What Does a Virus Love? Another Virus.
The Curative in a Cultural Civil War: Unity is Our National Immunity
By Leslie Shore Ph.D, Mythological Studies (2013)
Note: This essay uses extended metaphor to exploit “analogies” that draw parallels between a “politically viral president” and the COVID19 pandemic. A myriad of interconnecting mythic and thematic tropes reflect how the “Trump virus” has infected the most vital organs of our Democracy.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Pres. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863.
America is held together by ideals, by a dream. A lofty dream that in practicality has become a nightmare for many. “A promised land” that so often eludes us—and in the past four years we have seen a calculated disassembly of strides made in the past decade. It is our task now to resurrect that dream. Our citizens are unlike those of other countries who share a common bloodline; our body politic is held together by a shared vision of freedom, liberty and E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. Out of many colors, creeds and cultures: we are meant to stand resolute, shoulder to shoulder as a diverse, complex national family and carry the burden of this Democracy, together. And, as is the stuff of dreams, it is susceptible to viral attack by corrosive ideas that are hateful, nightmarish visions of American carnage, division and aggressive social dominance in which whites simply marginalize more Americans.
Nearly one year ago, Gen. Jim Mattis outlined the dangers that we face within our Democracy in his article, “The Enemy Within” published in the December 2019 edition of The Atlantic. He underscored the critical necessity of maintaining our national “bonds of affection,” that have historically held this nation together. President Lincoln spoke of such vital cohesion in his first Inaugural Address, March 4th, 1861. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it, we must not break our bonds of affection.” On that chilly, cloudy day in Washington DC, Lincoln wasdesperate to stop the pending Civil War and he would be forced—barely one month later—to command Union troops against the Confederacy to preserve this experiment in democracy and end the inhumanity of slavery. Mattis further explained: “Today we are coping with the consequences of pent up neglect and intensifying tribal warfare, not of sudden attack. But we face a crisis, nonetheless. The surest path to catastrophe is to sever those bonds of affection.” Yet, severing the bonds of affection seems to be precisely what Donald Trump’s has done since he won in 2016 by pitting American factions against one another to intentionally divide this union. If we stay on this path, it won’t be long before an exhausted and overwhelmed citizenry lacks the collective heart for unification. This is not by coincidence, but by design.
In American mythological terms, Trump has literalized the mythos of the “political virus” who attacks the host, invades the body politic, undermines the national immune system and creates clones of himself.
Our political system has become infected with disease and our presidency has too. As Carl Jung once pointed out in “Commentary on ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower” the body suffers what the mind has lost:
“We are still as much possessed today by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The Gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”
As many hardcore Trumpers believe this president to be their “savior” it is not a wonder that this disease has spread into our national body politic. Most everyday Americans are savvy as to how archetypal identification and resonance works in the human psyche. This lack of awareness makes voters easy prey to diseased politicians propped up by a toxic media that uses invisible means to control our “political love” and wet our banal appetites. It also creates a collective response in which everyday people become activated by themes and tropes designed to manipulate behavior and incite reactions in our society.
Hive Hypothesis: Organizing and Weaponizing Against “The Other” to Control Power
Jonathan Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, a study as to why people allow themselves to be controlled by themes and tropes. Haidt explores the ways in which human beings—though primates—resemble bees in their organizational, aggressive, and defensive behaviors. This would help explain the way that voters line up behind their chosen “monarch” and move aggressively en masse against an unchosen invader. Haidt theorizes that “. . .human beings are conditional hive creatures. We have the ability to transcend (under special conditions) self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves. The ability is what I call a hive switch.” Problem is, the switch is activated through defensive aggression, as well. Worker bees, in nature, go to great lengths to swarm together and work together and even create “worker bee chains” to assist in creating beeswax foundations. Bees also fight together with great success, especially the Dawson burrowing bee that will fight to the death to protect hive territory or mating patterns with a female.
Certainly, we see this mass behavior in both extremes. Trump supporters and Bernie Sanders followers move in human swarms to fill huge arenas to hear their “leader” speak. During the 2016 campaign, Sanders and Trump respectively drew 30,000 followers at just one rally. Trump, who seems addicted to the adulation and energy he finds at MAGA rallies hosted more than 300 in 2016. Despite the coronavirus infecting millions of Americans (and his own rally attendees) Trump can get enough of giant rallies. In 2015, Sanders attracted 100,000 people to see him over mere weeks. In February, Sanders attracted 11,000 to his speech in Denver.
When Russian cyberagents invaded America’s social media they also made inroads into the Sanders campaign. He was on their agenda and they, knowing that Sanders worker bees were ready to spin up at a moment’s notice. How easily Russian cyberagents could hijack the narrative and weave falsehoods that Sanders followers were all too poised to accept without any interest in checking sources. It played all too well into their own need to take down the woman they had decided was their collective enemy.
Hive mentality can be hijacked if our critical thinking skills are employed only against our chosen political antagonist. If our inner projections (and positive emotions) are solely focused on our chosen political protagonist, we have a limited screen by which to participate in an experimental Democracy that requires us to be fully, perhaps even impartially, informed. It is one thing to blindly follow a benign leader, it is yet another thing, however, when a candidate possesses a malignant personality that divides our nation with glee. In a reality check to all of us politically active folks: even if we have attended political rallies, most of us have never even met the candidate that we love so much we are willing to fight with our family members to win an argument in our chosen candidate’s favor. In truth, our political “hive mentality” does mirror the candidate who reflects our deepest woundedness as well as our aspirational adulation. There is a lot of love in political hate and a lot of hate, in political love.
While the Trump campaign targeted disaffected, angry, often unemployed and resentful white males, the Sanders camp drew their power in numbers from idealists who wanted a Nordic socialism for America, as well as Millennials who couldn’t find work or afford housing. Frustration, rage and fear always causes a fervor, not unlike what we saw in NAZI Germany, fascist Italy or now, in North Korea. As we humans so often behave like “hive creatures,” when our emotions are triggered, it behooves us to get that much smarter. We need to take very seriously the kind of political candidates we elect. As we have seen in the Trump administration, the hive mentality can be especially destructive when weaponized against everyday Americans in a sinister attempt to dismantle our national family.
In the time of Trump, a quick study of the early days of fascism in NAZI Germany is useful in this essay as it shows how divisional tactics destroy unity. We begin in the year 1933 when Hitler comes to power and a young Jewish intellectual from Vienna is fired for being Jewish and a socialist and a free thinker. Dr. Karl Polanyi begins lecture notes, “The Fascist Virus” that would later comprise his 1944 book The Great Transformation, examining political constructs, tyranny and economic systems. Polanyi, then explained to students: “In order to eliminate a democracy permanently, the individual had to be made incapable of functioning spontaneously as a responsible unit and the unity of mankind had to be negated. The fascist virus must be allowed to complete its work.” Later, he would write in The Great Transformation“. . .the degenerative nature of the fascist solution was evident. It offered an escape from an institutional [sociopolitical] deadlock . . . and yet, if the remedy were tried, it would everywhere produce sickness until death. That is the manner in which civilizations perish. Polanyi was fired from his professorial job and forced to leave Vienna in 1933.
This concern is repeated today, now some 87 years later in our own America. After only four years under Trump, we resemble a struggling Democracyto experts in nations with chaotic and corrupt leadership. As Eric Bjornlund, of Democracy International, writes: “[In] established democracies, [and] political competitors generally do not attack the rules or the fairness of the process, accuse the opposing candidate or the election authorities of cheating, intimidate voters, or threaten them with violence. In less than fully democratic countries, on the other hand, complaints about fraud and fairness are routine, and violence—or the threat of it, is already involved. This tends to undermine public confidence in the elections and in democracy itself.”
Already, in the US, threats of violence and “promises” of violence are being leveled against Democrats by so-called “militia men” who support Trump. Foreign Policy reported today that a violence is likely and may be restricted to a few polling places but editors warn: “There is a risk, however, of bloodier attacks, especially by white supremacist and anti-government extremists, against minority communities and Democratic Party politicians. The risk of violence may grow should President Donald Trump be defeated at the polls and try to delegitimize the election results.” If Donald Trump is elected to a second term, I predict that his “populist” appeal will transform more broadly into a “fascist state” and the tendrils of that monstrous shift has already begun.
Direct Viral Transmission: Undermining Our Democracy to Shift Power to Only One Man
Federico Finkelstein, a scholar from the New School in New York who researches populism and fascism while drawing upon the political problems in his native Argentina, recently wrote two insightful works, From Populism to Fascism in History (2017) and his most recent, A Brief History of Fascist Lies (2020).. In his June 3rd, 2020 piece for The Washington Post, entitled “The Danger of President Trump’s Lies Amid the Coronavirus and Urban Uprisings: the Potential for an Alternate Reality,” the author explains how closely Trump’s behavior matches autocrats of the past—especially after he co-opted US military leadership for his own propagandist ends in Lafayette Square, with Bible in hand.
“In short, Trump is using this crisis to promote his brand of authoritarianism” writes Finkelstein, “by positioning himself not as an elected official but as a leader who owns the truth and whose authority is total. The repetition of lies has been a powerful tool for authoritarian leaders in the past.” The author expands the article by touching on German NAZI’s and especially propogandist Joseph Goebbels who was the head of propaganda for Adolph Hitler and employed a twisted mythos against Jews:
“In the 1930s and 1940s, fascists around the world saw truth embodied in anti-Semitic myths as well as myths of a golden past that was going to be reinstated and expanded—what the German Jewish philosopher Ernst Cassirer called “myth according to plan.” Fascists fantasized an alternative reality — for Hitler this was a world where Jews had lied their way to prominence and brought economic collapse for the German people — and then changed the actual reality to reflect these ideas. Concrete policies then followed aimed at reshaping the world according to these fascist lies.”
Finkelstein explains how the Nazis created their alternate reality as a way of fulfilling their racist viewpoints by forcing Jewish communities to fulfill their antisemitic scapegoating, Why? Because the German citizenry gave them license and power and authority to weaponize a false narrative against an innocent race of people that resulted in the murder of more than 6 million Jewish men, women and children:
“For example, if anti-Semitic lies stated that Jews were inherently dirty and contagious and therefore ought to be killed, the Nazis created conditions in the ghettos and concentration camps where dirtiness and widespread disease became reality. Starved, tortured and radically dehumanized Jewish inmates became what the Nazis had planned for them to become, and were accordingly killed.”
Finkelstein warns that there is a crucial distinction between empirical truth (or scientific truth) and a “sacred truth” that displaces reality. This again shows us how “hive mentality” works in a kind of mass hysteria in which our so-called “righteous minds” begin to replace logical reality with a borrowed “sacred truth” that incites our moral outrage, motivated to do so by invisible and intangible emotional statements designed to activate our hives. Weaponized by Trump and Trumpers, we now see how the “political virus” became so widespread in America, just as it did in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Such lies and the creation of an alternate national script is on the mind of Anne Applebaum who writes for The Atlanticas a Senior Fellow at the Agora Institute. Applebaum believes Trump is a “Superspreader of Disinformation” and blames him for the chaos around COVID19 and the mistrust that permeates the body politic: “Trump is literally, not metaphorically, the single most important reason so many Americans distrust information they receive about the disease. He is literally, not metaphorically, the reason so many Americans distrust our electoral system too. He is literally, not metaphorically, the reason so many Americans distrust one another.” Five-Thirty Eight reported Friday, Oct. 29ththat 82% of Republicans across the nation actually support Trump’s handling of the COVID19 response, even though more than 229,000 Americans have died and more than 9.8 million Americans have tested positive for the virus.
We now see just how easily it is to create an alternate political reality or a false truth. In 2016, the Republican Party easily fell victim to the “political virus” of Trumpism when The Donald bullied 16 other candidates into submission to lead the GOP. It is now Trump’s party. It isn’t just COVID19 that has stunned us, it was Trump’s handling of this crisis in his reckless and feckless manner that helped the virus in its spread. Both the President and Vice President Pence have had an outbreak of the virus within their own personal executive staff. Trump’s “political virus” has spread even more broadly across our national ethos. Chasing ratings and votes, Trump mastered the same lesson as authoritarian rulers have learned: that racial, gender, xenophobic, religious and nationalistic themes of enmity play more powerfully to the unchecked, collective human shadow than the inspiring and unifying tropes of peace, equality, community, “common ground” and shared values. Like Benito Mussolini before him, he learned that far-right rhetoric garners the loudest attention and cheapest applause lines. It also makes way for a darker agenda to advance one faction over another with callous disregard for the suffering of those relegated to the margins of society.
Direct Viral Transmission: Infecting the Nation, US Foreign Policy and Subordination to Putin
When Trump ran in 2016 against the only woman to lead a US presidential party ticket in history, he got a shot in the arm from another politically viral male, the dictator Vladimir Putin, formerly a KGB operative. Russian cyberagents tampered with our elections while strangely benefiting from puzzling shifts in American foreign policy: from Brexit to the Ukraine to Syria and Turkey. Agents were called “specialists” and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailed how deeply invasive and cunning the tactics of Russian information warfare became. It also revealed how gullible and easy to recruit members of the Trump and Sanders’ party faithful, actually were. Especially the zealots. Unwittingly ready for battle to the extreme—nascent followers walked right into the traps laid out for them by Putin. They, in effect, became the defacto arm of Putin’s army to undermine our Republic and our free press.
To date, Russia, China and Iran are all working hard (around the clock) to penetrate our political system and infect our electoral process, with Iran having just tried to attack the National Democratic database. This is not a coincidence, but by design. Russia’s Alexandre Dugin, (son of a KGB agent who formerly was viewed as a fringe political theorist) has written extensively on his giddy hopes for a dismantling of Western Democracy. He applauded Trump’s ascent although, ironically, no other American president has incurred such affection from Russia. Now, Dugin believes our Nov. 3rd Presidential election is shaping up to be a Kremlin ideal as the “. . .first stage of a fully-fledged Civil War. In this war, two Americas collide—two ideologies, two democracies, two freedoms, two identities, two mutually exclusive value systems, two politicians, two economies and two geopolitics,” enthused Dugin on his website in which he extols his Fourth Political Theory based on his 2012 book which is compulsory reading in Russia’s espionage circles and formal military classes. Iran is one of the nations (along with China) Dugin dreams about in his idealization of an Eastern Axis to neutralize American power and dismantle the Western Alliance.
If Trump isn’t a formal “Russian asset” then he certainly is a “Russian ass” or another “useful idiot” that helped Putin when he wanted to defeat a former US Secretary of State who made Iran come to the table after leveling heavy sanctions. As one Russian scholar John Dunlop writes: Dugin envisions a “broad Grand Alliance to be concluded with Iran, [so that] Russia-Eurasia will eventually enjoy realizing a centuries-old Russian dream of reaching the “warm seas” of the Indian Ocean. Russia is to enjoy “geopolitical access—in the first place, naval bases —on the Iranian shores.” Trump’s attacks and sniping at NATO is just the type of “useful idiot antics” that Putin applauds while we twist in the Western wind.
Special Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russian infiltration of our media and the tampering of our elections unearthed the extent to which cyberagents creeped under our national security skin. The American Constitution Society, ACS, summarizes the Special Counsel’s investigation that evidenced how Russian interference was “sweeping and systemic” as Putin succeeded in helping Trump win. Putin’s secret information operations hacked into Clinton campaign databases and released stolen materials through Russian fronts and Wikileaks.
As the ACS reports: Mueller’sinvestigation produced 37 indictments; seven guilty pleas or convictions; and compelling evidence that the president obstructed justice on multiple occasions. Mueller also referred 14 criminal matters to the Department of Justice for further action.Trump associates repeatedly lied to investigators about contacts with Russians and President Trump refused to answer questions about his efforts to impede federal proceedings and influence the testimony of witnesses. All of this resulted in the conviction of longtime Trump fixer and dirty trickster Roger Stone on seven counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators. Days before Stone was to begin serving his 40-month sentence, President Trump commuted his sentence and let Stone walk free with impunity, July 10th, 2020.
Russia’s Dugin goes on to say, “If we understood how important the “. . .geopolitics of the American elections” is now, the world would hold its breath and would not think about anything else. . . . in the center of determining the fate of the future of humanity, there is precisely the “geopolitics of the American elections” the American stage of the “great war of the continents”, the American Land against the American Sea.” Dugin’s hope, of course, is that America will split up in the ways that the former Soviet Union was disassembled.
Trump’s malignant personality and ideologies enmesh to create a hybrid populism that careens toward fascism. Political historians quibble over which of the terms populist or fascist best describe Trump. Most believe that populism involves followers who want their supreme ruler to win an election which reinforces their fervor. Fascists, on the other hand, usually control or destroy public elections. However, the historical view is largely focused on the past fascists of Europe, Central or Latin America. I would argue that Trump is a hybrid, in that, his populist appeal is driving his evolving fascist intentions and the more power he gets, the more he wants to consolidate it. Populist Trump may be running for re-election, but “emerging fascist Trump” has refused to say that he will support the election outcome, setting the stage to entirely reject the will of the people in November.
Opposing Party as Immune Responders
The novel COVID19 virus, while it is basically respiratory, can travel to the kidneys, brain, heart, and other organs of the human body. In late October, the Washington Post reported that the US averages more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases a day, over a week’s time. In the era of a pandemic it is timely to look at the human immune system in terms of its role in the body as a political parallel. In a healthy human body, our immune system is, according to The Merck Manual. . .”a collection of structures and processes within the body that protects against disease and other potentially damaging foreign bodies. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies a variety of threats, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, and distinguishes them from the body’s own healthy tissue.”
In the case of an autoimmune disease, however, the body gets confused as to which microbes it can trust and what ones it cannot. The role that autoimmune disease plays in the human body is described by Johns Hopkins as activated “. . .when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells.”
If we continue this extended metaphor to the current election, we see also how an opposing party’s rise, like auto-immune, is set to fight the invader that is undermining America. One of the hardest medical realities with COVID19 is that so many patients, in an attempt to rid the infected body of the virus, have to contend with an autoimmune system that kicks into overdrive. Dr. Troy Torgerson, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatric immunology and rheumatology at the University of Washington likens the immune system to the US military. “. . .[the] phagocytes are the Marines of immunity because neutrophils [white blood cells] are produced and crawl out into the tissue to the site of the infection and gorge themselves on bacteria or other invaders. B cells are like the Air Force of the immune system, deploying antibodies like cruise missiles. The T cells are the generals that direct the B cells to attack the invaders. . .” and so on. The human body has a multi-layered immune response, just as our body evolves new locks to protect against disease, viruses craft new keys.
In our body politic, we see an immune system written into the Constitution in the balance of our powers: the Executive and Legislative branches, as well as the courts all have roles to play to cancel one another out or move forward. Trump’s attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, ACA, was thwarted by Congress and the courts. In this novel election year, as the novel COVID19 virus continues to spread, the Democrats become the metaphoric blood transfusion necessary to stabilize the body politic and pump new white blood cells into the nation to create antibodies against autocracy.
Indirect Transmission of Viral Lies: Fantasy Scripts by QAnon Against Biden
As the Russians weaponized social media and organized rallies in major cities through agents posing as grassroots members of the American left, a parallel but different type of misinformation warfare is being employed now by the strange “fantasy fear scripts” of QAnon conspirators. A number of Sanders followers have already switched their allegiance from the Democrats, buying into the salacious propaganda that Trump is taking on the “Deep State” to stop a pedophilia ring created by the Democrats in which Joe Biden is either benefiting or “ringleading.” These internet propagandists have figured out how to make “alternate scripts” as attractive to the human brain’s “reward system” as video games in which users “earn clues” and then are granted access to more misinformation, akin to advancing levels in a video game. The New York Times reported earlier this month that, the conspirators:
“For months, QAnon supporters have been flooding social media with false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, in an effort to expand their ranks.”
Their creative conspiracy theories include: that Biden is allowing a child sex-trafficking ring to be present in America. And, in “underground tunnels” children are suffering, and, being “scanned by medical devices” with alien software not unlike devices featured on the original Star Trek series. These devices, of course, are part of the alien conspiracy and our shadow government. These QAnon believers (again, activating hive mentality) have gone so far as to commit murder (against a New York Mafia boss) and to perpetuate or commit other violent crimes.
Donald Trump is benefiting “bigly.” When asked about QAnon, Trump only shrugs and mouths the headlines that, “no one knows who they are” but he smiles and adds, “But I understand they love me.” The Guardian in Britain has reported that some 21% of Trump’s base in this 2020 election year are QAnon followers. As the Times’ reports that “QAnon has also made inroads in politics. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avowed QAnon supporter from Georgia, is a heavy favorite to win election to Congress in November.”
Sharon Foley Martinez, a scholar at the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab, PERIL at American University is a former white supremacist who, after treatment, now educates students on how to stay away from radical groups and cults. She said that her extremism was fanned by the fact that her only social interactions were with people who believed just as she did which created a kind of “echo chamber” that kept reinforcing an alternate reality and a script in which white people were wounded by those of color and different creed. Foley Martinez pointed out on MSNBC in October 2020 how the QAnon conspirators work on the minds and psyches, especially of older liberals and Republicans who may be “tech friendly” but not “tech savvy:”
“Not being “tech literate” means their emotions, disconnection from a rapidly changing world, fear of a world out of control, anti-vax groups, etc. all lend to this state of propagandized campaign. So, their ability to fact check (and their limited sophistication on what “fact checking really means,” is just going to another “believer”[on-line] to get an echo chamber response that reassures a conspiracy campaign.”
Foley Martinez explains how QAnon uses phony “individual stories” or doctored personal narratives about trauma or layers of trauma. All of which play into the actual traumatic histories of many who have bought into the false narratives:
“Among these tropes: sexual assault, rape and violence against women, really help draw traumatized women to radicalized scripts. The world feels dangerous and out of control and they need a connection to something greater than themselves, they haven’t found elsewhere.”
Investigative reporters have isolated only three people they believe to have been the instigators or “creators” but it is hard to know if these falsifying writers work for a foreign power or what their motivation might be: Trump benefits. QAnon has injected distrust and disinformation onto the web without facing any consequences for their smearing of Joe Biden. And their viral disinformation – even though rationally unbelievable – continues to spread.
Mythically speaking, these QAnon conspirators remind one of trickster God Hermes of the Greeks who aided Ares in killing the many-eyed (all-seeing) monstrous giant Argos. Like the conspirators, Hermes was a shape-shifting, secretive disruptor of mortals. Hermes was especially skilled at mischief, puckish antics and confusing lovers with dialogues and whispered gossip that didn’t add up but did cause heartbreak. Hermes had positive and negative aspects and his Roman counterpart was Mercury which gave rise to the English word, mercurial matching Trump’s unpredictable, labile and ever shifting con.
Indirect Transmission: The Spread of Predominantly White Patriot Churches
James Wise, who in the 1930s warned of Nazi fascism once said: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” and those are precisely the symbols that Trump hijacked in courting both patriots and Christians. Trump used a Bible, after all, the day he used federal forces against protestors in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. Trump is also utilizing the growing Christian-right movement known as Patriot Churches that daily pray away what they view as the immorality of America. Trump and evangelical Pence have courted, enabled and weaponized these predominantly white, rural churches. In a Washington Post article, one church in a Tennessee barn prayed that, “communism and socialism and transgenderism and homosexuality and abortion will not have their way in this land.” They loudly and constantly pray for a Trump landslide. Pence and Trump supporters have visited Patriot Churches to fortify their fervor.
One Patriot Church in Spokane, Washington is now led by radical Rev. Matt Shea who is a former Republican State House member sanctioned by his caucus for participation in the standoff with armed “militia men” in Oregon at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2015. House leadership issued a report that found Rep. She to be a “domestic terrorist” and Shea did not seek re-election. “Representative Shea, as a leader in the Patriot Movement, “ the report reads “planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the state of Washington over a three-year period,” according to the report released Thursday. “In one conflict Representative Shea led covert strategic pre-planning in advance of the conflict.” Now, as at the head of the Covenant Christian Church, a Patriot Church, Rev. Shea is actively recruiting Christians for the cause that draws heavily from white rural America.
Indirect Viral Transmission: White Supremacy as Trump’s Racist Community Spread
Earlier this month, 13 men in Michigan were arrested after an FBI undercover investigation found that they were planning to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer. This after Trump had repeatedly attacked Gov. Whitmer for her “mask-on” policy that he clearly ignored until, of course, he was infected by COVID19 himself.
Huff Post reporter Christopher Mathias wrote an in-depth investigative piece on white supremacists triggered by Trump’s divisional tactics and pro-white rhetoric. He has spent four years in Trumpland covering white nationalists and their machinations. Mathias reminds readers that Trump sent out a dog whistle tweet in April while the pandemic spread like wildfire: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” As the president showed support for “armed protestors gathering outside Michigan’s state Capitol to protest Whitmer’s COVID-19 lockdown measures.” The reporter sums up how the Make America Great Again, MAGA, movement lit a fire under white racists and gave them license to climb out of the shadows and express their hatred overtly. “America’s unofficial militias, its white vigilantes, have been feeding off Trump’s hateful speech for years now. He launched his presidential campaign in 2015, after all, by calling Mexicans “rapists.” That same year he called for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. Mathias continues: “
Trump won the 2016 election perhaps not despite those racist statements but because ofthem, and, in the four years since, headline after headline has described escalating acts of political violence committed by his supporters and by those who share his hateful worldview — headlines so frequent and relentless as to make them routine.” … to normalize them.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, tracks hate crimes across the nation and has been monitoring a domestic terrorist cell training camp known as the Base. The SPLC analyzed 83 hours of undercover audio recordings as members of the Base were planning battle strategies, in which Trump’s name came up some 69 times among the “soldiers” who are mostly under the age of 30 and, of course, predominantly male.
“White supremacist groups like the Base recruits with a goal of engaging in violent terrorism. Their words reflect their goals. The phrases The phrases “shoot,” “gun,” or “firearm” appeared in two-thirds of the conversations, a total of 360 times.” One computer read out from a soldier at the Base known as Speaker 72, was recorded saying: “No, I’m talking about putting together neighborhoods with you know, effective training areas […] just having each member in a sanctuary state for gun ownership like Wyoming, Montana, states of that nature.”All of these recruits are seduced by social media and these racist market their hatred by target age, stage and platform. The New York Times did an expose on the Base in January and found that they customize their terrorist plans based on the tactics of Al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic terrorists. Federal law enforcement officials describe the Base as an “accelerationist” organization, “seeking to speed the collapse of the country and give rise to a state of its own in the Pacific Northwest by killing minorities, particularly African-Americans and Jews.”
Mathias also reported in his article that he witnessed a black man be beaten by a gang of Neo-Nazis and as he ran to assist, one of the Nazi’s pulled out a gun and he ducked out of sight. When the attack ended and the man ran away, Mathias noticed a “pool of blood” on the concrete, while: “Outside, 20 police officers stood around doing nothing.” Trump has unleashed his own “viral” brand of warfare with words. His “base” takes his words as battle cries and projects them against any American who doesn’t look, worship or act like them. It is already a cultural civil war in which Trump benefits.
Trump’s Mythic Familiar of Classical Antiquity: Ares the Greek God of War
Turning directly to Classical mythology, now, we consider how Trump and his family resemble some of the more extreme autocratic characters in antiquity. As the son of Zeus, Ares is a war god but a more nuanced understanding is Ares is the “spirit of war” and yet also a personified deity rejected by his father who lost respect for and faith in his combative son. In the Iliad, the father says to Ares, “To me you are the most hateful of all Gods that hold Olympos.” Christine Downing explores Ares in “Gods in Our Midst” and looks at Ares as a war god, but not an effective one on the battlefield and unfavored among the other gods. She finds him to be emblemic of “battle rage” and Downing agrees with psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Jean Bolen’s understanding of Ares as “patriarchy’s shadow.” Downing sees Ares as a “. . .conventional animus figure, assertiveness and courage transmuted into aggressiveness and hubristic bravado.” Ares, after all, sides with the Trojans in the Iliad, making him a traitor to his own Greece:
“Ares seems to be a hypermasculine figure, an ugly, destructive caricature of what manhood signifies. He makes us think of warrior cults where it may have been important to exaggerate the difference of men from children and women, where manhood was earned through undergoing a series of ordeals.”
Downing continues in her examination by pointing out that Ares also carries the burden of rejection from his father, Zeus while also shouldering the aggression of others, including his own mother Hera. She uses Robert Bly’s term and passage from Iron Johnthat isolates Ares as a “wild man” who cannot acknowledge “his own woundedness” who can only inflict wounds on others:
“The burden of carrying such projections might naturally lead to an anxiety about phallic potency and a consequent swaggering exaggeration of it. All engagements come to be understood in zero-sum terms: one is either victor or victim.”
This mythic character sketch of Ares compliments the malignant personality pathology of Donald Trump who, according to his psychologist niece, Mary Trump, was raised by a sociopathic father, real estate developer Fred Trump. It was eldest son Freddy (who ended his own life) who dubbed his brother, Donald, the “Great I-Am” echoing the words that God said to Moses, when the prophet asked about God’s identity. His niece writes in “Too Much and Never Enough” that Donald’s personality was sadly shaped by the humiliation of her own father. “Having a sociopath as a parent, all but guarantees severe disruption in how children understand themselves, regulate their emotions, and engage with the world.” Mary explains how hard it was for the 5 children to find solidarity as siblings. Donald figured out how to play dad and surpass his elder brother’s needs against an impossible-to-please father. “He [Donald] took whatever he wanted without asking for permission not because he was brave but because he was afraid not to. Whether Donald understood the underlying message or no, Fred did: in family, as in life, there could be only one winner: everybody else had to lose.” Eventually Donald’s private school behavior became problematic. Donald acted out at private school already bullying and hurting younger children and the solidification of a personality disorder that was “rigid and combative” was in early bloom and already toxic to other children. “Name-calling and teasing kids too young to fight back had escalated into physical altercations.” So, Fred sent his second son to the New York Military Academy where troubled sons often were sent from across the nation and state.
Fred Trump Sr. seems to mirror one Greek Titan from the pre-Olympus period—Cronos, Zeus’ father—who castrated his own primal patriarch, Uranus (heaven) and when the testicles were tossed into the sea, Aphrodite rose up as Goddess. Cronos, knowing that great Gods and their sons don’t always get along, consumed his five royal children until Zeus was born. His mother Gaia (earth) devised a plan to save her sixth child by hiding Zeus in Crete and tricking Cronos with a stone swaddled in a blanket. Zeus gave his father something to make him vomit up his siblings and restore order in the realm. In at least one account, Zeus also castrated his father and threw him down to Tartarus an abysmal, fiery dungeon that resided in the depths, far lower than Hades and Titans and monsters were trapped.
In the Trump storyline, it wasn’t long before Donald was eventually causing trouble again in hazing other students and refining his bullying, socially aggressive ways of offsetting his own inadequacies, insecurities and finally: need for dominance at all times, in all settings, regardless of the pain and suffering it caused others. In other words: Donald became even more, anti-social while all the while currying favor with those who could offer him social capital.
In Michael Cohen’s book, Disloyal: a Memoir written from prison as a “fixer” for Donald Trump in 2016 that included “tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign violations” and served as Deputy Finance Chair for the Republican National Committee. Cohen describes Trump’s seductive side and how manipulative he was to work for and how intoxicating his sociopathic personality became in their twisted relationship. Cohen, memorable for his sycophantic dirty tricks in the last presidential election that included leading chants against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, “Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up” that President Trump still employees in his rallies, clearly an addiction for a narcissistic man. (Now, of course, he throws the names of other female public officials into this smearing rally cry, especially: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and why is it a wonder she was the target of a White Nationalist kidnapping plot?)
In Cohen’s words, we see Donald Trump’s manipulative modus operandi that included staging appearances at Trump Tower so that Cohen could observe fans begging the realtor for autographs.
“. . .it was part of a performance meant to draw me in to Trump’s centrifugal force, precisely the way a con man draws a mark into his world. Like a confidence artist, Trump was showing me that he inhabited a different type of reality, one that he would share with me alone, a world that was filled with wonder and excitement and power and intrigue and adulation. All I had to do was do what I was told, without any question or a second thought. I didn’t just accept this invitation; I leapt at it. I wasn’t Trump’s mark as much as I was his acolyte, a willing participant that heightened my senses and my sense of self.
Cohen, with his low self-worth and blurred self-identity, was an easy “cut out” that could carry the sins of the Trump family. As long as Cohen goes to prison: the Trump family is free and clear. To many males in the nation, especially young white men who wanted “it all” and were bitter that their futures seemed too modest because they “wouldn’t get it all” grew to be one of the largest cheering sections for The Donald. Trump was a materialistic, shallow ideal because he had fast cars, pretty “Aphroditic women” on his arm which reminds us that Ares attracted the favor of Aphrodite. Even the Access Hollywood tape scandal in which Trump gleefully boasted that a rich man can do anything with women: including grabbing women’s body parts without their consent. This President is the same man who was sued by a number of women and is under investigation by the authorities for molesting their bodies, sexual harassment and in New York: rape.
Mythic Symmetry of Golden Excess: Trump as King Midas
In terms of stories from antiquity and analogous mythic alignment we turn to King Midas of the golden touch. President Trump is reminiscent of the Midas Complex with his obsessive need to have everything turned “to gold” which isn’t all that far-fetched for a man who wishes flash to all the world how extremely wealthy he has become. Trump is popularly known for his love of gilded bathroom fixtures, golden curtains and décor—especially visible throughout his private plane. When he was elected President of the United States, one of the first things Trump did in the White House was to replace former President Barack Obama’s muted red curtains in the Oval Office with gold drapes.
The Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas is reflective glare as the exterior is “sided” in 24-carat gold leaf. It also fits his obsessive need to have the Trump name in big block letters cresting as many tall, phallic buildings he can build or take over.
King Midas is featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a dunce who is so foolish as to wish that Dionysus would grant him the wish that “all he touches turns to gold.” His wish is granted for helping an inebriated Silenus (his servant) after too much partying, to be found and fed by the king’s people. King Midas is dazzled by his gilded folly, as when the King snaps “. . .a green twig from the low branch of an oak” it magically turns to gold. He has the same “golden touch” with a stone, a dirt clod, wheat heads—even an apple from a tree. King Midas is so thrilled when “All turns to gold!” Until, of course, the royal servants set the table for a new feast gifted by Ceres and the King is absolutely mortified when he touches his food, because he cannot eat it when it turns to gold. In the telling in the Ovid version translated by Charles Martin, King Midas is spared from starving to death when Dionysus rescinds the “golden touch” after Midas begs the God: “Though I have sinned, I beg you, grant me mercy, save me from this ruinous extravagance.” Aristotle’s interpretation, however, ends with King Midas starving to death as divine consequence for his “vain prayer.” A vain prayer is exactly what Donald Trump made when he won the presidency and now, it is time for Americans to remember that not all that “glitters” is truly gold.
Immunizing Democracy: Healing Our Bonds of Affection and Binding Our Wounds
Will the “vein prayer” or “nightmare” of President Donald Trump as an American “King Midas” finally come to an end? Will free elections prevail? A virus, by itself, is a dumb thing, not even alive and it has one and only one ability to clone itself in its host population until the host dies. America is riddled by disease, metaphorically and literally, but she that has time and time again, recreated herself anew.
We cannot let the body politic perish as other civilizations, overrun by malignant personalities, have done. As an experimental Democracy, America is not medieval Europe, or ancient Rome, or NAZI Germany, in part due to the sacred political documents that remain in-tact and will, as long as we remember them to be the “anti-bodies” of this Republic.
We have historically been a people of change and promise. Even in the darkest times.
Our belief and our hope in a long term future for this Democracy has played out in every union hall, during World Wars, with every high tech start-up and in classrooms where public education is open to everyone, even virtually during a pandemic. Americans have innovated the world.
We even saved it a few times from fascists and autocrats and NAZI’s who haunt us during this election year, like no other.
We cannot lose hope, nor can we lose one another.
We can and must heal together.
This cultural civil war, with or without Trump can be settled without him: by you and by me. If we remember who we are in this nation as individuals, neighbors, communities, states and as a unified nation—tethered to one another in kinship and aligned with the common cause to live diversely, inclusively and with a commitment to the equality for all—we will rise to meet the challenge of a new nation.
One man who witnessed the shattered lives in this nation once reminded us to tend one another’s woundsafter the American Civil War. In his Second Inaugural Address, 155 years ago, President Lincoln sought to be the balm of a nation deeply in mourning:
“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness
in the right as God gives us to see the right,
let us strive on to finish the work we are in
to bind up the nation’s wounds. . .”
Dr. Leslie Shore is a former award-winning broadcast news reporter and community newspaper publisher and environmental lobbyist. Now a lecturer, Leslie often speaks on Religious Ritual as Remedy in Loss and Bereavement.