By Don Mohler
Note: Before the ink was dry on this reflection, a group of terrorists, incited by the President of the United States, stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to overthrow an American election. Given the rhetoric of the Commander in Chief since the day he was elected, this was inevitable. What transpired for the next six hours cost at least one person her life and horrified a nation.
Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were
With all due respect to the incomparable Ms. Streisand, the past four years are a bit of a blur. However, a couple of major themes have evolved: our democracy is fragile, and Donald J. Trump is the symptom, not the cause, of the schism ravaging our nation.
Despite weeks of bad theater, the United States Congress did its job in the early morning on January 7 and certified Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. Many will look at that result and the dozens of court cases over the past two months that rejected claims of voter fraud and breathe a sigh of relief. Pundits and others will proclaim, “Our institutions held.” I hate to rain on that parade, but not so fast.
Had it not been for a few courageous Republican judges and election officials across the nation, we would be in the midst of a true civil war. The President as openly tried to steal an election, and he just needed one or two co- conspirators to pull it off. Thankfully, he could not find them.
However, millions of Americans, thirteen senators, and more than 100 members of the House of Representatives were ready to overthrow the will of the people. In reality, Donald Trump telegraphed this strategy for months. He traveled all over the nation speaking on tarmacs dancing to the YMCA telling people in MAGA hats that he could only lose to Joe Biden if the election was rigged. He promoted outrageous claims that mail-in ballots were illegal. He told the Proud Boys to “Stand back and stand by.” He played those greatest hits over and over again.
Why did this strategy energize millions of Americans? Why did members of Congress buy a ticket for this train? Why did Fox News ratings plummet while radical outlets like OANN and Newsmax flourished in the midst of madness? Because the madness has always been lurking just below the surface in the American electorate. It just needed a match.
Despite all of his faults, one thing that Donald Trump does do extremely well is take the pulse of America. He is the preferred doctor of choice at the renowned Twitter Medical Center. Recent polls show that 17% of the American public believe the basic premise of QAnon that democrats are flesh-eating pedophiles, but even scarier, another 30% aren’t sure one way or the other. So nearly half of all Americans just can’t bring themselves to say that anyone who believes in this lunatic fringe group is nuts. They just can’t. Let’s be clear: they and their ideas are nuts. You see, that wasn’t too hard.
The Donald saw the reaction on the fringe when he attacked the citizenship of the first African-American President of the United States. He delighted in the fact that he could get media attention by calling for the execution of the Central Park Five. He continued to call for their execution even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence. The fringe loved it. He simply said that he didn’t believe those scientific facts. Sound familiar? That was good enough for Trumpworld. Donald J. Trump did not create the 70 million people who embraced his special brand of lunacy, but he understood they existed, and he was determined to bring them out of the shadows– because he could.
Despite what you might think of Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, they are not stupid. They have impeccable academic credentials. And they understand what many of us have not: when the president heads to Mara Lago, Scotland, or New Jersey, Trumpism will not be dead. In fact, it will dominate the Republican Party for years to come. Cruz, Hawley, and the others have made a crass political calculation that if one is to be successful in the new Trump Party you must embrace all that it encompasses. That means you can’t refute QAnon, you can’t call out white supremacy, and you can’t support efforts to end voter suppression. You better believe there are good people on both sides of a Nazi rally in Charlottesville. You better understand that Dr. Fauci is a liar, the CDC is part of the Deep State, and that the virus will magically go away. To do otherwise would be disqualifying for 2024 and invite a primary challenge in the next election. Cruz, Hawley, and the rest of the coup caucus are not dumb, but they are political animals. They know which side of their bread is buttered.
It is all too easy to dismiss the 70 million followers of Donald Trump as a bunch of racists who finally found a true champion. Is race a driving force for many in his camp? Absolutely. Does the radical right take delight in having a president who sings their tune? Of course.
But that oversimplification prevents us from having the real conversations that need to take place around the family table, neighborhood barbecues, church suppers, PTA meetings, and over a cup of coffee with our colleagues. Most of those who have been seduced by the President don’t carry AK 47s or charge the steps of the nation’s capitol. That is not who we need to worry about.
It is those who lead your daughter’s Brownie troop, coach your little league teams, and donate to the local food bank. Those who are there for your when your basement floods to help you clean up the mess. They console you when your mom and dad pass away. And you help them out when they have to take one of their children to the emergency room. It’s this group that we must find a way to reconnect with. Why they flock to these extremes, I don’t think anyone understands. But we better find out. You see Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and the others are not leaders. They are followers. They don’t have any principles or beliefs. They didn’t create this core of resistance, they simply emboldened it.
Once we once again discover the American dream in our communities and somehow come together to believe in a brighter tomorrow united by a common sense of purpose, the political posturers will tag along. They are chameleons. What you believe, they believe. What you demonize, they demonize. Recent events make it clear that this kind of division is not sustainable. Let’s see if we can’t use the next four years to chart a new course for our children and grandchildren. I am not naïve. It won’t be easy, but if we are to survive as our founders envisioned, we have no other choice.
Don Mohler is the former Baltimore County Executive and President and CEO of Mohler Communication Strategies. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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