Guest post by Ayad Rahim
If it wasn’t clear before, it ought to be by now: the Swamp is playing for all the marbles and going for the final kill.
The campaign to demonize the MAGA movement and to put Donald Trump in handcuffs and behind bars has three goals. The first two are short-term: to capture and hold the attention of the audience (by giving them a thrilling show – feeding Christains to the lions), and to ignite the roar of the crowd for the next couple of months.
The narrow audience for the show is made up of those who have been force-fed a steady diet of all-consuming hate, and have been whipped into a furious frenzy. That bloodlust must be quenched – or, at least, tantalized (as it has been for six years). Those spectators must be kept glued to their seats, as the suspenseful thriller constantly dangles the promise for a cathartic finish – the fulfillment and ecstasy of finally seeing a stake driven through the heart of the vampire, so it can never rise and strike again.
The Hollywood-produced soap opera is scripted to roll out the most dramatic moments at key points in the political calendar and to meet psychic needs. The show also serves the important function of distracting viewers from their everyday lives.
The ultimate goal of this crusade, though, is not to win the immediate battle, but to conquer the entire battlefield. Driving a stake through the heart of the vampire is not only meant to finish off Trump, once and for all, but to drive a stake through the heart and soul of anybody who even thinks of disrupting the Swamp again. The blow to the Swamp’s opponents must be so crushing, that it demoralizes and discourages all those who supported Trump and any other potential enemies of the Swamp. In addition to squelching any possibility of draining the Swamp, the intended psychological effect of the blitzkrieg is to kill hope itself.
As a prominent Never-Trumper put it three years ago:
It’s not only that Trump has to lose, but that all his enablers have to lose. We have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them because if there are survivors, if there are people who weather this storm, they will do it again.
Once the Swamp has wiped out any opposition, it can then move forward without further hindrance. It can also try to undo the past. With total control of the battlefield, the Swamp can officially make Trump’s presidency illegal, and attempt to annul and reverse everything it did.
The big question is, how will the audience react? – that is, if the audience even matters to the actors and producers. To the extent that the audience does matter, the people to watch are those spectators outside the colosseum – those people not avidly enjoying the spectacle.
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American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr proffered two approaches and attitudes toward politics and the public sphere. He called the two camps “the children of darkness” and “the children of light.”
“The children of darkness” have a cynical view of politics, seeing it mainly as a brutal and bloody struggle for power. They have an almost ingrained awareness of evil and of humans’ inclinations for injustice. People in the Old World, steeped in millenia of ruthless fights-to-the-finish, tend to be “children of darkness.”
“The children of light,” on the other hand, have an optimistic view of politics and human nature. They don’t view politics as a struggle for power, but as a channel for positive change. Americans, possessed of a rosy view of life, universal ideals, and sentimentalism, tend to be “children of light.” (Neibuhr included Marxists in that camp.)
Americans’ positive outlook was given birth by people who were products of the Old World. The American children of the Scottish Enlightenment designed a political system that limited the powers and resources of government to such an extent, that there was little there for men of ambition to fight over. The goal was to allow individuals to express themselves and achieve what they could. The new experiment tilled that ground for more than a century, and produced generation upon generation of “children of light.”
Americans therefore came to see government as relatively powerless and harmless – almost irrelevant to their lives. They developed an ingrained trust in the goodness, honesty, and independence of the major institutions of society (the justice system, the courts, law enforcement, government bureaucracies, legislatures, schools, the press), seeing them as fair, beneficent, and unintrusive arbiters and contributors to society.
Neibuhr (who influenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.) believed that the innocent children of light – innocent of the workings of evil and the lust for power – need to be aware of their cynical brethren – to possess the “wisdom of the serpent.”
Unfortunately, America’s bountiful land and its vast oceans (Fortress America) detached and protected its people from the rest of the world. Moreover, those who came to America left the Old World behind, to create a New World (the can-do spirit is synonymous with America). They became a forward-looking people (“that’s history” is a common dismissive) – a young country that lives for the moment and future possibilities, with a notoriously short attention-span.
The denizens of the Swamp are counting on past trends and behaviors to be their strongest allies.
Ayad Rahim, a native of Iraq, worked as a journalist for 20 years, specializing in Iraq and the Arab world; he is a teacher, writer, and bookseller in Cleveland. Ayad blogs at theviewfromhereayad.blogspot.com