The government’s refusal to believe that one of their own could turn on them despite clear warnings (and tons of evidence)
I live in Europe, so it was already evening here when Trump was starting his rally that would set off the coup in the US, attempting to disrupt Constitutional procedure and overthrow the United States government. I went to bed early that night, but woke up at 3am to check the news. By that time, most of the insurrectionists had exited the Capitol building and it was all over.
Like most people around the world, I was horrified. And, like so many people in the US, I was not surprised.
I was, however, fed up.
In the hours and days following Trump’s coup, literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people have pointed out that Trump and his followers had been openly planning this event for months — it was hardly a secret… to anyone outside of the Federal government, that is.
As more and more details come to light, the level of planned violence is chilling. Watching Trump’s rallying speech (and Guiliani’s before his) after the event makes it all the more terrifying, and all the more infuriating that nothing was done to stop it. But I won’t rehash what everyone is already talking about. My anger goes deeper than that.
It’s been said countless times over the past few months about the GOP: they only care when something affects them directly. And while there is a lot of evidence to support this outlook, it’s not so much about either political party, or even gender; it’s about the sequestered, entitled worldview that people in power — whether it’s in political office or the corporate landscape — share. It’s the outright refusal of people in power to believe that a bad person would ever be bad to them, and their habit of dismissing the notion that one of their own members would treat anyone not them in abusive, manipulative, destructive ways. It’s American exceptionalism down to the individual, down to actual Americans: but they would never do that to me.
Several years ago, I was giving self defense classes to a mixed-gender group at a small start up here in Berlin. The employees were young, energetic, and pretty run-of-the-mill for the Berlin start-up scene: everyone was well educated, young, progressive in politics but conservative in clothes — meaning, no one was particularly outlandish in any respect.
One evening, in the few minutes before class started, the women in the group were telling about a homeless man camped out in the building’s courtyard, who they had to pass by to get their office door. As they chatted, the women discovered that the homeless man had flashed his penis at every single woman on her way into the office that day.
The men in the group were shocked. They knew the homeless guy the women were describing, they passed him every day on their way into the office, too. “But…. I’ve never seen his dick,” said each man in attendance.
“Because it’s not for you to see,” the women responded.
The men were literally scratching their heads, trying to figure out how this could possibly be, apparently completely unaware that people like this hide in plain sight, that they could perform and action without these guys seeing it. They were dumbfounded to learn that this happens all the time, that most racist, misogynistic, bigoted, phobic aggressions are either hidden from view or covered up so the abuser’s “peers” (or whoever they believe to be their peers) never see it.
This incident happened in 2017, and the #believewomen hashtag was starting to trend. And we know where that went: #metoo, #timesup, #marchforyourlives, #blacklivesmatter.
And the BLM protests in 2020 were confronted with the same disingenuous response: but, how could there be such deep racism in America? asked every person who apparently never heard the 400 years of people literally crying out in song, in story, in poetry, in art, in film — songs everyone has sung, stories everyone knows the words to, poetry printed on t-shirts, films people have flocked to see.
I think, if I really get down to the bottom of it, what makes me most crazy about everything regarding Trump, including the seditious event of 6 January, is persistence of the people in power refusing to believe their own members are that fucking crazy and destructive, regardless of the frauds, the bankruptcies, the affairs, the prostitutes, the rapes, the underage girls. And, most importantly, regardless of the lived experience of everyone who warned that Trump was far more dangerous than either political party would acknowledge.
It’s the practice of dismissing out of hand the warnings, the evidence, the literal facts that other people’s suffering is real. No matter how much eyewitness, printed, audio and video evidence exists, these people insist that it’s simply not true, and in a single breath blow any concerns away while at the same casting doubt on people’s ability to bear witness to their own lives, which inevitably ends up as victim blaming: it can’t be as bad as you say, you must have misinterpreted what he meant, he’s not really like that.
And what makes me even angrier is that the events leading up to and on January 6th are just an example writ large of those guys in the self defense class, that this inability to comprehend that others could possibly have a lived reality completely different to one’s own — even sometimes involving the same people — is such a blindspot caused by arrogance, entitlement, and a deep unwillingness to ever change the status quo.
It’s not even gaslighting; it’s a literal inability to believe anyone but themselves. It’s isolationist, exceptionalist, narcissistic and arrogant beyond belief.