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The Eve of Battle?

It seems too much to hope that the next few days, especially Inauguration Day itself, will pass peacefully, despite the presence of more uniformed soldiers in Washington, D.C. than America now has stationed in its “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan, and beefed-up security around all 50 state capitals(!!!). As I recently wrote, we even have to worry about the existence of a significant “fifth column” of fascist sympathizers within law enforcement and the military, at all levels, given the alarming reports of what went down at the Capitol Building on January 6.

There is fevered speculation about possible last-minute moves on the dictator’s part, such as a last-minute blanket pardon of all those who “stormed” the building. He might be talked out of such a move if it’s pointed out to him that it would increase his own legal jeopardy as soon as he leaves office; and of course, as a psychopath who feels no loyalty to other people, he has no emotional incentive to help these, his most violent supporters. Too, it is notable that the failure of the coup seems to have depressed the dictator, and his funk is such that he hasn’t made any further moves (that we know of) to cling to power. But that could change at any moment.

Over the longer term, it is next to impossible to see how millions of Trump supporters will become disabused of their very own “stab-in-the-back legend.” Like millions of nationalistic Germans after that country lost World War I, they are embittered by defeat, which they falsely attribute to a secret conspiracy, and view the new national government as illegitimate. Some deluded believers will recover on their own over time, but how exactly to “deprogram” the majority of them is beyond this writer. Thomas Jefferson believed that in a fair and free exchange of ideas, truth would always win out over falsehood, but he lived long before the age of mass propaganda, what Boris Pasternak called “the inhuman power of the lie.” It is everyone’s duty to repeat and boost the truth, but beyond that, I just don’t know.

The post-World War I German “stab in the back” myth. When the stabber was identified with the Jews, the seeds of the Holocaust began to sprout.

One reason for hope is that the dictator will undoubtedly be diminished the moment he leaves the White House and the mystique of power behind him. Much dictatorial “charisma” consists of the masses’ worship of power, its aura and the intangible sense that their leader is unstoppable–the “strong horse” phenomenon that Osama Bin Laden spoke of. It’s doubtless true that the dictator’s psychopathology is such that his ego can’t bear any admission of defeat, but as a politco-social phenomenon, he genuinely has much to fear from being tagged a “loser.” The stolen election myth is therefore psychologically essential to him and his devotees, but it cannot completely compensate for the reality that less than four days from the time of writing, he will no longer be the “world’s most powerful man.” We can predict that many of his followers will peel away as a result. Enough to mitigate the dangers he and the remainder will still pose to the country and the world? That, we cannot say.

Not having the gift of prophecy, we also cannot say how destructive the coming violent insurgency will prove to the country and the world, though the fact that millions of Americans now believe the stolen election myth is alarming in the extreme. We can say this much: a prospective “second Civil War” would not much resemble the historical one, with two coherent, geographically based opponents slugging it out. Instead we would see the federal government and military attempting to prevent the fragmentation of the country. If they cannot crush the armed uprising(s) quickly, we would likely witness a disaster like the Iraqi “insurgency” that has now dragged on for almost eighteen years, or the Syrian civil war that has been going on for almost a decade, only on a continental scale and with the resources of what was the most powerful and the wealthiest nation in history to fuel it.

One final note to close out this post. The present writer, like George Orwell, believes strongly that the distortion of language both contributes to and is a sign of creeping totalitarianism. (See Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”). Things must be called by their right names, or we enter dangerous territory. However, this laudable goal can be pursued with dangerous pedantry. It’s been that way for years with the fruitless debate over whether it’s appropriate to call the “MAGA” movement a variety of fascism, or whether the mass imprisonment sites for the “illegals” are rightly termed “concentration camps.” (For the record, this writer votes yes on both questions.) Now a dispute has arisen over whether the events of January 6 were a “coup” or not. The proper term, some political scientists insist, is “autogolpe,” which, they say, means “self-coup.” This is far too obscure a term. The distinction may have value in an academic setting, but the common understanding is that a “coup” is a violent, illegal attempt to seize and hold state power, which January 6 certainly was. It’s just lucky for everyone that the dictator hasn’t the cunning, discipline, and courage (in a bad cause) of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks in November 1917. But let’s not confuse the issue with pettifoggery.

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