Donald Trump is a political arsonist. He has unleashed a firestorm across America. The kindling was always there. Trump chose to throw gasoline on it and set it afire.
Trump's political cult members and other followers are dancing in a circle around the flames. In the light and noise, they see and hear things which are not there. Like the troglodytes in Plato's allegory of the cave, they have lost the ability to discern truth from lies. All that matters is their proximity to Trump's fire.
Good Americans have encircled Trump's conflagration. They know the danger and power it possesses. They are also willing to be burned and suffer other injuries to save the country from its worst inclinations in the form of the fire devils that Trump commands.
Good Americans also know that fire can be used for both creation and destruction. As such, they are waiting for the right moment to seize the fire for their own purposes.
There are observers as well. Many are in the shadows cowed and afraid. Other watchers are sad and depressed and more than a little confused by what America in the Age of Trump has become.
Trump's blazing fire is the main attraction in the American terrordome, where the spectacle of Trump's threats, violence, lies, fear, intimidation, corruption, racism and cruelty unfold. This is the logic of reality TV made into a presidency and the resulting surreal nightmare that has entrapped the American people in the Age of Trump.
The protagonists in Trump's spectacle are the "virtuous," "strong" and "heroic" Donald Trump and his "patriotic" and "law-abiding" (white) followers — and of course the police and other enforcers of "law and order."
The villains are the various recurring bogeymen of the right-wing imagination, such as Latino "rapists" and "murderers," "invasions" and "caravans" of nonwhite people, Muslims and any other group deemed to be despised. "Anti-fascists" and "Black Lives Matter" activists, who supposedly hate America. Black athletes who kneel in protest against police thuggery and other social injustices are "thugs" who should be kicked out of the country. The George Floyd protesters and anyone else who dares to disagree with the Trump regime are enemies of the state to be purged. "Anarchists," leftists, liberals and intellectuals with their "political correctness" are also to be disposed of.
This spectacle circulates across American society via Fox News and the larger right-wing propaganda disinformation machine. Unwittingly, those Americans with their "doomscrolling" — a phrase that sounds like something from the H.P. Lovecraft mythos or the "Hellraiser" movies — and other Trump fixations are all part of the spectacle as well.
In total, Trump's terrordome is the theater of political terror and the "American carnage" he first promised in his 2016 inauguration speech. Trump hopes to use the same themes to win the 2020 election -- and then to stay in office for as long as he wants.
Trump's terrordome has a new attraction: his personal stormtroopers, a de facto Gestapo.
In a massive violation of the civil and human rights of the American people, Trump's secret police are operating in Portland, Oregon, grabbing protesters off the streets and disappearing them for interrogated. Trump's Gestapo is beating, gassing and shooting protesters with so-called non-lethal weapons, which in reality can cause grievous physical harm.
Trump has promised to unleash more than 50,000 of his personal enforcers in Democratic-led cities across the country. He will likely use these same enforcers to try to steal the 2020 election.
Trump's theater of terror in Portland (and soon elsewhere, perhaps) is following a script common to the authoritarian playbook where the leader creates a crisis, the people resist and then the threats and violence are amplified — with the end goal being a "state of emergency" that "justifies" the authoritarian seizing even more power.
At the New York Times, former FBI director James Comey accurately summarizes Trump's Portland gambit:
What better way for Trump to demonstrate to his followers that he is "your president of law and order" than to deploy highly visible federal officers, and in a way that is sure to invite violent conflict, which, of course, demonstrates the need for a law-and-order president? And on it goes. The only thing damaged in the process will be the United States and the federal law enforcement agencies our country needs. Yet again, the craving of our president for reelection seems to override everything.
The Trump regime is so unrestrained that it actually uses the word "theater" to describe the Portland protests and the president's related instigations and plots to remain in power.
As reported by the Washington Post, a Trump regime official said the president had chosen Portland as "a theater for his fight," adding that "the White House had long wanted to amplify strife in cities, encouraging DHS officials to talk about arrests of violent criminals in sanctuary cities and repeatedly urging ICE to disclose more details of raids than some in the agency were comfortable doing…. It was about getting viral online content."
Last Friday, Trump's White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, presented the regime's own version of a Joseph Goebbels propaganda film in the form of a video purporting to show "riots" in Portland. This presentation was so tasteless that even Fox News cut away from the White House press briefing.
Of course, there are no "riots" except for those instigated by Trump's enforcers and the right-wing extremists and other paramilitaries who have infiltrated what are largely peaceful gatherings.
McEnany's propaganda film is part of a larger and obvious strategy of terrifying the American people — or at least Trump's base of older, white Fox News watchers, who he imagines as a "silent majority" — into supporting the president's crackdown and re-electing him.
In Trump's terrordome these distorted images of anti-fascists, Black Lives Matter activists, mothers, veterans and other protesters are doing another type of political work as well
Violence by the Trump regime against dissenters is made legitimate. Moreover, violence by Trump's supporters against his perceived enemies is encouraged and rendered virtuous as well
In many ways, Donald Trump's terrordome spectacle is his version of the "Two Minutes Hate" as depicted in George Orwell's essential book "1984".
To see it, we have to step back a bit and consider one of George Orwell's most powerful creations: the Two Minutes Hate, directed against Emmanuel Goldstein, "the Enemy of the People" and opponent of Big Brother.
As Orwell depicts it in "1984," Big Brother focuses the public on Goldstein's misdeeds and the continuing threat he poses: "He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators." As citizens see Goldstein's face on a screen, they break out into "uncontrollable exclamations of rage," followed by a "hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer."
Orwell's ominous words suggest that every human heart is vulnerable to that ecstasy. "The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in." (Think of what happens on contemporary social media.)
For Big Brother, the Two Minutes Hate is shrewd politics. It is a diversion from issues of policy, and from problems that people face in their ordinary lives. It focuses citizens' attention on a malevolent, even demonic force, who continues to threaten them.
Trump's terrordome and the power he has over many tens of millions of Americans (including bystanders) also recalls the description of Nazi Germany in journalist Milton Meyer's book "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45":
The world you live in — your nation, your people — is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
Donald Trump is an authoritarian and a neo-fascist. Like others of that ilk, he is only able to destroy and not create. Nearly 150,000 Americans are dead from the coronavirus pandemic and Donald Trump's willfully negligent response. The country is teetering on the edge of a second Great Depression. Other existential threats, such as the global climate disaster, continue their march largely unabated.
Ultimately, the Trump regime and its politics of terror and cruelty amplify the pain, suffering, fear and insecurity of the American people — and by design do nothing to soothe and heal them.
Public opinion polls and other research show that the American people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and other mental health challenges from the Age of Trump and his pandemic. Suicides have increased. The American people largely want a return to normalcy and consistency and not the chaos of the Trump regime. Life spans continue to decrease among many populations in America, include the "white working class". The American people know that the country is going in the wrong direction and the myth of American exceptionalism is collapsing. Patriotism is at the lowest levels in several decades.
The pain, sorrow, loss, and misery are the goal: Trump and his regime are illegitimate, and hope to use his terrordome spectacle to remain in power.
Because of a deep reluctance to state those plain facts, America's mainstream news media continues to ignore that the country is in the grip of a fascist politics and authoritarian spectacle where normal politics and the folk theory of democracy — with its "free and fair" elections, responsible political parties, politically engaged citizens, rule of law, and respect for the Constitution as well as existing political and social institutions — no longer apply.
Those people who are fortunate to live outside of Trump's terrordome see something horrible in America. Once the leader of the world, the U.S. has lost its prestige and moral authority. Writing at the New York Times, Roger Cohen reflects on how America now looks from Germany, a country which was destroyed by fascism and then rebuilt as a leading democracy:
When paramilitary-style units have no identifying insignia, there is no transparency, no accountability — and that means impunity. Democracy dies. Think of all this as setting the scene for Trump's own "state of emergency" if he does not like the November election result. Social media is combustible enough for a physical fire to be unnecessary.
The president says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens. In 1933, after the Reichstag burned, Hitler issued the "Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State" as his means to seize power.
German horror at Trump has many components. He's the fear-mongering showman wielding nationalism, racism and violence as if the 20th century held no lessons. He's the would-be destroyer of the multilateral institutions that brought European peace and made it possible for Germans to raise their bowed heads again. He is a fascist in the making.
At present, Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump in the polls. There are many ways, legitimate and otherwise, that Donald Trump could win a second term, but many observers now believe that he will be vanquished in historic fashion. Of course, that is no guarantee that Trump will peacefully leave office in January or that he may not find a way to contest the outcome.
A Biden victory would show that the American people want a return to normal. But what does "normal" really look like when the status quo did so much to vomit out Trump's neo-fascist regime and all the destruction and human misery it created?
To light the way forward to a better America will demand much more than going back to "normal" — from Joe Biden and from all of us.