The Back Road: The fight for a more perfect union

The Back Road: The fight for a more perfect union

By Andrew Malekoff

In her 2021 book “Strongmen,” historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explores the nature of authoritarian figures in world history and how to oppose them.

“A strongman’s drive is singular, to control and exploit everyone and everything for personal gain,” Ben-Ghiat writes. Though strongmen publicly profess reverence for the rule of law, they encourage lawlessness and violence to achieve their ends.

Sound familiar?

If you will recall, on June 1, 2020, just six months in advance of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, a disturbing scene unfolded outside of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C.

Horses, riot shields, batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas were employed to clear the area of demonstrators peacefully protesting against racial injustice.

Upon his arrival at the Ashburton House, the church’s parish house, the ex-president held up a bible in his right hand in a masquerade of nobility and virtue, neither of which he actually possesses.

Was such an extensive show of force necessary for a presidential photo op?

Two days later, former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis could no longer contain himself, stating that “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

“We are witnessing three years of this deliberate effort,” Mattis continued, “the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.”

Can we?

While it was a promising sign that we can unite, America didn’t suddenly turn all warm and fuzzy after the 2022 midterms, when predictions of a big red wave turned out to be little more than a pale trickle of vermillion orange.

Glimmers of light led a number of fence-sitters to blink and think and re-think as they entered the voting booth. An undeniable shift occurred at the ballot box, that hallowed place in our civil society where conscience, privacy, faith and hope meet up every few years to confer with one another, step up and do the right thing.

“At the heart of the strongman rule,” Ben-Ghiat emphasizes, “is the claim that he and his agents are above the law, above judgment and not beholden to the truth.” Even so, she continues, if public perception changes, the authoritarian’s “aura of specialness” can leave him without any legitimacy.

Is public perception of the former president’s “aura of specialness” changing? Has the fever broken?

“I’d like to say that the fever is broken, but that seems premature,” wrote journalist Nicholas Kristoff in his Dec. 10 piece in the New York Times. “We can’t confidently heal America’s body politic unless we do a better job treating our nation’s broader social and economic dysfunction,” he added.

This must be reckoned with for Americans to unite.

On Jan. 6, 2021, after viewing more than three hours of televised mayhem at the Capitol Building from his perch in the White House, Trump finally told the thousands of supporters that bought into his election fraud fantasy to go home. His sendoff message: “We love you – you’re very special.”

Perhaps, on some level, he was tapping into the emptiness, social isolation and depression that a growing segment of the American people have come to feel about their own place in the country.

What Trump’s criminally-belated dismissal on January 6 signaled to those that are loyal to him, though, is hardly true love; rather co-dependency by desperate people caught up in irrational belief systems and mob mentality, absent critical dissent.

Stephanie Grisham, former White House press secretary, recalled that the ex-president was so enthralled with the graphically violent TV images broadcast from the Capitol Building, that he carried on rapturously – “Look at all those people fighting for me.”

That was his dominant sentiment as his deranged minions laid waste to the Capitol Building – trespassing, vandalizing, defecating, rifling through documents, bludgeoning and bear-spraying police, constructing gallows, and chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Nancy!” “Nancy!” “Nancy!”

Love was in the air!

In Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary film “Pelosi in the House,” former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi shared the following story that she recalled being posted on a hospital building in Africa:

“When I die one day and happily go to my maker; when I go before him, he will say: ‘Show me your wounds.’ And, if I have no wounds to show him, he will say: ‘Was nothing worth fighting for?’ ”

Will our nation unite?

Only if we believe it is worth fighting for.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here