During these surreal times, it is fitting that a comedian told Americans the truth about Donald Trump.
Dressed in funereal black, The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert, wept while talking about Trump’s most recent spasm of madness delivered from a lectern at the White House on November 5.
Colbert told his audience that Trump had “tried really hard to kill something tonight”. Indeed, he had. Sporting a fake, incandescent orange tan to camouflage the register of his impending defeat, Trump droned on for 15 incoherent minutes, spewing his familiar litany of lies, fantasies and grievances.
That “something” Trump tried “hard to kill” was the notion that Americans can not only exercise their franchise freely, fairly and peacefully but in doing so, are also able to render their judgment freely, fairly and peacefully.
Then Colbert delivered the cudgel, directing his wrath at Trump’s complicit enablers inside and outside the Republican Party.
“You only survived this [until] now because a lot of voters didn’t want to believe everything that was obvious to so many of us, that Donald Trump is a fascist,” Colbert said.
I recall a time not too long ago when Colbert’s blunt, historically astute declaration would have been rejected by more demure types as irresponsible, ill-informed hyperbole. Trump was not a fascist, they insisted, but a marauding buffoon with authoritarian-like “tendencies”.
This time, there were no lofty reprimands, only silence, because Colbert was right and the more demure types were, as they have always been, wrong.
But here is the thing about fascists: fascists do not joke; fascists do not abide by “norms”; fascists do not respect the “rule of law”; fascists do not care a whit about the damage, pain and suffering they cause; and fascists do not concede.
The only cause they are interested in is power – no matter the human cost or consequences.
The evidence is plain. While an indiscriminate virus continues its rampage across America, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands, Trump has, of course, devoted a lot of time and little energy tweeting and watching people babble about him on TV. Much of that loss and suffering was avoidable. All of that loss and suffering is being compounded by a president who is devoid of industry and empathy.
Still, I take fascists like Trump seriously. I do not dismiss his designs to hold on to power as the angry, fantastic musings of a man-child as have so many others. I do not dismiss Trump’s surrogates in the media and Congress when they insist that since the vote was fraudulent, he intends to keep his job. I do not dismiss Trump’s 72 million supporters when they shout that a cabal robbed their beloved leader of the presidency.
To do so would mean being blind to the insidious character and impulses of this fascist and his legion of loyalists.
And yet, the usual gallery of cocksure pundits and columnists has slipped back into its comfortable complacency.
They tell us to “chill”. They tell us to “take a deep breath”. Trump, they say, is on the proverbial road to nowhere. They tell us that Trump’s refusal to acknowledge “reality” is simply the final, petulant act of a “sore loser” who leads a dying regime. Biden will, they say, be sworn in as president on January 20.
Call me an alarmist, but I am not assuaged.
I remember when Trump’s bid for the presidency was dismissed as outlandish. I remember when Trump’s racism, bigotry and misogyny would, we were assured, disqualify him from the presidency. I remember when we were assured that the “system of checks and balances” would “restrain” this president. I remember when we were assured that Trump’s re-election prospects were so dismal that he may resign. I remember when we were assured that Trump’s defeat would be so convincing that “Trumpism” would be erased from the political lexicon.
In the pressing context, I think it wise to check the record against these once near-certain assurances. Trump was anointed Republican nominee for president. He was not disqualified. He became president. He was not restrained. He did not resign. And, given the slim margins in several fickle swing states, he almost won a second term.
The stubborn suggestion that Trump is doing what he is doing in defeat only because he is a narcissist and crybaby is as grating as it is foolish.
Trump may be a raging rube, but he is a sinister and calculating charlatan who has demonstrated throughout his life and during his hideous tenure as president that he will do and say anything to further his parochial interests at the expense of the evaporating “national interest”. That is what fascists do.
However implausible, I take fascists seriously when they publicly suggest that they may try to engineer an end-run around the certification of the electoral college results and convince state legislators to back Trump. I take fascists seriously when they mutate – again – the so-called Department of Justice into a retributive arm of the state. I take fascists seriously when they populate their version of the “deep state” – particularly at the Pentagon – with cowering sycophants who consider the former president, Barack Obama, a fifth column.
Until Donald Trump is evicted from the Oval Office – by force, if necessary – I implore shrewd Americans to avoid making assumptions about what may or may not be inevitable in the days ahead.
They must, instead, remain vigilant and on guard.