Downward Spiral

Alan Zendell, December 10, 2018

I was as wrong as everyone else who predicted Donald Trump couldn’t possibly win in 2016. I could rationalize being wrong by reasoning that the combination of the incompetence of Hillary Clinton’s campaign advisers and a couple of unfortunate decisions by James Comey made it more of a Clinton forfeit than a Trump victory, but I won’t.

What I will do is apply that logic to why, after swearing off making predictions, I now feel confident in my view of the future. This isn’t about inferring logical conclusions or predicting specific events as much as it’s trusting my gut instincts, which usually serve me well. I realize now that in 2016, the prospect of Donald Trump as president was so horrifying, I simplify forced myself to believe it couldn’t happen.

Now that we’re here, there’s no point in denying reality. To help me work through this, I turned to Dante Alighieri, whose vision of Hell and Purgatory looks startlingly appropriate to today’s actuality. We haven’t spiraled into Hell yet, but every so often I feel like I’m about to burn up – or is that global warming I feel?

Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell confirm how far we’ve sunk, and how devastating the consequences of not fixing this mess will be. We passed through Limbo between the time of Trump’s election and the day he took office. Dante’s Limbo was a place where those who had never known grace resided. That sounds like a fine metaphor for Trumplandia, a place of no morality where hypocrisy and lies replace values and integrity.

Lust, Gluttony, and Greed seem fitting abodes for the Donald. Whether it’s his perverted sexuality or his limitless quest for wealth and power, we must avoid going there with him. Trump could only be defeated there if we matched his own abhorrent nature, and it’s hard to see how becoming him would solve anything.

Anger is a place Trump knows well, along with its corollary, Hate; he’s spent the last three years dragging the country there with him. I’m angry as hell about that, but that’s just playing into his hands. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, darkness cannot drive out darkness, hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that. Does that mean we should love Trump? No, but it does mean the first step in defeating him is not letting anger and hate blind our senses.

The final three Circles of Hell, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery, define the Donald Trump we know today. He fights like a cornered rat, he has no respect for the truth, and there appear to be no levels to which he won’t stoop to have things his way. He has led the country through all nine circles, and it’s up to us whether we want to be delivered into the Center of Hell.

That’s the basis of my newfound optimism. I must believe that decent people will do whatever is necessary to end this nightmare. If we don’t, we’re doomed as a nation. We might stumble on through a few more generations, but the light in the darkness that America represents for the world cannot survive much more of Trumpism.

Because I believe that, I’ve begun listening to what my gut tells me. More and more, the world of Trump has been feeling like the final months of the Nixon administration. The Nixon White House entered a downward spiral with the Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973, when the president attempted to kill Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox’s investigation into the Watergate cover-up.

Nixon raged against his accusers and became ever more isolated. The nightmare dragged on for ten months, as the entire nation sensed his hold on power and his sanity slipping away. I have that feeling now. I look at other Republican lawmakers, and I see dozens of rats on the bridge of a sinking ship, calculating the optimum moment to jump off. Like Nixon and Watergate, the process may seem to go on interminably, but it will end the same way.

What happened then was eerily similar to what’s happening now. A trickle of damaging information turned into a cascade, as confederates turned on each other. When it threatened to become a tsunami, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend impeaching the president in July, 1974. In August, the nation saw clear evidence that Nixon had obstructed justice when he tried to direct the FBI’s investigation away from the White House, and that was the final straw.

Trump may not resign and he may not be impeached. But his downward spiral will end in defeat and repudiation. It has to. My grandchildren deserve to grow up in the America they were born into.

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