November 15, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump’s vengeance campaign is more than hypocritical
Equal treatment under law is impossible if we leave it at that.
During a recent rally in New Hampshire, Donald Trump said something he’s been saying for some time. He said the indictments against him are reason enough to bring indictments of his own against his enemies once he regains the presidency. “This is third-world-country stuff, ‘arrest your opponent,’” he said. “And that means I can do that, too.”
At first glance, this is the height of hypocrisy. Just because there are indictments against him – which, by the way, were brought for good reasons – doesn’t mean Trump can turn around and bring indictments of his own against perceived enemies, just because he feels like it.
Moreover, “arrest your opponent” is “third-world-country stuff,” right? That’s a bad thing, right? And yet, in the same breath, Trump is saying, once he has the power to do so, that he’s going to do his own version of this bad thing. Would that be “third-world-country stuff”? Evidently, no. His enemies’ bad thing is bad while his own bad thing is good.
“As a psychologist, I believe it’s important to include the role of sadism – or the emotional gratification that’s derived from inflicting suffering on others – in the analysis of those who are preoccupied with compulsively seeking out those who are in need of punishment, and wishing to be the hand that deals out that punishment.”
While this is indeed hypocrisy, it’s more than that. It’s an expression of a particular view of the world in which some people – I have called them “inpeople” – are entitled to say what’s punishable, while other people – I have called them “outpeople” – have no such entitlement. Those who hold this particular view of the world insist on setting themselves apart from the rest of humanity. And, as you have surmised by now, this makes equal treatment under law nearly impossible.
Nearly impossible, but not impossible, as long as numerous enough voters understand that Trump represents more than mere hypocrisy. People like him can hold that particular view of the world all day long if they want to, for all I care, just as long as they don’t have access to power. But he and others are unlikely to be prevented from gaining access to power if most Americans think he’s just being a hypocrite.
To that end, I got in touch with Ian Douglas Rushlau. He’s a clinical psychologist in practice outside Philadelphia who specializes in understanding, and explaining, this particular view of the world, which he calls “fascist.” I began by asking about the place of punishment in it.
JS: Why is punishment so important?
IDR: Punishment is about dominance, who’s in charge. Not that all punishment is wrong, only that who gets to decide what is a punishable transgression, and who determines what is suitable or severe enough punishment, and who metes out that punishment, is whomever (the individual or the group) is in charge, who has power.
Because the fascists’ sole focus is dominance for the sake of impunity – the capacity to engage in violence or threats of violence without consequence – to declare someone is punishable is also immediately, inherently, a declaration of the authority and the power to determine who is the transgressor (the sinner, the apostate, the criminal, etc.)
As a psychologist, I believe it’s important to include the role of sadism – or the emotional gratification that’s derived from inflicting suffering on others – in the analysis of those who are preoccupied with compulsively seeking out those who are in need of punishment, and wishing to be the hand that deals out that punishment. This is why I say that fascists revel in violence with slobbering glee. It really is at that level of creepy depravity, and it is fundamentally sadistic.
JS: Is Trumpism a cult or an ideology?
IDR: There is no Trumpism. There is only fascism, the same that has existed, and pushed by the GOP for decades, under various guises and camouflage. It’s just that they’re now saying the quiet parts out loud.
Trump is a figurehead, and as such, he is a totem that allows GOP voters (which I refer to as “the fascist crowd”) to simply express themselves in the manner they already want. My mantra about the GOP rank-and-file, just like the average German and Italian, who aligned with fascists in the 1930s and 1940s, is that none are duped.
Fascism is a worldview, not an ideology. It entails attitudes, preferences and core beliefs about the world, specifically the inherent superiority of a particular demographic, which is therefore entitled to dominate, and has impunity to brutalize and murder the disfavored. Fascism always involves bigotry, and almost exclusively the same forms – racism, misogyny, homophobia and religious demonization.
JS: Is that why trans people are so scary?
IDR: The existence of the LGBT-plus community undermines the basic framework of heteronormativity – that only cisgender hetero people, and “traditional” norms of masculinity and femininity, are normal.
It is sometimes the case that the most violent reactions to the trans community are from individuals who are most conflicted about their own sexual feelings, but not always. Generally, it is about insecurity.
The anti-trans person interprets the presence of a trans person as a challenge to their own sexual identity. It is notable that the anti-trans community refers to trans individuals as “predators” when it is almost exclusively (the research is clear on this) cisgender males who are the predators. So there’s a fair amount of projection and deflection going on as well, a refusal for the anti-trans community to acknowledge that they are in fact the problem when it comes to deeply pathological attitudes and conduct in matters of sexuality and sexual violence.
For example, the worldwide phenomena of sex trafficking and pornography are largely at the behest of cisgender hetero males, in this country, mostly married men who identify as Christian. The threat of violence from the fascist crowd towards scapegoats is an aspect of fascism: all differences are absolute and essentially viewed as betrayal.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.