What Have/Could We Become? – Part 1

Ed. note: Be sure to read Frank Levy’s response in the Comments section at the bottom of this post.

Eugene Robinson wrote in The Washington Post on August 24,

To understand how completely Donald Trump has transformed the Republican Party, all you had to do was watch Wednesday’s debate and Trump’s surrender to Georgia authorities on Thursday. The vibe was a mash-up of “American carnage” and aggrieved victimhood.

Aggrieved victimhood?

David Corn of Mother Jones used this pic in his newsletter of August 23 that was a takedown of a David Brooks piece in The Atlantic. Brooks had attempted to explain the meanness, the cruelty, the rudeness and the violence of the MAGAs, which are every day events.

I’m no sociologist, but I think there are many reasons for this craziness, this MAGA “aggrieved victimhood.”

  1. Their valid anger at being forgotten, betrayed by our own government
  2. Their invalid whining and rage because life isn’t exactly what they want it to be (jeez, grow up!)
  3. Their all-too-human and pathological need to blame

But that fails to nail down the core of how we became so terribly aggrieved. Steve Schmidt has a clear take on this and he centers it on lost trust, a sense of betrayal. I believe he’s right and my notion is that the loss of trust can be traced directly to our tolerating things we should never have tolerated. For example:

We tolerated decades of deceit over the Viet Nam war, notwithstanding the protests.

We tolerated Ford pardoning Nixon, instead of skewering him with the justice he deserved.

We tolerated the Republicans hiring Ken Starr to go through Clinton’s garbage cans searching for something slimy to smear onto him, even as ethics violator Newt Gingrich and the rest of the thumpers wailed holy paeans to their own purity and goodness.

Reagan and H.W. Bush skated from their Iran-Contra lawbreaking. Republicans made a martyr of Ollie North, as he testified in his medal-bedecked uniform, hand raised high in his declaration. He swore he would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and then he lied. He and several other perps went to prison – then Bush pardoned them.

As bad as the Great Recession was, with the homes lost, the futures decimated, the hopes dashed, none of the perpetrators went to jail for violating SEC rules and existing laws. Perhaps worse was the elimination of regulations designed to prevent just such a financial collapse. The cost of learning the lessons of unfettered greed was paid following the Great Depression. But ever-present greed won out decades later and we danced to the financial ruin tune once again. Then we put laws back in place (Dodd-Frank), which the Republicans chipped away at until there’s nothing left to protect us. The rich got richer and we’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Plus we footed the bill.

There have been decades of “off-shoring” of factories, industries and, most important, jobs for Americans. Towns have been hollowed out and their citizens set adrift, even as our institutions promoted this craziness. Mass layoffs were labeled “right sizing” and millions lost their jobs, their security and their hopes for their children. And the rich got richer.

The mania for deregulation persists, even after the horrid train derailment in East Palestine, OH. That train was over two miles long and had only two workers aboard, as the deregulated and abandoned inspections and safety procedures allowed that toxic, deadly swamp to happen. But removing those regulations did reduce costs for the railroad and provide more money for the executives and shareholders.

And, of course, there were the sex scandals in religious institutions done by televangelists and the Catholic Church.

These betrayals are major trust killers that hurt people. That leads to aggrieved victimhood.

We could go on and on listing betrayals of the American people by our all too self-serving government officials, but you get the point and could easily construct your own list. The point is that the American people have lost trust because we have been betrayed. It isn’t our imagination. And our sense of betrayal is just what a demagogue like Trump or any of the liars use to stoke fear and anger to promote themselves.

Trump delivered his American Carnage address and told us that only he could save us. Millions believed him because they were and are prepared to believe and follow anyone who tells them they are right and righteous and who points a finger at those to blame.

What we’ve become is a nation of millions of voluntary dupes. Some of our leaders stoke fear of the “other” and that has incited hate crimes, murders of our fellow citizens, making us geckos eating our own. Sadly, so many have succumbed to putting most of their mental energy into looking for someone to blame for their ailments – and then acting out.

We’ve let our lost trust and anger fester into a mania to abandon every value we claim to hold dear. In more benign phrasing, we are throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water.

But the solution is not to abandon it all, to “tear it all down.” The solution is to hold accountable all who violated American values and the American dream. Discard the liars who have stoked anger for their own benefit and the cowards who stood by and let it happen.

We can and we must fix this by restoring our democracy – majority rule.

There is a start to rectifying this going on now, but it isn’t an easy path forward. Justice is at last coming to a lot of high level perpetrators, traitors to our values, who wrapped themselves in the flag and then spit on the brave words of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution and on our laws and on our norms.

There is powerful juju driving this vitriolic behavior and we better confront that with something better before the haters seething over betrayals and calling for a civil war start amassing an army of reality denying dupes armed with AR-15s.

Maybe you’ve heard about the song Rich Men North of Richmond. It was written and performed by Oliver Anthony, a guy with no professional music experience and who never had anything on a top 100 chart. But this piece has gone viral – over 47 million listens and over 161,000 comments – in less than a month.

Anthony’s song tells the story of middle Americans – hard working people – and their suffering at the hands of (in the pockets of) rich guys. The “elite.” The cabal of thieves who have taken their country and their dream from them. I urge you to listen to his song and, as important, read the comments. You’ll begin to understand the depth of the people’s anger that infects this country owing to decades of betrayal.

Aggrieved victimhood.

Just an Idea

Adam Grant calls for a better way to find leaders in his essay The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way. He reports,

Voters overwhelmingly favor candidates who are tall and male and white. We also have a bad habit of attracting and electing candidates with tendencies known as the dark triad of personality: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy

Do you suppose that if we found leaders who aren’t self-centered and deranged that perhaps we’d be led to be less cruel to one another and might just find a way to continue our democracy? Maybe even make this into a place where people are treated fairly and decently?

Crazy, right?

Quote of the Week

From David Corn of Mother Jones:

Cults are cults. Rules, norms, facts, the law, reality, decency—none of that matters. The true believers are enrapt[ured] with the phony narrative Trump feeds them. For these millions of Americans, it’s theology.

And there is little as murderous and destructive as fervent religious anger.

Today is a good day to be the light


  • Our governance and electoral corruption and dysfunction and our ongoing mass murders are all of a piece, all the same problem with the same solution:
  • Fire the bastards!
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3 Responses to What Have/Could We Become? – Part 1
  1. Kirk Landers Reply

    In the early 90s I traveled to Germany for the first time to attend a trade show in Munich. I grew up in a culture of WWII veterans, and I harbored very negative stereotypes of German culture that explained why those people would embrace fascism and violence while evolved cultures like ours would never do such a thing.

    One of the first realizations to hit me in my week in Bavaria was that, of all the places I’ve been in Europe, Germans seemed more like us (and us like them) than any other, even the UK.

    The next revelation was, of course, that what happened in 1930s Germany could happen here, which we now know as an absolute truth.

    The only other point I’d add to the conversation is that to understand MAGA, I think you have to start with the concept of the anti-Christ–a religious concept that says the greatest enemy of Christianity is fake Christianity. Trump is the archetypal anti-Christ, even though he’s openly stupid and venal. More important, the MAGA hordes are exactly the anti-Christians that the concept feared and loathed.

    I agree that these people have a lot to be angry about, but they’re looking for validation, not solutions. And that’s kind of how we got here–people not wanting facts, just wanting to scream their guts out or shoot off a clip of ammo.

    I don’t know how you deal with that.

  2. Diana Dobrovolny Hefter Reply

    Thank you for your words “our sense of betrayal is just what a demagogue like Trump or any of the liars use to stoke fear and anger to promote themselves.”

    It’s become a world of BELIEFS vs Facts. And MAGA/Far right is a well oiled machine. Heritage Foundation/think tank started by Reagan, leads themes, messaging. As many as 70 other organizations plus bloggers, conservative news, push the message out – all using same words, phrases.

    During 2020 election these were sent out every Monday – even to Republican congressmen, governors, state legislatures. They turned it into a machine. And now a very concerning Project 2025, which reads as a manifesto to change our government and constitution. Executive power over all. No government departments (i.e. FDA, EPA, CDC), only President and Congress can make decisions. And a loyalty list – tracking people for what they say FOR and AGAINST Trump/GOP/MAGA.
    Listen to Vivek Ramaswamy – on Chuck Todd he said he would get rid of all departments- EPA, CDC, etc. Trump just said he was “too soft” last time, “when he becomes president, he will be jailing” his enemies (think Biden; think Putin/Navalny).

    At least the leaders are emboldened to tell us what they plan to do. We need to act. Be aware, educate on facts vs beliefs, communicate, act to save democracy.

  3. Frank Levy Reply

    Jack – I agree with you, Steve Schmidt, and every other pundit that says that the Trump Cult is the Trump Cult because they have lost trust in the government, in America, and feel abandoned by it.

    But here is the problem with that hypothesis. Americans began to lose trust in America and the government the day after The Constitution was enacted. Black and Brown Americans stopped trusting America and the government a couple of centuries ago. Jews stopped trusting the government and their fellow Americans when America sent Jews back to Germany to die. Women and the LGBTQIA community never trusted the government or their fellow Americans to protect them or treat them fairly and equally.

    That said, the only people who have turned their grievances and disappointments into armed rebellion and insurrection are white, racist ethno-fascist, mostly Christian nationalists.

    If any group of people had cause to take up arms against an uncaring and untrustworthy government it is African Americans. Instead they are the most ardent supporters of using the system to create change.

    In my never humble opinion, if we are honestly looking to understand the driving forces behind the Trump/Republican Cult we need to focus on the racism and Christian beliefs that are at its roots.

    The Trump/Republican Cult is the modern day embodiment and expression of an anti-American Confederacy. They are a racist confederation that lost on the battlefield but have yet to surrender their fight.

    The Trump/Republican/Confederate Cult is still fighting to preserve its white, Christian supremacy and their “right” to enslave Black people and disenfranchise Catholics and Jews. Racism and a terribly distorted white supremacist version of Christianity are the forces driving the Trump/Republican Cult. To ignore that reality is to set America up for a horrific catastrophe in the very near future – read: 2024.

    Sadly, America is much more racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic than you and I, people like us and the media would like to believe. And that will be our undoing.