At midnight on Thursday, the Gregorian calendar will put 2020 behind us. Mostly, it’ll be remembered for the deadly and economically damaging COVID-19 pandemic. But when historians look back, they might see it as a year bookended by the American premier and sequel of fantasy politics.
Or just another chapter of America’s decline down fantasy lane.
The year began just after Donald Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached. But his fight to stay in office was just an act. Relief or outrage over his acquittal by the Senate was only genuine if it stemmed from the fantasy that the outcome was uncertain.
“I’m not an impartial juror” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calmly declared weeks before the trial. “This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it.”
Like every senator, he still took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” But very few on either side of the aisle approached their solemn duty with an open mind. Just one dared to cross party lines.
After that, the country bumped into the brick wall of COVID-19. It opened a new chapter in the four-year-old fantasy that Trump was intellectually and psychologically fit to be president.
It began with him claiming to have the virus totally under control. He bragged about impressing experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with how well he understood the disease.
Then he declared a national emergency, reframed his role as a war president fighting the virus and vaulted himself to celebrity expert in his daily coronavirus task force briefings.
That lasted until he exposed his utter ignorance by suggesting bleach and ultraviolet light were possible treatments.
Soon afterward, Eric Trump claimed the pandemic was being used to deprive his father “of his greatest asset,” which included drawing “massive crowds” at campaign rallies. He predicted the day after the election the “coronavirus will magically all of the sudden go away and disappear.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, guaranteed that it would. Trump bought the line and repeated it in tweets and rallies right up to the election.
The copyrights to that fantasy belongs Sean Hannity. Less than a month after Trump was acquitted by the Senate, the popular talk show host accused “the media mob and Democratic extreme radical Socialist Party” of “politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease in what is really just the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump.”
But after Trump lost, they were the first to ignore the fact the pandemic had surged to its highest ever caseloads and deaths. Their new fantasy they pushed was that Joe Biden and the Democratic Party had conspired with state and local election officials to steal the election.
Now, for the first time in the nation’s history, we’re facing the prospect that the loser’s hurt feelings will be the basis for challenging the election results in Congress.
How did we get here?
The clues may be in the “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” many colleges created to protect students from potentially offensive words and ideas. No longer should others “decide what counted as trauma, bullying, or abuse” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote two years ago in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Rather, the “subjective assessment” of the person making the accusation “was increasingly taken as sufficient evidence.”
The effect is to prepare young people for a world in which they expect to be shielded from emotionally uncomfortable situations.
The authors provide evidence that this radical move toward “safetyism” originated with obsessively overprotective parenting. Which is precisely how Congressional Republicans behaved during the past four years as Trump’s political guardians.
According to Mary Trump, the president’s niece, he’s “an epic tragedy of parental failure.” Not an overprotective father, but one who failed to make Donald “feel safe or loved.” As a result, he developed “a suit of armor that often protected him against pain and loss.”
Today, she might add, against the emotional trauma of losing on the world’s biggest stage.
The rest of us will never be exposed to such a humiliating defeat. But the warning from Lukianoff and Haidt still applies. Because residing in our comfortable echo chambers can build a false sense of importance and accomplishments. And it only appears to be a safe place when our fantasy expectations go down in flames.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn.