On September 11, 2001, I was a recent college graduate, dutifully working at my computer when I heard my coworker Kenny call out, “Terrorism! Terrorism!” I laughed.
At that time, I was 21 years old, and during my lifetime, I only knew terrorism as a theme in action movies. Throughout my youth, terrorists were usually Russian. After that day, they’d usually be depicted in film and television as Middle Eastern.
My initial instinct when I saw footage of the first airplane hit the World Trade Center was that it was a fluke — the radar must have been down or something. Then with the second plane…I naively suspected that, yes, it was a technology problem. What else could it be, I wondered, even with Kenny continuing to call out “terrorism!”
Then an airplane hit the Pentagon — which my father, who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense often visited — and everything changed. I understood terrorism in real-life terms. Next came the Patriot Act and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Every day, government agencies and news media replayed traumatizing footage, encouraged contempt for foreign and American Muslim people, and conditioned our anxieties to respond to color-coded terrorism warning levels issued daily. Shoes and belts came off at airports; laptops came out of luggage. It was a new U.S.A., and a newly patriotic one, in which patriotism meant assessing our neighbors as potential enemies of the nation.
All this bothered me, which must be evident by what I’ve written up to this point. I was brought up to reject racial and cultural prejudices up until that point, and then suddenly I was supposed to resent or even hate certain others. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even think to regard fellow American people — save the occasional severely mentally ill person — as enemies of the United States, no matter what they looked like, what name they assign to a god or gods.
Donald Trump’s second greatest “accomplishment” has been inciting American people, whose latent hatred has been actively encouraged and finally deployed as a weapon, to actually turn against their own government.
January 6, 2021 — a day that will live in infamy — was a day that rivaled September 11, 2001.
On that day, as the world knows, Donald Trump devotees (History will have to sort out what to call them, but they tend to use the acronym MAGA as their sigil, intermixed variously with Trump’s visage, flags of the long-dead white-supremacist Confederacy, sometimes swastikas.) stormed the United States Capitol Building. In Donald Trump’s name, they broke windows and furniture, smeared feces on the hallowed Capitol walls.
They bludgeoned a police officer named Brian Sicknick to death with a fire extinguisher.
Donald Trump released a video telling these people “we love you” and “you are special.”
There was a lot of clasping of pearls at Trump’s comments, but of course they echoed his “very fine people on both sides” comment after American Nazis and other white supremacists bearing MAGA hats and Confederate and swastika flags, murdered a woman named Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.
I have to say this: I saw this coming. Not the exact circumstances, but the scale and scope of them, and the betrayal of this country.
Back in November 2015, I was disturbed by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s words. I recognized their nature as similar to, if not inspired by, those of an early career Adolf Hitler — according to what I had learned from various reading and documentaries over the years.
To exorcise my worries, I wrote them out. (Yes, that is what I am doing here.)
Here is part of what I wrote in 2015:
A glance at Trump’s Twitter feed on any given day reveals that “winning” is still his motivation. Trump’s only vested interests are (as stated) realizing the United States’s global superiority again and (as demonstrated) being first in the polls so that he can call himself a leader, and in his effort to do so, he panders to all of us and tells us we should be first. The ways by which he wants to do this have become inexplicably and frighteningly contagious among the American people, and taking the actions he proposes would be adding gasoline to the fiery words the man is spewing.
Donald Trump is a recollection of what I learned in the history was the greatest atrocity of the past, not a beacon of hope for the future of the United States. The only place his presidency would lead us is straight to hell.
I shared this with an editor from a national magazine with whom I had been corresponding occasionally. He replied that “any comparison between the United States and 1930s Europe is hyperbole and not something we would consider publishing.
I was embarrassed to have been shamed for my apparent ignorance and my over-the-top worries.
Yet I knew that my instinct was not wrong (I knew it.) even as I understood that people’s baseline optimism was obstructing what they should have seen clearly. That’s why I wrote:
The truth is that most of us assume that people’s natures are better than the worst-case scenario, or that society collectively makes wiser decisions and certainly takes saner actions than are required for atrocities such as the European holocaust to occur. And the truth is that most of us are wrong about that.
Now that events have come and gone, I can finally admit that I clearly envisioned Donald Trump as the president of the United States as far back as April of 2015, and I clearly envisioned history-making catastrophe resulting from his leadership.
However, my vision was not imaginative enough to suggest that the terrorism we would experience under Donald Trump’s command would come at the hands of a nationwide cult of devout believers not in any particular ideas, but in Donald Trump as some sort of infallible deity — for all his failings.
This cult is not motivated by a set of religious philosophies so much as any philosophy or wild theory that contradicts what is.
Not all people in the MAGA cult believe all things that MAGA cultists believe, but all believe some of them, and it seems their ideas are quite malleable, changing according to what Donald Trump permits them to believe.
Most seem to think that the ‘Deep State’ — that is, the United States government — exists to take away their rights.
Many believe that COVID-19 is some sort of political manipulation — precisely because Donald Trump immediately politicized the virus according to its origins (“the China virus”), protections from it (masks are a violation of your freedoms), preventing it through medical technologies (who needs vaccines when the virus is a ‘hoax’?), and so on.
Onto these messages, conspiracy theorists who worship at Trump’s altar have grafted notions about masks causing brain damage (the government’s intention, they say, to dumb down the population), vaccines are nothing but a conveyance for injectable government-controlled microchips (mass mind control) and/or a deadly means of killing off masses of people. Yet most of these people do not acknowledge any risk from the virus that has actually killed nearly 400,000 American people as of today.
Ostensibly, the insurrection/domestic terrorism that occurred on January 6 was brought about by Donald Trump’s MAGA adherents believing, because he has told them, falsely, and because Republican leaders have told them falsely, that he actually won the presidential election and that Joe Biden “stole” what is rightfully his.
Actually, the insurrection and domestic terrorism that occurred on January 6 probably would have happened under any other guise that Donald Trump and sympathetic Republican leaders might have dreamed up. Trump and his powerfully talented disinformation artists — Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, Sean Spicer, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and others — have long conditioned their believers to believe anything. Anything at all.
The true counterpoints to facts, as Kellyanne Conway has said, are alternative facts, not fiction or fantasy. And so it is. It is their reality.
Chaotic thought, constant shifting from one idea to another idea to another, combined with fear induction, paranoid notions, self-victimization and permission to dissatisfied people to feel like victims themselves of any ‘other’ group — all of this is characteristic of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, just as it was of Adolf Hitler’s. Make the people feel unfairly burdened by an enemy, name the enemy, deploy the people to destroy the enemy. Donald Trump has been working for at least five years to name the United States government itself and the press as enemies of the people — as all dictators-in-the-making do.
And the resulting chaos, the madness of this nation today, is the direct result of it. It was not foreseeable. But people would not look at what has been in front of us all this time.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric has divided minds from themselves, has interrupted thought, has reprogrammed people’s perceptions in exactly the same way a charismatic cult leader does. People die in cults, and many cults collapse to tragic effect for their leaders and their adherents.
The United States is host to a very large, loosely organized cult right now.
That cult was charged with storming the United States Capitol — a virus attacking the brain of its own host.
This virus is Donald Trump’s second-greatest accomplishment.
This Trump Top 10 series is dedicated to Ivanka Trump.