By Joseph J. Muñoz Professor Emeritus, Feather River College
I write this essay thinking about my family and my grandson Luke. I often call him ‘best boy’ because I know no one like him. Twelve years old, he is without guile and seeks the common good unconsciously. As I am someone of Spanish descent, with somewhat absurd aristocratic pretentions, the fact that he is a man-child matters to me. As my only grandson Luke carries my Y-chromosomes and will genetically carry my family history forward. Luke has a mobile phone and computer, as do his friends. His parents watch some of the morning and evening news.
What did he think as he watched a melee at the national Capital and as he reads the FBI warnings among the news that pops up on his screens? The children of America have experienced a disruption: some by pandemic induced unemployment leading to poverty and the new experience of homelessness, all by the disruption of their schooling, others by the sickness and death brought by COVID19.
Even Middle School children have been told that while their country is 4 percent of the worlds’ population yet has experienced 20 percent of the deaths from the virus. They must wonder how the wealthiest nation in the history of the world has not faired better. What lasting affects will President Trump’s erratic behavior have on them … on their intuitive sense that our nation is doing well and that the world is a reasonable and understandable place? Young people growing up like I did, in the years following WWII, were proud of our history, our country and our leaders. I got chills when I heard the national anthem. What are the children of today thinking as they witness division, instability and fury?
A protagonist is the main character in a drama. Greek playwrights placed this person at the center of their story and made the woman or man an advocate for a particular cause or idea. This person makes the important decisions and experiences the consequences of those decisions. In the Antigone of Sophocles a young woman defies the law of Thebes, her city-state to honor her brother Polyneices with burial rites. She is walled up inside a cave as punishment, by her uncle Creon, and hung herself. Depending on ones viewpoint Antigone could be considered a heroine, or antihero. All protagonists must deal with conflict. An antihero is a main character in a story that lacks the typical heroic qualities of bravery, courage, morality, and the special ability and desire to achieve for the greater good. The antihero is still the protagonist of the narrative, yet is a foil to the traditional hero archetype. Yet this person always has qualities that are attractive to certain people.
In the last century nations in turmoil chose leaders who were narcissistic antiheroes: Stalin in Russia, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Mao in China. In our day authoritarian leaders are on the rise. In 2016 our nation, in my opinion chose such a leader. Donald Trump displays classic narcissistic characteristics:
Narcissism is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. (Mayoclinic.org.)
I saw early warnings about Mr. Trump’s use of language that had their origin in the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century. Trump’s acronym MAGA, Make America Great Again, is borrowed directly from Adolf Hitler’s promise to make Germany great again. As was Trump’s deceitful claim, “America is broken and I only can fix it.” This was a repeated message in Hitler’s biography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
As a candidate for president in 2016 in the nation that has the largest economy, the strongest military, the finest colleges and universities, the most generous philanthropic organizations, among the best-trained physicians and surgeons, the largest number of Nobel laureates, the most innovative tech companies in the world, a man who was thrice married, whose companies had refused to pay thousands of workers and contractors and was considered a toxic risk to many banks that had loaned his company money … told Americans that our country was broken, and he alone could fix it.
Mr. Trump campaigned stressing what he considered the weaknesses of our country. These included the border with Mexico, a considerable national debt, deferred maintenance in our national infrastructure, globalism in trade leading to a foreign trade imbalance, and a multilateral rather than nationalistic philosophy of foreign policy. Millions welcomed his message, albeit with concern about his excessive hubris, and hyperbole that bordered on untruths or ignored facts.
Lying was a powerful weapon for Adolf Hitler, who said: “If you win, you need not have to explain… “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
It became clear during his presidency, that Mr. Trump is not just prone to exaggeration but prevarication. And we would find that he is not a cautious or timid liar, but does so with great confidence and bravado whether in crowds or in close contact. And as we all know one lie can be told many times and then lead to others. Which may account for his high marks in this field. One group of fact checkers (PolitiFact.com) report his public lies on an ongoing basis, they run into the thousands annually.
How many times did Trump tell us: that Mexico would pay for the Border Wall? That China was “mostly paying,” for the costs of the Tariffs, not us? That California’s deadly wildfires “would never have happened with proper forest management?” that after Obamacare was completely eliminated, “we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions?” And in the last two months we have witnessed his greatest and most dangerous lie: “the election was stolen from me.”
In divisive times antiheroes can be lionized in the myth-creating world of democratic politics. This is especially true when a representative republican government is challenged by direct democracy. One cannot forge a lasting structure of government through tweets and social media. But an antihero can try using MAGA paraphernalia rallies and populist rhetoric.
The followers of Trump at our nations Capital on Wednesday, the 6th of January yelled at the security officers and police that the Capitol building was the “People’s House,” to justify their invasion of it. They had come to the nation’s capitol responding to the prompting of President Trump that began in the spring of 2020, when he began laying a foundation of claims of coming voter fraud.
The course for the January 6th riots at the Capitol was set early. In April of 2020 Trump said, “The only way he could lose is if the election is stolen from him.” It was the same charge he had made in the summer of 2016. And he repeated it before and after November 3rd of 2020. The Wall Street Journal (1-9,10-2020 issue) documents how this was staged managed by Trump, the president’s family members, lawyers and a group of allies who posted more than 200 times about election fraud between November 4th and January 6th on Twitter. These tweets were reposted nearly 3.5 million times and “liked,” more than 9 million times.
The day after the 2020 election Trump declared himself the victor even though the Associated Press, which has been the authoritative predictor of election outcomes was showing a probable victory by Biden. Even after it was certain that the Biden-Harris ticket had won, Trump continued asserting that he was the victor. On December 12, 2020 in a news conference Trump was asked if he would abide by the outcome of the Electoral College and he said, “of course I will.” The Electoral College vote on December 14th settled the outcome of the election. Joe Biden is President-elect. But Trump continued to tell everyone that the election had been stolen from him, causing his followers to resist a peaceful transition of power on January 20th, 2021.
Four years before, in November of 2016 Hilary Clinton conceded the day after the election even though she won the popular vote by millions. In November of 2016 Hillary could have cried foul, as has Trump: demanded hand recounts, thrown hundreds of lawyers into courts with accusations of election fraud, pressured members of legislatures to attempt to invalidate the electoral votes of duly appointed electors and replace them by votes of shame electors, denounced county election officials and secretaries of states who oversee elections in traditionally democratic states where she lost. She did none of these things, so as to not sully the reputation of American elections that have been the envy of the world.
But our antihero chose to denigrate our constitutional traditions, even after he had lost the popular vote by 8 million votes and was decisively beaten in the Electoral College. He must believe that he is untouchable when we analyze what he has done in the last two weeks. But he is a careless man who has not gotten away untouched this time.
In a 62-minute phone call Saturday January 2nd, with attending lawyers and his chief of staff (the 5thof his presidency), President Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to stuff ballots to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. His goal was to threaten and intimidate Georgia’s Secretary of State. He even told Mr. Raffensperger to specifically “find 11,800 votes.” Mr. Trump spent much of the call angrily alleging voting fraud, ballot destruction and other charges, while Mr. Raffensperger, to his great honor, rejected pressure to further investigate an election in which there has been no evidence of widespread fraud, or problems that could alter the outcomes. Georgia has a Republican Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State and Republican Majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Georgia had taken an extra week to conduct a hand recount before announcing the outcome. Mr. Trump was defeated at the polls and then in more than 50 courtrooms as his lawyers failed to present credible evidence of widespread fraud. Failing in every challenge in the weeks after the election, although not in a courtroom, the president of the United
States was affectively suborning perjury.
After this event so alarmed were all the past living Secretaries of Defense that they released this statement on January 4th. Former Secretaries of Defense Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld signed the opinion piece.
“Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. The courts have addressed appropriate challenges. Governors have certified the results. And the Electoral College has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the Electoral College votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived. As senior Defense Department leaders have noted there is no role for the US military determining the outcome of a U.S. election.”
Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.” (washingtonpost.com)
The President of these United States then incited a mob to attack the First Branch of Government; a direct attempt to prevent the counting of the votes of the Presidential Electors in our 50 states that led to the attempted insurrection that we witnessed that day. He threw vice president Mike Pence ‘under the bus’ when the vice president said he had no constitutional authority to alter the state certified Electoral College vote. This led the rioters inside the Capitol Building to chant: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” Trump watched the news reporting while it was happening and did nothing. After order was restored he released a video calling rioters “very special people” and saying, “I love you.”
Donald Trump has a history of creating chaos. His personal behavior has led to the wreckage of other people’s lives and businesses. His ‘win using any means and at all costs’ philosophy of life provides us with a portrait of someone with no moral compass. His adulteries during his marriages led to ongoing tabloid scandal. In 2005, having recently married Melania, in an Access Hollywood recorded interview with Billy Bush Trump made lewd comments about what he could do with women, any women. When the contents of this recording were released in 2017, every member of his election team except for Steve Bannon believed he was finished as a presidential candidate. The response of a prominent church leader in the South at the time must have represented that of many Americans, “I am voting for a president, not a Sunday school Teacher.” Trump’s campaign team may have been thinking that America was still the place it once was, but no longer is, “a nation with the soul of a church.” (G.K. Chesterton)
He was the candidate that millions of Americans wanted. John MacArthur, a prominent California church pastor, said this August to Mr. Trump, “all true, real believers in Christianity, will vote for you.” Perhaps the warnings of the Prophets could be set aside by some Americans, but not by this writer. We dare not close our eyes to objective truth and the wisdom of the ages for the sake of political expedience.
There are six things the Lord hates … haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
But it is Mr. Trump who now is being hung out to dry, shunned by Bill Belichick, The P.G.A, Duetsche Bank, Signature Bank, AON, Cushman and Wakefield, The City of New York, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, Snapchat, YouTube; just for a short list.
There will be a Judgment Day, in this world and the next, not just for Trump, for all of us. Jesus said best what our perspective ought be about wealth and power: “What will a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?” (Luke 9:25, New English Bible)