“The criminal underworld, in all its pathology of violence and cruelty, is our world unmasked.” What must we do in order to make America respectable again, and regain some semblance of the paradise we enjoyed under a functioning, if imperfect, Democracy?
by: Arthur Hoyle
The main question now hanging in the air for the American people is whether our former president, Donald Trump, will be prosecuted as a criminal by the United States government for his attempt to overturn the result of a legally conducted election that he failed to win.
Most of us who are familiar with the details of this drama are pretty certain that Trump is guilty of sedition. But will our government be capable of asserting that this brazen political power play, carried out in plain view of the public, is in fact the behavior of a criminal? The question implies interesting parallels between the dynamics of our political system, based as they are on the competing interests of power groups seeking dominance, and the dynamics of the criminal underworld, whose methods and goals differ in degree but not in kind from the operations of our government.
Trump is such a fascinating, hypnotic figure because he bridges these two worlds — the criminal world of the grifter and con man who lives by lies and threats he fashions to suit his selfish purposes, and the legitimate world of respectable public officials who play by the rules, rules that they themselves have written. He shows us that these worlds are really two aspects of the same social reality, a reality in which illusion is the main currency of control because the true decision makers — the extremely wealthy elite — are hidden from public view, their motivations felt but undisclosed, like mafia chieftains. The criminal underworld, in all its pathology of violence and cruelty, is our world unmasked.
If we think of the criminal underworld as a reflection and counterpart of respectable society that throws into sharp relief its latent tendencies, then Trump can be thought of as a malignant figure who has blurred the distinction between them, or, to put it in human psychological terms, who has brought our collective unconscious to the surface. In doing this he has given voice to a wide swath of the American citizenry who are disaffected with both the direction and principles of Democracy. This group (poorly educated, suckers for irrational conspiracy theories, given to violence in speech and action) has been taken up the Republican Party and used as a cudgel to batter our most sacred institutions, including our electoral process and our Supreme Court. The January 6th insurrection was the breakthrough of these unconscious forces into our collective consciousness. It’s no surprise that one of the instigators is the wife of a current Supreme Court justice who continues to preside without shame or apology.
Since the American people, well knowing Trump’s widely publicized personal history of fraud and deceit, and his self-confessed impulse towards criminal behavior, nevertheless chose him to be our president, then perhaps the values he professes and lives by are in fact our values, the sheen of respectability glossing them stripped away. In other words, is Trump America’s dark unconscious, a satanic rebel with legions of followers, fallen angels all, thrust into the light of day? And if so, what must we do in order to make ourselves respectable again and regain some semblance of the paradise we enjoyed under a functioning, if imperfect, Democracy?
One hopes that the Department of Justice, acting on the evidence that is now in plain view thanks to the work of the House January 6 Committee, will have the courage to bring charges against Trump and his abettors, that our current president will have the courage not to pardon him so as to avoid unpleasant political repercussions, as in the case of Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, that a jury will have the wisdom to weigh the evidence objectively, and that if Trump is convicted, a judge will have the courage to impose a sentence that will deter others from following in Trump’s footsteps.
But even these measures will not drive a stake through the heart of the vampire that is sucking America’s lifeblood. The vampire is the legacy of slavery in the Old South that corrupted our republic at its birth by placing economic gain above human dignity and now persists as hatred for “the other,” an emotion often summoned by Trump at his Make America Great Again rallies, and greeted with rapturous cheers by his followers.
America is in need of a great healing, but this healing cannot occur through institutional means, even the rendering of accountability and justice for criminal behavior. The healing must come from the hearts of all Americans. It can be expressed at the ballot by rejecting the advocates of fear and hatred, but it must be lived in our day to day interactions with each other through our work, our recreation, our families, our friends, and strangers that we meet. We like to think of ourselves as a Christian nation. Wasn’t love the message of Jesus?
Arthur Hoyle is a former educator and documentary filmmaker, now writing non-fiction. His biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published in March 2014 by Skyhorse/Arcade. In March 2020 Sunbury Press published his second non-fiction book, Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, a collective biography of exemplary American men and women whose lives span the history of America since the Puritan settlements in New England. The book was a Finalist in the Biography/Historical category of the 2020 National Indie Excellence Awards and the Winner in the Historical Biography category of the 2021 Independent Press Awards. He has also published essays and reviews in Huffington Post, Empty Mirror, Counterpunch, AIOTB: As It Ought To Be, and Terror House Magazine. He now regularly reviews biography for the New York Journal of Books. Visit www.arthurhoyle.com for links to his work and his podcast interviews. He was born in New York City, and worked professionally in Los Angeles after receiving his M.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California.