Facts, Strategies, and Hope

My last article, https://dorianmuse.com/2020/10/16/a-moment-of-truth/, was written before the November 2020 election. It was full of warnings about violence, potential Trump style authoritarianism, and the dangers of QAnon and other Trumpist current event nightmares.

After the election, I wrote a postscript to A Moment of Truth. Trump was repudiated, but not Trumpism. Even so, most of us sighed with relief that the sociopath Trump was gone. We felt sure that since a sane person claimed the executive branch —all would right itself eventually.

Now I’m back to check in. I write to make sense of the world. Indeed, maybe eventually we will begin to see a return to sanity, facts, science, and a rational democracy. But not now. Alas, Trumpism has taken hold of the Republican party. Let me present an overview of what happened after the election.

Trump did not concede. In fact, he fought the election results in one federal case after another. He called state elections officials and bullied them like a mob boss might. “Find me 11,780 votes,” he told Brad Raffensberger in Georgia, a Republican elections secretary. Sixty three federal judges rejected his cases at last count. Republican law makers stood silent as he threw temper tantrums and lost court cases and raised millions from his base. Trump’s gullible, radicalized base believed him. Acting on the belief the election had been stolen, they sent their nickels and dimes to the grifter Trump. Fox news, OANN, and Newsmax spread misinformation about the election, blaming corrupted voting machines and widespread fraud. They even hauled out a dead president from Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, into the hysterical cacophony. Oh yes! Hugo Chavez controls the voting machines, they screamed. We fretted and wrung our hands, knowing violence may be coming.

And violence did arrive. Not just the street fighting between white power and Antifa that has become common. This time Trump and his henchmen riled up thousands of people who had come to DC for a Stop the Steal protest. It was January 6, 2021. The electoral votes were being counted down the street at the Capitol building. Trump, Congressman Mo Brooks, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani, Don Jr. —among others —riled up the gathered thousands with fighting words about fraud, stolen elections, and fake news taking over the country. Trump directed them to march to the Capitol and help take back the election. “If you don’t fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore,” he yelled.

Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, magas, some current and former military, and hyped-up citizens who believed the vote was being stolen —they surged to the Capitol building and descended upon it violently, killing and maiming cops. They broke windows, shat in the halls, carried confederate flags, stole computers and statuary, left threatening messages, howled, and overtook the Senate chamber. Outside someone constructed a gallows. “Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd chanted as they prowled, searching for the vice president who had just refused to overthrow the electoral votes for Biden. They banged on doors, calling for Nancy Pelosi with deadly intent. Congress members from the House and Senate ran for their lives, hiding in locked rooms beneath.

The siege went on for several hours. Trump did nothing. Finally he presented a video urging the rioters to go home, and telling them he loved them. The effort was insufficient and pale, even supportive of the marauders. I suspected he really didn’t want to end the siege. Indeed, eye witnesses would later testify that Trump loved what he was seeing on TV that day, gloating about it. He enjoyed the ruckus and mayhem perpetrated in his name and was loath to end it.

In the aftermath, Trump has continued to lie about the election, sell himself as a victim, and make money. Republicans have embraced Trump as the leader of their party. Anyone who speaks against Trump or the election lie is cast from the family of right wing sycophants —into the prospect of losing primaries and into eternal vilification from Trump and his supporters. Law makers who tell the truth or, say, vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill, face death threats. Decent principled Republicans are being cast aside in favor of nut jobs like Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gosar, who support Trump and assume the narcissistic conspiracy-loving mantle that has become the Trump trademark.

Let me bring home this dizzying state of affairs. I report to you from a red state, an artist’s colony in Arkansas. We are a town of creative weirdly wonderful people —which already tells you we are not a typical red state town. Creative minds tend not to jump on personality cult trains. But the support of Trump still crops up in ways that surprise me. A certain percentage of our population are back to earth hippies. Sadly, many of the peace and love generation, the new-agers, have aligned themselves with Trumpism. They go about it by way of QAnon, with anti-Western medicine beliefs. Many of them are anti-vaccine. What was once a fringe left wing belief that vaccines were harmful has spread to the Trumpist right. The sheer number of un-vaccinated people in red states last summer drove a variant of Covid called the Delta to sweep through. Our count now is up to 750,000 people dead in the US, and over 5 million worldwide. And yet, a new-ager at the grocery store the other day droned on about alternative non-cures —Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, hydrogen peroxide —anything but that nasty vaccine. One local man pulled away from a hug from his vaccinated friend because, ventured the anti-vaxxer politely, vaccinated people shed their altered DNA. People I used to believe were, at worst, eccentric and misinformed, are now raging purveyors of conspiracy theories. Blithering idiots. And those new-agers add to the growing throng of people who believe untruths. Trump mishandled the pandemic, lied about how serious it was from the start, and created an army of anti-vax and anti-mask warriors. “Donald Trump is a light worker,” said one new age person recently. How disappointing. Not true, I say. Donald Trump is a conman, grifter, and a criminal. The QAnon hippies are going down in history along with magas as misled and errant.

Here are more examples of divorce from reality perpetrated by Trumpists.

The Trumpist governor in Florida, DeSantis, nominated Dr. Ladapo, MD, as the state’s surgeon general. This anti-vaccine MD is associated with a group of doctors promoting Trump’s hydroxycholoquine cure for Covid. The spokeswoman of this group of doctors believes that cysts on the ovaries are caused by women having sex with demons.

Texas’ Trumpist governor, Abbott, has all but outlawed abortion, and created a vigilante system by offering bounties of up to 10,000 dollars to anyone in the country who can track down those who help a Texas woman get an abortion. No clause for incest or rape in this new abominable law. Trump’s supreme court let it slide for now. They may shoot this one down, but Roe vs. Wade is on the chopping block. Women’s rights tend to go downhill with the populist right, or authoritarians.

Trumpists across the country are attending school board meetings. They threaten school board members who promote mask mandates to protect children from Covid. Proud Boys provide a menacing backdrop sometimes. Recently magas have been caught on camera wearing yellow stars as they protest masks, equating the victimization of Jews in Nazi Germany with the victimization of freedom-loving maskless wonders such as themselves. Some laugh at this behavior and say the Republicans have become the new party of snowflakes and cry babies. But it’s worse. I agree with Tom Nichols that the trickle down effect of Trump is a nation of narcissists. How self important and smug to don the symbol that marked you for ghettos and death camps — imposed on an entire race in WWII. How utterly incoherent and devoid of historical factual understanding or empathy. This behavior is simply not laughable. It’s disturbing.

A recent governor’s race in Virginia landed a win for a Republican, who ran on Critical Race Theory. He told parents in Virginia he would ban it. Not sure how you ban something that does not exist. CRT is taught in law school, and in no K-12 school anywhere in the country. But Fox and the right wing Trumpist media have created a myth that CRT is alive and well and trying to make white people feel bad about themselves. So Trumpists are crying about the novels of Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Her books, like any others that speak candidly of slavery or women’s sexuality should be banned —even burned, they say.

What was once a fringe element of the right wing, the white power movement, is now mainstream and normal in the new Trumpist Republican party. Tucker Carlson shouts from his Fox platform about how white people are being replaced. He questions vaccine safety and efficacy. Recently he made a pseudo documentary about the insurrection at the Capitol —casting it as a false flag event (it’s really the FBI and Antifa, don’t you know). He portrays the ongoing trials of the insurrectionists as a punishment directed at being conservative and patriotic. “Prisoners of war” is Carlson’s name for the howling mob members currently in jail. They endure torture, he says. In Arkansas —in all the red states, people spend hours consuming Fox, and they think Carlson is a reporter. In short, an alarming number of Americans believe him, and believe the election was stolen. An effort to re-write history is underway, downplaying the insurrection and painting it as a patriotic rally. Indeed, Trump says the real insurrection happened on election day —with the stolen election —and January 6th was the protest.

What can we do about all this?

Here is where I want to share something personal. I volunteered in prisons for almost 20 years, both state and federal, from low security to high security. I conducted pagan religious services for Wiccans, Pagans, and Odinists. In the federal prison system, because they were white (Odinists), and gang members, I met individuals from the white power and militia movements. The gang members did not bother me a bit. I knew that if gang members showed up then sex offenders would not. As a woman locked in a room with thirty men, I appreciated knowing that. I just let the leaders know that I was not recruitment material and not interested in prison politics and we got along fine. Today, in fact, long after retirement from prison outreach, I’m married to an ex-federal prisoner who was caught up in a white prison gang before he stepped down. Today he is a successful business owner, an artist, and we share a horror of the Trumpist wave. We see it for what it is. We both understand something about the white power movement.

Because of my exposure to the militia and white gangs in the prisons, I had the opportunity to glimpse a world I had never encountered. I didn’t talk politics with the convicts, but I attended events and knew people on the outside who were former skinheads or white nationalists. Most had left the political movements for a more spiritual and constructive life, and I respected them for that choice. Through these friendships and acquaintances, I came to understand more about what motivated people to join such groups. First of all, like most people, they actually believed they were acting in good faith to protect their families. The belief that white people are categorically singled out for extinction provided the motivation. Once indoctrinated, these people became warriors for the white race fighting an existential battle for survival. That’s where nationalists find an identity and a reason to get up in the morning. It’s an emotionally charged movement, loyal and hierarchical. Oddly, the far right leadership, even outside the hate groups and among the more spiritual people, sounded a lot like the new-agers at times. I read articles about how masks cause C02 poisoning, and that the pandemic was planned, and vaccines have tracking devices. Sound familiar? Seems to me the far right as well as the far left have lost their minds. Anyway, this gives us a glimpse into current Trumpist cult members. They are emotional, they aren’t fact checkers, and they believe they are threatened. If the GOP is really going down the white nationalist road, which it looks like they are, we will need to understand what we are up against.

Our nation has a civics lesson problem for sure, but we don’t have generations of time to self-correct that weak link. The GOP may gain power in 2022. Former white power movement people, who subsequently came to their senses, quietly help people walk back from hate. Whether behind the scenes or openly, I hope these people continue their good work. We can take a lesson from them. Walking people back from cults happens individually, person to person.

I understand why some may be hesitant to confront the hard core Trump base —some 40% of Republicans. Actual nationalists and full tilt cult members may appear to be lost causes. The calls for civil war and the blind eager love for Donald Trump is frightening to encounter. Be calm around them. Don’t wrestle in the mud. Stick to innocuous topics. At worst, treat them like children on time out.

If you want to forge ahead, the following are some suggestions.

Anne Applebaum, the author of Twilight of Democracy, has offered suggestions about confronting family members or friends who are Trump Republicans. One of these suggestions stuck with me. Respectfully ask what their values are. For instance, “Is it really in the best interest of you and your family to trust a man who says he likes to grab women by their genitals? Is that in keeping with your values? Aren’t Republicans the party that believes character matters?“

Someone said to me recently, “Tucker Carlson said it, and since he’s a reporter there has to be truth to it.” I replied calmly, “Well, he’s an entertainer, isn’t he?”

When family members spout the Antifa false flag at the Capitol theory, point out that the gallows represents the Day of the Rope, a page right out of a white power book called The Turner Diaries. No —not Antifa.

Take a minute to ask people about their values, and calmly state facts, and call them gently on their inaccuracies. It’s time to consider what each of us can do to avoid the possible death of the American experiment. Confronting individuals is just one way.

Vote. Talk about voting. I asked a young woman about her voting status in the weeks before Trump lost. “My husband does not believe in the electoral college, so he doesn’t vote.” “What about you? What do you think?” I asked. In that moment I made her uncomfortable. Good. I made a point. She won’t forget it.

We live in interesting times, which is disorienting. It’s painful and jarring. One of the two major parties in the US is no longer recognizable, moving toward right wing nationalism under Trump. Donald Trump was the most destructive person to ever sit in the oval office. He still wields power. We may be frustrated by the left in their pursuit of proper pronoun sensitivity and their strange inability to recognize and act upon the rising danger of violence and authoritarianism in the country. But as frustrating as they are, Democrats are still the only party that believes in democracy. Elect people who are non-Trumpist Republicans and Democrats.

The conservative anti-Trump folks have risked their careers and their safety to speak truth about their party. Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Charlie Sykes, Tim Miller, Bill Krystal, Mona Charon, Steve Schmidt, Joe Walsh, Stuart Stevens —these are a few. Let’s give them the respect they deserve, and listen to their counsel.

Finally, there is hope. A new pro-democracy coalition —everyone from Liz Cheney to AOC —is rising up. We are coming together as a popular front against the rise of autocracy. Principled Republicans are calling out Trump’s lie about the election. A bipartisan select committee is busy uncovering the January 6th insurrection. It turns out it was, in fact, a planned coop attempt —initiated at the top of the Trump administration (stay tuned). People are slowly getting vaccinated, even in red states. If all else fails, protesting in the street actually works. Large non-violent protests in DC alert the world that not everyone agrees with the status quo. They also effectively bring discussions to the dinner table. Democracy works if people pay attention and understand facts. Protesting in the street also gives heart to the participants, and a sense of hope. If Roe vs. Wade is struck down, I will protest. If the Trumpists win power in 2022 and 2024, my husband and I will go to DC and march with the inevitable hundreds of thousands.

In my town, artists continue to create and think freely —and put up with misguided new agers. Fall is breathtaking this year. The red maples and yellow ginkos, and the rust color of the oaks —all inspiring and beautiful. My husband and I are finishing up a mural depicting a magic oak forest. We are animists, and the trees, the cave and critters in our mural reflect our values and beliefs —that the spirit of nature permeates in and around everything, and it’s good. This earthly life is sacred, and I do believe we will eventually be ok. In the meantime, if things go sideways, maybe I’ll see you in DC.

Laurel Owen
November, 2021

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