Every competent and sane person has a moral responsibility to suppress his desire to harm or oppress his fellow human beings. This is why we hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. At the same time, because ideas provide motives for actions, one must take care not to convey thoughts that advocate or suggest unjust violence against persons. We cannot as a general rule censor ideas, but we can—and, I argue, should—criticize speech that is associated with harmful and oppressive action. For example, while the Old Testament teachings about homosexuality should be available for viewing, and while an individual is free to advocate for the killing of homosexuals as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 command, the Bible and those who advocate its teachings bear responsibility for the killing of homosexuals on this commandment.
The President of the United States shirks responsibility for domestic terrorists who embrace what is effectively for them a hit list with a sloppy attempt to act presidential. Bombs targeting Trump’s critics represent an assault on democracy, to be sure, but they also represent violent physical attacks on Trump’s political opponents that he inspires. Trump cannot rise above this and ask the country to put politics aside even if he were serious about it; he has zero credibility on such matters because he has fueled a climate of paranoia, hate, and hostility.
President Trump has set the mood for a dangerous crowd, the belligerent and unstable. They have all the markings of the lynch mob in potentia, a short fuse on an explosive device waiting to be lit. They are the pipe bomb they rationalize. Trump is an attractor for the psychological type who make fun of people based on their looks, harbor racist and xenophobic sentiments, present with a marked degree of religious fanaticism, and threaten with violence those with who they disagree. Trump is a living, breathing personification of their hateful sentiments.
This type of primate presents with a classic authoritarian personality: conformity to rigid and extremist ideology and destructiveness towards things that differ and dissent from that ideology. Erich Fromm identified the pathology decades ago in his landmark Escape from Freedom:
Narcissism—Not self-love or an over-secure sense of self, but rather self-loathing and intense insecurity masquerading as belligerent self-confidence. Trump is a deeply insecure person, constantly worrying about the size and shape of his penis, his hands, his hair, whether people love him, and so on. This makes him a perfect celebrity for the reality TV fetish where insecure people live vicariously through obnoxious wannabes and has-beens who are obsessed with their appearance and getting over on others. Yes, a lot of people have insecurities, but the Trump man is a person who takes pride in his ignorance and has little genuine love to give others. Deep down he hates himself. Rather than learning and accepting and striving to achieve the beloved community, the narcissist demands attention for himself, insisting on acclaim simply for existing, since the accomplishments he boasts about are superficial and self-serving.
Sadistic Destructiveness—Rage coupled with rightwing ideology, which is based fundamentally on hatred of difference, generates aggression, a desire to destroy, either literally or symbolically, those who enjoy life differently from the sadist’s narrow and rigid ideas of normality. Sadism is about more than jealousy; it’s an intense hatred of one’s own self and one’s own life. It’s what the existentialists called ressentiment, a French word conveying something more than resentment or envy. The sadist seeks to dominate others, and the ability to destroy is the ultimate expression of control. These are the bullies we knew in high school who picked on those they perceived as weak or different from themselves, who delighted in practical jokes of a hurtful nature, who, high in emotional intelligence (a characteristic of sociopathy), knew exactly how to get to push buttons emotionally. The spiteful are overrepresented among the conservative persuasion.
Necrophilia—Not simply a love of death, but a desire to suppress and in the extreme crush sentiment that signifies passion and humanity. The necrophilic loves things that are cold and mechanical: weapons of war (guns, tanks, armor, planes), prisons (cold hard steel and concrete structures and isolation), hierarchy. Necrophilia flows from and reinforces missing or sharply diminished empathy. This is associated with a tragic cycle in which children damaged by authoritarian family structures turn their damage on their children. Spare the rod, spoil the child. You will believe as I do. This explains pull of Old Testament “justice.” An eye-for-an-eye. The death penalty. The celebration of authority in uniform. Blue Lives Matter. The hatred of women.
This attitude is found not in a handful of pathological individuals, but embraced by tens of millions of people. It lies latent in a broad public waiting for an narcissistic and sadistic leader to emerge to give it manifest purpose. At present, polls show that near twenty million of our fellow citizens openly profess a politics that projects this pathology. And for every one of them, there are more fellow travelers. Social media gave us a heads up about all this because, for the first time, we became privy to the thoughts of millions of people in real time.
There is indeed a great divide in our nation. It’s a struggle between those who hate and those who love. Between those who want war and those who seek peace. Between those who want to exclude and punish and those who are inclusive and merciful.