National Commentary

Descent to The Inferno

The cascading fallout from the release of the Mueller Report has already established beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is a fraud, a con, liar and a consummate criminal who belongs not in the White House, but behind bars.

History will remember this period not so much for the by now almost boring rehearsal of the personal moral, ethical and legal shortcomings of this corrupt and compromised individual, but for all those, knowing better, who have become his partners in crime.

It is people like Mitch McConnell and William Barr who are going to be the most reviled and despised by future generations, willing to tear up any notion of decorum and civility in the name of crass political advantage. These persons are carrying the excesses of self-interest, mendacity and corruption far beyond where it has previously been in our land, because they’ve allowed the pace-setter for their crimes to be far more lurid and deceitful than anyone we’ve seen in such high places until now.

In other words, when you are following and becoming complicit with a criminal, it’s one thing if the crimes of your ringleader are common theft or extortion. It’s another if they are rape and murder, mass rape and mass murder. From your point of view, it is the same act of following. Following is following. But one takes you one place, another takes you somewhere else entirely.

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That’s one of the big points of Dante’s Divine Comedy, where the descent into the Inferno takes one deeper and deeper into worse and worse horrible penalties and tortures based on the relatively heinous nature of the crimes.

So, today’s Republican leadership is on a trek into the lower depths of Hell, and somehow, I believe, they will be held accountable.

They don’t think they will. They think there are only winners and losers in life, and their objective is to win. To them, what it takes to succeed is nerve, is the willingness to go where others fear, and the satisfaction they derive from it is a fleeting sense of having “done this.” Nothing, God forbid, associated with acting on behalf of the good, or on the grounds of moral suasion, has anything to do with it. Those caught in the grip of such factors are considered weak and losers.

The amorality of these leaders is, of course, a willingness to take a helping hand from our national strategic adversaries. What do they care? So the Russians are having a field day in the U.S. political swamp.

Sadly, our nation has a longer tradition of the cultivation of such an amoral mentality than we’d like to admit. The root of the anger and hatred that accompanied the election of Trump, to begin with, had an unsavory history in the U.S. that goes back to the Civil War and the horrific consequences of that cataclysm.

A culture that had grown up over centuries based on the cruelty of slavery had come to the point it had to take up arms to defend its fundamentally immoral nature and the blood of more than half a million Americans was spilled as a result.

The outgrowth of that was a tension that involved, on the one hand, the rise of civil rights and moves toward racial equality and, on the other hand, the deeply dark, flip side of that in the seething rage and revenge that attended the rise of the “Jim Crow” wave of racist policies that emerged over the subsequent decades.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s new book, “Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow” led to a two-part PBS TV series, documenting this in a very timely way to help us understand the period we are now in 150 years later.

The point is that the angry racism arising from that era is qualitatively worse than the racism practiced in the exercise of slavery that preceded it, because it has been fueled by an emergent culture of rage, cruelty and hatred that no longer merely practices slavery, but has become inflamed by a contempt for any opposing point of view, much less for persons of color.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at nfbenton@fcnp.com.

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