Peter Berger: With a high hand

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Peter Berger, who has taught English and history for 30 years and writes “Poor Elijah’s Almanack.” The column appears in several publications including the Times Argus, the Rutland Herald and the Stowe Reporter.

What did we expect?

When he ran for president, Donald Trump said things people weren’t supposed to say. For some Americans – maybe you – it was part of his appeal.

He offered to pay the legal fees of Trump supporters willing to “knock the crap out of" protesters at his rallies.

He encouraged the police to rough up anti-Trumpers they arrested.

He solicited Russia to hack and steal Democratic Party emails.

He incited his crowds against reporters he’d point to at the back of the venue, assailing them as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”

He bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.

Crude and outrageous don’t mean honest. Those five offenses showed us the man. He claims he upholds law and order, but inciting violence is neither lawful nor orderly. Soliciting a foreign enemy to interfere in an American election threatens national security. Hitler and Stalin attacked the free press as fake news and the enemy of the people. A man who brags about assaulting women shouldn’t represent and govern our country.

Never vote for someone you wouldn’t want your son or daughter to grow up to be.

We’ve now endured four years of “American carnage,” from the largest inaugural crowd that wasn’t there and the catastrophe at the border wall that wasn’t built and that Mexico didn’t pay for, to Trump’s love affair with Kim Jong Un and America’s loss of stature and influence on the world stage.

Nero may have fiddled while his city burned. Donald Trump has been playing golf and tweeting while 400,000 of his people died. Narcissism, ignorance, and dereliction stain his conduct. He’s the man who prescribed injecting bleach, who declared without blushing as Americans sickened and died, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

As a result, although we’re only 5% of the world’s population, 20% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths have been Americans. As our beloveds have struggled for breath, he’s devoted himself to sowing discord and procuring a counterfeit second term.

Don’t worry. He’s dealing with the deaths and suffering just fine. That’s because he doesn’t care about you and yours any more than he cares about the soldiers he calls “losers” or the fate of his own vice president.

What he isn’t dealing fine with is losing the election. He’s resorted to what’s become his standard ploy ever since he lost the Iowa primary – he lies and declares that he didn’t lose. He announces in advance that if the election results say he lost, the only possible explanation is the election was rigged.

He expects that given a choice between believing 60 court rulings, multiple recounts and audits, and the testimony of numerous sworn Republican and Democratic election officials establishing that he lost, or believing his own unsupported, self-interested insistence that he won, you’ll believe him.

Somehow many of you do.

I don’t get it, especially since you know the man is a liar.

The only “steal” that needs to be stopped is Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the election, not from Joe Biden, but from a clear majority of the American people.

A mob of thousands attacked the Capitol and Congress. They came with bombs, guns, nooses and lead pipes. They came to overturn a lawful election and, by that seditious act, overthrow the United States government. They came to terrorize, destroy, and assassinate. They were sent by Donald Trump.

Trump claims he didn’t want them to be violent. Except he knew who he’d invited to his “stop the steal” White House rally and that the mob was headed by violent extremists. He knew what they’d heard at the rally, what he’d said to them, and how they’d responded.

Knowing all that, he commissioned them to march to Capitol Hill and “fight like hell” to stop Congress from counting votes and “stealing the election.”

He watched on television as they attacked.

He liked what he saw.

He delayed, even resisted sending help.

He told the terrorist mob he loved them and that they were “very special.”

That’s not what you say to terrorists when you disapprove.

I doubt he’s ever called the 9/11 hijackers very special.

For months Trump has claimed the election was “stolen” and that he’d actually won in a landslide. Republican politicians could have spoken up with what they knew to be the truth – that the election was free and fair, and that Trump had truly lost.

Instead out of fear and ambition, many repeated and are still repeating what they know to be an inflammatory lie. Others by their silence have implied their assent and approval of that lie.

Those lies fueled the insurrection.

To rescue Trump and salvage their party’s political and financial fortunes, Republicans now are quoting Lincoln and calling for Democrats to “tone down” their rhetoric for the sake of “unity” and “healing.” Hoping to reduce his own legal jeopardy and forestall the prosecution and conviction he deserves, Trump in between rants issued a scripted pledge to peacefully transfer power.

Sadly, Trump is no Lincoln.

Unity has to rest on the truth. Before there can be healing, Republicans need to assure their voters that Biden’s election was honest and legitimate. They need to confess that Trump lied, and that they lied.

It won’t be easy. Trump has so deceived his followers and incited the mob that Republicans and Democrats who tell the truth face death threats. I hope they can find the necessary courage to do what is right.

As for those who are more deliberate, who lie because they intend to profit from their lie, who know the evil they’re doing and just don’t care, who tell their lies with a high hand brandished toward heaven – their deceit, their defiant sin against the nation, is unforgivable.

Trump faced a choice. He could either accept that he’d lost an election, or he could launch an insurrection to overthrow the government.

Trump made his choice.

Now you face the same decision. You can have either Trump, or the United States.

Trump, or the Constitution.

Trump, or your country.

But not both.

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