Monday, August 31, 2020

Soulless Minions of Trump


In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there is one brief mention of a group that has always stuck in my head: the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy. I don't know why it is, but the term Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy just gets stuck in my head. It's only mentioned once in all of Star Trek history and usually goes mostly unnoticed. If the group ever “existed” in the Star Trek universe, it is only mentioned once in the episode “In the Cards” by a mad scientist named Doctor Elias Giger. Giger blamed his colleague Dr. Bathkin's untimely death in a shuttlecraft on the "soulless minions of orthodoxy." While Giger never explained who the group is, some fans have theorized that the "minions of orthodoxy" are those within the Federation's scientific establishment who are unwilling to accept any challenge to their perceptions of what represents good science and bad science. 

In a way, we are fighting against our own political Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy composed of conservative politicians and the Republican Party's religious right. The definition of conservative is, in essence, orthodoxy. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Orthodoxy as “of, relating to, or constituting any of various conservative religious or political groups.” The first established use of the term conservative in a political context originated in 1818 with François-René de Chateaubriand during the period of Bourbon Restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Historically associated with right-wing politics, the term has since been used to describe a wide range of views. There is no single set of policies regarded as conservative because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. 

Conservatism in the United States has evolved to advocate American traditions (good or bad), Christian values (mostly those perverted by evangelicals and fundamentalists), pro-business policies, opposition to trade unions, strong national defense, free trade, anti-communism, pro-individualism, and American exceptionalism. In the last few decades, the Republican Party has engaged in battles championed by the religious right over abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pornography, gambling, obscenity, state-sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning creationism), LGBTQ+ rights, and sexual education. Adding in their aversion to scientific evidence (such as climate change or public health), voting rights, and intelligence, you get the present-day Republican Party. When they chose Donald Trump as their leader, they became a party opposed to the truth and reason. Last week’s Republican National Convention was a tale of a resurgent economy, a deadly virus defeated, and a benevolent and wise President who was a champion of Black Americans, and women, and a guardian of constitutional values. Yet, none of it was true, but Trump supporters will believe it because Trump and Fox News tell them. 

Recently, Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for POLITICO, who is described as “the most skilled political reporters of his generation," wrote about the Republican Party's meltdown. Alberta wrote that:


Earlier this month, while speaking via Zoom to a promising group of politically inclined high school students, I was met with an abrupt line of inquiry. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand,” said one young man, his pitch a blend of curiosity and exasperation. “What do Republicans believe? What does it mean to be a Republican?”


However, there was a problem when Alberta tried to answer the question. He didn't know what today's Republicans believe. In recent years, the GOP core beliefs of limited government, free enterprise, moral integrity, fiscal restraint, and global leadership have gone from adaptable to disposable. The lack of vision became even more apparent when last week’s Republican National Convention, which not only nominates a presidential ticket but also writes the party's platform, chose not to write a platform this year. In good old Trump fashion, the RNC decided to copy and paste the one form 2016. Why was this the case? Simply, it's because the Republican Party, as we knew it, no longer exists. It has become a cult of personality, wholly centered on Donald Trump. It has become the Party of Trump. The whim of Trump now defines policies and beliefs. Republican leaders in Congress have turned into puppets whose strings are tightly controlled by Trump, who runs the government in a manner more akin to a mafia boss than a president.


Every four years, political parties hold presidential nominating conventions which give occasion to assess the party’s ideas, its principles, and its vision for governing. That is what the party platform is designed to do. Recent iterations of the Republican ideology have been easy to define. Ronald Reagan’s party wanted to end communism and destroy the bureaucratic red tape of big government. George W. Bush’s party aimed to project compassion and fortitude, educating poor Americans, and treating AIDS-stricken Africans, while simultaneously confronting the advance of Islamic terrorism. However flawed the policies, however unsuccessful their execution, a tone was set from the top-down. They stood for something clearly defined, even if the party members did not always practice the platform.

If you consider the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, each is about ideas. Political parties were supposed to be about ideas. It can now be said that Donald Trump's party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no particular ideal; it possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Instead, the lack of a platform is now characterized by a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from the lowest common denominator. The Republican Party of Trump is all about firing up his base. It is a political wave of anger. Just look at that crazy speech by Kimberly Guilfoyle last week at the RNC. It has also become a party that shrugs responsibility for its actions or lack of actions. In the words of Trump: “It is what it is” and “I don't take responsibility at all.”

Kellyanne Conway was recently asked about the link between a 17-year-old charged with homicide after two people were killed and another seriously wounded by gunfire amid a night of rioting in Kenosha, WI, and a Trump rally in Des Moines, IA. Kyle Rittenhouse, the suspect in the shootings, has a social media presence filled with him posing pictures of himself with weapons, posting "Blue Lives Matter," and supporting Trump. Footage from the Des Moines rally on January 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event. The ties to Trump's rhetoric are clear and even backed up by Trump acolyte Tucker Carlson who said on his show, "How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" However, when Conway was asked about any link, she stated the White House is "not responsible for the private conduct of people who go to rallies."


The incident raises the question of the extent to which the inflammatory approach the president has taken towards racial tension and violence has influenced the actions of impressionable individuals at a volatile moment. While at one time even Republicans denounced white nationalist extremists and fringe right-wing militia groups, the president now praises them because they support him. One of Trump's most dangerous supporters might be the conspiracy theorists of QAnon. The group was once a fringe phenomenon that most people could safely ignore. But in recent months, it has gone mainstream. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks have been flooded with QAnon-related false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, to expand their ranks. These people are frightening to me as they believe a set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Donald Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring. The beliefs only get scarier from there. See the New York Times article on "What is QAnon?" if you want to read some genuinely chilling stuff. During a White House news conference supposedly about the coronavirus, Trump recently said that he had “heard these are people that love our country.” He continued by saying, “So, I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me,” which appears to be enough to validate the group’s beliefs in his eyes.

The most significant problem with most Trump supporters is either willful ignorance or a total disregard for the rule of law. Willful ignorance is nothing new and has afflicted humankind for centuries. We all prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar, and many crave conformity. Some of us strive for the differences that make us a diverse nation of E. Pluribus Unum. The problem that the Republican Party is currently facing is that it cannot fix a problem they refuse to acknowledge publicly. The Lincoln Project has been very outspoken and critical of the Trump administration and has vowed to hold accountable those who violate their oaths to the Constitution and put others before Americans. But is The Lincoln Project enough to halt the insanity of the Republican Party led by Trump?

We often surround ourselves with people who think like us and share our ideals and values, so most Trump supporters only watch Fox News and refuse to watch any other news source. They do not want to hear something contrary to what they want to believe and do not want to listen to evidence that challenges what they desire to be true. In this, I am a little hypocritical because I refuse to watch Fox News. I get so angry at the lies and propaganda they espouse, so I also refused to watch the RNC last week. However, I attempt to remain objective and occasionally see commentators on CNN or MSNBC that I think become a little too hyperbolic in their commentaries. Still, when they report on facts, they are facts, not lies, and that’s the difference.

Republicans, and Trump supporters, especially, want to protect their sheltered experiences, white bread relationships, and backward ideas, values, and beliefs. They found in Trump, an angry man who voiced their fears of change and allowed him to construct a world around them that makes his supporters feel safe and blinded them to valuable information, facts, and behaviors that should alarm any American. People in the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have stayed silent when they should have spoken out or questioned Trump’s actions for fear of being criticized, rebuked, tweeted about derogatorily by Trump. Some like former chief of staff at Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, Miles Taylor, have spoken out against Trump's dangers. Still, there are too many who are either too afraid of the president or enjoy the privileges of being in the Trump administration. Trump's minions have overlooked threats and dangers to justice, health, and national security that should have otherwise been obvious. They have blocked out the uncomfortable realities of the profiteering and lawlessness within the Trump administration to save themselves from the hard evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

There will come a day of reckoning for the Republican Party. I hope that day will be November 3, 2020, when Democrats retake the White House and the Senate while retaining the House of Representatives. Then we can work to reclaim the judiciary. If this happens, there will be another day of reckoning in the future when historians look back on the Trump administration and the Senate under Mitch McConnell. They will be judged, and they will be found lacking. Let’s look at a few statistics that the Republican Party won’t admit are true. The United States makes up 4.25 percent of the world’s population, yet we have 24 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases and 22 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Yet, to hear Republicans tell it, we are doing the best of any country in the world. It simply isn’t true. Cities are rioting all over the country over racial injustice, and all Trump can do is blame it on Democratic-controlled city governments, which is also untrue. Furthermore, in January 2017, when Trump took office, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. The latest unemployment rate statistics have it at 10.2 percent. In January 2017, the GDP was $19.49 trillion. Today, the GDP is $19.41 trillion. Yet, we have the best economy, according to Trump. Again, it simply isn’t true. 

While the economic numbers are largely due to the pandemic, they clearly show how badly the Trump administration has handled the situation. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion relief package back in May. Senate Republicans and administration officials waited until the end of July to unveil a $1 trillion proposal that went nowhere because the Trump administration refused to negotiate. The administration dramatically stopped negations saying the House Democrats refused to negotiate when they had already made numerous concessions. This was done all so that Trump could magnanimously sign four executive orders and memorandums that accomplished very little. One would give a tax holiday for workers, but they would still be required to pay those taxes in April. Another allocated FEMA relief funds to pay an extra $300 in unemployment benefits, but only for those who listed their job loss as being caused by the pandemic. A third would set a moratorium on evections, but only on a few mortgages held by the federal government. The last one is probably the only one that will deliver the results. It will continue to pause loan payments and interest on federally held student loans through the end of 2020.

It is my hope that the Republican Party will lose so badly in the 2020 election that they reassess their priorities and disavow Trump for nearly destroying the Party. More likely, the Republicans will double down on their rhetoric and claim, without any evidence, because there won't be any, that there were massive election fraud and ballot tampering. At that point, their loyal followers, those soulless minions of Trump, will believe them. If that happens, we have to be careful, because just as the Freedom Caucus is worse than the Tea Party, the next Republican leader could be worse than Trump. Political parties seem to try to move to the extreme, not moderation when they need reform. We can only hope that if that happens, enough people will remember the horrors of the Trump years and finally begin to moderate the Party.

The ideology, whether you agreed with it or not, of the Republican Party, has been replaced with Trumpism, a cult of personality, and his followers have become soulless minions of orthodoxy believing that Trump will restore a time before liberals began to make America a better place to live and achieve the American Dream. I'm not sure if that means before 1933 when FDR became president and ushered in the New Deal or some fantasy of American conservatives analogous to the Confederacy and its Lost Cause. Regardless of political party affiliation, Americans need to wake up and realize that another four years of Trump leadership will mean the end of American democracy. Republicans need to wake up and realize that four more years of Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's demise. Republicans could turn on Donald Trump and reestablish some semblance of the Grand Old Party, but I only see that happening if Trump loses in November. Still, suppose they continue with Donald Trump's cult of personality. In that case, the party will implode and become Republican in name only and nothing more than a group of Soulless Minions of Trump. While the death of the Republican Party’s hate-filled ideology wouldn't bother me, the replacement with an ideology based on anger, lies, and hatred is not what America needs. If the Republican Party continues, it needs to moderate and become a party of compassion, not something I believe will happen. 

What might be the hardest for America is when the next generation asks their parents and grandparents why they supported Donald Trump. When that day comes, I suspect there will be a lot of Americans who will rewrite their own history and say they never supported Donald Trump. Some will claim it wasn't as bad as historians claim. There will be those who will still be Trump enthusiasts and revisionists. Still, I suspect the majority will deny they were ever a party to the destructive administration of Donald Trump.


naturgesetz said...

The problem for sane Republicans and former Republicans is that the Trumpian voters control the party. They purge people like Jeff Flake and nominate QAnon supporters. Maybe defeat this year will wake enough GOP voters up, but I'm not counting on it.

JiEL said...

From here in Canada, Trump and his followers are seeding hate and far right almost facist propaganda that they call wrongly «American Values» which are, again, fake way to identify most of what real USA's people are.

With the latest events in BLM and anti manifestations of the far right in trucks with guns, the worse could happen in your country where every one is getting more and more polarized.
Also with those vigilanties and that damn second amendement freaks, Trump is supporting in a bad manner those actions against peaceful manifestations.

They weren't all peaceful but some could suspect that they were infiltrated by far right activists to do looting to blame in on BLM and peaceful manifestants.

Are USA on the verge of a civil war. Hope not but it looks like DJT is making it to happen so he will be able to put outfront all of his «Law and Order» value.
All this to hide to his surrogates his bad handling of COViID 19 and his economic failure on USA's jobs and businesses .

I'm not sure that this 2020 election will be really fair and I fear DJT will deeply contest the outconme if he looses.

Dave R said...

Nice essay. Republicans believe in one thing, the power to dictate and control. They are all very much like Donald Trump without the fake tan.

Anonymous said...

Great essay-

As I began reading the column Atlas Shrugged by Ann Rand came to mind.

I agree that the Republican party has been taken over to the devotion to The Big Fat Orange one in the White House. Yes, it has always been about power and money.

Don't get it twisted, the atmosphere that we now have did not start with this president-if you call him that-but has always been there brewing under the surface. The current administration has made the clarion call that it is now safe to come out and let your freak flag fly.

With our history, it is sad that we have lemmings taking the gaslighting hook line and sinker. Jim Jones anyone.

Our country will be in a long period of healing after this is all over with. Can we really mend? We have seen our neighbors' full prejudice on display. For sure all the enablers in this administration should be voted out of office. Not for meanness, maybe a little, but for the love of our country.

I am all for Republicans and Democrats-and those in between. This is how our country has gotten to where it has. BUT we have become too tribal. Not willing to work together. Not willing the exchange ideas and come up with a solution for the betterment of our country.

Scary times ahead. But I have hope.

Vote Blue!!

RB said...

What's really scary is that Trump could be re-elected. Two months to go, and a lot can happen in that time. Also scary is that polls may not work in this election. Many people who intend to vote for Trump won't be honest about it. Joe Biden better not get complacent -- his lead is probably not as big as everyone thinks. The violence, looting and fires might be helping Trump more than hurting. How is burning buildings and looting an acceptable form of protesting police brutality? People in the suburbs and beyond watch these scenes on the evening news and are undoubtedly horrified. It's these people who might be on the fence with Trump.

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