Keep Outrage Alive


On Tuesday, after Donald Trump blew kisses at North Korea when it was revealed the regime had assassinated a CIA “asset” by spraying VX nerve agent in his face in the middle of a crowded airport, a friend asked me: “Is your capacity for shock as burned out as mine?”

The asset, by the bye, was Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of Kim Jong Un. You may remember when this very public killing in the Kuala Lumpur airport happened back in 2017. The barrage of Trump-related horrors was still somewhat new and fresh, and we were all yelling “This is not normal!” to maintain some semblance of perspective. We were saying that to others, and to ourselves, because it was a lifeline to reality in a world that had gone positively surreal.

Two years later and four years nearly to the day since Trump rode his golden escalator into presidential infamy, I’m having conversations with friends about shock burnout … and that was Tuesday, which was before Wednesday, which was the day Trump spent denying even the existence of internal polling that showed Democratic frontrunners beating him in 2020 matchups. The polls had been reported on by virtually everyone in the media. “They reported Fake numbers that they made up & don’t even exist,” he frothed on Twitter pretty much first thing in the morning.

Leave aside the fact that he’s saying this because his base will believe it and his base is all that matters to him, because that’s the kind of political calculation one cobbles together in a world where mathematics make sense. The president of the United States is lying in public about the non-existence of things that tangibly exist, again. This should be flatly terrifying.

Instead, this deeply disturbing behavior at the highest level of government is met with crouching indifference, because so many people have transformed themselves into The Little Train That Just Can’t Even in an act of basic self-defense.

When you get cut, you heal, and there’s a scar. When you get cut over and over in the same place, the resulting scar becomes akin to armor, nerveless and impervious to further pain. It’s just another Wednesday.

Speaking of Wednesday, that was also the day Trump blithely announced he would happily accept dirt on campaign opponents from foreign governments. By now, even bacteria growing around the gills of fish in the deepest depths of the ocean know how much trouble he and his people made for themselves by mugging it up with Russian officials in pursuit of mud to sling at Hillary Clinton in 2016, and yet here we are again.

“The comments, according to interviews with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans, have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them,” reports Politico.

Legal experts came perilously close to detonating like dynamite-infused melons after Trump dropped that brick, and even congressional Republicans were mildly perturbed for a second or two. Well, not all of them: House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) went deep into the spin cycle of He didn’t say what he just said like a trained parrot. “The president has been clear,” fumed McCarthy, “that he does not want foreign government to interfere in our elections.” Clear as mud, Kev. Thanks for that.

Not to be outdone by a minion, Trump once again sailed merrily off into the land of fantasy, with a quick layover in It’s True Because I Said It So Thereville:

“Shock Burnout” doesn’t begin to cover it at this point. “I would never be trusted again” is a masterpiece of nonsense that should be bronzed and preserved in the Smithsonian as a warning to future generations, if there are any.

All of this is gaslighting – the deliberate effort to derange – in its purest form, and it is no accident.

When Trump ties everyone in knots with outrageous gibberish comments, when he fries everyone’s shock circuits with all the terrible things he says and does, it opens a window for even more terrible stuff to come sailing through untouched … like, say, another shooting war in the Middle East based on murky intelligence and inspired (again) by John Bolton, or detaining migrants for weeks in a dangerous outdoor “human dog pound,” or refusing to obey lawfully issued subpoenas in a concerted effort to destroy the powers of congressional oversight.

Despair is exactly what Donald Trump is shopping for. Do not give him what he wants.

The burnout is exacerbated by the simple fact that nobody in a position to do so is willing to put a stop to this. Congressional Republicans go as silent as nuclear submarines whenever this president opens his gob and puts the nation in peril. The Democratic Speaker of the House, for her part, steadfastly refuses to initiate an impeachment inquiry despite the fact that a barge of obstruction evidence is dry-docked outside her office.

“The world breaks every one,” wrote Ernest Hemingway, “and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Hemingway was a misogynist hack and many of his words should be dismissed out of hand, but these make a point: A lot of people are feeling broken now, but there is iron in those broken places if you look for it.

A callus has grown over the tender spots within where hope resides. To stay in the fight, that callus must be torn off, again and again if need be. Fury must be fresh, else it curdles into despair, and despair is exactly what Donald Trump is shopping for. Do not give him what he wants. All of this is still not normal, still not right, and still must be fought. I’m here if you are.

William Rivers Pitt is a senior editor and lead columnist at Truthout. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.

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