Laughing at Trump's 'backward' pants won't save us from the 21st-century gulag
Last Saturday, Donald Trump made the first stop on his 2021 revenge tour, making his first large-scale public appearance before his cult members since the January coup attempt and his followers' attack on the U.S. Capitol.
During a speech at the North Carolina Republican Party convention, Trump continued telling the Big Lie about the 2020 election, claiming it was "stolen" from him (and therefore from the Republican Party and its voters). He claimed that the Biden administration has already "failed," which is true only to the extent that Biden's agenda has been blocked by Republican intransigence (enabled by misguided Democrats).
Trump's malignant narcissism was on full display as he took undeserved credit for the coronavirus vaccines and claimed he had saved the country from the pandemic. He rambled at times, bordering on incoherence. He made ignorant and racist attacks on "critical race theory." In short, Donald Trump was his usual self, but a little worse.
Trump experienced other "difficulties" during his speech, or so many Democrats, liberals and other Trump-haters convinced themselves.
On social media and elsewhere, many viewers indulged in elaborate "trutherism," claiming that Trump was wearing his pants backward and that they were made of some material designed to absorb wetness caused by incontinence. Other viewers claimed they could see urine stains that had soaked through Trump's purported adult diapers. The hashtag "#DiaperDon" would trend on Twitter over the weekend.
On Monday, "The View" — the daytime talk show popular precisely because of its vapid, overheated "debates" about politics — discussed the critical issue of Trump's trousers and supposed incontinence. The resulting online frenzy introduced the innocent and uninitiated to the slang term "FUPA."
For the record, the fact-checking website Snopes has debunked the claims about Trump's pants. They had a zipper in the normal position and were not backward.
But millions of Americans, and no doubt others around the world, had a good laugh — supposedly at Trump's expense. But this mockery was not a resistant act against power, similar to the jokes often told by Black human property about slave masters, and white people more generally, to affirm their own humanity in a society dominated by white supremacy.
Steve Schmidt, a former Republican strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project (he has since resigned from the organization), was even more direct. Last Saturday, he sounded the alarm via Twitter:
Some have posited that Trump's loss, social media bans, and inability to sustain a blog are evidence of his decline, irrelevance and diminishment. These people are fools and their delusions are dangerous for the survival of American democracy. We are at an hour that requires people to wake up. Trump is powerful and he is a clear and present danger to our democratic society and national stability.
Trump has the ability to kill and destroy with the spoken word. His words; his lies, delusions and conspiracy theories have caused bloodshed. That is what happened on January 6th. His words will surely kill again.
These are warnings from former Republicans, who understand all too well the monster that is today's Republican Party and Trump's neofascist movement. They helped to create the monster, after all, and made this moment possible. They must live with that — and the American people must heed their warnings if the country's democracy is to be saved.
In a new essay at his website, historian Timothy Snyder — author of the bestselling book "On Tyranny" — also explores the impending disaster that awaits American democracy:
9/11 led us to the invasion of Iraq, the foreign policy disaster that marked our century. 1/6 leads us to a catastrophe on that scale, but inside our own country. It is not at all clear that the plan to take power undemocratically will work, but it is clear that it will generate a lot of resistance. African Americans are right now being told the absurd lie that the problem in America is that it is too easy for them to vote. As the scenario plays out, all Americans will face an open denial of everything they have been told about their country.
In such a scenario, it is not clear what the armed forces or civil servants would do. Most likely they would fracture. An oath to defend the Constitution is hard to honor when it is unclear what it means. Both those who were stealing an election and those who were defending votes would claim that the Constitution was on their side.
The Supreme Court would rule, but would anyone pay attention? Those who have decided to overthrow democracy believe that the Court is on their side, which is why they are proceeding as they are. If they were proven wrong in January 2025, it would be too late; they would not change course. Those who are defending voting rights expect the Court to rule against voting, since that is what it generally does. If the Court rules against voting in the setting of antidemocratic regime change, this will seem screamingly illegitimate to a very large number of Americans. No Court, no Constitution. No Constitution, no rule of law. No rule of law, widespread violence. The collapse of the United States follows.
America is rapidly approaching the endgame of democracy. In this moment, the American people and their leaders will either decide to do the hard work necessary to be a true and representative multiracial democracy or instead surrender to fake populism and one-party white supremacist rule.
At this moment I am worried that the epitaph for America's democracy will read, "We laughed — and when we stopped laughing all we could do was cry."
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