Andrew G. Bjelland: Trump’s paranoid style continues to bedevil American politics

Utah Republicans should denounce Trump’s antisemitism.

In response to a nationwide increase in antisemitism and to four recent instances of antisemitism in Utah, the Legislature in 2022 enacted H.C.R. 15–Concurrent Resolution Condemning Antisemitism.

Recent events indicate that this general condemnation, if it is to have practical significance, requires the specific condemnation of individual antisemites, those who enable them and those who provide them with a forum for expressing hate-speech.

Former President Donald J. Trump recently hosted two notorious antisemites as dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago, Kanye West (aka Ye) and Nick Fuentes. Brett Stephens, in “The table for Trump’s antisemitic banquet was set years ago” (Salt Lake Tribune, December 3) catalogued Trump’s ethnic and racial bigotries and denounces those Republicans who have normalized them. He amply demonstrates that antisemitism is but one expression of Trump-inspired political paranoia.

In 1964 Richard Hofstader addressed the paranoid style that has bedeviled Republican politics for decades. He cited the “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” exhibited by “extreme right-wingers” who have leveraged “the animosities and passions of a small minority” to their own political advantage. Trump embraces, exemplifies and is a most effective practitioner of this paranoid style.

Trump and his loyalists refuse to effectively condemn major threats to America’s constitutional order: scapegoating of ethnic, racial and religious minorities; xenophobia; violations of democratic norms; rank political opportunism; and the consolidation of anti-democratic power. Instead, they have employed antisemitic and white supremacist rhetoric to inflame passions, stoke animosities, set tribal boundaries, identify “enemies” and divide the nation.

Far too many Republican politicians have refused to strongly condemn Trump’s most outrageous employment of the paranoid style: the promulgation of his Big Lie and instigation of the Big-Lie inspired January 6 assault on our nation’s Capitol. Too many Republicans have remained silent even after Trump referred to indicted participants in that assault as “patriots” and “political prisoners.” Even after he stated that if re-elected in 2024, he would issue full presidential pardons to the January 6 rioters.

How will Trump’s acolytes respond to his December 3 assertion that his Big Lie justifies “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution”?

How can so many Republican politicians remain silent when the disgraced and twice-impeached former president actively seeks to heighten racial, religious and political tensions? When he continues to subvert our nation’s constitutional order?

How can 35% of Utah’s registered voters continue to support Trump’s current run for president?

In a 1787 letter, Benjamin Franklin expressed a core belief endorsed by many of our nation’s founders: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Character counts. Virtuous citizens — authentic patriots — acknowledge that every constitutional and basic human right claimed for themselves is accompanied by the duty to respect and defend that right in others. Patriots express love of country by honoring and defending the rights of all its citizens.

Statesmen and stateswomen, by their example, inspire citizens to embrace authentic patriotism. They practice “republican virtues”: fidelity to the Constitution; respect for both the letter and the spirit of the law; fidelity to oaths of office; faithful performance of the civic duties that attend one’s station; commitment to engage in intellectually and ethically responsible policy debates; respect for political opponents and a willingness to give their arguments a fair hearing; and the disposition to forge responsible compromises that promote the general welfare.

Trump, his regressive loyalists and the congressional cowards who refuse to condemn Trump’s excesses have abandoned these virtues. They instead engage in sheer power politics, employ the paranoid style and place the future of our democratic republic at risk.

Andrew G. Bjelland

Andrew G. Bjelland, Ph.D. is professor emeritus, Philosophy Department, Seattle University. He resides in Salt Lake City.