How to Overcome the Devastation of the Mob
You saw the photos, I’m sure, of the costume of the man known in his own world as the Q Shaman. Bare chest, spear with American flag; red, white, and blue face; furred hat with horns. He wasn’t the only one.
“Why Rioters Wear Costumes” posits “As star-spangled superheroes and militiamen, the rioters of D.C. dressed with a license for mayhem. They came dressed for chaos. They came in red, white and blue face paint and star-spangled superhero outfits, in flag capes (American, yes, but also Confederate and Trumpian) and flag jackets and Trump bobble hats. One man came as a patriotic duck; another as a bald eagle; another as a cross between a knight-errant and Captain America; another as Abraham Lincoln. They came in all sorts of camouflage, in animal pelts and flak jackets, in tactical gear and even a sphagnum-covered ghillie suit.”
New York Times chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman’s analysis continues, “When you leave the totems of your usual identity behind you free yourself from the laws that govern that identity and assume those of another character — a frontiersman, a hunter, a warrior, even a superhero — that can then be twisted through a dark mirror into the outfits of the insurrection. There was no clearer image of what that meant than a shirtless man in what looked like a cross between a coonskin cap and a horned spirit hood, with face and body paint, standing gloating behind a desk in the Senate chamber as if he belonged there, after the actual elected lawmakers had been rushed away for their safety.”
“Earlier in the day, before Mr. Trump struck the oratorical match that turned the rally into a riot, attendees in what appeared to be ecclesiastical robes seemed to be bestowing a blessing on the whole event. As far as an observer could tell, however, no one was garbed as the better angels of our nature. License to dress up can easily become license to act out in the worst of all ways. On Wednesday, it did.”
All these words to say, in short, Costumes matter. Or, rather, they make a difference.
In this case, the costumes of superheroes clothed purveyors of hatred and lies. As the redoubtable
Maureen Dowd writes, “Donald Trump’s inhumanity, his sick torrent of lies and incitement, came to its inevitable, shameful end on Wednesday, when a mob smeared blood, excrement, hate and death all over the Capitol.” Oh, Ms. Dowd, if only … you were right. But we dare not even think you are, let alone behave like you are.
As historian David W. Blight asserts “Trumpism has already become a lethal Lost Cause. It does not quite have martyrs and a cult of the fallen in which to root its hopes and dreams. But it does have a self-destructive cult leader about to leave power in a defeat that has been transformed into a narrative of betrayal, resistance and a promise of political revitalization.”
The story of this lost cause is its danger. “The story demands a religious loyalty. It must be protected, reinforced, practiced in ritual and infused with symbols.”
“Mr. Trump’s Lost Cause takes its fuel from conspiratorial myths of all kinds, rehearsed for years on Trump media and social media platforms. Its guiding theories include: Christianity under duress and attack; large corrupt cities full of Black and brown people manipulated by liberal elites; Barack Obama as alien; a socialist movement determined to tax you into subservience to ‘big government;’ liberal media out to crush family and conservative values; universities and schools teaching the young a history that hates America; resentment of nonwhite immigrants who threaten a particular national vision; and whatever hideous new version of a civil religion QAnon represents.”
If I didn’t know better, I might think I was reading a treatment for a new Game of Thrones series. Read those last two paragraphs again. I think you’ll agree.
“The Trumpian Lost Cause … seem[s] to be tonic for those who fear long-term social change; it is a story in search of revival and order. Trumpism knows what it hates: liberalism; taxation; what it perceives as big government; nonwhite immigrants who drain the homeland’s resources; government regulation imposed on individuals and businesses; foreign entanglements and wars that require America to be too generous to strange peoples in faraway places; any hint of gun control; feminism in high places; the nation’s inevitable ethnic and racial pluralism; and the infinite array of practices or ideas it calls ‘political correctness.’ Potent ideas all in search of a history.”
Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault observes, “History is often defined as what happened in the past, and, as my journalism professor said on the first day of class, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’” Yes, but why don’t we learn from history?
It’s simple really. It’s because history is an interpretation. Consider Ross Douthat’s thoughtful analysis of the mob in the Capitol.
“The riot at the capital occupies a liminal, unstable space between these two interpretations. Cock your head one way and it looks like the fulfillment of every Resistance warning: The head of the executive branch incites a mob to take over the seat of the legislative branch and prevent power from being passed to his successor. Cock your head another and it looks like the culmination of the Trump Show: A politically impotent, conspiracy-addled president whips up a rabble of costumed selfie-snappers and then goes home to the White House with no plan except to watch them get rowdy on TV.”
The story, Beloved, can be told either way. In fact, every story, depending upon the viewpoint one adopts can be told in myriad ways.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder maintains, “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.”
The Trump story, from its conception, is a pyramid scheme of lies. The lies started out tiny, unimportant even, and grew into small lies. As Professor Snyder says, “[T]hey stretched but did not rend what Hannah Arendt called ‘the fabric of factuality.’”
But as time and attention waxed and waned, they grew. They grew to mid-sized lies, and then to big lies, and now, we have hit gargantuan lies. “Intriguingly, Arendt thought big lies work only in lonely minds; their coherence substitutes for experience and companionship.” This observation tolls a deep, resonant note, or it should.
“Trump is, for now, the martyr in chief, the high priest of the big lie.” High priest? Shaman? Martyr? These are roles ordinarily associated with religious groups, not political ones. Perhaps this explains the costumes and their power, but not entirely.
Dr. Snyder again, “People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices.”
Education, in fact, has proven itself time and time again a failed mechanism to induce, incite, or inspire change. What are we to do?
There is only one thing I know of that effects the kind of change we need in this country, Beloved, and that is Vision. Proof is to be found in Proverbs 29:18. Where there is no vision, the people perish. There has been no vision in this country for what seems like a long, long time just a series of power plays and gotchas. This must cease now.
“[Trump’s] objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. He intended to break the system to serve himself — and this is partly why he has failed. Trump is a charismatic politician and inspires devotion not only among voters but among a surprising number of lawmakers, but he has no vision that is greater than himself or what his admirers project upon him.” … “His vision never went further than a mirror.”
As a person who has worn many costumes in her life, I can confidently attest to you that the first thing one does upon the donning of a costume is look in a mirror. Now we are called to gaze into the mirror, Beloved, to gaze until we learn of a new vision, one that will inspire all of us to look past what we want to believe into the future of what we need to believe in order to create a new, and more perfect union. Please, if you value our country, begin to dream a new vision for all Americans. Please.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection between spirituality and culture. Find out more at www.susancorso.com