A Time of Evil

A Time of Evil

A nonbiased reading of the January 6 Commission’s report on Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election finds him guilty of political evil. We know this because we know that if you could somehow magically go back to say, 2000, and change all the names to fictional names and also obscure party identities, an overwhelming majority of US Americans reading the report would say, “What this man did was evil. He tried to destroy our democracy for no reason except that he wants to get to be king forever. He should be barred from any future office. He should probably go to jail. But we will let the courts decide that.”

Let the citizens of USA circa 2000 read the report (shorn of all names and details of party affiliation). Let them listen to the tapes of interviews of those involved; as well as tapes of, for example, Donald Trump telling the Georgia Secretary of State he needs to find enough votes to swing the state Donald’s way. Let them study the material. What would they say? It’s all a big conspiracy theory?

Let our 2000-selves also read over the criminal charges brought against Donald Trump. And let us see the evidence. Let us also see his party pretending that these charges are themselves the misuse of justice. Let us see everything, and we will all say, “This can’t happen in the US. But if it could, it would be evil.”

Let our Year-2000-selves pause and reflect upon the obvious fact that Donald Trump (name changed, of course, to keep us from guessing his party affiliation) was working to effectively end democracy in the US and usher in an authoritarian government with him at the helm. “Authoritarian” is just a word, so let us (the 2000 us) imagine being afraid to speak out against the government because we didn’t want to jeopardize our careers, our positions, and even perhaps, the material and maybe even physical safety of ourselves and our loved ones. Let us imagine living in a country where the leadership is not accountable to the people, and where regular citizens must choose between doing the right thing and protecting their loved ones. Let us (way back in 2000) consider how lucky we are to be able to live in a nation where the people can work together to keep government honest and maintain a community where honesty, good intentions, competence, and kindness are compatible with success in government and life — where you don’t have to lie or turn a blind eye to corruption and cruelty to succeed.

A nonbiased reading of the Republican party’s response to Donald Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election also find them guilty of political evil. We know this via a thought experiment similar to the one above. After letting our 2000 selves examine the January 6th report, let Year-2K-us learn that it is now 2024, this material has been available for years, and here is what the GOP is up to:

Voting against impeaching the man who tried to steal the 2020 presidential election in 2021. And now in 2024, continuing to echo this man’s lies about the stolen election while supporting him as their party’s nominee for the 2024 presidential election — as he continues to double down on his big lie, while also promising to weaponize the federal government to go after his political foes, and while conservative thinktanks draw up plans for the next Republican president to, for example, replace career bureaucrats with party yes-men/-women.

Pursuing an impeachment of the current president without any evidence of illegal activity on his part, while ending investigations into the many iffy-appearing self-enrichments of the president who eventually out and out betrayed the nation’s faith by attempting to steal the 2020 election.

Electing as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives a man who first repeated outlandish conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen, before getting behind an attempt to use a novel reading (contrary to established precedent) of the US Constitution to, after the elections were already over and the votes tallied, invalidate the outcomes of a few critical states. Please also note that if Speaker Mike Johnson’s reasoning about the constitution was correct, almost all the states’ election results should’ve been ex post facto disqualified, including those who elected members of the Speaker’s own party (including, even, the speaker’s home state).

Let the 2000-us read some quotes. Immigrants poisoning the blood of our nation. Media going to learn they can’t get away with lying about the president (they weren’t lying! That’s the punchline that is obvious to us now that we’ve removed party affiliation and recent events and are all resting safe in our old-timey certainty that we believe in democracy and the peaceful transfer of power). The DOJ (sitting on a mountain of evidence) evilly going after me; well, I’m gonna use the DOJ to destroy my rivals!

What would we think? “Here’s a politician like any other.”?

Read the January 6 Report. Do the thought experiment. It is objectively the case that what Donald is up to is evil. It is objectively true that by aiding and abetting his evil, the GOP is being evil. These things are true. These are not political opinions. It is Donald Trump’s thesis that “true”’ and “false” are just weapons that people use to get what they want. This is the thesis behind his evil. If it is true, then there is no meaning, and it is no better to destroy democracy than to preserve it.

Many of his followers would say they disagree with the thesis that “true” and “false” are just weapons to get what you want. Trump himself would probably publicly disagree with the statement. But in practice, he and his followers have signed onto this philosophy. That is why lies run off him like water off a duck’s back.

How is it that so many evangelical Christians have joined this evil? How is it that Speaker Mike Johnson considers himself first and foremost a man of God, and yet he continues to collaborate with the man who in plain view, and with lots of documentation, conspired to replace the will of the people with his own? What does that mean about religion and evil?

Evangelical Christian Trump supporters think they have a relationship with God. They think, further, that God supports their politics, that God supports Donald Trump’s attempts to be president of the nation.

We know objectively that God does not approve of Donald Trump’s behavior. Because God is not a dupe. God does not choose conspiracy theories over reality. And God sees what Donald Trump feels, thinks, says and does.

God sees that a liberal democratic republic is a spiritual Good: It is a form of government where the people can work together to serve as a final check on madness and corruption in government (including criminal behavior against its own citizens), while simultaneously together growing the conversation/community and the government/rule-of-law: It is a form of government where the people work together to make sure people don’t have to choose between doing the right thing and procuring clean drinking water, healthy food, and a safe place for their families.

God is not OK with what Mike Johnson is doing. We know this objectively like we know that God is Love and Love chooses everyone, which we all sense more deeply and profoundly than our arguments for or against the notion that God is Love and Love chooses everyone.

However, we also know that since the beginning of civilization, people have claimed that God was on their side. We can read ancient documents in which people seem completely convinced that God wants them to not just win the battle but to also slaughter all the survivors, except (in some cases) the women, because (in this case here) God would like for them to take the women as their own wives or perhaps concubines, as a reward for their service to God. In short, we know that people are often wrong about God agreeing with their politics.

However, we also know that God did not encourage Adolf Hitler to consolidating power, undermining the Weimar Republic’s fledgling democracy, and charging ahead as a dictator. We know that God doesn’t think it is great that Vladimir Putin has squashed all dissent and made Russia his own princedom. Why do we know this? Because we know that God is for open hearts and minds, for humans loving the Lord their God with all their hearts and souls and minds and their neighbors as themselves. We know that God prioritizes spiritual health, and we know that hurting the systems that keep billions of people safe from the tyranny of thugocracy (rule by whoever can impose their will and silence dissent) is the opposite of prioritizing spiritual health: It is worshipping power for power’s sake, whilst shitting on the spirit.

We know that by supporting and collaborating with Donald Trump here and now in 2024 Michael Johnson and most of the GOP House is currently participating in evil. We know this clear as day. But should we do about it?

It is a difficult moment in US history. The Republican party is now effectively the Power-First party. The Power-First party’s defining characteristic is that it no longer believes in a peaceful, orderly transfer of power after an election — what the Power-First party believes is that all reality is political reality, and the only thing that counts is getting and keeping power. This is the logic of dictators, and it is a logic that ends with political prisoners, political killings, a society afraid to speak the truth in the open, a way of life that assumes corruption and complicity are prerequisites for survival. The Power-First party is an evil organization.

There was more than one young person who, living through the WWII era, had a moment of moral clarity by reasoning/sensing, “Hitler is wrong. Why? Because I say so? Because my teachers say so? Because my parents say so? Because my friends say so? Because my pastor says so? No, because God says so.”

After WWII, many Europeans who had collaborated with the Nazis were allowed to remain in positions of power. It was enough if they hadn’t collaborated too obviously and were willing to completely disavow the Nazis. I guess this was done mostly to keep things moving and avoid further internal strife.

Those who have thus far collaborated with Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election remain in power and continue to echo his lies about a stolen election. They are not disavowing him.

It is not the case that people supporting Donald Trump are reasoning in good faith and simply reaching different conclusions than those who reason that Donald Trump is unfit for office. Those supporting Donald Trump are choosing to aid and abet evil. However, we are in this pickle in no small part because we citizens have lost faith in one another to the point that we regularly dehumanize the other side of the political spectrum — we think they are either so evil as to be hopeless or so clueless as to be hopeless; or, most likely, some combination of spiritually and intellectually inept as to be hopeless.

How can we tell the truth, which requires admitting that Trump supporters are doing something evil; while also healing this rift between us and our political rivals?

People supporting Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign are acting in bad faith. There is a point in which wilfuly choosing confusion, misdirection, and conspiracy theories over a straight-forward, well-supported, plausible account is evil. This becomes more true as the stakes are raised higher. And in 2024, people supporting Donald Trump have had more than ample time to figure out that they’ve been duped — or to admit to themselves that all they ever wanted all along was a dictator who would assuage their prejudices and otherwise make them feel special and glorious and victorious and wise and good and potent. Either way, by now the truth is there splattered all over the walls, and the truth is that supporting Donald Trump is evil.

True: People are very dependent on the people around them and the organizations and systems that they live in. It is difficult either to see how much you are influenced by those around you and the world you live in, or to shake off these influences. It is much harder to see through Trump’s lies if your friends and media-sources are blind to them; but this has been going on for years now: Of you help Trump’s campaign in 2024, you really should’ve known better by now.

I grant you!: People supporting Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign are participating in political evil. And they have at their fingertips more than ample resources to know this. But what we need to do now is figure out how to make things better for everyone before we lose the power to control our own government.

So what should we do?

Donald Trump must lose in 2024.

It doesn’t matter if you are happy with his opponent.

If Trump’s challenger in the primaries is Nikki Haley, she’s a clearly better choice because she has shown a willingness to uphold our centuries-long tradition of a peaceful, orderly transfer of power after the tallying of election votes. Ron DeSantis is a little more complicated a character, but at least we can say of him that we have not seen him try to illegally overturn the results of an election that he lost. That didn’t used to be high praise in a US primary election, but, well: here we are.

If it is Trump versus Biden in the 2024 election, it doesn’t matter if you think Biden is doing a great job or not. Biden will certainly leave office by the end of his term; Trump might very well not. That difference is enough to make clear that Trump must lose if our country is to win.

An election between Nikki Haley and Joseph Biden would be a dream come true. It would be an election like we used to take for granted, one where the essential outcome is predictable: We will remain a democratic republic: We’ll give this configuration of leaders two years to show us what we can do, and then we will reassess, and go from there. However, there’s a good chance we will not get to have that election this time.

This is not the year to bet that for the first time in our nation’s history, a third-party candidate will win the presidency.

This is the year to accept that our situation is not perfect, but it will be made worse if we lose the ability to rein our leaders in with regular, fair, peaceful elections; and that we are quite likely to lose that ability if Donald Trump wins.

This is not the year to be all oh boo hoo, President Biden hasn’t figured out the best approach to this or that national or international problem (you just try it! You try to be president in this moment! You see how well you would do!), or boo hoo I don’t feel like President Biden has made me as rich as I should be, or boo hoo anything!

People have fought and died and suffered and sacrificed everything for political freedom. All you have to do is vote against Trump and for whoever has the best hope of beating him. Is that too much to ask, America?

We like to pretend you have the all the answers — that we and our pundits of choice are wiser, smarter, more patriotic, better than everybody else. But that was never our job. Our job has always been to act as a final check on corruption and madness in government while gently nudging our shared conversation and shared government towards the better and away from the worse. All we are asked to do is to pay attention, tell the truth, and vote in good faith. Why is that so hard?

The other day someone said to me, “I used to not understand how the Nazis took control of Germany; I’ve known so many nice, decent Germans; I didn’t understand how it could happen; but now I understand. I know nice, decent Trump supporters.” Of course, Trump has not gotten anywhere near the point that Hitler reached, but he has shown a willingness to steal our democracy from us, and anyone with any moral imagination can see that, if successful, that theft would harm millions probably billions of people.

Trump is not likely to bring us Hitler’s Germany; he seems to be aiming more for Putin’s Russia: You can’t really safely speak out against the government, and the ruling party always rules; but they aren’t rounding up huge portions of the population into concentration camps. This is not nearly so bad as Nazi Germany. But what Putin has done to Russia is evil; and what Trump seeks to do the US is evil.

And this evil is to some degree created by the unpredictable nature of authoritarian governments. Unbeholden to the popular vote, an authoritarian’s logic is more that of a thug’s than of an honest, well-meaning politician’s. The game is not to rule competently in the best interest of the whole nation and be rewarded at the next election; the game is to keep and maintain power at all costs. And this is a dangerous, unpredictable game — for the tyrants themselves, and for everyone else as well.

What can we say of people who would support Trump in 2024? Humans are neither good nor evil. And we are all very influenced by the people around us and systems we live in. It isn’t true that 2024 Trump supporters are evil. What is true of them is that they are participating in evil, and they have had ample time to figure that out, and they should hurry up and admit they are wrong and reverse course. That is the truth. It is almost certainly the case that in many important ways, many 2024 Trump supporters are better people than many 2024 Trump detractors. But in 2028, if Trump has dismantled our democracy, the world will be a darker place, and it will the fault of those politicians and regular US citizens who supported his 2024 presidential campaign. They will be responsible for a great evil that they really really really should’ve seen coming.

I don’t know what to do. Telling people they are wrong and are participating in a grave evil usually just upsets them. They say you’re wrong and/or evil, turn to those who already agree with them, and stroll on their merry way.

And even those who feel like Trump is worrisome may resent being told that they need to sign on for a full “good versus evil” analysis of current affairs.

But this is the truth. These things are true. It is evil to choose yourself over a democracy within which three hundred million people shelter, and which is also the most powerful weapon in the history of humanity (for a nation is many things, including a giant weapon). And that Donald Trump has made and continues to make this choice is by now very clear.

What do we say? How can we help while the helping can still bring us all to a reasonably safe landing? People resent being told they are wrong. And proving ourselves right is not at all what is needed now. We need to somehow help us all see this clearly for ourselves. How?

Author: Bartleby Willard, self-told tale in a free-falling daydream
Editor: Amble Whistletown, real character in a pretend reality
Copyright: Andy Watson, legal entity and otherwise defined-as-real though not actually-real

These men were not prepared to live in times of political evil. They are not holding up well. They really can’t deal with the situation. They are at a loss. They are shocked and awed all day long. They feel betrayed by their countrymen. They are hurt and angry and sad and terrified and very confused.

And look:

They haven’t even finished reading the January 6th Report!

Who knows?, maybe towards the end it becomes obvious that Donald Trump really is the hero of the story, that the Democrats collaborated with extraterrestrials and Hugo Chavez to steal the 2020 presidential election, and that the only reason anyone thinks otherwise is because they’ve all chosen NPR totes and soft-served yogurt in almond-flavored waffle cones over God and Country.


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