Donald Trump is trying to get me killed. While this may seem rhetorically overblown, especially coming from a white heterosexual middle class male, it is hard to escape the feeling that he is threatening my survival as a compassionate citizen of the United States. I certainly am not a target of his racist, misogynist, and/or xenophobic rants although my Jewish atheist antagonism to the alt-right, evangelicals, and the NRA may put me in his cult supporters’ crosshairs. Moreover, as a militant advocate for immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter, my political postures are not only antithetical to his Administration’s policies, but also politically-charged in this polarized time.
But are these reasons enough to believe that I am at risk of losing my life? Beyond his warmongering tweets, most recently against Iran, and his Administration’s legislative initiatives against the health and welfare of our fragile planet, am I suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, a mental condition supposedly affecting those who lack all perspective on what Trump and Trumpism historically epitomize – a white racist nationalism that has a long history in U.S. political culture.
On the other hand, I have no doubt that Trump is a Russian asset, or more specifically a liability for the Russian oligarchs who bankrolled his losing business ventures, including the network of golf clubs he visits constantly for which we as taxpayers foot the bill for his entourage. Indeed, it is hard to explain his constant obeisance to Putin and his denial of Russian military intelligence meddling in the 2016 election without expressing concern about more nefarious connections and compromises. Nonetheless, the hysteria around Trump’s Russophile behavior seems like a revisiting of Cold War ideology even though Putin actually represents a right-wing, not left-wing, authoritarianism on the march around the globe.
No, my “catch-22” moment is directly related to the characters of Yossarian and Milo Minderbinder in Joseph Heller’s 1961 WWII novel. Yossarian’s insistence that he be excused from flying missions that might result in his death indicates to those who could release him from combat duty that he is sane and, therefore, not eligible for disqualification on grounds of insanity. So, in my case (and maybe many others reading this) my fear of being put at risk by the malignant narcissist acts of an unhinged and reckless President Trump may be a rational form of paranoia, the kind that informs Yossarian’s efforts to survive.
More to the point, when Yossarian attempts to administer morphine to his mortally wounded crewmate, Snowden, and to inflate his own life jacket with CO2, he discovers that Milo Minderbinder has replaced this essential gear with shares in his M&M Enterprises. Minderbinder, like Trump, is all about branding and seeking profit at all costs even if it means defrauding those who either voluntarily or involuntarily buy into his transnational business arrangements. Both Minderbinder and Trump insist they are geniuses whose selfish practices are in the best interests of those dependent on them. Minderbinder even organizes an attack by the Germans on his own airbase to enhance his standing with his business partners.
One critic has called Milo Minderbinder a “prophet of profit” and the “embodiment of evil.” Certainly, the megalomania and charlatanism of Minderbinder have uncanny and unnerving resonances with Trump. Heller’s portrait of Minderbinder should remind us that such scam artists and opportunists are too endemic in the history of this country to import the scary fascist figures of a Mussolini or Hitler in this summer of our discontent.
My “catch-22” moment will, hopefully, be a fleeting one. Certainly, contending with the Trump regime and his Republican enablers often reduces me to the kind of response of wanting, as one critic of the novel wrote, to “cry for laughing” and “laugh for crying,” On the other hand, my identification with Yossarian, going back to my first activist days in the sixties, reminds me that is our active desire for survival with dignity and compassion that will, sooner or later, trump Trump, defeating, in the process, the Orange Menace is our midst.