A Season of Mayhem

Even while President Trump basks in the adulation of supporters, the country is abuzz with speculation about how, and when, he will leave office. No one knows what and whether the final act will be. But most imagine an eventual “Goldwater moment”—a visit to Trump by leading Republicans telling him that it is time to resign.

What would happen next? For Nixon, resignation was a way to avoid the shame of impeachment and end, as Gerald Ford put it, “our long national nightmare.” In the case of Trump, who seems outside the reach of shame, it is not clear whether his leaving, or even just escalating pressure to leave, would end a nightmare or lead to something more horrific. Almost two years ago, Trump articulated what remains the best summary of his electoral success: “”I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Would his resigning end a nightmare or lead to carnage far beyond Fifth Avenue—a season of mayhem across the country?

Personally, I hope Trump will leave. The President’s personal instability, the damage he has already done, and the much greater damage he still could do—especially in foreign policy—imperils all of us, and not only in America. While he has been contained, at times, by the courts, Congress, and state government, containment is too limited a strategy on which to rely for the long term.

But we must be clear-eyed. For months before the election, the far-right, especially on radio, was obsessed with demonic conspiracies to “steal away” a Trump victory. These were not only fringe commentators, but programs with daily audiences of tens of millions. Trump and his surrogates fed the flames, as they have continued to do since the election: millions of illegal voters bused over borders, various versions of a “rigged game,” dark plots hatched by dark characters. Although rejected in most states, the administration’s recent call for detailed voter lists was part of its theatre of terror—inspiring fear in its enemies (enough to cause many voters to rescind their registration) and a different kind fear in its enemies’ enemies, the Trump base.

The enemies’ enemies want blood, and they have been encouraged to want it. On right-wing radio, incitement to violence against those who would undo the “Trump revolution” has been thinly veiled, and, increasingly, not veiled at all. Hosts speak directly and literally about civil war if Trump is “taken down.” Like Trump’s Fifth Avenue statement, their lurid predictions have become a kind of audio pornography from which listeners cannot turn away. They speak openly about “starting a coup” and “lots of bloodshed” if Trump’s election is undone. The right to bear arms, and the imminent need to use them, have become, effectively, the same thing.

In every case, the incitement is rationalized by a demonically portrayed left. The “globalists,” “internationalists,” “multi-culturalists” and their “liberal” associates aim to destroy the nation—its language, its culture, its borders. Black Lives Matter means white lives don’t. Illegal immigrants—rapists and murderers–are shock troops. Behind the scenes, a range of malevolent actors plot America’s dissolution. The survival of the homeland is at stake. Blood and soil.

As demagoguery, this is, indeed, Nazi rhetoric. Meanwhile, of course, uniformed Nazis have no trouble being explicit. “The Jews will not replace us.” Race war—against Blacks, Jews, and other “non-whites”–is inevitable. The Nazis and KKK have at least the virtue of directness.

I emphasize this because the distinction between direct and indirect preparation for violence is important. It reminds us that there is a much greater number who feel allied with the hard right, but who would not personally parade swastikas, who participate in violence vicariously and, under circumstances, would participate in actuality. Indeed, our preoccupation with the (mostly) boys in boots is misleading. We miss the many more who are ready to “lock and load”—whether an assault rifle, a Chevy, or a truck bomb. As with ISIS or Al Qaeda, direct affiliation is not necessary. Anyone can be “inspired,” and it takes only a very small number to cause enormous damage.

If and when Trump leaves, or is on the cusp of leaving, we should anticipate a season—perhaps a very long season—of mayhem. It will be organized and disorganized, perpetrated by lone wolves and packs of wolves, include the initiates and the inspired. Had Clinton won the election, that season would probably already have begun. As it stands, Charlottesville will likely be recalled as the beginning. The same week of violence there, the FBI foiled an Oklahoma City truck bombing that was inspired by past domestic terrorism in that city. Realistically, the FBI will not be able to foil all such plans.

What does anticipation mean? A piece like this will confirm, for those inclined, that there is, indeed, an effort to “replace them.” It will be read as pretext for taking their guns, corrupting their culture, stealing their heritage. Nevertheless, there is no way to write about impending violence without writing about impending violence.

I am writing about impending violence. As relevant and needed, others will write about how to contain and, one hopes, minimize it.

About the Author
Henry (Hank) Greenspan is a psychologist and playwright at the University of Michigan who has been interviewing, teaching, and writing about the Holocaust and its survivors since the 1970s.
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