Trump rally, Tulsa. Photo: Doug Mills/New York Times

CONNECTIONS: Trump’s end game

Just like the play-actor he is, he has a dress rehearsal. If we do it this way, what will the reaction be? Lafayette Square Park, Washington, D.C., was a dress rehearsal.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.


In the future, some historian will point and explain: That was the place where Trump was defeated.

For more than three years, every pundit and politician asked: Where is the Republican Party; why do they support him? Pointedly, our founders made the oaths of office to the Constitution, not to a man. And yet, the Republican Party became a cult dedicated to a man.

Three reasons, common to explaining many behaviors, explain Trumpism:

  1. Desire
  2. Fear
  3. Learned helplessness

The desire to be on the winning team is commonplace. Even if unbelievably, he won. Even if barely, he won. Even with interference, he won. It is gratifying to stand next to the winner; fun to be invited to the party — at Mar-a-Lago or wherever it is; more powerful, possibly more remunerative, to be on the winning team. Moreover, he seems to have rabid followers.

That is part of the explanation of the second reason. Those followers seem to go where he points, vote where he asks. A Republican could be primaried. It is good reason to fear. We have all been afraid. What we do when afraid is familiar. To avoid insult, humiliation, job loss or worse, we smile and remain silent, even chime in.

The third reason is harder to grasp, but here it is. You can be taught helplessness. You learn “there is nothing I can do,” “I have no good choices,” “I am powerless.”

How do you learn helplessness? Incrementally.

Someone does/says something that offends you. You complain. In response, the person, probably a bully, doubles down. Not only is your objection not taken into account, it is flouted. Lesson One: the person does not care what you think or feel.

The person breaks all the rules and there is no consequence. Lesson Two: That person is powerful, more powerful than you, and more powerful than those you thought were in authority.

Finally, no matter how peculiar, unintelligible, out of line or just plain dumb his assertions, he has followers — enthusiastic followers who urge him on. But, you think, he is wrong, and soon he will go too far and they will see it. However, over time, all the lies, stupidity, denial and deflection — no matter what he does or says — they do not see it; they continue to cheer him on.

In increments, you learned: You have no impact, he faces no consequence, he has a powerful following and you can do nothing. You have learned helplessness.

Until Tulsa.

That is the night no one came. Then the immoveable force met an irresistible object: indifference. Those followers? They considered the choices: attend, cheer, and die or stay home. They stayed home. So there was a line he could not cross without consequence, a place the rabid crowd would not follow. That is the night Trump lost.

Or not.

That may be the explanation if Trump loses in November. Where will that historian point if Trump wins?

Lafayette Square Park.

Federal officers clear a street where demonstrator had set a fire during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Photo: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Not only does Trump telegraph his punches — that is, tell you what he is going to do before he does it — he also does trial runs. Just like the play-actor he is, he has a dress rehearsal. If we do it this way, what will the reaction be? Lafayette Square Park, Washington, D.C., was a dress rehearsal.

He called upon the military to wear camo without insignia and attack a crowd of American citizens on domestic soil. First question: Would they do it? Second question: Would the generals fall in line? Third question: What would the press and the people do in response?

There were enough positive responses that he did it again — in Portland. People were powerless against the onslaught, and he telegraphed his next punch: He will do it elsewhere. On Election Day we may have troops at every polling station. They are in the streets now because there are anarchists ravaging the streets. They will be at the polling stations in November to protect against voter fraud. Perhaps the final nuance will be two lines: Democrats/Republicans or Biden/Trump. If there are armed men present with vans to take people away, which line will you stand in?

We have certain inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have a document that says we have equal protection under the law, the right to congregate and exercise free speech, which includes the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

We cannot know what that historian of the future will write about 2020 because that historian will know what we do not. But we know this: We have no rights we will not fight to preserve. Only bullies and dictators teach helplessness. Democracies demand citizens be as strong as their leaders.

Do not sit still; do not be quiet and do not wait, not even for November. The move into Portland and other cities is not a distraction or diversion, it is the end game.