As the world gasps and recoils from the tragic spectacle of the storming of the Capitol, the parliament of the United States, just as Vice President Mike Pence presided over a joint sitting to certify the electoral college votes that would affirm Mr Joe Biden as the duly elected 46th president, it must wonder that the horror took so long to occur. And remember that there had been a dress rehearsal for the shameful event in the attempted kidnap and possible murder of Michigan State governor Gretchen Whitmer by the Trump-inspired Wolverine Militiamen a mere three months earlier. And that any of the rallies where Trump stoked his audiences to incendiary frenzy against his 2016 rival Hilary Clinton (“Lock her up,” he had them chant lustily), or demonised journalists and a fact-based press as “enemies of the people,” or very carefully targeted congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rasheeda Tlaib as non-Americans who should be sent back to their original shithole countries, could have exploded in bloody street brawls. Then there was his calculated cultivation and coddling of white supremacists, most notably in his claim that the neo-Nazis brandishing burning torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” as they stomped in the streets of Charlottesville were “fine people,” just like the anti-racist activists who opposed them, one of whom was murdered. Did I mention his cold and cynical downplaying of the Coronavirus pandemic, his turning of the commonsense public health requirement of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly disease to ideological warfare even as hundreds of thousands of the citizens he swore to protect died and millions choked the hallways of hospitals?
The overwhelming majority of the Republican Party and so-called Christians known as White evangelicals who enabled Trump’s madness in a devil’s bargain for self-aggrandisement and the purported advancement of God’s war against the liberal anti-Christs would do well to confess their sin and seek forgiveness from the citizens they misled and God whom they mocked. How the passions and energies of nearly half of the adult population of America were stoked and mobilised to lead to the storming of parliament at the precise moment that the will of the people was to be affirmed must be the question all sane citizens should answer now. Why, they must ask themselves, were so willing to suspend reason; to spite every ethical principle, moral teaching and humane value imbued by church, family and country?
Trump’s litany of cruel and calculating acts did not stop with the instances earlier mentioned. He had been giving notice of his essentially devious character long before he announced, almost as a frat house prank, that he would run to be president of the United States. On the campaign trail, he put on display his rude, crude, bullying and boorish behaviour that would outrage any parent, never mind born-again Christians. His loathsome behaviour as a private citizen might have been deemed harmless, more notorious than poisonous. No matter if he would discriminate against Blacks by refusing to lease property to them; if he set up a university to scam students; if he took out a full-page newspaper advert to campaign for the death penalty for five non-White youths wrongly accused of murder; or if he proudly claimed leadership of the birther movement whose only goal was to deny Barack Obama’s American citizenship and delegitimise him as president of the United States. Why did the Republican Party and Christian evangelicals, millions of ordinary citizens, condone every immorality and willingly follow Trump till he led them, on the strength of the biggest of his countless lies, to trash parliament and defile democracy?
Undergirding the depravity of Trump’s thoughts and actions is a shocking compulsion to lie, no matter the occasion. But what rendered him so irredeemably prone to lying? The answer, as the experts — including his own niece, a clinical psychologist — have proffered, is to be found in his traumatised childhood, in the toxic relationship with his stern and foreboding father. Which turned him into a pathological narcissist. Saddled with an insatiable ego, Trump would distort every reality and twist every fact that did not flatter his image of himself as the greatest and the best. Crippled by a destructive inferiority complex — note how he who was haunted day and night by his predecessor, Obama, whom he had fought tooth and nail to diminish but who still towered above him even after he had himself become president — the only compensation was to become an extreme present narcissist. His whole being became an altar of self-worship that must be worshipped by others who like him must do away with empathy, a concept that by definition accepts the existence of others and their experiences. It is a short breath from there to being a sociopath; to holding in the White House a gleeful watching party of the murderous horror he unleashed on his own government. Lacking the mental capacity to deal with complexity, an inescapable condition of life, politics no less, lying became his chief weapon for procuring sacrifices to ego. Inevitably, he embraced Joseph Goebbels’ doctrine of propaganda and demagoguery. Goebbels, a virulent anti-Semite even among Nazis, was Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister. He is generally believed to have laid down the unfailing formula for effective propaganda: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” And so for two months, Trump repeated ad nauseam the patently false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, dinning it without a shred of evidence. His proof lay entirely in his repetition of the assertion in spite of the unambiguous rebuttals of his own election security officials, the wholesale dismissal of sixty or more petitions he filed in court (many of them thrown out by judges he appointed), and the certification of the results by Democratic and Republican controlled states alike.
All the evidence points to a mentally unstable man incapable of handling his own affairs — we may cite his failed businesses resulting in six declared bankruptcies and indebtedness to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars and not mention his failed marriages — who would not be a fit and proper person to be mayor of a one-horse town, never mind electing him to the most powerful political office in the world. He does not understand what greatness means, so it was obvious that he meant something entirely different with his campaign and governing slogan, Make America Great Again. If nothing else disclosed his true intent, his response to Charlottesville did: Make America White Again. Hence, the alternate rendition of MAGA: Taking back “our” country, as if the United States belongs only to the deranged members of Trump’s personality cult. He would affirm the racist animus of his vision of America in the heat of the Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism, seizing every opportunity to demonise the movement and diminish their cause while hailing the white supremacist infiltrators who caused mayhem at protests. No one was surprised when he stoutly defended a 17-year-old boy, Kyle Rittenhouse, who travelled across states and shot and killed with a military-style rifle two unarmed persons protesting yet another black man killed by the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Well, far from making America great again, Trump has tarnished and turned her into the laughing stock of the world, with Turkey, Russia, China, and Venezuela (just to mention a few) laughing loudest.
Still the question: why was nearly half of the American electorate so willing to surrender their brains to Trump until he led them to vandalise their parliament in a failed coup attempt, thereby diminishing rather than making America great again? One word: racism. Trump’s naked white supremacist vision appealed irresistibly to White America’s palpable fear of losing power and domination, of becoming a minority ethnic group in a country rapidly changing colour into a majority brown-black population by 2045, according to recent census projections. In just 24 years, Whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations. Enough to want to build a “great beautiful” wall to keep away people not from Norway, Sweden or other European countries. I suspect that buried within this fear is the alarming thought of retribution: What happens to us when we lose power and domination? Might those we have oppressed for centuries — those whose land we stole, those we enslaved and those we discriminate against in subtle but persistent Jim Crow ways — not want to have their pound of flesh? W.E.B. Du Bois, the preeminent Black intellectual of his time, famously proclaimed in The Souls of Black Folk that “The [American] problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” In the United States of the 21st Century, it is, alas, still the problem. As the summer protests for racial reckoning graphically brought to every home with cable television. As in the claim of a stolen election being curiously focussed on “urban” counties in the six states of Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania with high populations of Blacks, Hispanics and persons of colour.
And as we saw in the manifestly different treatment of Trump’s willing mobsters when they stormed parliament: they were literally escorted into the Capitol, their chaos to perform. Yet in the midst of a BLM protest on 1 June 2020 at Lafayette Square, Washington D.C., Trump had the peaceful protesters tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and violently dispersed so he could walk from the White House to the nearby St John’s Episcopal Church to pose with a borrowed bible held upside down. A pity that that is just about the only use he has for the bible, for if he opened it once in a while he might have seen the warning of Hosea 8:7, rendered in the New American Standard version thus: “For they sow wind, and they harvest a storm.”
Ifowodo, lawyer, poet and public commentator is also a former Assistant Professor at Texas State University.