Evil is not only banal, it is orange and fashionable. As Americans, we’ve been told that evil dresses in tunics, goosesteps, and speaks with in foreign accents. We like our evil saturnine and brown-shirted, clad in the sartorial stylings of Third Reich villainy. Sometimes, however, it dons business suits, overlong red ties and, yes, stilettos and green Zara jackets.
Every day we are exposed to the brazen mendacity of evil. Sadly, we have become inured to the lies that now define our lives and our politics. Day by day, week by week, we are introduced to yet another assault not only on the truth but on human reason and patience. So inured, in fact, that the media, once hesitant to call Trump (and his choir of prevaricators liars) now provides a daily count of his lies, as if it makes any difference (according to a recent Gallup poll Trump’s approval rating has hit a record 45%; his “own party” approval rating among Republicans stands at whopping 87%). At press briefings, the president’s spokespeople play dodgeball with the facts. Moreover, you know something is wrong when Mika and Joe, the Dr. Frankenstein and his bride-to-be, reject the monster they helped to create. In a world of digitized fakery, we have come to accept the lie as just another jaded entertainment, a coping mechanism for cynical times that in the end trivializes the truth, or what fragments of it that survive in our “post-truth” republic.
Consider these facts: A known torturer now heads the CIA. In 2017, my alma mater, Harvard University, rescinded a visiting fellow invitation to Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who leaked footage of a U.S. helicopter crew slaughtering civilians and mowing down first responders and two Reuter’s reporters, while two pathological prevaricators, former White House Sean Spenser and former presidential advisor Corey (“Womp Womp”) Lewandowski (whom Harvard’s Institute of Politics describes as a TV political commentator who “provides an in-depth understanding of the political process and the administration of President Donald Trump” – and whose comments dismissing a girl with Down syndrome forcibly separated from her family have proven particularly insightful) and Trump’s ubiquitous abettors, the aforementioned Joe and Mika, were welcomed with open arms into the Harvard community,” a community, the co-chairman of its Graduate School Fund recently disingenuously informed alumni, that maintains “a healthy respect for fact-based discourse and the relentless pursuit of Veritas,” even, apparently, as it bestows the honor on professional and unrepentant liars. Thus, “veritas” is interred, as well as any prospect of Harvard ever receiving another donation from this alumnus, but I am sure their legacy babies will bail it out.
Given its track record, it would not be too far-fetched to imagine as a future fellow Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, she of the Scandinavian-sounding name (she is of Danish descent), who once stated in defense of Trump’s “shithole countries” statement that she was unaware that Norway was a predominantly white country. Now Nielson claims to be unaware that the children of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants are being kept in cages, although a recent dinner-table “shamenade” at a Mexican restaurant has perhaps jogged our home(land)-grown Marie Antoinette’s – I’ll eat your food but I reject your people – awareness if not her conscience.
The fact remains that children are in cages; some will die in them. According to reports in the Texas Tribune, some have been physically and sexually abused. Many of these children have been given psychotropic drugs without their parent’s consent, apparently to silence the trauma of their incarceration. And Trump has the audacity to accuse our neighbors to the south of being rapists and drug smugglers.
But babies in cages, or in government newspeak “tender age shelters,” promises to be just the beginning. As the browning of America continues, fear and loathing of people of color within the nation as well as around its southern border will grow in tandem with the changing demographic.Trump and his policies are simply an omen of things to come. The ineffectiveness of both Democrats and Republicans to confront these assaults on erstwhile American values suggests the depth of the dilemma. Trump will either go down in flames or go on to a second term – and beyond. After all, we have seen how chummy he is with dictators. But even should he stumble, silver-haired Pence is waiting in the wings for his curtain call and the birth of an American theocracy state – whose incipit can be glimpsed in Attorney General Jeffery Session’s Biblical defense of family separation—will not be far behind.
Of course, comparisons of Trump, his policies, and his protectors to Nazis is denounced as offensive hyperbole. Americans consider themselves above the authoritarianism and atrocity. But it is telling that we feel compelled to go overseas to find our examples, conveniently ignoring the fact that this nation was quite literally built on slavery and genocide. We forget that Nazi race laws were modeled on American eugenic policies. That lynching claimed thousands of blacks lives and that in Germany the rhetoric of national cleansing began long before the gas chambers and crematoria were built and functioning. That long before the current moral crisis, the children of black slaves were also separated from their parents. And that almost 75 years after another infamous chapter of American history, new sites for the “temporary” detainment of children are being considered in Arkansas that are located about 2 miles away from one that housed Japanese Americans almost 75 years ago. But white America and those people of color complicit – unpardonably or not – in its abuses (here’s looking at you, Dinesh D’Souza) have long had difficulty accepting the evil in their midst. Sometimes they erect statutes to them.
During his campaign for president, trump famously boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Of course, if Trump’s assault on American democracy proves successful, it really won’t matter.