There are two diseases affecting America today, the coronavirus and MAGA. You have read about the new contagious forms of the coronavirus that originated in England and South Africa and are now beginning to show up on these shores. And on Jan. 6, Americans were horrified to see the new strain of MAGA, which finally unleashed itself with full force on the Capitol.
The former Centers for Disease Control director, Robert Redfield, has predicted that the MAGA insurrection at the Capitol will itself be a super-spreader event. MAGA rallies presided over by Trump were always derisive affairs in which the president created racist and sexist sobriquets to fit all his perceived enemies. There were, in addition, numerous incidents where MAGA-inspired cavalcades of cars terrorized highways and, on one occasion, even a Biden campaign bus.
But the newest strain of MAGA, the one that was evidenced at the Capitol, seems not only more contagious, but also immune to the vaccine of coalition that President Biden is attempting to inject into the body politic. If you watched the events as they unfolded on TV, you may have begun to suffer from P.T.S.D., as the reality of what transpired really began to become clear. At first the six degrees of separation offered by TV seemed to provide the viewing audience a new sport. MAGA protesters vs. Capitol police. It was the first real competition to Netflix series like “The Queen’s Gambit,” “The Crown,” and “Babylon, Berlin,” which have also become a kind of contagion. It was almost entertaining to see thugs out of “A Clockwork Orange” sitting behind Nancy Pelosi’s desk or presiding over the Senate in the very chair Mike Pence had occupied minutes before.
Then as the reality set in along with images that included a protester wearing a Camp Auschwitz hoodie, the realization that if Congress wasn’t safe from state-sponsored hooliganism like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, you could hardly feel safe either on the roads, where traveling Trump roadshows are a constant threat, or even in your home. Both Mitch McConnell’s and Nancy Pelosi’s residences have been vandalized. The MAGA virus is apparently resistant to minorities, and the images of crowds of looters breaking down what is perhaps the most sacred American landmark was horrifyingly reminiscent of both the Reichstag fire (Feb. 27, 1933) and Kristallnacht (Nov. 9-10, 1938).
Trump is the viper that unleashed a nest of hornets, and angry ones. Trump had a choice. He’d either go the domestic or the international route to upset the confirmation proceedings. Choosing the former, he correctly decided, would create a more reliably incendiary situation. Try disturbing a nest of hornets or killer bees.
The incendiary Trump speeches before crowds of cheering and jeering followers in the hinterlands was an awakening to the fact that racism was not merely some ideological throwaway bandied about by the usual periphery of liberal and radical malcontents. If you thought that American society had evolved from the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts of the Johnson era, you turned out to be sorely mistaken. Nothing had changed. The fact was that racial and economic inequity had gotten demonstrably worse because of the suffering and disenfranchisement of a whole sector of American society.
Atul Gawande’s New Yorker essay/review “Why Americans Are Dying From Despair” (March 16), based on Angus Deaton and Anne Case’s “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” locates the source of the enormous misery that fuels the roaring crowds, and by proxy the opioid epidemic that has ravaged whole populations, in poor areas like the Rust Belt, where industry has declined. It’s no coincidence that these are the demographics that describe Trump’s base. It’s the same kind of mass outcry against the essence of Western humanism that motivated the roars of “Sieg heil!” that greeted Hitler’s inflammatory speeches. The despot represents in both these cases a kind of Second Coming. The anti-Christ of Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” poem, who ends up putting Christ himself on trial. In fact, the current unwavering and value-free devotion to the cult of Trump does smack of the Inquisition itself, only here, instead of people, it’s democracy that’s burning at the stake.
Undoubtedly Trump will be establishing a news network now that he’s left office. He didn’t appear to like the responsibilities that went along with the presidency. He was plainly happier on “The Apprentice.” He’s a media hound. With his own outlet, he’ll be able to combat all the fake news. Truly he’s a character similar to some of the dictators Rod Serling portrayed on “The Twilight Zone”; he inhabits a similarly delusional world.
Anything Trump has anything to do with always bears his brand. You have Trump Tower, the Trump International in Washington (which apparently occupies an emoluments-free zone). There were the Trump Shuttle and Trump University. So, the name of the network will undoubtedly be the Trump Broadcasting System, but since that spells out as TBS, of Ted Turner fame, it’ll probably be called the Trump Broadcasting Company, or TBC. And what will this innovative new mode of broadcasting be called? You guessed it, Trump-o-Vison. There will even be Trump jokes that will be as politically incorrect as the old Polish jokes, but it’s all for the sake of fun, just like “Access Hollywood” and the famous Trump quote about walking down Fifth Avenue and shooting people but not losing votes. What’s the difference between Trump and a pig? Answer: A pig is smarter, though that’s the kind of insult to pigs that’s likely to offend animal-rights activists.
Trump will undoubtedly also establish his own series of comics, one of which will be MAGA Monster. This new publication will feature a cartoon of Trump on every cover in his signature red cap, promising nonexistent programs to roaring crowds — within the next two weeks.
Francis Levy of Wainscott is the author of the comic novels “Erotomania: A Romance,” “Seven Days in Rio,” and “Tombstone: Not a Western.” He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com.