By Kent Williams, Iowa City
The rioters at the U.S. Capitol are not people to be admired. They’re deluded, they’re racist, they’ve gone absolutely wrong in a violent and disturbing way. But there is one thing to admire about those Trumpist seditionists: They are soaked head to toe with a peculiarly American attribute, cussedness.
The cussedness of Americans is to be cherished. It’s rooted in our fierce independence and intense skepticism of authority. It is fueled by an abiding, fulminating rage at lies and injustice. It is a resolute unwillingness to care what any supposed expert thinks, a trust in one’s gut instincts and in what one sees with one’s own eyes.
Mark Twain had it, and admired it in others. He wrote with “a pen warmed up in Hell,” the most cussed of weapons. George Carlin had it when he said, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Malcolm X had it when he said, “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
Their cussedness made them stand up and rail against the Way Things Are, damn the consequences. Cussedness made them think for themselves and mistrust everything they’ve been told to believe.
Donald Trump doesn’t have it. It requires some moral common sense and respect for the truth, both things he lacks. He does know to exploit it in others. He taps into our absolute conviction in this actually true thing: we’ve been lied to, manipulated and exploited.
The tragedy of Trumpism is that the people he won over are also missing the things they’d need to see his bullshit for what it is. He spoke their heart language of cussedness when no one else did, and they went all in for him. He disarmed them, and poured into them such a stream of unrelenting falsehood that when it came to him, they could no longer distinguish truth from fiction.
None of the people and institutions that should have stood up to him — conservative media, Republican politicians — did so. They knew he was a ticking bomb and that he betrayed every moral principal to which they’d always paid lip service. They thought he was biddable, a malleable tool, a useful idiot. By the time they realized he was an uncontrollable monster, it was too late.
Trump was 100 percent right about the rest of the Republican field in 2016 — they were craven lickspittles to the corporate oligarchy, who don’t care if average Americans live or die. He mowed his opponents down easily, finding each one’s weakness and turning them into objects of ridicule. It was easy, because they were every bit as crooked and desperate as he was.
Unfortunately that was the only time he told the truth, except by accident. Once he was elected he could count on the loyalty of his base. He spoke their truth to power and harnessed their rage. They might have had doubts about him from time to time, but they stayed loyal, because he was president, and even the most purely cussed American still reflexively holds that office in respect.
Many of us clocked Trump for a cheap grifter from the start, but we could still find ourselves doubting our own convictions. He was always right there, pouring his poison in our ears via Twitter and cable news. In a weak moment, one might think, Maybe what he’s saying is the truth, and all the sad, complicated, messy grey area of life and reality is the lie.
But now we hope that at long last, the spell is broken. We all hope that facts and science and truth will come back into fashion. But it’s vitally important that we don’t discard our grand American cussedness as one of the things that Trump spoiled. We need it. It’s who we are. We just need to be smarter with it, and find ways to be more persuasive with our fellow cussed Americans who were sucked into Trump’s fake reality.
Trump weaponized cussedness against us, and we need to take it back from the Trumpist frauds and turn it back on them. We need to reclaim the Gadsden Flag and use its motto against the people who are really responsible for the dire straits we’re in, the people who bankrolled and enabled his rise: DON’T TREAD ON US, ANY MORE.