Trump and his movement are evil — but the hope-peddlers in the chattering class won't say so

Trump's threats against democracy shouldn't surprise anyone — why must the media caste keep acting so shocked?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published September 27, 2020 12:00PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump speaks during his, 'The Great American Comeback Rally', at Cecil Airport on September 24, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. President Trump continues to campaign against Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during his, 'The Great American Comeback Rally', at Cecil Airport on September 24, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. President Trump continues to campaign against Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Most Americans have heard (or asked) some version of the following questions during the last four years.

Will Donald Trump and his movement ever stop? Answer: No. They are winning.

Where are the principled and "good" Republicans? Why won't they stop Donald Trump? Why won't they speak out? There are none left, or at least not enough to make a difference.

Don't Donald Trump and the other Republicans have a conscience? They do not. Power and vanquishing the "enemy" — meaning liberals, progressives, the Democratic Party in general and anyone else they do not see as "real Americans" — is the only goal that matters.

Is there no bottom to Donald Trump and the Republican Party's cruelty? No. Cruelty and pain are weapons that advance their agenda.

How could this happen in the greatest country on earth? By many measures America is not the greatest country on Earth. The myth of American exceptionalism helped to spawn Trumpism.

What about the Constitution and the rule of law? Surely the institutions will save us! Such quaint notions do not matter to Donald Trump and the Republican Party in their quest for total and unlimited power. "Democracy" is but a means to an end. America's political and social institutions are brittle. Trump and his movement simply exploited problems that have long been present.

Americans, by and large, are good people. Why is this all happening? How can they go along with it all? Tens of millions of Americans, at least, simply do not care about democracy or "the institutions." Approximately 20 percent of Americans are strong authoritarians. Many tens of millions are white supremacists and racists. Likewise, tens of millions of Americans support putting nonwhite migrants and refugees in Trump's concentration camps. There is wide support among this segment of the population for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that so many Americans still have these questions even at this stage in the Age of Trump. In some ways, such confusion is understandable.

The Trump regime and the right-wing media have systematically (and successfully) attacked reality and truth itself.

Many Americans are vulnerable to such a campaign because of a public school system which, for the most part, does not teach critical thinking, responsible citizenship and civil literacy. Learned helplessness works through a culture of distraction, fear, social atomization, alienation and loneliness to deter collective action. There is a lack of faith in the country's social and political institutions.

In a season of death from a pandemic that has killed at least 200,000 people and all but destroyed our economy, many Americans are just struggling to survive and exist.

In total, the American people know something is very wrong in the Age of Trump. But most Americans are unable to move from anger, despair and rage to mass collective action.

While many Americans feel hopelessly lost in TrumpWorld, political pundits and other members of the chattering class ought to know better and do better, in terms of the questions they ask and the answers they offer to the public.

It is a self-evident and obvious fact that Donald Trump is a neo-fascist who is systematically attacking American democracy, the rule of law and the country's social and political institutions in an effort to stay in power indefinitely.

Through its allies, enforcers, sycophants, servants and camp followers, the Trump regime shows this to be true almost every day.

They have made it clear that Donald Trump has no intention of leaving office. They view any election where Trump does not defeat Joe Biden as illegitimate. They are seeking to suppress the votes of Black people, younger people and others who are most likely to support the Democratic Party. They are threatening violence against the Democratic Party, its leaders and its voters. In fact, political violence by Trump supporters and other members of the far right is increasing. They view a free press as "the enemy of the people" and believe that journalists and reporters who dare to tell the truth about Trump and his movement should be targeted with violence, imprisoned or worse.

With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Trump regime has become even bolder in its obvious attacks on American democracy and freedom. Trump and his mouthpieces have explicitly said that Ginsburg must be replaced immediately to ensure a right-wing supermajority on the court — and of course to award Trump the presidency if there are any "irregularities" on Election Day.

The Trump regime has declared Democratic-governed cities such as New York, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, to be "anarchist jurisdictions." The apparent implication is that these cities are potentially subject to invasion by Trump and Barr's "federal police" and "militias", and treated as enemy territory to be subjugated.

Trump's allies are reportedly moving forward with a plot to subvert the people's will in key battleground states by having Republican governors and legislatures disregard the vote and appoint electors loyal to Donald Trump.

Writing at the Atlantic, Barton Gellman outlines the scheme:

According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires.

Such a move would almost certainly end up with the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives deciding the election in Trump's favor, no matter how many votes were cast for Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Attorney General William Barr and other people close to Trump have suggested that the American people exercise their civil rights by protesting what would be a de facto coup then the U.S. military and other forces will be used against under the rarely-invoked Insurrection Act of 1807. Barr has also threatened to charge protesters with sedition, which is defined as "the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it."

On Wednesday, Trump again told reporters that he would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he is defeated on Election Day. He said: "We're going to have to see what happens.... Get rid of the ballots, there won't be a transfer, they'll be a continuation."

Instead of speaking in clear, declarative statements about the Trump regime and American fascism, too many members of the Fourth Estate and other public voices continue to ask questions to which they should know the answers

The worst offenders can be put into three categories.

The "hope-peddlers" will always find some way to spin harsh realities into a potential victory or hopeful possibility for the Democratic Party and the American people. They also believe that somehow the "better angels" will take over the Republican Party, thus saving the country.

The stenographers of current events are supposedly committed to "balance" and "fairness." They are the purveyors of "both-sides-ism" and horserace journalism. As a group, the stenographers of current events are perhaps most responsible for normalizing Donald Trump and American fascism.

There are those who are stuck in an endless cycle of perpetual outrage, shock and surprise. These voices act surprised by the Trump regime's newest offense, as though it were somehow unexpected rather than a continuation of an obvious pattern with hundreds of prior examples.

Why do the hope-peddlers, the stenographers and the shock brigade behave as they do? They are afraid of what is happening to American society, and do not know what to do about it.

They still maintain a deep belief in American exceptionalism and an inbred faith that "it can't happen here" — that fascism and authoritarianism are ills that only afflict other countries.

They are wedded to the status quo and their role in the American political system as it exists. To question the health of that system and its long-term viability leads to existential questions about one's vocation and other life choices.

They are wedded to being part of an elite class. Again, to criticize the system is to criticize oneself and one's role in it. Moreover, to become too much a truth-teller risks exile from a system in which one are deeply invested.

They hold onto old myths and folk wisdom about American democracy, a responsible and informed citizenry, and the collective wisdom and virtue of the American people. To admit that America has fully become a pathocracy and kakistocracy under Trump would lead to profound cognitive dissonance.

They exist in their own political reality online and elsewhere, one in which they largely communicate with people of their same social and political class who share similar values and beliefs.

Perhaps the greatest failing of the hope-peddlers, the stenographers and the shock brigade is a deep reluctance or outright refusal to use clear, moral language to describe the current state of politics in America.

Donald Trump is evil. His movement and what it represents are also evil.

Trump has shown himself to be evil in many ways and on numerous occasions. Most notably, he admitted earlier this year to journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the coronavirus pandemic would likely kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Instead of taking appropriate action to stop such a tragedy, the president chose instead to lie about the pandemic publicly and persistently, and to encourage behavior that would actually cause death, for his perceived personal and political gain.

Philosopher Susan Neiman, one of the world's leading experts on evil, said this about Donald Trump in a conversation with Salon last year:

Donald Trump meets every single criterion for using the word evil — and he keeps meeting it every day. Evil is a word that should be used with caution. I believe that many people, particularly a certain type of liberal centrist, were put off by the way in which George W. Bush was described as being evil. I also argue that Bush is evil and I explored this in my book "Moral Clarity." Unfortunately, the description of "evil" has been so overused that many people just believe that it is a type of name-calling.

I disagree. When we relinquish the use of language like "evil" we are leaving the strongest linguistic weapons that we have in the hands of the people who are least equipped to use them. But I do understand the caution and anxiety about using that language. Given the way that Trump's supporters and the broader right-wing movement in America works, I am unsure if describing Trump as being evil would actually bring any clarity to the conversation. That does not mean that accurate language for describing Trump and what he represents should be avoided.

In a recent email, Neiman offered this further warning: 

If any moral judgment commands agreement today, it's the claim that Auschwitz — the Nazi concentration camp that has become shorthand for the mass murder of men, women and children because of their ethnic heritage — was evil. But fascism didn't begin with Auschwitz; it began with a series of attacks on the rule of law and the media that tested the German public's readiness to accept them. Anyone who has followed the news over the past several years has seen how Trump and his enablers have increasingly tested our capacity for outrage by undermining one moral principle after the next.

Their determination to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat is only the latest example. Should they succeed, and win a second term by whatever means, there would be little to reign in full-fledged fascism. And Americans who are now contemplating moving abroad should know that what happens in the U.S. affects the whole world; there will be few places to escape Trump's influence.

Most members of the mainstream American media and other political observers will not publicly state that Donald Trump and his movement are evil — because that then demands they do something about it.

One important function of this inability to see American fascism in its proper historical and global context, as both a moral and political crisis, is that it is often discussed as something that is "coming" or "on the horizon" or "imminent," instead of as something that is already here.

Writing at Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson explains:

Americans who think the coming election is their last chance to save the republic from authoritarianism — Americans, until recently, like me — are almost certainly wrong. Authoritarianism is already here, and what Americans will decide in November is whether it will grow more deeply entrenched.

According to a new report, the U.S. is undergoing "substantial autocratization" — so much so that only one in five similarly damaged democracies has been able to reverse such decline. President Donald Trump's administration is consuming democratic capacity at about the same pace that wildfire has been destroying the West. The White House has been a source of lies since Trump's presidency began. Since his impeachment and acquittal by Senate Republicans, his transgressions have grown more aggressive, while being more aggressively supported by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security — together the equivalent of a mighty Security Ministry — both of which are controlled by men who share Trump's disregard for rule of law …

The threat perception this time is not a political luxury, an ideological trifle afforded by a functioning democratic system. The threat is now firmly lodged inside the fortress of American power.

Regardless of what happens on Election Day in November, Trumpism and its followers will still be with us, and will continue to advance a neofascist agenda in this country.

In the near future and well beyond that, historians and other researchers will ask members of the Fourth Estate and the American political class many questions, to which we do not yet have complete answers.

Did you understand what Donald Trump represented?  

Why did you not sound the alarm and tell the truth much earlier?

Was it willful ignorance, terror, fear or something else?

Did you really believe that such choices would save you?

When you finally understood that your choices would not save you from the forces of Trumpism, what did you do?

The hope-peddlers, stenographers and those on the hamster wheel of surprise and shock, as well as others of their ilk, should start working on their answers now.

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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