^ saying “goodbye” as he prepares his flight to Kazakhstan after defeat ?

—- —- —-

Yesterday at a rally the President of the United States quipped, “if I lose to Biden, maybe I’ll leave the country.”

Even as a quip, this is not normal. Nor is it usual that many people think he might do just that. Many of us opine that he has good reason to flee the jurisdiction. This too, is not usual. Yet there is basis for the opinion. Mr. Trump owes almost $ 1 billion to lenders, much of it Russian; he is leaving behind him a trail of crimes that the nose-weakest bloodhound could follow. He has been able, as President, to shout down the accusations and to intimidate almost all who could testify directly to them; yet once he loses, all of that is gone. Or almost all.

I say ‘almost” because he retains a solid core of true believers.

That I employ the noun “belief” to a person of politics, not of religion, is also not normal. How comes it that millions of 21st Century Americans, living in a secular nation built by science and experiment, skepticism and show-me, grant BELIEF to a politician, any politician ? Respect, yes, that we give to politicians who have earned it, and rightly we give it. (Trust, sure — although as Ronald Reagan said, “trust but verify.”) But belief ? Mr. Trump is not a pastor or a priest, he is  not a God, not an object of worship like the icons of Byzantium. Far from it; to the non-believing observer he appears as he most likely is, a thoroughly corrupt, ignorantly selfish, indulgently cruel,  faker and liar who makes his way by stiffing those who deal fairly with him. To a non-believing observer, he is just another stagecrafted caudillo, a man who insists that his word is law.

Before the late 17th Century, religion and government partnered, and each upheld the other. Religion had, almost always, thus linked with the public authority. From the times of Pharaoh to the Temple priests of Israel, from the time of Constantine to the accession of Lotario de’ Conti as Pope Innocent III, kings, dukes, and counts took to account the utterances and pronouncements of bishops and preachers, sometimes stabilizing, more often troublesome. But that was then. Beginning in the 1640s, when Duc de Richelieu, adviser to King Louis XIII, became the first chief minister to separate political interests from religious ones, Western civilization’s leaders have pushed religious interests ever farther from the power center. It became a private matter. That view is guaranteed to us in our Constitution’s First Amendment. Religion is free to exercise but cannot affect in any way governance of the republic.

In Europe, religion, pushed completely out of politics, retains today chiefly a tourist, artistic interest : we visit its great cathedrals and abbeys and appreciate its great works of art. The Pope does have power, mostly organizational; and financial, but of political influence has next to none. Europe’s politicians,. too, have plenty of power, but hardly any are worshipped — the continent has far too tragic a memory of what worship of politicians occasioned there. So why is the situation different here in the USA ?

Why is religion itself so vastly more alive here than in Europe ? Perhaps that’s because free exercise, separating religion from politics, insulated religion from the perils and transactions that make politics a skeptic’s art. In Europe, religion continued to be political all the way into the 20th Century and so was swept aside by more timely belief systems. Here, however, the will to believe was free from public responsibility for anything and so has been able to retain its followers, who see in it escape from the harsh fates of politics.

There is the rub: escape from harsh political fate. Is that not what Mr. Trump promises, or seems to promise, to those who yearn to escape ? Once you travel the escape route, all sorts of impossibles become tangible, and Mr, Trump’s believers are, if anything, inundated with waves of impossibles, untenables, loony stuff, absurdities. After all, in a world free of proof, the more absurd an absurdity, the more sense it makes. George Clinton of the 1970-1980s band Funkadelic, liked to tell us “free your mind and your ass will follow.” He was on to something. Free your mind, and a heckuva lot more than your ass will follow.

Yet Mr. Clinton also liked to say “free of the need to be free”; and that is the reverse side of freeing your mind of common sense and its platitudes. You don’t have a need to be free once your mind is free because it’s already there. Having freed your mind, you are now ready to become unfree, as unfree as your free mind leads you to. Thus take hold the quackery of Q, the nonsense of a “deep state,” the utter implausibility of Trump’s so-called “hoaxes.

So it has long been with all manner of vaudeville medicine salesmen. And if P. T. Barnum said his “there’s a sucker born every minute” without explanation, the explanation is easy : people want to believe, and the more ephemeral a wisp, only belief will validate such a viewpoint or a claim, The surer it is that some people will believe it utterly.

The mountebank intimidated by conscience can’t mange it. It requires a faker wholly without scruple to win the most devoted believers. The wilder his claims, the more certain to find devotees. The more constantly he claims them, the more enthusiastic his believers become. He works them up, frenzies them, stews them  in his kettle of crackpot. This is why Mr. Trump[ doe snot stop, nor qualify his prophecies, nor moderate his accusations. This is why he doesn’t take a break. Were he to take a break, or to moderate, it would all come crashing down, absurdity conquered by fact., This he cannot allow, nor can his cult.

Remember Jim Jones ? To us on the outside looking in, it all seemed cuckoo — who the blazes would buy such crap ? Well, now we know who. A lot of ordinary people buy it. It will always be thus.

Until the soap bubble bursts and one’s hands are seen to be dirty.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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