The Cancer Cult, Part 2: Democracy
I am your voice. I alone can fix it.
— Donald Trump, acceptance speech, at 2016 Republican National Convention
Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me.
— Donald Trump, as quoted from notes on December 27 phone call to acting U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Rosen
Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild.
— Donald Trump, December 19 tweet
We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.
So, we are going to — we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol … So, let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.
— Donald Trump speaking at Ellipse in D.C. on January 6, before mob stormed the Capitol
[This is the second blog of a three-part series. In the first blog, posted on August 17, we examined the impact of the Cancer Cult on the nation’s physical health. In this blog, we examine the cult’s impact on the health of our democracy. And in the third blog, we assess its impact on the nation’s mental health.]
The Cancer Cult is destroying our nation’s democracy. It is not killing democracy in one fell swoop. Instead, it is infecting the nation with a cancer that has metastasized across the country.
That cancer has been spreading for more than five years. It is now in stage 3 or 4, and if not cured within this decade could very well be terminal for the system of government the Founders envisioned.
This cancer has had an effect throughout and across the body politic. Its most obvious inflection and infection points include: the promotion of the Big Lie; the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6; suppression of voting rights; an unrestricted emphasis on individual rights and freedoms; and ignoring the pillars of democracy.
The Big Lie and Liar
Former president and cult leader Donald Trump is the originator and perpetuator of the Big Lie that he won the election but it was stolen from him. He began telling this lie before he lost, stating that there was no way he could lose in a free and fair election. Trump said similar things during his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton.
After he lost the election to Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes nationally, Trump doubled down on the Big Lie, and has repeated it incessantly in spite of there being absolutely no valid evidence to support his assertions.
Prevarication is the name of Trump’s game, not only for his election loss, but also for how he conducted his presidency and candidacy for President. The Washington Post reports that during his tenure as president, he told more than 30,500 untruths. His most memorable “alternative facts” include: Mexico is going to pay for the wall; this is the biggest inauguration crowd ever; Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
The cult members have swallowed all of those lies hook, line, and sinker. He would not have been able to perpetrate his unverified and unsubstantiated Big Lie claim, however, if he had not been aided and abetted by his acolytes — those elected Republican officials in the House and Senate who questioned the election results and voted not to confirm Biden’s election on January 6.
The Big Lie inhibits the peaceful transfer of power, which, as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), a member of the January 6 Committee so correctly put it, is at “the heart of our democratic system.” The Big Lie is cutting out America’s heart.
That does not matter to Donald Trump because, in fact, this is the way that the former president, now cult leader, has lived his entire life. That’s a story for another day and for others to tell. Sadly, Trump’s lifestyle has now ensnared a tribe of followers who, in conjunction with their leader, threaten our democracy – both literally and figuratively.
The Assault on the U.S. Capitol
If the peaceful transfer of power is the heart of democracy, the U.S. Capitol is the symbol of our democratic government. On January 6, a group of insurrectionists, enraged and emboldened by then President Donald Trump, stormed and defiled that symbol and brought our democratic government itself to its knees.
Some have said this assault was the result of spontaneous combustion. It definitely was not. There was a considerable amount of advance planning among conspiracy groups such as the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters. In addition, a number of self-identified QAnon conspiracy advocates have been arrested for their participation in the unsavory event.
Others blithely maintain that the attack on the U.S. Capitol was more like a walk in the park than an assault. In spite of videos clearly showing otherwise, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) maintains, “By and large it was a peaceful protest, except for there were a number of people, basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol. That’s really the truth of what’s happening here.”
Even more outrageous is the assessment of Rep Andrew Clyde (R-GA), who stated, “You know if you didn’t know the TV footage was from a video of January the 6th, you would think it was a normal tourist visit.”
It is highly unlikely that any viewers of the video, with the exception of Representative Clyde, would think that way — especially the legislators who were trapped in the Capitol by these “peaceful protesters and tourists” roaming the halls of Congress and forcing their way into barricaded rooms.
Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking on the Senate Floor after the rioters had been cleared from the Capitol Building on January 6, said “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president, but today, first thing you’ll see. All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
While the rioters were breaking and entering on January 6, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called President Trump and asked him to intervene “to stop what was going on inside the Capitol.” The exact nature of their conversation on that day has not been fully reported.
What has been documented is what Leader McCarthy said one week later on January 13th. On that day, McCarthy assigned blame, stating:
The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump, (to) accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully complete his term.
Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined McCarthy in criticizing Trump. On February 13, after voting to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial, McConnell delivered a blistering denunciation of the former president from the Senate Floor.
In his speech from the Senate floor, McConnell stated unequivocally, “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for the events of the day.” During his speech, McConnell also opined that Trump’s actions around the attack were “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
There is absolutely no question about it. Those rioters who came to Capitol Hill were there at the behest of Trump. They were there to try to stop the Electoral College vote.
They were not there to “stop the steal.” They were there to try to steal. That’s the bipartisan verdict, plain and simple.
Graham, McCarthy, McConnell. Three strikes and Trump should be out.
But in this democracy run amuck, he is not. He and the cancer culture are prevailing. It gets worse.
Suppressing Voting Rights
If the peaceful transfer of power is the heart of democracy, and the U.S. Capitol is the visible symbol of our democratic government, the right to vote is the lifeblood of a vital and vibrant democracy.
In 2021, members and supporters of the Cancer Cult are trying to take away and limit voting rights. This is being done in spite of the fact that this past national election was conducted in an exemplary manner.
Due to the diligent and impartial work of election officials in all of the states in these United States, with assistance from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the election went off smoothly and with no major incidents. On November 17, after reviewing the election results, CISA released a statement that there was no evidence that the election was rigged, and it was “the most secure in American history.” Immediately following this, Donald Trump fired CISA’s director Christopher Krebs.
On December 1, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a staunch defender of and advocate for Trump, reported that the Justice Department had not discovered any fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” Shortly thereafter, on December13, rather than having the Trump hammer fall on him, or be forced to possibly be complicit in some malfeasant act, Barr submitted his resignation letter.
Because they were not successful in negating or reversing the results of the 2020 election, the attention of many at the state level has turned to suppressing the vote in future elections. The Brennan Center for Justice found that “Between January 1 and July 14, 2021 at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the vote.” The Center also observed that during 2021 legislative sessions more than 400 bills were introduced in 49 states to restrict voting access.
The Brennan Center’s findings are frightening, because they bring back memories of America’s past when voting was not a right for all citizens. The Constitution originally granted the rights to vote only to white property- owning males over the age of 21.
It is instructive to remember that in this country women did not get the right to vote until 1920, when the 19th amendment to the U.S. constitution was ratified. And African Americans were not fully enfranchised to vote until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ratification of the 24th Amendment eliminating the poll tax in January 1965.
Just as there was a need more than half a century ago, there is a need now to pass federal legislation to advance and protect the voting rights of those who could be disenfranchised because of restrictive state voting laws. There are two pending pieces of legislation — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — which would accomplish this.
The House has passed both.
At this juncture, it is uncertain whether the Senate will pass either.
In conclusion, a record number of eligible voters voted in the 2020 national election, with nearly two-thirds of all voters turning out, compared to around 61% in the 2016 and 2012 national elections. Voter participation is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. The goal going forward for this country should be to increase voter participation, not to retard it.
Exploiting The Right to Be Wrong
It is ironic, but understandable, that while many in the cancer culture would suppress voting rights, they would elevate individual rights and freedoms for themselves. That position is understandable because, since the founding of this country, citizens have been mistrustful and fearful of a strong national government.
The original version of the Constitution drafted in 1787 included no Bill of Rights. As citizens in the states reviewed that version, they were concerned that it gave too much power to the central government, and would result in tyrannical rule and violations of civil rights similar to those experienced under British rule. As a result, the ten amendments that became known as the Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution and it was ratified on September 25, 1789.
The Bill of Rights was a landmark component of the Constitution. The first four amendments deal with retaining affirmative rights, and the second six prevent negative actions.
We assume that most citizens are aware of only three of those amendments: The first amendment – the right to freedom of speech; the second amendment – the right to bear arms; and, the tenth amendment – reserving the rights not specifically delegated to the federal government to the states.
We further assume that the vast majority of citizens do not have an in-depth understanding of any of those three rights, nor that with those rights come responsibilities. It is this paradoxical condition that leads those in the cancer cult to claim unabridged freedom for themselves, and to state that any rules or guidelines that protect the citizenry or society in general are undemocratic and infringe on their rights as American citizens.
The Cancer Cult would label their advocacy for themselves and their individual rights as patriotic. It is not. Patriotism puts loyalty to the country first, not allegiance to a cult and the cult’s leaders.
A solid civic education provides the foundation for patriotic behavior. Our American Voice ® (https://ouramericanvoice.org/oav-schools/), a civic learning and engagement program for middle school students, does a good job of articulating the core principles for good citizenship and patriotism. They are:
- Citizenship is a way of life, not a singular event
- With our rights and freedoms come responsibilities
- The success of the individual and community are interdependent
- The informed participation of the people shapes and sustains our democracy
The members of the Cancer Cult probably are unaware of these four core principles. Or perhaps they do not accept them. Either way, their behavior puts this democracy at risk.
Members of the cult, like all American citizens, have the right to be wrong. What they do not have is the right to put the lives and rights of others at risk in order to pursue and exercise their own freedoms to the exclusion of the common good.
Me and Bobby McGee, one of the most popular song of the late 60’s/early ‘70’s, written by Kris Kristofferson and recorded by Janis Joplin, has the famous line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” In 2021, if the Cancer Cult’s view of what freedom is becomes dominant, the American democracy will have nothing left to lose, because it will no longer exist.
Democracy in Decline for Decades
Some might mistakenly place all of the blame for the decline of our democracy on Donald Trump and his faithful followers in the Cult.
Truth be told and — and, as we have said, it must — our American democracy has been in decline for decades.
Kurt Andersen, in his book, Evil Geniuses. The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, traces the unraveling back to the late 1970’s and the 1980’s. Andersen’s portrait is not exclusively of the democracy unwinding. He paints a broader picture, describing the unwinding of our can-do attitude, pioneering spirit, and concern for others, and the triumph of the individualistic, the rich, and capitalistic instincts.
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, in their book, Winner-Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, hone in on the role that the policy-making process has had in making our democracy less equal over time. Hacker and Pierson call out powerful organizations such as big business, and those representing the “elite,” for modifying the rules of the game to place them in their favor.
Geoffrey Kabaservice focuses on what has happened politically to alter our democracy in his book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and Destruction of the Republican Party from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. In an article for the Washington Post, Kabaservice notes that the 87 Tea Party members swept into office in 2010 dramatically changed the Republican Party, reducing its willingness to compromise, and the successor to the Tea Party, the House Freedom Caucus formed in 2015, was “distinctive for its determination to destroy bipartisan cooperation.”
We ourselves opened our book, Renewing the American Dream: A Citizen’s Guide for Restoring Our Competitive Advantage (2010), by stating “If 2009 was the worst of years, 2000–2009 was the worst of decades. It was a decade of decline.” That decline had taken place politically, socially, and economically.
In 2010, we observed that 2010-2019 would be the decisive decade, and that the decisions made and the actions taken would determine the future of America and the American dream.
At the start of 2020, we reflected on the decade 2010-2019 and labeled it “a decade of loss.” Within the U.S, there was a loss of faith in our political system, our government, our institutions, and in each other. There was a loss of hope in the American dream and our democracy. And, as Donald Trump campaigned, and while he served as President for his first three years, there was a loss of charity toward the poor and immigrants.
Given these losses, we stated that 2020–2029 needed to become a decade for recovery. It has not gotten off to a good start in this regard. This is primarily attributable to the actions and attitudes of cult leader Donald Trump and the members and supporters of the Cancer Cult.
The Cancer Cult and Democracy Slip Sliding Away
As we defined it in the first blog of this series:
A cult is a group of people with extreme dedication to a certain leader and set of beliefs.
Our United States democratic republic was on a slippery slope before this decade began. The Cancer Cult has accelerated the slide down that slope in its first two years.
The words of cult leader Donald Trump, as set out at the opening of this blog, have inflamed and provoked the thoughts and deeds of cult members to push democracy to the precipice. When he said “I alone can fix it,” and “leave the rest up to me,” he meant he can rig the system to achieve his ends and their beliefs. When he promised that it “will be wild,” and “we are going to the Capitol,” he implied that there would be mayhem, which he endorsed and would participate in somehow.
There should be absolutely no question that cult leader Donald Trump, in conjunction with his cult members and acolytes, have transformed the Republican Party and are intensifying the spread of this undemocratic cancer though the democracy.
A June survey, done by YouGov for The Economist, reveals the extent of that cancer. It showed that nearly 50% of Trump voters were completely dissatisfied, and nearly 80% were dissatisfied to some degree, with the way the American democracy is working today. More stunningly, the poll shows that 19% of Republican voters “strongly or somewhat” disagree that democracy is the best form of government.
There is no survey that discloses who among those respondents are members of the Cancer Cult. But because of other research and analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that many of them are, and that they are standing by Trump because when he was president he kept the promises that mattered to them, and because they are the true practitioners of “identity politics.”
Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer has been one of the most astute chroniclers and commentators on the Trump political years. He shines a bright spotlight on the promises that Trump has kept in his book, The Cruelty is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump’s America (The Cruelty) published in 2021. In the introduction to The Cruelty, Serwer explains they were “the promises to use the power of the state to wage war against the people many Trump voters hold responsible for the state of the world and their place in it.”
Lilliana Mason, political scientist and author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, supports and expands Serwer’s perspective. She provides excellent insights into the nature of the “Trump cancer cult members” in an August podcast interview on How Identity Politics Took Over the Republican Party on The Ezra Klein Show.
In that interview, Mason reports that she and two of her colleagues had just published a research study, based upon repeat interviews through 2019 with voters who had voted Republican since 2011, when Trump was not on the political radar screen. That study disclosed that there was a group of Republican voters who were distinctly “Trumpish” in their characteristics.
Mason states that these Trump voters resembled other Republican voters on a number of characteristics:
However, for Trump himself and Trump alone, the other thing that predicted whether they would like him was that they disliked Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics and LGBTQ Americans. Any mix of those, but largely all of them. And that animosity towards those marginalized groups did not predict support for the Republican Party.
To summarize this and put the Cancer Cult in a nutshell, they are exclusionary rather than inclusionary. They believe they themselves have been marginalized over the past decades by those in traditionally marginalized groups, and need to recapture their previous status to be worthwhile.
We will have more to say about this state of mind, and the Cancer Cult’s impact on our nation’s mental health, in the final blog of this series. In concluding this blog on its impact on democracy, we turn to the concept of social capital.
Social capital is the glue that holds our American democracy and civil society together. As Isabel V. Sawhill of the Brookings Institution explains, social capital can be exclusive and/or inclusive. A sound democracy needs both binding social capital (ties to people like us) and bridging social capital (ties to people not like us).
The Cancer Cult does not believe in nor accept the need for inclusionary or bridging social capital. Don’t take our words for it. Take those of Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), who is a candidate for Senate in the state of Alabama.
Speaking at the January 6 rally, and wearing body armor to protect himself before the seditionist mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Representative Brooks called upon those in attendance to march to the Capitol “as American patriots” and “start taking down names and kicking ass.”
Not satisfied to leave bad enough alone, after a North Carolina man drove a truck onto the sidewalk outside the Library of Congress on August 19, threatening that he had a bomb to detonate, Representative Brooks sent out a tweet that included the following:
Although this terrorist’s motivation is not yet publicly known and generally speaking, I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to the very fabric of American society.
Brooks concluded his tweet by proclaiming, “Bluntly stated, America’s future is at risk.”
Brooks is correct. America’s future is at risk. It is at risk as long as we have elected officials and members of the Cancer Cult who believe that the “very fabric of American society” should be White only, and the appropriate course of action is to do all that one can to keep it so.
Stay tuned. More to come on the devastating impact of the Cancer Cult on America in the final blog of this series.