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Is Trump Radicalizing Domestic Terrorists on His Way Out?

Peaceful transfers of power are what make our constitutional democracy a historically noble experiment.

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Some folks just don’t care who or what gets thrown under the bus. Defending their fragile ego’s, filling their sense of emptiness, reinforcing their grandiosity, or staying in power is just about all they care about. Steamrolling the honorable individuals who refuse to enable them and discrediting the institutions that hold them accountable, they leave unrepentant damage in their wakes that takes years, decades, and even lifetimes to repair.

Such is the case with a fellow New Yorker who was, to my amazement, elected president of the United States in 2016. To my even greater astonishment, this developer turned reality-TV personality with a penchant for firing people morphed into a charismatic icon and leader of the Republican Party. In the words of an old friend, 

Most of us who live in the New York City area had a belly-full of Donald Trump and his overinflated con-artist ego twenty or thirty years ago. He has always been known as a charlatan who squandered his inheritance and ran multiple businesses into bankruptcy, a deadbeat who refused to pay contractors or lenders, a shameless womanizer and publicity grabber who defaulted on so many loans that every single American bank eventually refused to deal with him. And, so, he turned to wealthy Russian oligarchs – and other murky foreign entities – to finance his ill-conceived, perpetual real estate projects.”

And now, in 2020, after four corrosive and turbulent years in office which included getting impeached, mismanaging our nation’s worst-ever public health crisis, being mired in a myriad of corruption schemes, and diminishing America’s standing in the world, he is refuting Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Contesting that the election is “rigged,” despite not having one shred of evidence, Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are putting on what members of both parties have described as “a clown show.” By casting a dark shadow on our electoral process, and the election workers who devote their lives to its integrity, they are discrediting and damaging our democracy.

It’s one thing to watch our outgoing president ramble incoherently on primetime TV during a full-blown pandemic and casually wonder who is still drinking the Kool Aid as they listen to his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. It’s another to read about death threats being made to election officials around our country, watch him playing golf as ICU’s in hospitals around our country max out, and discover on a holiday Zoom call that a member of your family has been radicalized by Trump and his band of followers. 

Listening to someone in my own family spew narratives from QAnon and other conspiracy-mongers has been shocking. Having him confess that he’s in “a state of rageful anger and is considering shaving his head and taking up arms to fight against Biden’s stolen election,” is frightening. Could this really be happening? Has he bought into the insane notion that Donald Trump is a superhero fighting a secret war against a pedophile network? Is he really intent on flushing his life down the toilet on the basis of a disinformation campaign that far-right extremists (and malicious actors within the White House) have sold the president of the United States and persuaded him to promote? Has he, like so many of our fellow American’s been recruited to fight a war that McCarthy/Gingrich Republicans such as Gates, Jordan, Collins, Perdue and millions of flag-waving Make America Great Americans have been waging? The answer is, sadly, “Yes!”

Donald Trump is planting and watering the seeds of unrest in our country while he still has the power to do so. By brainwashing suggestable, far- right-leaning Americans like my family member; demonizing all Democrats; and erroneously claiming that he won the election, Trump is throwing our country under the bus. And possibly inciting an insurgence. His disruptive and vengeful parting shots at the FBI, DOJ and elected officials who refuse to agree with him pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of our democracy. Behind the scenes, he has raised a whopping 200 million “Save America” dollars from his loyal constituents to feed his insatiable appetite for public attention and fund his next reality show. For Trump, or any pathological narcissist, for that matter, adoration and status equate to love.  

Will Trump’s calls to action in the last seven weeks of his term set off a series of tragic events in our country? “All it takes is a spark,” commented one internationally known expert on autocratic leaders.  Will Trump’s increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories and lies fall on deaf ears as more of his followers begin to turn the page and move on? Or am I the one who has been radicalized into fearing that Trump’s political theatre poses an actual threat?

While most Americans, our allies and enemies anxiously wait to see what will happen, thousands of families, like mine, are left to deal with the fallout of ranting, radicalized relatives who have become “Anything Goes Trumpers.” The challenges of freeing devotees from their alternative realities are complicated and considerable, as will be all attempts to stop Trump and his cronies from continuing to stoke the fears of his followers with hate speech—and fuel the fires of domestic terrorism by emboldening white nationalists from his bully pulpit.

Protests, warnings and countermeasures from mainstream media outlets, concerned citizens, and members of both political parties will surely flood the airwaves in weeks to come. Trump’s controversial pardons, legal problems and misguided, last minute maneuvers are coming under great scrutiny. Those who fear that he’s weakening the Republican party and damaging their chances of winning the two Senate seats in Georgia in January will try in vain to placate him or shut him up. And if he does go (further) off the deep end, disclosing national security secrets, inciting vigilante violence, and resisting the transition of power, our government will have a full-blown constitutional crisis on its hands. One can only imagine the state of chaos, division and destruction that could result from this worst-case scenario during the most severe months of this pandemic. 

So, what can we do? Grin and bear it with our seat belts buckled until the inauguration? Hope and pray that family members and White House aides reel Trump in and that he leaves the White House peacefully? Sit back and trust that things will probably be OK with the exception of a few scattered flare ups? Take bold steps to limit or deny the president opportunities to spread further disinformation or promote lawlessness via social media, television, and radio—and stay focused on keeping ourselves, our families and communities safe until there’s relief from a vaccine and support from our government?

What will we do if all else fails and there’s a Trump-induced insurgence with violence spilling out into the streets? Or unprecedented attacks on our democracy? Might we consider invoking the 25th Amendment and removing Donald Trump from office. Removing an unhinged president before he’s had a chance to do further damage to his country like inciting a civil war would be the choice of last resort—and there might not be time to do this. So how will we protect our nation in the absence of a populace, Republican Congress or family members that lack the moral strength to do so?  

Peaceful transfers of power are what make our constitutional democracy a historically noble experiment. So has calling out dangerous, unlawful and amoral abuses of power. We are a nation searching for the means to survive a pandemic, overcome financial hardship, right social injustice, settle political uncertainties, and find common ground on which we can work together for the common good. Let’s rise to the challenge by choosing country over party, humanization over radicalization, truth over lies, faith over fear, kindness over retribution, humility over arrogance, and compassion over hatred, as our guiding principles. Let’s give our incoming president, Joe Biden, and his team a chance to guide us through this rough stretch. When the individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities of our great nation pitch in, become part of the solution, recover their footing and begin to heal, America will prevail.

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