Home Opinion OPINION: A toxic combination of the shameless, delusional and opportunistic threatens our...

OPINION: A toxic combination of the shameless, delusional and opportunistic threatens our democracy

Donald Trump knows he did not win the 2020 presidential election. The man has long displayed a malignant and all-consuming narcissism, but he’s no dummy. Uttering statements and making claims that sound at least plausible to some and that he wishes in his heart were true (but that he knows to be false) has always been his stock-in-trade.

Like a charlatan preacher who promises healing and salvation to those with credit cards handy, Trump is and has always been a master at selling to anyone who will listen to him — usually the corrupt and the gullible — in order to maximize the size of his image, wealth and power.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s impressive command of sales and manipulation has helped give rise to a formidable wave of copycats. While America has always had more than its share of scoundrel politicians in both major political parties (Bill Clinton, for example, had some tendencies of this kind, though they weren’t anywhere near so toxic, destructive, or out of control), in the present era, it’s clear that’s Trumpism has helped spur things to a new level — particularly on the political right.

Three principal types of characters have emerged on this front, and together, they pose a genuine threat to our democracy and societal well-being.

Category No. 1 features the Trump mimics who openly aspire to create a similar cult of personality in which devoted followers hang on their every word — no matter how over-the-top outlandish they might be. Several extremist media personalities come to mind in this regard.

We’ll call the second group the true believers. These are the troubled souls who not only repeat the lies and crazy conspiracy claims of Trump and other manipulators, but actually believe them. In Washington, think of paranoid fringe characters like U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Lauren Boebert.

Most riding the Trump wave, however, are more understated and, in some ways, more dangerous. These individuals in Category No. 3 employ some of the same tactics — knowingly making, or declining to debunk, false claims or exaggerations so as to manipulate audiences and voters — but usually the goal is more about advancing the right-wing agenda and accumulating power and wealth than it is about personal aggrandizement and self-promotion. Think of Rupert Murdoch and some of the other billionaire plutocrats who bankroll the far-right movement. This is usually the most influential and effective group.

Here in North Carolina, we have examples of all three categories in our politics.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson comes as close anyone we have to fitting Category No. 1. Like Trump, Robinson manipulates audiences with great aplomb and little regard for the truth. And while Robinson sometimes displays an even sharper and harsher edge — Trump has never publicly referred to LGBTQ people as “filth” — the similarities of style and substance (or lack of the latter) are obvious.

We also have our own fringy true believers. As even a brief perusal of his Facebook page confirms, State Rep. Ketih Kidwell — an announced candidate to replace Tim Moore as House Speaker after he departs office next year, for instance — fits this Category No. 2 bill. Just a few days ago, Kidwell even posted a link to an article from the extreme right-wing outlet The Epoch Times with the frighteningly loony headline: “COVID Vaccines Causally Linked to Increased Mortality, Resulting in 17 Million Deaths: Scientific Report.”

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Most of the state’s most influential and powerful right-wing politicians, however, generally fit the mold of Category No. 3. These are the Phil Bergers, Tim Moores, Thom Tillises and Dale Folwells — pols who mostly eschew the public promotion of crazy conspiracy theories, but who are happy to welcome the votes and support of the groups’ adherents and make policy that purports to address their concerns.

Hence, for instance, the legislature’s ongoing effort to seize control of all aspects of elections and voting in our state.

There’s no evidence that North Carolina’s elections are anything other than honest and trouble-free, but that hasn’t stopped Berger and Moore from passing an array of new laws to seize total control over election administration and enact more restrictive voting rules — ostensibly for addressing the concerns of paranoid conspiracy theories most commonly voiced by characters in Categories 1 and 2.

When this is combined with the aggressive and unabashed gerrymandering they’ve pursued for years, it’s not an exaggeration to say that all the mechanisms of democracy in our state are now, effectively, concentrated in just a few hands — hands that are in league with some of our nation’s most frightening and delusional groups and individuals.

Does this mean that all hope is lost at that — as some fear — the recent changes are prelude to a situation in which GOP-selected election officials will refuse to certify election results that produce a disfavored result next fall (such as a Trump defeat)?

One prays this is not the case and that the Category No. 3 bosses who still mostly run the show in our state would never stoop so low. But by any fair assessment, these leaders continue to play with fire via the alliances they make and policies they enact. And as the nation learned on Jan. 6, 2021, it sometimes doesn’t take much for such a fire to quickly spread out of control.

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.