Reflections on the Politics of Character Assassination and Personal Destruction: Yesterday’s, Today’s and Tomorrow’s
The Deep State’s relentless efforts to destroy Mr. Trump remind me of several other instances of successful destruction of once popular populist leaders. The link is populism but “populism” defined, not in the pejorative manner now being used by the corporate media and deluded academics, but in the sense of democracy unrestrained by the institutional fetters that make it little more than an illusion, a concept useful for those who really control the reins of power, but nothing more. Of course, populism comes in many flavors and some are not only wrong, but horribly wrong. That is the nature of real democracy, and of liberty, and of pluralism. None are inherently good or inherently evil. What the four media orchestrated Deep State campaigns I have in mind have in common is only that they involved populist rebellions against the status quo, and that they were, in their time, and even now, singularly squashed. Given what is happening with Mr. Trump today, I ask myself, as I frequently have with respect to others in the past, how much truth is there in what we have been taught and in some cases, why have contrary opinions been criminalized. In my experience, criminalization of thoughts and opinions almost always (perhaps always), means that something meaningful is being hidden. Probably something that might again resonate among the deprecated masses as it had before.
Of the four personages to whom I refer, the first was Napoleon Bonaparte, now to some extent, if not rehabilitated, at least the subject of some historical perspective. Not only was there an organized and well financed attempt after his final defeat to assassinate his character, successful for a time, but he was in all probability actually assassinated as well. Perhaps because Latin Americans, especially in Chile, perceived him as a possible champion and leader. Still, he is remembered for his military prowess rather than for having developed the modern legal and educational systems. And populism in his case, while it started in the context of a democratic revolution, “The” revolution, morphed into a non-democratic variant, as dis the second on my list.
The second shall remain nameless as any attempts to view him in more than one dimension is punishable as anathema, an abomination and perhaps, if society has its way, always will be. Perhaps deservedly so but, for those interested in unabridged truth, perhaps we’ll never know. Yet seemingly, like a zombie, his echoes refuse to stay dead although, who can know whether those who still admire him admire naught but the golem created by his enemies. Kind of like “Satanism”, a straw man creation of the Catholic Church all too useful as a means of maintaining control.
The third person, the one I think about most frequently today, was former United States president Richard Millhouse Nixon. In light of what is happening before our eyes, perhaps he deserves another look. But what a successful hatchet job was done on him, novel then, not so much today. He cursed, like so many political leaders then (and probably now), was racist and perhaps xenophobic, but certainly no more so than his predecessors, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Nor, … if he was corrupt, … any more corrupt than either of them and certainly less corrupt than his successors: William Jefferson Clinton, Barrack Hussein Obama and Joseph Biden. Indeed, the “Watergate scandal that thrust him from office was tame compared to the machinations of the Obama administration in the elections of 2016, but then, times have changed (albeit old perceptions have been cast in stone). I lived through the Nixon era and remember it well, and I recall how much the Deep State hated him, not for the foibles attributed to him, but for having broken the “solid South”, for having ended the War in Vietnam and much more for his unforgiveable opening to China and rapprochement with the Soviet Union, for having ended the military draft and succeeded in obtaining the vote for eighteen year olds. For having proposed not only universal healthcare but also a guaranteed minimum income (something he referred to as the negative income tax). For having established the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Council, the Environmental Protection Agency and for having signed the Clean Air Act of 1970, the initial Clean Water Act (although he vetoed the second) and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. While portrayed as a racist and closet segregationist, he desegregated more schools than all previous presidents combined, approved a strengthened Voting Rights Act, developed policies to aid minority businesses and supported affirmative action. He promoted passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act which established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as well as the Consumer Product Safety Act. Finally, at least with respect to this reflection, he also endorsed the never passed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Hmmm, hardly the monster the Deep State, Democratic Party and corporate media have imbedded in the national conscience and in our history books, but Hell, he was a trouble maker with no respect for the status quo. He was horrible in a bipartisan manner in Latin America, especially with reference to a real 9/11, the one that took place in Chile in 1973, but the Deep State was much more than fine with that, and with the War on Drugs, but those bipartisan accommodations were not nearly enough. And he is dead, finally!!!
So, about the fourth person on my list, the Donald (as he perhaps likes to perceive of himself). It’s hard to believe that the Deep State and its minions would launch a campaign more virulent than that launched against former president Nixon but yet, here we are. I do not support his policies, they treat symptoms and not causes, and his personality, pompous and abrasive, is off putting to say the least, but then again, in context, perhaps no more off putting or abrasive than that of the leaders of the Democratic Party or of the corporate media. It is clear that the populist nerve he touched with his astoundingly unexpected triumphs in 2016, not only in the presidential election but in the GOP primaries, terrified the powers that be in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Contrasted with the ruthless efficiency with which the Democratic Party destroyed its own populist insurgency and turned its leadership into tame puppets, it is no wonder that the Deep State came out of the shadows and did whatever it took, unrestrained, to destroy Mr. Trump in a scorched earth, no holds barred, damn the costs campaign, one that did not end with the manipulated if not necessarily “stolen” elections of 2020. Another truth we’ll never find.
Now, as in the case of the other three subjects of this analysis, political defeat is not enough, destruction is essential, and as in the case of Napoleon, assassination, if necessary, does not seem out of the question. That is at least as true among traditionalist Deep State Republicans as it is among Democrats, after all, he is the instrument through which the populist Tea Party movement wrested control of the Republican Party from the Deep State, and they are terrified that, even having helped overthrow him, they are unlikely to regain control, and if they don’t and he returns, there’ll be Hell to pay. So you have where we are today. Without any good options at all, not that there have been any since … hmmm, I don’t seem to have a “since” in real American History.
As in all four cases, truth today is utterly irrelevant, hypocrisy a positive rather than a negative, and consequences, well they’re something to be dealt with when the populist problem, both from the left (the Sanderistas) and from the right (the Tea Party) has been put to rest and the masses of the Bernie Bros and the despicables utterly defeated. The obvious fear that these four persons enjoyed popular support too widespread to be tolerated needs to be assuaged so that the denizens of the Deep State and their elitist masters can continue to feed in peace. Still, like weeds, their sort keeps popping up.
An interesting observation is that, as in the case of the Trump policies, ruthless as these tactics and strategies are, they only treat the symptoms that give rise to populism, leaving the causes, like the roots of weeds, all too alive and ready to sprout anew. Causes like institutionalized inequity and injustice, institutionalized income inequality, minimized welfare services and rare opportunities for real upward mobility. Causes like the manipulated divide and conquer polarization caused by identity politics that exacerbates rather than resolves social ills such as racism, misogyny, xenophobia and sexism: the causes, issues and realities that give rise to populism on the left as well as on the right, and keep its dying embers alive.
Of course, perhaps “give rise to populism” is an incongruous phrase in a purportedly democratic society. Perhaps, in a non-virulent strain like that found once upon a time among the left wing of the Democratic Party led by the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Dennis Kucinich, populism might still provide hope. But that hope is safely and helplessly mired in the Democratic Party quicksand that keeps its populists immobile and prevents the development of a viable left wing populist movement in the United States.
I wonder what Tulsi Gabbard plans to do next?
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.