“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”
The root, they say, of this Longfellow quote goes back to Sophocles in Ancient Greece: “Evil appears as good in the minds of those whom god leads to destruction.”
Watching coverage of the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) meeting in Dallas this week caused variants of this quote to rise up in the consciousness. There were many fanatics standing up and cheering news that Covid-19 vaccination rates are falling short.
It can get tiresome dwelling on such lunacy. It is a carry forward from what the nation, and the world, had to endure for four years with Trump in the White House.
Just how lunatic this Trump is, as we are being reminded in Michael Wolf’s new book, “Landslide,” may be titillating for those among us who enjoy feeling outraged at all this. But its usefulness is questionable. We spent four years saying many of the same things, feeling outrage and abuse.
I once had a friend who was caught up in patterns of cruel codependency with a partner, and she would go to great lengths to describe the latest spate of offenses and crimes of the partner. It would all come to the point where the only question became, repeatedly, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
Sadly, that was the point where things drifted off to a mumbling silence or a change of subject.
When it comes to politics, of course, it doesn’t have to end there, and, yes, democracy was saved by an incredible mobilization of the American electorate to blow away all records of voter turnout to defeat Trump last year. That was an amazing outcome, generally underappreciated.
Once madness gains a foothold in a person, I surmise, it fights furiously to defend itself. Thus, the voter turnout for Trump was also a record, so many people who were impassioned in their dedication to their madness.
What we are witnessing now is an incredible excess, unlike anything most of us have ever encountered. How do you explain the depths to which seemingly rational people are presenting ludicrous arguments and actions? This includes attorneys going into courts with the most bizarre legal arguments — that get routinely thrown out.
My purpose is not to detail more outrages of this type, but only to spur a serious conversation about remedies. Given what our situation is, what do we do?
Are people doing all this madness just to raise money, seek personal fame or win elections? Are they genuinely deluded? It is seemingly impossible to try to reason with such people.
As one who wrestled with a mind-controlling cult for a time in the 1970s, I ask myself what would have worked to break me out. Even when quietly doubting it all, but unwilling to make that known, I have often pondered what kind of arguments would have worked (obviously, something did).
Recall the accounts of efforts to forcibly liberate persons from cults in that era. There quickly became many legal and other maneuvers developed to prevent “deprogrammers” from carrying out their methods that frequently amounted to kidnapping, which many victims of brainwashing cults furiously resisted.
They were also too much like the ongoing efforts to “de-gay” young people with heavy handed physical and psychological means that many angry and misguided parents continue to pay for.
That approach is not only unproductive, it is also now illegal in many states, as it should be. It simply does not work to resort to impositions of one will over another.
So, then what? This is a seriously troubling proposition.
The answer lies in a better appreciation for what happened in 2020. It was not by changing the minds of any true believers that the amazing electoral victory over Trump was achieved. It was by activating and empowering those who were inclined to do the right thing to begin with.
Forget the Trumpists. Focus on the good people who want what’s right, even if they don’t fully understand what that is.
Put the messaging where it touches the deeper levels of people’s compassionate and emphatic impulses and inform them from that standpoint with what is needed.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.