How to Take Over a Country

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

– Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for Nazi Germany

The conservative Republican Party, led by a vindictive warlord from his wolf’s lair in Florida supported by millions of voters, has a malevolent stranglehold on America with its lies and trumped-up cultural wars.

The country is sinking into political quicksand, living in two worlds: the fantasyland of Donald Trump, who insists he won reelection, enveloped in the Big Lie by his loyalists who have set his fable in concrete, and the reality in which President Joe Biden and his Democrats have passed trillions of dollars in legislation intended to help all Americans live better lives.

Extracting the country from the insidious menace of an all-encompassing far-right packaging of lies and manufactured cultural bull will be difficult, if not impossible, unless Republicans wake up and sideline Trump. The Republican strategy seems intended to stir anger, resentment and bitterness against Biden and “radical liberals” to attract voters to their base in order to retake power.

It extends from twisting the history of American racism into something evil for secondary school children, to attacking school boards, to damning masks and vaccines deployed to prevent illness, to putting the transgendered into a corner after branding them with a red letter “T.”

It’s like living in a theater of the absurd.

A revolution of the politically maligned, the maladjusted, the unhinged and the misinformed seems to be simmering in America’s cold civil war and is in mortal danger of exploding. The Jan. 6 Trump-inspired insurrection at the Capitol merely was prologue.

We could lose our cherished freedoms because of a democracy that has been subverted by a dictatorial, narcissistic madman and his un-American party (See gerrymandering, minority rule, suppressed and restricted voting, redistricting to exclude minorities, the Senate filibuster rule, packing the courts with conservatives, withholding judicial nominees of the opposition party) that wants to turn this country into a replica of an East European state whose leader is worshipped like a cult icon.

See Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Hungary as a lesson in taking over a country, step by step.

In this atmosphere, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse after shooting to death two men and wounding a third as a teen carrying an assault rifle illegally serves as a horrific example of how far we’ve slid downhill in the values we live by as a country. The jury agreed with Rittenhouse and his lawyers that he fired his AR-15 to defend himself. Conservatives cheered, of course.

The trial dealt with gun control, self-defense, vigilantism and racism, the latter because Rittenhouse took his gun to a Black Lives Matter demonstration against racial injustice in Kenosha, Wis. The protest followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a White cop. He was wounded severely.

“It seems to me that it’s open season on human rights demonstrators,” the Associated Press quoted civil rights leader The Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Rittenhouse, 17 when he killed, is the newest hero of the right-wing, a totem of gun-carrying vigilantism that made it okay to shoot people during political protests and may invite copy cats. The killing recalls George Zimmerman’s gunshot slaying of another boy, Trayvon Martin, also 17, in February 2012 in another plea of self-defense and another acquittal.

What would have been the verdicts if Rittenhouse and Zimmerman were Black?

Before the verdict by a 12-member jury, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, an enthusiastic Trump supporter of Florida, said his office may ask Rittenhouse, now 18, to think about working for Congress, according to The Washington Post.

“Kyle Rittenhouse would probably make a pretty good congressional intern,” he told the right-wing Newsmax. “We may reach out to him and see if he’d be interested in helping the country in additional ways.”

Rittenhouse faced six felony accounts, including murder, and a misdemeanor that was dismissed. He probably may have been sentenced to life in prison if he had been convicted. Shooting three people, killing two, was “helping the country” that fiery night of Aug. 25, 2020? Really?

Another icon of sanity, good judgment, poise and decency in the far-right Republican biosphere is Rep. Paul Gosar of the well-armed state of Arizona. The House censored and ejected him from committee assignments for having posted an anime of himself slaying a progressive Democratic member of Congress with sword swipes to the neck and waving swords at Biden. A regular St. George. He should be thrown out of Congress.

Nevertheless, the ever-vindictive Trump, who may hold the record for the longest memory of those who were disloyal to him, praised Gosar and, of course, endorsed him for re-election.

“That’s kind of that social media mentality that’s built up in this country where we don’t agree with one issue so we’re going to attack them, we’re going to vilify one person or one individual,” New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, a non-Trumper, told CNN Sunday, referring to Gosar’s tweeted attack. “We’ve got to get beyond that because culturally, it’s really, really ruining America.”

It sure is.

We’re locked in a Republican stranglehold because millions of people believe in Trump as their savior regardless of what he says or does and have signed on to his party’s delusions. It’s a reason why Biden’s approval ratings are in the low 40s.

And because Republicans in Congress who have the power and should know better don’t do anything to stop Trump’s shenanigans because they fear his wrath. And on it goes, creating concern in America and among its allies that he could win reelection in 2024.

And because Republicans in the Senate led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will to everything to obstruct the Democratic legislative agenda. So gridlock strangles Congress and nothing gets done, but for the latest Biden legislation that was passed without a filibuster.

Example: Senate Republicans three times voted down a voting rights bill intended to override the 33 racist laws restricting one person, one vote adopted by 19 states.

“I don’t want anybody to take their eyes off the ball for what we do every day.  . . . “We’re taking down the Biden regime,” Republican political guru Stephen K. Bannon told reporters last week.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.