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Trumpism, an American Cancer
"The first rule of recovery is to admit you have a problem. We have a problem."
Last July, Matt Zeller warned us that Trumpism could lead to a violent uprising. Now that he’s been proved right, what does he predict will happen next? That, he writes, depends on what we do now.
by Matt Zeller
Should Trump call on his supporters to rally in his defense, Americans may be confronted with a constitutional crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the Civil War.
So many did.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021, a date that will live on infinite sorrow. The day we bore and survived (for now) an armed insurrection and invasion by domestic terrorists against our national Capitol. This past Wednesday, the Trumpist cult tried to take away the thing we ought to hold most dear – our sovereign right to choose via democratic elections who governs on our behalf. While they failed in their main goal of reversing the results of the election, they achieved so much more.
I’m not going to focus on Trump’s role in all of this, his is the easiest to prosecute, he did it all on TV and online, in the open for everyone to see. For weeks and weeks he and his closest minions, have told their followers the blatant lie that Trump won the election, that everyone against them is trying to steal it for Joe Biden, and that the only way to stop all of this was to come to DC on Wednesday to “Stop The Steal.”
And so they came by the tens of thousands. They gathered on the ellipse immediately south of the White House and rallied. After a morning where his oldest child told the crowd to target any Republican who didn’t support his dad as a traitor and his personal lawyer urged the crowd to fight in a “Trial by Combat,” Trump appeared and urged the crowd to march to the Capitol, telling the assembled mob, “you will never take back our country with weakness.” The crowd did as their god bequeathed, they turned and marched, with angered glee. Many livestreamed the assault comparing themselves the true American patriots of 1776.
The crowd did as their god bequeathed.
I cannot stop thinking about how close we came to collapse. A mob of domestic terrorists, armed with guns, IEDs, and zip tie handcuffs, had the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate – numbers 1-3 in order of Presidential succession – along with most of the members of the US Congress trapped and surrounded. The terrorists used social media to coordinate their assault and after being informed that Trump had turned on Pence, planned to take him hostage and kill him. It took the heroic actions of a lone officer with a pistol to turn back the wave of terrorists who made it to the final barrier between the mob and lawmakers, shooting dead an Air Force veteran turned terrorist who betrayed every fabric of her oath when she stormed the Capitol. She died wrapped not in the American flag, but in the pathetic flag of her traitorous-wannabe-dictator-god.
We have a $780 Billion Defense budget, the largest military in the world by orders of magnitude compared to everyone else combined, and yet, a mob of domestic terrorists were able to overwhelm it all in a matter of an hour. They walked armed with open carry weapons at will inside what is supposed to be one of the most secure buildings in the world and ransacked it with impunity. Equally disgusting, it seems many in the crowd were off-duty law enforcement, veterans, and potentially even members of our Armed Forces (both Active Duty and Reserves). Perhaps most concerning, there’s credible evidence some officers charged with defending the Capitol assisted the terrorists in their assault.
This assault should never have succeeded. It wasn’t a surprise – right-wing social media sites like Parler have been broadcasting the Trumpists goal of storming the Capitol for weeks now. And yet, the security around the Capitol seemed to be minimal. Even more staggering, as terrorists took control of the building, Capitol Police rebuffed offers of assistance from nearby law enforcement. Maryland’s governor reports that the Pentagon repeatedly denied his offer to send his nearby National Guard units. One wonders just how high the coordination for this effort goes?
As these right-wing terrorists have been so open and blatant about their intentions, any foreign intelligence outfit worth a damn has been monitoring their online chatter and planning accordingly. One wonders how many foreign agents were embedded among the mob, blended in as part of the crowd, waiting for the breach to occur. Once they gained access to the Capitol – as seemingly over 1,000 people did – who knows what harm they did. How many documents did they steal or photograph? How much malware now runs on Congressional computers? At this point, its safe to assume the entire Capitol and every piece of information stored within it is likely compromised (save anything stored inside the SCIFs). I cannot think of a more stunning breach of security in American history.
I cannot think of a more stunning breach of security in American history.
I’m struggling to determine what’s the worst thing about all of this. Is it the naked fragility of American government, security, and society laid bare for all to see? Is it that we got so staggeringly close to collapse despite all we’ve spent and built to seemingly prevent the very insurrection that just occurred? Is it the tragic end of over 200 years of peaceful transitions of power being a hallmark of American democracy? Is it the massive embarrassment we now will suffer globally? How much credibility and respect did we just lose and what will that cost us? Our allies will stand with us, but our adversaries will take every advantage to press and test us – we no longer appear the mighty global hegemon. Or, is it the fact that Trumpism is a cancer and a cult that has an increasingly growing number of members who are beyond our ability to achieve common understanding of reality and peaceful coexistence?
I know what frightens me most – we’re just getting started. Unless we crack down on these Trumpist terrorists immediately, I fear they will only try a more deadly assault, and soon. Right-wing social media currently reflects an emboldened and enraged population. President Trump, fresh out of Twitter jail but prior to his permanent ban, announced he will not attend President-Elect Biden’s Inauguration. My nightmare is a repeat of January 6 on January 20, only this time the terrorists are way more heavily armed. They won’t stop the Inauguration or decapitate the government, but the national bleeding would continue and I fear, be the spark that ignites collapse.
The first rule of recovery is to admit you have a problem. We have a problem. We are no longer a stable democracy. We are very fragile. It is going to take everything we can muster to heal. The 9/11 era is over. Trumpism killed it and so much else. We need to focus all our efforts on preventing it from killing us. We cannot go on like this, to do so is to invite an awful and unbelievably destructive civil war.
The first rule of recovery is to admit you have a problem. We have a problem.
So how do we excise this cancer?
A couple of recommendations for the incoming Biden administration. To begin and most importantly, we need some sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to cover the entire Trump Presidency. It’s profoundly clear he and his administration are the worst in US history, committed countless crimes, killed untold number of our fellow citizens either through purposeful malfeasance or sheer incompetence, and god only knows what else we will find once we start looking. I fear the process, which is absolutely necessary, may tear us apart. Nevertheless, we must hold them accountable for all their crimes, lest we repeat this nightmare again, only next time with someone far more capable and competent.
Assume the entire US Government’s computer systems are compromised, just about everywhere. We likely need a complete rebuild in most of our critical communications and information management systems. The cost is going to be substantial. The cost of not doing so will be staggering.
We need to reform the current security-clearance review process. The Trump administration has made a mockery of security clearances with traitors like Russian asset Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner, who couldn’t pass the current process and only received a clearance after the personal intervention of President Trump receiving access to our nation’s most guarded secrets. Given the widespread popularity of Trumpism within the ranks of our nation’s law enforcement and military, we likely need to review everyone with a clearance to evaluate if they pose a threat to the US government. The current clearance process asks the following question: “Have you EVER been a member of an organization dedicated to the use of violence or force to overthrow the United States Government, and which engaged in activities to that end with an awareness of the organization's dedication to that end or with the specific intent to further such activities?” If you participated in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, if you belong to an organization which had members who assaulted the Capitol (but you didn’t go personally), then you must answer that question YES. A “yes” should guarantee one does not get or keep a security clearance and the job that comes with it.
Assume the entire government’s computer systems are compromised.
We likely need to purge a great deal of deeply buried Trumpists within the federal government. Trump’s minions have orchestrated a plan that, for now, has them successfully embedded in the bowls of the government – an actual deep state, designed to undermine the Biden administration over the next four years. The mess we have to clean up is beyond comprehension, we have to do it on top of a pandemic, economic downturn, and social strife that’s already crossed into insurrection and is verging on open civil war. We cannot afford a second column from within. The same holds true for state and local government. Trumpism is a cancer throughout the whole American body. We will need a national strategy for dealing with it at all levels of government and society.
Finally, we need our best and brightest to serve. If you love your country, if you ever wanted to make a difference, if you are in need of help and are sick of no-one helping you, we need you. Now. Your country has never needed you more. This is our make-or-break moment. We either find a way to overcome our substantial challenges or we will fracture, splinter, and collapse. Our adversaries are rooting for the latter, I’m fighting for the former. I hope you’ll join me.
Matt Zeller, who used to write Presidential Daily Briefings for Barack Obama, is the Co-Founder of No One Left Behind, a Truman National Security Fellow and an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project. He authored Watches Without Time (Just World Books, 2012), which chronicles his experience serving as an embedded combat adviser with the Afghan security forces in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008. He was the Democratic nominee for Congress in 2010 in NY’s 29th Congressional District, which was a crappy year to run as a Democrat. He earned a BA in Government from Hamilton College and a MPA and a MA-IR from The Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
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