A State of Fugue

The United States is teetering on the edge of its breaking point. As one historian recently put it, “Americans teeter on the brink of a state of collective fugue.” A fugue is a psychiatric state of mind caused by extreme distress in the aftermath of one or more cataclysmic events. A fugue state causes a person to fail to recall basic recognizable personal characteristics and to no longer remember what they believed in the past; those things they knew to be true no longer exist. This dissociative mental state erodes one’s fundamental concept of self. Under Donald Trump’s disastrous and destructive presidency, our collective memory and awareness of who we are as a people and our shared aspirations to perfect our union appear to be at the point of dissolution.

Many people forget what it was like to have a somewhat normal person as president, someone who you could find something within them to admire. Trump has distorted the truth so much with his thousands of lies that we no longer expect him to speak the truth. His lies have become so routine that when he announced that he and Melania had contracted COVID-19, people across America wondered if it was true and what was his personal and political motivation behind the announcement. We quickly found out that while he appears to have really had COVID-19 and through recklessness spread it to dozens of others, he has now downplayed the seriousness of the virus. While he gasped for breath on the White House balcony imitating Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, he was defiant in his proclamation that he was back in perfect health, not mentioning that he had received experimental treatments not available to the average person with COVID-19.

Some of us remember what the United States foundational philosophy is: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While the United States has not always lived up to the words of the Declaration of Independence, men and women have fought since 1776 for those ideals. However, for the same length of time, men and women have fought against these ideals applying to all Americans. Today, we have met with the most critical threat to the United States’ ideals in the administration of Donald J. Trump. The president has worked to divide us on race, sexual orientation, the right to healthcare, immigration, etc. Think of any issue, and the current Republican Party is on the wrong side of it. We are at war because of political ineptitude. 

We are not at war with a conventional army, yet our nation is in utter chaos. Over 215,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19, and with winter on the horizon, a second wave of the pandemic is emerging in Europe. The United States leads the world in the number of people infected with the virus and in the number of COVID-19 deaths, despite the nation’s exceptional biomedical and health-related research and infrastructures. Under Trump’s leadership, we have fallen further and further behind the rest of the world in handling the current pandemic. We are now facing the most dangerous threat to democratic ideals in the United States since the Civil War. We are a nation so divided that people cannot even be convinced to wear a face mask to protect others because our current president refuses to acknowledge their effectiveness or the pandemic’s seriousness.

Further, despite the United States’ instinct to lecture the world about minority rights and good governance, police brutality against Black people in the United States is dramatically displayed in media across the globe. The ensuing continental uprising for civil rights, far-reaching economic spasms, and governance crisis are exacerbated by the reflexive responses of an unpredictable President. We are no longer, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, “making the world safe for democracy” because we have a Republican Party that is doing all they can to erode our own democracy. In his famous “Four Freedoms” Speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined the ideals of America:

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all.

Later in the speech, FDR said:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

Let us not forget that even in the 1940s, the Republican Party was fighting against the basic needs of Americans. We are at even greater risk today from Donald Trump and his cronies.

The Republican party is literally letting poor people starve, just as Herbert Hoover did in the early years of the Great Depression. In a recent debate with his opponent Amy McGrath, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell pointed out he had helped pass the first rounds of relief in the spring and suggested the lack of action was the fault of the Democrats who wanted to spend money on things unrelated to the crisis. McGrath was aggressive in her response, saying,  “The House passed a bill in May, and the Senate went on vacation. I mean, you just don’t do that. You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis.” And, do you know how McConnell reacted? He laughed. He is laughing at the suffering of the American people and showing full-on contempt for the needy.

Sadly, the pretend attempts at action by Republican in the Senate with pitifully insufficient aid is pay off for McConnell in one crucial way. A majority of Americans believe both parties should share blame for the impasse. They think it is the fault of both parties that people cannot receive the help they desperately need. McConnell’s laugh gives lie to that belief, demonstrating the heartlessness and cruelty at the heart of the Republican project. It’s been a 40-year effort by the Republican Party to tear down the framework of the New Deal and return the United States to a meaner, nastier country where individual citizens are left to fend for themselves, even as the wealthiest Americans and largest businesses receive tax breaks and regulatory relief that leaves us all poorer. And now McConnell is so confident that his plans will succeed, he couldn’t even be bothered to fake empathy onstage for a few hours on Monday night. His knowing laugh makes it clear what a continued Republican majority in the Senate means: that Americans will continue to get treated with contempt by politicians who claim to be acting on their behalf.

There has been a transition from the United States exercising most of the cultural, economic, and military influence to a world where power is shared amongst many nations without a single world leader. The emergence of financial centers in the East and the subsequent erosion of Pax Americana, accelerated by Trump and his cronies, compound our unease and search for identity. These seismic shifts nationally and internationally only serve to perpetuate our state of heightened anxiety. 

The erosion of our centuries-old governmental institutions is particularly distressing. In the wake of the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we are now forced to put aside our national mourning and deal with the political ramifications of her passing. The Republican Party has become so desperate for any grasp of power before an election that polls show them far behind, that they are pushing forward with an ideologue who matches their views of the destruction of personal liberty and safety for Americans. We must reckon with the seemingly assured confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as Ginsburg’s replacement. The socially conservative Barrett would certainly erode the civil rights of minorities, the healthcare gains of the contemporary era, the procedural rights of ordinary Americans in the justice system, and workers’ bargaining power. The death of Ginsburg, a champion of rights, promises the potential to regress to a darker past.

Trump and his cronies claim to have the mandate from the American people and are preparing their Senate allies to complete the confirmation process within the span of a few weeks, just before a presidential election. Mitch McConnell’s pledge to support the President ignores a precedent he declared only four years ago – not to appoint a Justice during an election year – which we are now expected to erase from our collective memory. In many instances, particularly at the Supreme Court level, the American judicial system has been predictable in rendering judgments based on Justices’ and other appointed federal judges’ partisan political suasions. Notwithstanding, the near balance of opposition forces within the Supreme Court provided stability. It prevented the abrupt tilting of the scales of justice, such that they overwhelm their point of balance and implode the judicial system. 

The Republicans obstructed President Obama’s appointments for federal judges during his tenure as a political maneuver, albeit with an underlying racial element. Yet, in under four years, Trump has appointed over 300 federal judges. It is particularly troubling that judges view their outlook on national issues through a political lens, as a President who lost the popular vote and a Republican Senate whose members represent a minority of the nation have pushed the courts sharply rightward. Republicans abandoned their legal philosophy when it was no longer expedient and backpedaled from their position after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia just four years ago. They have manipulated and confused the American people into thinking their reactions to what the Republican Party is doing are so far off base that the American people themselves are the crazy ones. They claim that what we see and hear is not true. They ask us to forget what they committed to in 2016, to question everything, and to dispute the existence of what we know to be true.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett flatly refused on Tuesday to pledge that she would recuse herself if a dispute over the November 3rd election came before the Supreme Court, insisting that despite her nomination by President Trump, she would not “allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people.” After days of questioning Barrett over her opposition to Obamacare, Democrats dismissed her assurances as essentially meaningless. The truth of the matter is, Trump did not need to secure any specific promises from Barrett. The president selected her precisely because her established legal views would achieve the end he was after. Barrett’s refusal to discuss specific cases or commit to recusing from particular matters was nothing new as it has been a decades-old answer used by Supreme Court nominees to avoid giving substantive answers during confirmation hearings. But her attempts to deflect such questions were more conspicuous than usual, given how explicit Trump has been about how he would want his nominees to rule. The president has stated that he wants Barrett confirmed by Election Day, given that he anticipates an election dispute and is “counting” on the court to “look at the ballots.” And he has said he wants justices who would “do the right thing” and invalidate the Affordable Care Act.

Through a similar distortion of memories, Trump and his cronies have denied the existence of systemic racism that underpins police killings of unarmed Black people or the warming of our planet. They’ve attempted to erase what is real from our memory. These unprecedented events have brought the nation to the abyss of a political state of amnesia. Republicans are determined to push us into the abyss. When confronted with existential social and political crises, they provoke political subterfuge with campaigns of disinformation. For example, Bob Woodward disclosed that in February, President Trump was fully aware of the fatal potential of the coronavirus. Trump not only failed to share this information with the American public; he actively downplayed its deadly potential to the public and strongly encouraged his followers to ignore preventive measures. The President had promised before his election in 2016 to end American carnage. Paradoxically, his words foreshadowed what his legacy would be – the attacking of the American dream and reaching the milestone of hundreds of thousands of preventable American deaths during his presidency.

The Republican lies continue to grow like a cancerous tumor, but the election can act as a surgery to remove that cancerous growth. Republicans are currently using fear tactics to get their supporters to believe that a Democratic coup is in the works, when Trump himself has basically said he would invalidate any election he did not win by laying the seeds of voter fraud. In one version of the right-wing conspiracy theories, commentators claimed, without proof, that Biden would not concede if he lost the election, merely projecting Trump’s own words on the former Vice President. They also said that Biden’s supporters would riot. “If a defeated Biden does not concede and his party’s rioters take to the streets in a coup attempt against President Trump, will the military be needed to stop them?” tweeted Mark Levin, the Fox News’ Host of Life, Liberty & Levin, on September 18. After The New York Times contacted him, Levin published a note on Facebook saying his tweet had been a “sarcastic response to the Democrats.” Levin’s assertions are a page right out of Trump’s Facebook. When Trump has said anything dangerous, outrageous, or untrue, such as injecting bleach into people to prevent/cure COVID-19, he has said he was being sarcastic or joking.

Trump has departed from nearly every convention of the office of the president over the past four years, but perhaps none has been more visible than his keeping of a personal Twitter account. He has used it to announce policy, move markets, attack the press, dispute reports, insult enemies, and energize his base — all unvarnished by a journalist’s interpretation. One of the reasons Trump remains politically competitive is that many Americans are delusional enough to credit him with being authentic, even if he goes too far. Too many people take this farce of a president seriously, especially when it comes to believing his thousands of lies. He’s tweeted the term “fake news” more than 800 times since his inauguration to discredit any information that is not flattering him.

Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert at Washington State University Vancouver, has stated that misinformation translating to real-world action is a growing problem. “What we’ve seen over the past four years is an increasing capability” of believers to turn conspiracy narratives “into direct physical actions,” Caulfield said. In recent days, the FBI discovered a group of men plotting to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. The men felt emboldened by president Trump’s rhetoric plot to rid of the nation of two Democratic governors.

This is not the first time that Republican rhetoric has caused serious threats to Democrats. On January 8, 2011, Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head outside a Safeway grocery store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, a suburban area northwest of Tucson, during a gathering to meet constituents. Giffords was a proponent of gun control. The gunman ran up to the crowd and began firing a 9mm pistol hitting 19 people, and killing six, including federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old child, Christina-Taylor Green. At the time, commentators criticized the use of harsh political rhetoric in the United States gun activists and conservatives for the shooting. In particular, Sarah Palin, the former Republican Vice Presidential nominee, was criticized for a poster by her political action committee that featured stylized crosshairs on an electoral map, which included Giffords. Luckily, Giffords survived, but on January 22, 2012, Giffords announced in a video statement that she intended to resign her seat to focus on her recovery. The Republican rhetoric had not killed Giffords, but it did remove her from office. The rhetoric of the type used by Palin and Donald Trump is taken seriously by mentally unstable people. It is extremely dangerous because of those who are influenced by it have a disconnect with reality.

If re-elected, after another four years of a Trump presidency, the Justice Department, Supreme Court, and other institutions of the American democracy will not be recognizable. Our system of checks and balances, the foundation of the American democracy, will be dismantled. Our identity and who we are as Americans and our aspirations for a more perfect union will cease to exist. Our government will be so fundamentally altered from what we know it to be; we will have entered a collective political fugue.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “A State of Fugue

  • David

    Some used to say of Playboy, “I subscribe the articles.” But you have been hittting it out of the park with your writing lately; I’m starting to gloss over the pictures and relish the prose. *****

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