There was no "Trump derangement syndrome": We were right about him all along

Those of us who warned America that fascism was coming were called hysterical alarmists. How does that feel now?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 4, 2020 7:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks as he meets with U.S. Tech Workers and signs an Executive Order on Hiring Americans, in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks as he meets with U.S. Tech Workers and signs an Executive Order on Hiring Americans, in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Do you remember "Trump Derangement Syndrome?"

It was a cute phrase that likely first appeared in 2015, deployed by prominent voices across the political spectrum to demean, mock, reject, dismiss and deflect the warnings that Donald Trump was a fascist, an authoritarian and a white supremacist, not to mention a vile and dangerous human being with apparent mental pathologies who posed a massive threat to American democracy.

Such truth-telling patriots were called "hysterical" and "alarmist," or told they were "out of touch" and overly "bitter" about Hillary Clinton's defeat thanks to the antiquated mechanism of the Electoral College and Russian interference. Those who first raised the alarm about Trumpism as a new version of fascism were also assured that "the institutions were strong" and fascism could never take hold in America — and most certainly not in the form of a proudly ignorant wrestling-heel wannabe and reality-TV huckster.

When Trump won the presidential election in 2016, there were some on the left eager to dance on Hillary Clinton's grave. A few even gave Trump the totally unearned benefit of the doubt: He claimed to oppose globalization, neoliberalism and "endless war," and to speak for the "white working class".

Centrist Democrats and the so-called mainstream American news media also rejected the existential threat to democracy that Trump represented. They convinced themselves, over and over, that the supposed power and gravity of the office would normalize and mature him. He was a "businessman" and a "pragmatist" eager to make deals, not an ideologue — so why worry? Trump was "brash" and "unconventional," but America's political institutions were strong.

The stenographers of current events and the other hope-peddlers, with their horse-race journalism, false equivalence "both-sides-ism" and obsession with meaningless controversies would not let themselves see the truth of Trump's danger or that of his neo-fascist movement. To admit the truth about Trump would mean that the old habits of writing and thinking about American politics are obsolete. Moreover, such an admission would demand speaking truth to power in a way that many members of the mainstream news media, specifically, are too afraid to, for both professional and personal reasons.

Republicans and other members of the Trump movement used "Trump Derangement Syndrome" to bully their critics into silence. The American right celebrated drinking "liberal tears" and loved the way Trump's victory had made Democrats and so-called progressives go "crazy."

Trump Derangement Syndrome is weaponized language in the same vein as the myth of the "liberal media." Both lies put Democrats and the mainstream news media on the defense. While the American right and the Republican Party (and now Trump's neo-fascist movement) drag the issue-space further and further to the right — and have done so for decades — the "liberal media" tries to find an imaginary balance by presenting right-wing extremism as somehow a "reasonable" alternative point of view.

Trump Derangement Syndrome was also a smokescreen for Donald Trump's wild success in advancing the agenda of the plutocrats, gangster capitalists, Christian nationalists and "Dominionists" — as well as overt white supremacists — in destroying the very idea of government itself as well as American multiracial democracy.

Of course, it was not Donald Trump's most vocal critics who were "deranged" but his followers, enablers and allies. As I explained in January 2017, shortly before his inauguration:

It is not those who oppose Trump who are deranged, but rather those voters who convinced themselves that a plutocrat authoritarian reality TV star con man and professional wrestler wannabe with no experience in government at any level was qualified to be president of the United States.

This is America's great national derangement. Those who stand against and oppose Donald Trump are patriots who are trying to return the country to sanity.

Now, some three months away from another Election Day, Donald Trump has finally arrived at the moment which those of us who were slurred as "hysterical" and "alarmist" have warned about for more than five years.

Last Thursday, Trump issued this now-infamous tweet: 

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

That same afternoon, when questioned about Trump's threats to interfere with the 2020 election, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.S. Senate: "In the end, the Department of Justice and others will make that legal determination." This is not true. The Department of Justice and the president possess no legitimate authority to delay or cancel a federal election. 

Later in the day, Trump continued to work from the authoritarian's playbook, attempting to pivot away from his earlier statements. During a White House press event, Trump said:

Do I want to see a date change? No. But I don't want to see a crooked election.

What will happen in November – it's a mess. I want a result much more than you... I don't want to be waiting around for weeks and months.

This is a familiar strategy in which the authoritarian challenges norms and boundaries by floating trial balloons and then pretends to change his mind as a way to make the heretofore-unthinkable into something acceptable.

Trump's most recent threats are but another crescendo in he and his servants' efforts to subvert and eventually overturn secular multiracial democracy and the rule of law in America.

Only weeks ago Trump began deploying his own personal secret police force, hoping to enforce his will by suppressing dissent and free speech in Democratic-led cities all over the United States. The events in Portland, Oregon, are but a prelude to Trump's national terrordome.

Trump's own personal secret police force along with his civilian "watchdogs," may well be used to intimidate Democratic voters on Election Day and beyond. Trump has repeatedly asked hostile foreign countries to interfere in the 2020 presidential election on his behalf. He was impeached for doing just that with his attempt to blackmail the government of Ukraine to launch a phony investigation of Joe Biden. 

Trump continues to threaten senior Democratic leaders, including Biden, Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others with treason charges, potential imprisonment and perhaps even execution. Former national security adviser John Bolton's recent book includes details of Trump's lurid fantasies about having journalists killed. According to Bolton, Trump supports imprisoning his "enemies" in concentration camps — something he is already doing with brown and Black migrants and refugees from Latin America, the Caribbean and other parts of the nonwhite world.

Donald Trump, has repeated his threats, ever since the 2016 campaign, that he will not respect the will of the American people if he loses a presidential election.

In sum, Donald Trump is not pretending. None of this is a game. He is a neo-fascist. Such observations and warnings are not hysterical. They are plain observations based on a consensus of the available facts.

As historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explained in a 2017 essay at The Washington Post:

The strongman knows that it starts with words. He uses them early on to test out his plans to expand and personalize executive power on political elites, the press and the public, watching their reactions as they arrange into the timeless categories of allies, enemies and those who help him by remaining silent. Some say the strongman is all bluster, but he takes words seriously, including the issue of which ones should be banned.

Now what to do?

In a perfect and just world, the hope peddlers, professional centrists, stenographers of current events and others who maintain the boundaries of approved public discourse in America would go to the public square, prostrate themselves before the world and then beg forgiveness for how they, for years and by various means, empowered Donald Trump.

That will not happen. Instead, such voices will proclaim that they were sounding the alarm about Donald Trump years ago and are the real vanguard defenders of American democracy. In reality, such voices were enablers, far behind the truth if not actively running away it. They are now trying to position themselves on the correct side of history because their shame and failure to protect America from Donald Trump and his neo-fascist movement are so great.

In the weeks remaining before Election Day — which will certainly not be "free and fair" and when Trump's machinations will be at their most extreme — the mainstream news media and the American people must internalize the fact that the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution mean little for Trump and his regime.

Hopeful claims — or delusions — that the Constitution and state laws dictate the rules of Election Day must be viewed with extreme cynicism. Trump and his enforcers are not restrained by such arcane conventions.

If there is indeed an election on Nov. 3, Americans most vote against Trump in overwhelming numbers in order to force him to step down. Unless Donald Trump is convincingly vanquished at the polls, he will find some way to stay in office. 

If Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr try to cancel the presidential election or interfere with it in any other way, Americans must take to the streets and engage in corporeal politics — including a national strike and other plans to disrupt day-to-day life and "business as usual" — on a scale so large that they make the George Floyd people's uprising look like a PTA meeting.

Ultimately, those of us who warned the American people for years, sometimes on a daily basis, about this Mad King and would-be tyrant take no joy from saying, We told you so. There is no satisfaction in being correct about such a horrible thing.

On this point, Jared Yates Sexton, author of "American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World But Failed Its People," wrote last Thursday on Twitter: 

Those of us warning that Trump is an authoritarian capable of destroying democracy haven't been doing it for profit or attention or out of unwarranted alarmism. None of this is hard to predict. They don't hide it at all. Stop expecting everything to be fine because "America."

To watch American democracy, fall so ill so fast, and now to be on the verge of collapse — when such a thing could have been so easily prevented — is a world historical tragedy.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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