By Sid Schwab / Herald columnist
More than a few times, Trump has declared himself “the most transparent president” in history. Last week, in only 19 words, Joe Biden summarized the truth: “It seems the way to get fired by President Trump is not to commit wrongdoing, but to investigate it.”
Transparent. Perhaps Trump was referring to how easily one can see through his attempts to hide truth, how obvious his lies are to people who aren’t doing the three-monkeys thing. After all, Trump entered the political arena by flogging the lie that President Obama was born in Kenya. Remember when he sent his “investigators” to Hawaii and said they were finding “amazing things”? It fit perfectly into the demographic at which he was aiming: conspiracists; resentful people, hungry for lies, as long as they fit their worldview. People who harbored unarticulated anger; who needed someone to blame for whatever it was in their world that needed blaming. He spoke, and up their ears they pricked.
Transparent. Hiding promised tax returns, blocking people from testifying to Congress. Soviet-style purges, ousting revealers of the swampy corruption he brought to the White House; firing inspectors general, five so far, who looked into it, like Trump’s phony “state of emergency” declaration, allowing arms to Saudi Arabia without Congressional approval. Or the one investigating Moscow Mitch’s wife. Accountability? Not for Trump. Because these expulsions validate their paranoia, Trumpists are unbothered. People who oppose him are part of a worldwide conspiracy whose aim, among other things, is to rape and sell children in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint with no basement.
If Trump is ignorant of everything a leader of the United States and, until recently, of the world must understand, he’s a stable genius when it comes to knowing his audience. He began with and is now staking his reelection on people who hear noises at night and think flying saucers. Facilitated enthusiastically by the co-conspirators of rightwing media, it works. As his incompetent coronavirus failures became undeniable, he turned to blaming everyone except himself. And to distraction. Circling back to his original objet d’artifice, he’s feeding them “Obamagate!!!” Echoed by every rightwing disinformationist and Congressperson, this transparent fakery is being lapped up like fetid water by thirsty desert-wanderers. Trump’s confabulations fit his idolaters like a bandoleer.
And oh, the unmasking! Horrifying!! Jim Croce tried so hard to warn us. How many Trumpists even know what it means? How many find it disturbing that Trump’s unqualified but loyal Director of National Intelligence released names of some who requested unmasking Michael Flynn, as if to suggest a nefarious plot; as if it wasn’t an all-but routine, justifiable request? How many know the unmasking requests fulfilled in Trump’s time number over 35,000? Wild guess: none.
Nor do they see anything wrong with a “president” turning the DOJ and intelligence agencies into instruments of personal power, vengeance, and, in the case of Bill Barr, erasing history. Russian interference? Never happened. Whole thing was a made-up coup attempt.
Why would Trumpists see anything wrong? He’s not only their ticket to Heaven, but their protector from all the world’s evil, the people coming after them: One World Government, the WHO and CDC, commies (not Putin, though, or his internet trolls), the Trilateral Commission, Agenda 21, lizard people, Illuminati. The Deep State. Jews, Muslims, the non-white. Climate scientists, doctors, educators, journalists. Vote-by-mail. Liberals. Bill Gates.
Evolutionary biologists theorize susceptibility to conspiracy theories, currently most associated with Trumpism and certain fundamentalist religious sects, derives from an evolutionary advantage to seeing patterns, even where they don’t exist, as a way of assessing possible threats to survival. Makes sense. But, like creationism, evolution is imperfect. (Hemorrhoids.)
In America, that proto-beneficial wiring has short-circuited. Trumpists see sinister patterns everywhere, causing them to overlook, excuse, even celebrate his uncaring lies and petty nastiness. Attacking the press; promoting and taking dangerous medicine and, with revelatory ignorance, rejecting evidence of its ineffectiveness; creating distrust in elections; firing those who speak out; scapegoating; claiming he’s treated horribly: these are positives in a God-sent savior who strikes at dangers only they can see. Belief in conspiracies provides community, too, and feelings of control in a world spinning out of it.
As if custom-made for and by Trump and Trumpists, the ultimate manifestation of this psychic agoraphobia is QAnon. If not all supporters are that far gone, anyone still with him must be close. Have clean underwear handy and read all about it: (The Atlantic: tinyurl.com/4Q4Kusall).
Email Sid Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.