You’ll often hear it said — indeed I’ve said it myself — that Trumpism is a death cult.
The MAGA faithful, on this account, are so beholden to their leader that not only would they forgive him for shooting someone on 5th Avenue — the scenario Trump himself conjured during the 2016 campaign — but they would line up to be shot, if it were deemed necessary for the cause.
But the death cult analogy is wrong. Death cults tend to be suicidal. Think People’s Temple and Jim Jones. Think Heaven’s Gate, with their black Nikes and purple death shrouds. And at first blush, perhaps the analogy seems to fit when it comes to Trumpsters. In the wake of COVID, the faithful insist they would be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy. Thus, they call for an end to social distancing and the re-opening of everything as soon as possible.
Glenn Beck has said he would “rather die than kill the country,” and suggested that people like himself who are older should go out and keep the economy moving, even if they all get sick, for the good of coming generations.
The Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, has insisted there are things “more valuable than living,” and right-wing commentators and anti-lockdown protesters have demonstrated a profound nonchalance about the prospects of dying, so long as it’s in the service of America’s future.
So sure, it sounds like suicidal ideation, but upon closer examination, you begin to realize it’s not.
These folks aren’t suicidal at all. They are homicidal.
Trumpism isn’t a death cult. Their political meanderings are not a suicide note; they’re a murder contract.
How do we know? Simple.
First off, those who claim they would be willing to die for the sake of the economy don’t believe they are genuinely at risk. They say as much with their denials of the virus’s lethality or with their assurances that if they become ill, they can beat it with a positive mental attitude. To wit, FOX commentator Jesse Watters, who insists the “power of positive thinking” would pull him through should he fall ill with COVID.
Over and again, they justify opening things back up by insisting that almost all who die are elderly, with severe pre-existing conditions. Those who perish are not as tough or manly as they, with their guns and camo and refusal to wear masks for fear of appearing “submissive.” In other words, those who are dying and will die in the future from COVID are not them.
All of this suggests that irrespective of their proclaimed willingness to die for the cause, they don’t actually expect to do so, though they readily acknowledge others will.
What should we call people who advocate an action they know will kill not themselves but others? Not suicidal but homicidal.
And in this case we should call them mass murderers.
They aren’t volunteering to take the bullet from Trump’s gun in the middle of midtown Manhattan; they’re helping him point it at someone else and pulling the trigger.
Glenn Beck, after all, struck his heroic pose from behind a microphone in his home studio. He is not risking anything with his calls for opening back up. He is safe and secure, and even if he one day returns to a studio located somewhere other than in his basement, it’s not as if he’ll be working in a hospital, or a meatpacking plant.
And speaking of meatpacking plants, when Donald Trump ordered that such places be kept open even as COVID has torn through such facilities — because, after all, the bacon supply is an essential service — it was not a suicide pact. It was a professional hit being contracted by the head of state, against others, and especially the disproportionately brown-skinned immigrants who work in these places. They would be the ones to do the dying. That’s not tantamount to Jim Jones inviting his followers to drink the Kool-Aid; rather, it’s the members of the People’s Temple rounding up the locals in Guyana and making them drink it.
And why? Because they view those who would do the bulk of the dying as inferiors, whose lives are hardly worthy of value at all.
Think I’m being too harsh? Then consider the words of right-wing fraudster and provocateur, Jack Burkman, who, along with his partner in crime, Jacob Wohl, is known for paying people to make false claims of sexual assault against Donald Trump’s perceived enemies.
Recently, when one such woman had a change of heart about the charges she was paid to fabricate — this time against Dr. Anthony Fauci — she recorded Burkman detailing the importance of the scam they were pulling. When pushed by the young woman (a former friend of Wohl’s) about the health risks of the virus — risks she felt Wohl and Burkman were downplaying — the latter articulated the desiccated heart of conservative thinking.
“Mother Nature has to clean the barn every so often…So what if 1 percent of the population goes? So what if you lose 400,000 people? Two hundred thousand were elderly; the other 200,000 are the bottom of society. You got to clean out the barn. If it’s real, it’s a positive thing, for God’s sake.”
Ultimately it’s a eugenic mentality, social Darwinism at its worst, and the thinking that has animated history’s greatest monsters. It’s the idea that millions of people are “useless eaters,” whose deaths are acceptable losses — even a positive good.
And it’s not just a mentality evinced by bottom-feeders like Burkman. Indeed, the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently suggested that statewide stay-at-home orders were unnecessary. Why? Because although COVID had spread from urban to rural areas, the big flareup had been limited to workers at a meatpacking facility, while not impacting “regular folks.”
Meanwhile, the Governor of Nebraska is refusing to release site-specific data about infections in meatpacking plants, preferring to keep workers and their communities in the dark about the potential risks they face. Anyone who valued the lives of workers in those facilities would want them to have full information. By hiding the data, the Governor is hoping to fool vulnerable workers into staying on the job; their health be damned.
All of which begs the question, why? Why are those who will be especially vulnerable valued less than those who are at lower risk?
Surely we don’t think it coincidental that the push for re-opening is mostly led by white people, while people of color are doing the disproportionate dying, do we? Can anyone say with a straight face that these white folks would push as hard to go back to work if people like them were being disproportionately affected? Or if it were people in the prime of their lives, rather than the elderly? Or relatively healthy people as opposed to those with pre-existing conditions?
It is simply inconceivable that the “open it up” brigades would be as adamant about ending the lockdowns if they were the ones who would be the most likely to suffer. It is precisely because the dying will be done disproportionately by others that they can be so cavalier.
It’s not merely that they view black and brown life as less valuable. They view anyone with pre-existing conditions as weaker specimens of humanity, for whom compassion need not attach. We saw that in the debate over health care, with Rush Limbaugh claiming that requiring companies to insure people with pre-existing conditions was nothing more than “welfare” for people who were too irresponsible to have insurance in the first place. Because to the right, the unhealthy are ultimately to blame for their infirmity.
This is what modern conservatism has become. It is not a suicide death cult but a murderous, terrorist movement. It is, in the age of Trump, a cabal of hateful, ignorant, anti-social eugenicists intent on removing those they deem inferior from society. And this they propose to do by one means or another: by slashing safety nets, by building walls against immigrants, or by letting disease and illness kill hundreds of thousands of people whose lives they never valued anyway.
When they say “all lives matter” — as their witty retort to the Black Lives Matter movement — they don’t mean it. The only lives that matter to them are the ones who look and live and pray as they do.
We need not try and reason with them, let alone convert them to a rational, humane, and compassionate politics. They are deserving of only one thing: defeat — total, immediate, and lasting.