The other day a young friend expressed shock at Trump’s half-assed attempt at a coup. I’ve read comments in the news expressing shock at the attempt to overturn a legitimate election, at the attack on democracy. But anyone paying close attention to our would-be dictator over the last few years could have predicted it, as could anyone with a sense of history.
The Chickens Come Home to Roost
In 1963, Martin Luther King said the assassination of John F. Kennedy came about because of America’s indifference to the murders of civil rights leaders. That indifference allowed the violence to spread until it claimed the president’s life. Malcolm X said it was a case of the chickens coming home to roost.
In my opinion, we’ve just seen another breed of chickens fly home. Most of us slept comfortably when the CIA instigated coups against democratically elected leaders in other countries. These included Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1970. In each case, tens of thousands were tortured and murdered. More recently, both the Obama and Trump administrations supported bloody coups in Egypt, Bolivia, and Honduras. Our government has also intervened to prevent elections. We invaded Vietnam to forestall an election which would most likely have resulted in a victory for Ho Chi Minh. We invaded oil-rich Iraq and destroyed their country on the false pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Many Americans swallowed the government propaganda about the reasons for these interventions. Others were simply mercenary. I was marching to protest the Iraq war when a man stepped out of the crowd of spectators and shouted, “Do you want to pay $25 a gallon for gas?” Clearly, he didn’t believe the lies either. He just thought filling his SUV with cheap gas was worth whatever it cost in Iraqi lives.
After the events of January 6, more than one Iraqi has offered to return the favor: their army will go to Washington, overthrow our dictator, and restore democracy.
The Architects of Insurrection
It took decades of effort and funding to transport that flock of chickens to the Capitol on January 6. Many commentators trace the roots of this year’s coup attempt to the GOP embrace of racism at the time of the Nixon presidency. I’d take it back even further. The Republican Party has been the champion of monied interests since before the Great Depression. The party resisted the New Deal with all the force it could muster, and afterward did everything in its power to dismantle New Deal programs. It was the party of Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts.
The billionaires who backed Trump in 2016 were rewarded with substantial tax cuts. No doubt some of them would have been pleased by a successful coup this time around. Some gave through dark money PACs. Others, including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, have been in the spotlight. Some Trump donors are known but haven’t gotten as much publicity. Kelcy Warren owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. He gave Trump $10 million, hoping to prevent a Biden administration from shutting down that environmental disaster. The gilded class also funded the propaganda machine that convinced so many people the election was stolen, and that it was up to them to take their country back.
The less affluent among the architects of insurrection should be honored as well. Trump did indeed honor that most popular of hate radio jocks, Rush Limbaugh, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Limbaugh began broadcasting his venom in 1988. I’ve never listened to him, but early in the ‘90s my friend Allison Jennings predicted that he and others like him would bring fascism to the U.S. She was right.
An Unholy Coalition
Medals should also be given to those who claim to know the will of God, and assert that He has chosen Trump as His instrument. Among these, the gold goes to Senator Josh Hawley for raising his fist in salute of the mob getting ready to storm the Capitol. Hawley was the first in Congress to oppose certification of the Biden win. He believes that only certain people have the right to rule while others must submit, and that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life. “We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch…to take the Lordship of Christ into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations.”
Vying for silver and bronze would be Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, and various other evangelicals who preached that God sent Trump to America.
In addition to saluting these Christians, we must give credit to certain Jewish factions. Zionists have supported Trump because they see his policies as favorable to Israel. A cousin in Los Angeles tells me the wealthy members of her Jewish book group voted Trump for the tax cuts. The ultra-Orthodox backed him because he opposed wearing masks and social distancing during the current pandemic. They are convinced, against all evidence, that their faith will protect them. It hasn’t.
I want to single out one Jewish man for special recognition. Rod Rosenstein, a Harvard Law School graduate, rose to become a deputy Attorney General in the Trump administration. From 2001-2011 he served on the board of directors of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. And in 2018, he ordered U.S. attorneys along the Mexican border to prosecute families who were fleeing violence in Central America. He directed that the children should be pulled away from their parents no matter how young they were – even if they were infants. Just what did he learn at the Holocaust Museum?
It’s been close to three years, and 545 of those children have not been reunited with their parents. Now Rosenstein admits that the decision to separate children was bad policy. He has moved on with his life. He left the government and is working for a “white-shoe” law firm that advises Trumps’ real estate empire.
How could these Christian and Jewish religious factions ignore the teachings of their Bible and vote for Trump, not just once but twice? Overlooking his cruelty and criminality, as long as he supported policies they favored, is the essence of a deal with the devil. Their end-justifies-the-means attitude fueled the attack on the Capitol.
A personal note
As a Jew I take some of this personally. My mother was an undocumented immigrant. Many of her relatives died in the Holocaust. It hurts to see beloved friends and relatives supporting a man who tore children and infants from their parents and threw them in concentration camps, without adequate food or medical care or even toothpaste. Was that okay with them—and with Rod Rosenstein—because the kids weren’t Jewish? When did we forget “Do not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt?” (Exodus 22:21-22)
I wonder what those friends and relatives think today about the attempted coup. Or if they even noticed those members of the mob who wore T-shirts stenciled 6MWE – “Six Million Wasn’t Enough.” Or the one wearing the hoodie with the logo “Camp Auschwitz.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
I don’t have answers. What I do know is that we can’t count on change to come from the top. It always comes from the bottom. And, dear readers, since we are at the bottom, I invite suggestions and will discuss in a future post.