Catastrophe, Trump, and the Disaffection Fantasy

American Catastrophe, Trump, and the Fantasy of Disaffection

A lot of liberal friends assume that the invasion of the U.S. Capitol incited by Trump will lead to disaffection among a significant number of his followers.  The chorus repeats:  “This is the real beginning of the end”; even “his own people” will abandon him; the recent votes of Senate Republicans, and the losses in Georgia, all express ill for a Trumpist future.  Certainly, as Biden’s team takes over, the majority will accept, or accept enough, the “new reality.”

As far as I can tell, these conclusions are not supported by reality.  I spend time “lurking” on rightwing websites and listening to Trumpist radio stations with a lot of callers-in.  The callers and commentators are mostly not Q’anon conspiracy devotees or similar.  They are mainstream Trump supporters of the kind who listen to Hannity, Limbaugh, and — on slow days — Newsmax.  On an average day, they number in the millions.

Calls are screened, of course.  But I have not heard a single person question the insurrection or the quality of Trump’s leadership.  A few in the role of “spokespeople” — usually Republican legislators — suggest that those who invaded the Capitol were a “tiny minority” of “peaceful protesters” that the “corrupt media” was using to discredit the whole — and, of course, Trump himself.  (Anyone with a television knows that the crowd in and on the Capitol was no “tiny minority.”). Beyond that, the events are described as people taking back the “people’s House,” an expression of “free speech” and “freedom of assembly,” a victory for “patriots” and “real Americans.”

Indeed, most callers expressed victory — the phrase “mission accomplished” was repeated often.  At this point, the “mission” was not described as a government takeover or even full restoration of the Trump regime.  It was, rather, an expression of terrorist success: the capacity to provoke national obsession, widespread fear, and grinding some gears of the “deep state”: that is, Congress and other American institutions.  Understood that way, their mission was, indeed, accomplished.

Rather than disaffection, the post hoc commentary by perpetrators and their colleagues celebrated success.  Some even recalled the videos of Osama Bin Laden and associates celebrating the success of the 9/11 attacks.  The rhetoric was about the beginning, not the end, of disruption.

This is obviously not the “beginning of the end.”  It may be the opposite.  Three years ago, I posted a blog on this site entitled “A Season of Mayhem.”  My core argument has not changed:

“We must be clear-eyed. For months before the [2016] 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. … [W]hen 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.”

Although I and others predicted it in these pages, Trump’s 2016 victory probably delayed the season of mayhem that is now upon us.

If that season is to be mitigated, it will not be because of disaffection.  It will be because mayhem’s funders and facilitators — foreign and domestic — will choose to withdraw support and incitement, at least temporarily.  Keeping America “in suspense” may well be viewed as a more successful terrorist tactic than a predictable trajectory of violence.  That is how terrorism works because that is how to stoke terror.

In the unlikely event that Trump is removed before January 20th, it will not matter.  His “martyrdom” will be further proof of the “conspiracy.”  If he does not have Twitter and Facebook, he and his supporters have no shortage of other media through which to spread their message. Indeed, more obscure messaging brings the cachet of greater importance and “specialness.”  Seasoned fighters take pride in knowing how to access information and direction from sources of which the “masses” are ignorant.

Even if the corrupt elite — Senators Hawley, Cruz, and some members of Trump’s inner circle — decide to invest elsewhere, it is unlikely to matter.  History suggests that forces like these, especially after tasting a “mission accomplished,” are not so easy to control.    They will roll on, regardless.

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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