How quickly we forget: Amid the trauma of the Trump era, each new outrage just disappears

Each new revelation about Trump's assault on democracy quickly evaporates from memory — and that's no accident

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 21, 2021 8:32AM (EDT)

The Proud Boys outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Proud Boys outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Last week, the American people learned that leaders of the U.S. military had plans to prevent Donald Trump from ordering the  armed forces to stage a coup during the last days of his presidency. These new "revelations" dominated the headlines for a few days. But once again, Trump's crimes and overall perfidy were then thrown down the memory well. The mainstream media has largely moved on. The American people appear to be indifferent, expressing an attitude of "so what?" and "nothing really matters anyway."

This is more evidence of how the normalization of social and political deviance has tightened its hold on American society.

America has long been a pathocracy. But the Age of Trump took this to the extreme; the sickness spread not just among the country's elites but rained down from the White House to the tens of millions of Trump faithful. In turn, the latter amplified and spread their collective pathology across the country.

None of this was caused by Donald Trump and his fascist movement, but Trump's regime nurtured and spread America's pathocracy and social and political deviance, giving them renewed life.

Here are several examples of how such behavior continues to plague the country, most of them largely ignored or rapidly forgotten by both the mainstream media and the public.

Last Friday, two men were arrested in California for planning a terrorist attack on the Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento. CNN reported that the men "allegedly wanted to start a movement to overthrow the government," motivated by Trump's electoral defeat last November:

Five days before the presidential inauguration on January 20 -- which prosecutors believe was to be a key date in the planning of the attack -- the Justice Department apprehended one of the men who had amassed a large arsenal. Ian Benjamin Rogers, 45, of Napa, California, showed strong support for White supremacy and for Trump, and said in text messages he realized he would be labeled a domestic terrorist, according to Justice Department court filings.

A man Rogers communicated with, Jarrod Copeland, 37, of Vallejo, California, was arrested in Sacramento this week, DOJ said.

Court records citing extensive encrypted messages between Rogers and Copeland raise the alarm of how the men sought to inspire domestic terrorism toward Democrats -- and how their anti-government motivations may still persist.

In January, Rogers had told Copeland, "I want to blow up a democrat building bad," and Copeland responded in agreement, writing, "Plan attack."

The pair discussed "war" after President Joe Biden's inauguration, the Justice Department said. They also discussed attacking George Soros, a billionaire donor who supports liberal causes, and Twitter, which by then had removed Trump from the social media platform.

"I hope 45 goes to war if he doesn't I will," Rogers allegedly wrote.

During the last week of June, an alleged white supremacist murdered two black people in an attack near Boston. The white shooter was later killed in a gun battle with police.

In a different incident, an active-duty U.S. Marine and two other men allegedly planned to launch a wave of white supremacist terror attacks. The Daily Beast reports the men wanted "to assassinate minorities, drug users, and employees of the Democratic National Committee with explosives, rocket launchers, and automatic rifles."

That's according to a newly unsealed FBI search warrant affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast, which indicates USMC Private First Class Travis Owens and his partners in the unrealized murder plot were influenced by Timothy McVeigh, the former U.S. Army soldier behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead and injured nearly 700. The document also states that one of the suspects had links to the Atomwaffen Division, a violent neo-Nazi group linked to at least five murders. A handful of active service members and veterans have been identified as being members of Atomwaffen, which calls for the armed overthrow of the U.S. government.

Two weekends ago, a white supremacist militia group marched through the streets of Philadelphia. That was one of many acts of public intimidation by right-wing paramilitary organizations in the months since Jan. 6. National security and other experts have warned that right-wing terrorism, especially involving white supremacists, poses the most significant internal threat to the country's domestic safety and security.

Donald Trump and his movement are valorizing right-wing terrorists as "martyrs" who are to be honored for their "sacrifice." Members of Trump's Jan. 6 attack force are also being reimagined as "political prisoners" and "patriots" who should be freed immediately.

The right-wing echo chamber continues to use stochastic terrorism — and outright and direct threats of violence as well — to encourage violence against Democrats, "progressives" and others deemed to be the enemy.

More than 600,000 people have died during the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican Party and the Trump movement continue to mock and downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, and to weaponize it in an endless "culture war" battle to "own the libs."

The normalization of social and political deviance also corrupts justice and the rule of law. Of the thousands of Trump followers who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, only 581 have been charged with crimes. Most of Trump's attack force was simply allowed to go free by law enforcement on that day. Of those arrested, the vast majority will not face the most serious possible charges.

On Monday of this week, a Capitol attacker was sentenced to eight months in prison, after facing felony charges that could have merited a 20-year sentence. He was the first member of Trump's attack force to be sentenced for a felony conviction.  

Can anyone doubt that if this man were identified as an antifascist, a Black Lives Matter supporter, a pipeline protester or a supporter of some other progressive cause, the sentence would have been far more severe? If he were a Muslim, the consequences would be harsher still. 

The likely or known ringleaders of Trump's Jan. 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol — including Trump himself, Republicans co-conspirators in Congress and those who financed the plot — have not been arrested or prosecuted, and likely never will be.

This is an example of a larger unstated rule in American society, where rich white men rarely if ever face the full consequences of their deeds, however egregious those may be.

By comparison, last Thursday eight protesters, including Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, were arrested by Capitol Police for a peacefully demonstration in the Hart Senate Office Building against the Republicans' nationwide campaign to restrict voting rights for Black and brown Americans. On Monday of this week, 100 protesters were also arrested by Capitol Police as they peacefully marched in support of voting rights on the 100th anniversary of the landmark Seneca Falls Women's Convention, a formative moment for the women's suffrage campaign (which for the most part excluded black women).

The net effect of this normalization of social and political deviance is to rob people of their capacity for mass outrage and collective action. This normalization process is also disorienting because it limits a society's ability to understand the larger context of history, especially as it relates to questions of struggle and resistance. Thom Hartmann warned in a recent essay how:

History shows that most democratic nations don't realize how serious their authoritarian fascism problem is until it overtakes them altogether. We saw it in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Spain and Japan; today it's happened in Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, The Philippines and Brazil, and is well underway in Poland, India and multiple smaller countries.

Here in America, the GOP today has a serious fascism problem, and it's endangering all of us. It's closer than most of us realize.

Fascism isn't just about the merger of oligarch and state interests; it also requires a repudiation of the rule of law and the institutions of democracy itself.

The normalization of social and political deviance also denies a people the moral language necessary to diagnose and understand the full dimensions of a given crisis. For example, Donald Trump and his regime can be reasonably described as "evil." But most members of America's political class have consistently refused to use that language. The result was to enable the Trump regime's assault on democracy, such that the country now faces an existential crisis that President Biden recently described as comparable to the Civil War.

In a 2019 interview with Salon, philosopher Susan Neiman discussed the question of Trump and "evil":

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. … 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.

At the recent CPAC conference in Dallas, Trump told his audience, "I didn't become different. I got impeached twice. I became worse."

As he has done on several previous occasions, Trump engaged here in unintentional truth-telling, accurately described the moral shortcomings of too many American elites as well as everyday citizens.

Ultimately, there is no natural end point to the normalization of social and political deviance. It is a bottomless pit, one into which America as a whole has fallen. Some Americans willingly threw themselves into it the pit. Others have jumped in while wearing parachutes — that have not opened. Many Americans were thrown into this bottomless pit by others. A few — the lucky, the wise or those possessed of special insight, have avoided falling into the pit and remain poised on its edge, at least for now.

Only collective action and commitment to a moral crusade can save American democracy now. The normalization of social and political deviance is a process meant to make that impossible.

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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