volume history of the conservative movement since Barry Goldwater. “The Pentagon readied 4,000 troops in the suburbs; hospitals set aside beds. A contest between the Minnesota Twins and the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium four miles away was cancelled on account of what the National Review called the ‘mob deployment.’”
So much for that good old fear of Blacks as predators–on the eve of the single greatest speech about American pluralism in the nation’s history. So much for white America always getting it in reverse. The fear hasn’t abated: BLM marches are still smeared with the same stereotypes and bigotries, the same fears and law enforcement presumptions (recall that Walmart and Kohl, among others, closed in Palm Coast when supremely peaceful BLM marches were organized here last year).
And guess who ended up rushing the aisles of Congress for the first time in the nation’s history, again with the terrorist-in-chief’s post-invasion blessing: “We love you,” he told them in the message Twitter deleted before banning him, the message intended to stand them down. But the false equivalencies between Wednesday’s domestic terrorists and last summer’s protesters or the Antifa canard will not abate, anymore than Trump’s now nakedly open Nazification will lack for apologists and worshippers, in Flagler County–Windrip County–especially.
The country is shaken. It’s not changed. It’s not about to change. Wednesday’s insurrection was a mere variant on five years’ assaults on certain American values, and more particularly on millions of Americans outside the prototypical mold of Trumpist servility. The assaults were welcomed and applauded unchecked, just as the last five years are the latest perversion of the conservative movement’s mutations since Barry Goldwater.
The aisles of Congress have been rushed by bandits and thugs for years. That they have titles like Senator and Representative and Honorable, that they can make speeches slightly more coherent and politely quotable than those of their progeny on Facebook, doesn’t diminish the vileness at their core, their unrelenting, cowardly complicity in a degradation of a once great power into what George W. Bush, one of the accelerants of that devolution, yesterday called by its increasingly more recognizable name: a banana republic. Shades of blue are not about to cure the yellow from spreading. But like King in ‘63, we can always keep dreaming.