How Good People Behave as Monsters
To family members who are loving and caring; to friends who nurse others to safety in times of pain; and to strangers who are kind when they have no reason to be – and all of whom, in the same breath, co-existing with those exact sentiments of love and charity, behave as monsters.
April 29, 2019
Article and Photo By Brian T. Murphy
“Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.”
– Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
When future generations reflect on this uncharacteristic period of political turmoil in American history, it seems obvious to place President Donald Trump at its epicenter. Though his erratic behavior, assault on democratic principles, and daily attempts to redefine fact have placed him perennially in the spotlight, it is us, the American People, who are the true antihero of this story. History will one day detail how otherwise normal people granted power to a narcissistic billionaire, excused his antidemocratic behavior, and lent their support to policies that embedded racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and religious discrimination into the heart of our American democracy. All in plain sight, all while boasting about it. How good people behaved as monsters.
First he spoke out against politicians, but I did nothing – because I was not a politician.
“We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption.” – President Trump, Address to joint session of Congress, February 28, 2017
“Under my administration, we’re fighting against the lobbyists, the special interests, and the corrupt Washington politics.” – President Trump, Elkhart IN, May 10, 2018
Since taking office, President Trump has flooded his Administration with family members, lobbyists, and persons with obvious financial conflicts of interest. He gave jobs and security clearance to his daughter and son-in-law, who have pocketed more than $82 million in outside income while working as Senior White House Advisors. He refused to divest from hundreds of his own businesses and instead moved them into a revocable trust managed by his two oldest sons, and continues to make decisions from the Oval Office that are laden with financial conflicts of interest, particularly with international adversaries. A study by ProPublica revealed at least 187 of President Trump’s political appointees were previously Federal lobbyists. Corruption within President Trump’s Cabinet has resulted in the highest Cabinet position turnover in greater than 100 years of our nation’s history. After only his second year as President, six of his team (either those critical to his election or top appointees) have plead guilty or been convicted of a crime, four have resigned due to ethics or abuse violations, and two have been reprimanded for ethics violations and have remained in their job. A Congressional investigation of the Trump campaign, which was led by a Republican, indicted 34 individuals and led to 7 convictions of persons closely affiliated with Trump. At least five of the seven will go to jail. For what President Trump continuously dismisses as a “witch hunt”, there seems to be no shortage of witches.
"Better Trump’s swamp than Obama’s swamp. At least he’s gonna get us something.” – Mark Ross, Unionville PA
“This is his thing. He is a successful businessman who hires people to get him . . . what he wants. If he has to use swamp people to make America great again, why not?” – Fred Harris, Philipsburg PA
Then he spoke out against journalists, but I did nothing – because I was not a journalist.
“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” – President Trump, CIA Headquarters, Langley VA, January 21, 2017
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” – President Trump, Twitter, February 17, 2017
“I see the way they write. They’re so damn dishonest…75 percent of those people are downright dishonest. Downright dishonest. They’re fake. They’re fake.” – President Trump, Great Falls MT, July 5, 2018
“Stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ...What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.” – President Trump, Kansas City MO, July 24, 2018
President Trump continues to erode credibility in the greatest weapon a citizenry possesses, a free press. He denied White House press credentials to reporters and entire media outlets for publishing columns that criticized him, cited doctored evidence to ban critical reporters from the White House briefing room, and challenged the First Amendment with threats to change libel laws to facilitate lawsuits against news organizations and publishers that portray him negatively. Meanwhile, he simultaneously granted White House access to Alex Jones’ Infowars, a website dedicated to conspiracy theories and false news stories (e.g, 9/11 was an inside job and surviving families of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting are paid actors). A Gallup poll reported a sharp decline in trust for mass media since Trump’s emergence on the political scene, bottoming out at 14% for Republicans, half of that documented in the previous decade. Experts on freedom of expression from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights labeled his attacks on the free press as “strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts.” Finally, on several occasions he advocated for violence against reporters, including his refusal to endorse a CIA assessment that received unanimous bipartisan support denouncing the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by thugs of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In a statement, Trump all but gave permission for state sponsored violence against journalists in the name of protecting the business relationship with “our great ally” Saudi Arabia.
“It doesn’t mean it’s always a hundred percent fake, but the way they frame it is fake.” – Kevin Cooper, Miami
“There’s a lot of rhetoric that needs to get toned down on both sides,” – Pam Franco, Cape Coral
Then he spoke out against Muslims, but I did nothing – because I was not a Muslim.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” – Candidate Trump, reading his own statement at a campaign rally, December 7, 2015
Seldom has using the law to punish a race, ethnicity, or religious group put a legislator on a favorable side of history. After two of his attempts to ban Muslims from entering the US were declared unconstitutional (his Executive Orders violated both our First and Fifth Amendments), President Trump successfully implemented a narrower version. His social media feed reveals the insincerity in his attempts to project a more moderate stance on Islam, as Trump promoted anti-Muslim videos posted by a British extremist organization, sparked fear with lies claiming “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” were part of a migrant caravan headed for the US from Honduras, and promoted unsubstantiated claims that people crossing our southern border were leaving prayer rugs behind. The insidious nature of the latter is the insinuation that a prayer rug, e.g. a Muslim, is correlated with danger to our country.
“I did not agree with him in the beginning. It’s a little better now, it is, but his message is, he is not hating all the Muslims. He is just trying to protect this country as a President.” – Talat Rashid, Bolingbrook IL
“He’s tenacious sometimes and says stuff off the cuff, like we do, like real Americans do, you know we’re not perfect. I’m tired of suave, I’m tired of polished, I’m tired of the teleprompter, I am. I want my country back.” – Anna Para, Youngstown OH
Then he spoke out against immigrants, but I did nothing – because I was not an immigrant.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” – Candidate Trump, June 16, 2015
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” – President Trump describing immigrants from Central America and Africa, January 11, 2018
“You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of maybe thinking about leaving — I can sort of tell the audience — I just say, ‘We will build the wall,’ and they go nuts.” – President Trump, April 8, 2017
Dehumanizing an underrepresented population is tyranny 101. President Trump has waged a massive assault on Hispanics, energizing millions of his followers. He claimed that our southern border is the site of a national emergency, inspiring a wave of ethnocentrism across the US. The facts indicate a different reality. Generally speaking, as of late 2017 immigration at the southern border was at a low compared to earlier decades. During the period of 2010-2017, US Customs and Border Protection statistics show that illegal alien apprehensions at the southern border – a metric commonly used to assess illegal immigration – were at their lowest since 1972. Since imposing stricter border crossing policies in 2018, illegal crossings spiked as legal claims for asylum declined. President Trump justifies the need to charge taxpayers 5.7 billion dollars for a southern border wall based on a claim that drugs enter through gaps between border crossings. The opposite is true. US Border Patrol statistics show that of the major classes of narcotics that were seized in 2018, between 80-90%, occurred at legal ports of entry. The Trump team claimed that in 2018 “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” were apprehended at the southern border. This was a lie based on a previous lie told by Vice-President Mike Pence. US Customs and Border Protection reported only six non-US persons whose names were on a Federal watch list. In reality, it is President Trump’s policies that have terrorized families. He ordered officials to separate children from their parents and grandparents when legally seeking asylum at the border. Over 6,000 family units were separated in a four month period. Children were kept in cages after being removed from their parents. Children died and unaccompanied minors were sexually abused while in custody. A report from the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services revealed that thousands more children were separated than originally reported, that this policy was enacted at least one year before it was officially announced, and that many of these families have not and may not be reunited, since such poor records were kept. This record of lies and hypocrisy is ironic coming from a leader of the Party that cites the importance of family values.
"He does cross that line, but he’s the only one that will cross that line. He’s the only one that will say what’s on people’s minds, and…it’s working. It’s working right now." – Miriam Cepeda, Laredo TX
Then he spoke out against Blacks, but I did nothing – because I was not Black.
“Sadly, the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics – a tough subject – must be discussed.” – Donald Trump, June 5, 2013
“I have a great relationship with the blacks” – Donald Trump, April 14, 2011
What arguably propelled Donald Trump into the political spotlight was his relentless and baseless claims that our nation’s first Black President was not born in the United States. Aside from humiliating a prominent black figure by demanding to see his birth certificate (note: no white President has ever been asked for his birth certificate), he warned that Nigerian immigrants might never “go back to their huts.” Trump’s housing empire was repeatedly charged by the Department of Justice for racial bias against blacks. As President, he stood firm on maintaining public monuments to those who fought for the enslavement of blacks. He described the monuments as “beautiful.” When mostly black NFL players knelt in protest during the National Anthem and forced a conversation toward police brutality against the black community, Trump consistently hijacked the conversation and instead rallied his base around respecting a flag, as opposed to the black body. On several occasions he repeated white nationalist talking points and retweeted white supremacists, including a message from “@WhiteGenocideTM”. An alarming number in his administration have ties to white nationalism. When protesters counter-demonstrated a white nationalist rally, President Trump was explicit that blame was to be found and that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest. Though one can review a chronology of President Trump’s complicated history on race, his actions have far surpassed those of someone who would be considered race-neutral. Collectively, his actions built a bridge between hate groups and the mainstream, and provided access for ordinary people to embrace racist ideology that terrorized generations of Black Americans.
“I don’t look at him as, you know, my pastor or my moral leader, I look at him as the leader as it relates to governmental issues” – Janelle Jones, GA Young Republicans Community Affairs Director, in response to Trump’s statements of equivalence of neo-Nazis and counter demonstrators
Then he spoke out against women, but I did nothing – because I was not a woman.
“I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. …I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married…Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.” – Donald Trump, Access Hollywood recording, 2005
“I just start kissing them…Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” – Donald Trump, Access Hollywood recording, 2005
"Unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man — he made a good decision." – Donald Trump, August 28, 2012
"Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely." – Donald Trump, February 6, 2013
"26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military — only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?" – Donald Trump, May 7, 2013
"Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody. Nobody has more respect." – Candidate Trump, October 9, 2016
Mistakes in the personal lives of politicians should not define their political careers, however it is irresponsible to not draw a link between Trump’s consistent history of disrespect for women and his Administration’s misogynistic legislative agenda. He has publicly called women fat pig, horseface, low I.Q., dog, lowlife, unattractive, fat ass, and bimbo, in addition to confessing that fame affords him the opportunity to sexually assault women and get away with it. Trump directed his lawyer to pay women for their silence about several different alleged extramarital affairs. Twenty-two women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. He used the platform of the Presidency to reinforce misconceptions about why victims of sexual assault often do not file police reports on their assaulters. The Trump Administration proposed a rule for birth control to be removed from health insurance plans, affecting nearly 63 million women nationwide, and affording employers power to dictate how their female employees maintain their own health. He has continuously given states the power to direct and remove Title X funds – money that supports breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and STI treatment – from healthcare providers. This move targets Planned Parenthood, whom over 4 million women depend on for healthcare services. Trump ignored nearly 40 years of scientific consensus and attempted to change a UN resolution that promoted a mother’s breast milk as important to a child’s health, threatening poor countries who sponsored the resolution with harsh economic sanctions. He ended funding for a UN agency that focused on preventing deaths associated with childbirth and provided family planning and child health services in 150 countries worldwide.
“I get a kick out of it…I just sit and yell at my TV, because they twist around what he says and it’s, like, everybody’s so sensitive all the time. He may be blunt, but I can take it.” – Misty Spencer-Sauer, Blackwater MO
Then he spoke out against me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible.” – Candidate Trump, January 23, 2016
From 1980 to the current day, the average income of the poorest half of the US has steadily declined, while that of the richest 1% has steadily increased. Despite rhetoric on the campaign trail, President Trump has instituted catastrophic policies that further gut the poor and middle class and enrich the wealthy. He implemented permanent tax cuts that enrich corporations, and temporary tax cuts that give the middle class relative pocket change and promises of money that will someday trickle down from employers. Funny how money has to run through someone else’s hands first, before reaching the middle class. After the cuts, some companies gave one-time bonuses to employees and a few gave small wage hikes, but predictably, Corporate America took an estimated 437 billion dollars of tax cut money and bought back shares of their own stock in record numbers. In other words, they gave billions to themselves and shareholders, and threw a few peanuts to employees. Despite this agenda that would allegedly lift up the working class, job growth remained consistent with times before the tax cut that extends back to nearly eight years of the Obama Presidency. President Trump also changed the estate tax to greatly benefit wealthy families. Tax reform was only one part of his efforts to empower corporations and fix laws to favor the wealthiest Americans, a group that includes himself.
The Trump Administration is carrying out a clear anti-labor/anti-union agenda, as evidenced from a long list of infractions against the American worker. As President, he furloughed nearly half a million federal workers to demand five billion dollars for a border wall, and simultaneously froze their pay and denied them an annual raise, citing need for fiscal responsibility. At the same time he was exposed as a hypocrite when his long record of hiring and underpaying undocumented workers was revealed. He removed orders that mandated pay transparency and required federal contractors to report safety and discrimination violations against employees. His Administration started a trade war with allies and adversaries alike that resulted in major losses to US soybean, pork, wood, automotive, solar panel, and oil industries, and made some farmer’s products less competitive on the global market. His Administration made it easier for companies to deny coverage for citizens who are sick or have a preexisting condition (estimated 52 million Americans), proposed rules that would have allowed insurance companies to charge sick people higher premiums, undermined Medicaid expansion despite bipartisan support from voters, and eliminated funds designated to sign Americans up for healthcare benefits (affecting 34 states).
Finally, President Trump poses a threat to our safety at home. His Administration implemented a sweeping legislative agenda that made corporations less accountable for poisoning and polluting our public space. He does not believe in climate change. He spreads misinformation about vaccinations. His Administration granted security clearance to individuals with questionable financial and foreign influences. He has consistently undermined the US intelligence community by openly opposing and even publicly ridiculing national security assessments from the CIA, FBI, and NSA. Contradicting conclusions from eight agencies, he continues to deny one of the most significant attacks on our democracy this past century by Russia, and personally praised the man who orchestrated the attacks on an international stage. His Administration actively thwarted attempts by then Head of Homeland Security Nielsen to prepare for further assaults on US democratic elections in 2020. Although Robert Mueller’s Special Council investigation did not support the claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials, it absolutely demonstrated active cooperation with Russian entities to undermine our democratic elections, revealed clear attempts to obstruct justice, and unearthed guilty pleas from 34 people and 3 companies “including top advisers to President Trump, Russian spies and hackers with ties to the Kremlin.” Additionally, President Trump is a central figure in at least 10 ongoing investigations involving illegal use of finances and foreign lobbying. It is quite telling that his campaign manager, personal lawyer, and national security advisor have all been convicted of lying about relations with Russian officials during this period.
Donald Trump is a man who lied about the extent of his inheritance for five decades. His very origin story of a self-made billionaire was a lie. Completely fabricated. In addition to his large inheritance and constant support from his father’s wealth, he engaged in tax dodging, money laundering, and fraud to become a billionaire. He has no record of public service, and spent his entire life promoting one product: himself. So is it surprising that when elected to public office he behaved in his own interest? No. But the stories he told that were so glaringly false, were exactly what many of us wanted to believe. Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Businessman. Christian. Straight talker. Protector of America’s Middle class. And many continue to make excuses for him to the current day.
President Trump embodies America’s very real dark side. He is us. We do not love the poor. We criminalize them. We do not support family values. We break families apart. Those escaping violence in countries we helped destabilize aren’t refugees, they’re illegal human beings. We brag that all lives matter, except when those lives are women, people of color, or immigrants. We do not value humility, we worship boldness. We worship money. We jail rather than treat, yell rather than listen, and profit rather than give.
We are the United States of America and we proudly hide behind the subtle tone of white nationalism that drives the promise to make our country “Great Again.” Great Again. Great, when blacks weren’t complaining about being killed by police, or when women weren’t complaining about being sexually abused, or when immigrants and immigrant children weren’t coming across the border to “steal” the minimum wage jobs Americans allegedly wanted for themselves. We are the true antihero in this story. We, the American Public, are the monster.
A similar lesson is portrayed in Martin Niemoeller’s haunting reflection of the roundup of Jews in 1930s Germany. Complicity manifested itself as excuses – like the many quotes from ordinary people above – as a divided population lay defenseless at the mercy of the State. When the sun set and soldiers of totalitarianism stormed forth, “there was no one left to speak for me.”
We helped tear down democracy’s great safeguards: governance through negotiation and concession, regulations that prevent massive wealth inequality, and confidence in a free press. We are not only the perpetrators of these crimes, we are the victims. Dissidents are quick to blame President Trump for his legislative agenda, but as those who lived under autocratic rule have warned, authoritarianism is a power that is often granted and endorsed by the people themselves. We knew who he was. He told us so. We elected him anyway. Our redemption will be a long struggle that looks inward rather than outward, and this journey can begin by re-appropriating a mantra that intoxicated nearly half our country just a few years ago. Make America Humble Again. Make America Think Again. Above all else, Make America Love Again.