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Behind the headlines that focus on the former president’s multiple instances of apparent criminal behavior, the real story of consequence is about the millions of people who continue to passionately support Trump, and those politicians that pander to his Big Lie. Seventy percent of Trump’s 73 million voters, for example, believe that he was cheated out of victory in the 2020 election.

Many of them also believe that the rioters who attempted the January 6 overthrow of our Constitution were “innocent tourists,” antifa trying to discredit honest patriots, or FBI provocateurs.

By attempting to understand the disconnect from reality that has overtaken much of her party, Sarah Longwell, the executive director of Republicans for the Rule of Law, found in her focus groups that while Trump voters “aren’t bad or unintelligent people, the Big Lie is embedded in their daily life, so that something doesn’t have to make sense for voters to believe it’s true.” For many, the belief that the election was stolen is “more of an attitude, or a tribal pose. They insist something nefarious occurred but can’t easily explain how or why.”

Former Republican congressional staff member Mike Lofgren recently described these people as suffering from what he called “gullible cynicism,” a disorder that allows one “to be dismissive, disbelieving, and paranoically suspicious, while simultaneously being astoundingly naïve and accepting of the flimsiest fabrication.” He cited as an example the people who insisted that the COVID-19 pandemic was a conspiracy of microbiologists, public health officials, and hospitals in perpetrating a hoax while at the same time endorsing some nameless internet blogger who recommended horse de-wormer as a cure.

In her classic on fascism, Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. (They were) ready to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. ”

The foregoing are valid attempts at helping to explain people who we may unfortunately dismiss as simply crazy or stupid. While spot-on, these efforts nevertheless fall short in my opinion to plumb the heart of the matter, namely the consequences of the unprecedented assault people are suffering at this time because of their personal identification with a narcissistic “I,” and especially its illusion of power and control that is characteristic of human beings who live in a civilization founded upon ego.

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“I” is the fiction of an individual Self, an unreal entity separate from and superior to the rest of life. When we come to life in this political world, we are not grounded by the social environment in our natural interconnection with the rest of life, and are thus unable to live with our inherent powerlessness in a world that runs on political power. Our capacity for ego then emerges to afford us with this ”I” fantasy of power. Ego will continue to dominate our lives (and in so doing replicate a society of power relationships) until such a time when we can accept and successfully live with the fact of our inability to control life.

Ironically, it is only when we reach such a spiritual state that we become empowered. By surrendering to our inherent interconnected condition and ceasing our futile efforts to be in control, we realize the liberated state we have sought all along.

Unfortunately, this is not easy to attain. So many of us become stuck in ego, attached to one or more of its manifestations based upon wealth, race, gender, class, sexuality, age, caste, etc., and the power relationships constructed upon them that are the foundation of political society, unwilling to let go of these toxic hierarchical distinctions.

This predicament is compounded when “I,” along with its false sense of control, and illusory security and order is threatened, as it is today, by the serial crises that have produced the perfect storm of a collapsing society. This is fertile ground for such aberrant behavior as gullible cynicism, as well the exacerbation of the Self-righteousness and defendedness characteristic of all who identify as “I” (which, to one degree or another, is most of us).

This is the consequence of ego trying to protect our fragile sense of Self and our fantasy of being in control from being overwhelmed by reality. In this situation, we are especially vulnerable to over-identify with and embrace as our leader someone who presents himself as a fellow “victim” who suffers from the “witch hunts” of the same social order that we believe (with cause) has betrayed us.

Hence, in all of its contradiction and irrationality, the cult of Donald Trump is born, and the possibility of fascism arises. They both serve as “I’s” defense against all of those whom we are convinced are out to cheat us out of the skin, gender, class and other privileges of power that we believe are rightfully ours, and in so doing “make America great again.”

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions from Athens, and author of “Resilience and Resistance: Building Sustainable Communities for a Post Oil Age” (2015, Green Writers Press). The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.