"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"

One question I hear over and over again is “how can they [Trump supporters, QAnon Believers, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, Republicans] believe that stuff?”  Extremism has gotten so extreme, especially on the far-Right, that its absurdity ought to extinguish it, you would think.  But it not only persists, it is a growing concern.  Trump, an opportunist, capitalized on it, making use of these movements for his own power grab.  He is hardly what one would call a true believer in anyone or anything but himself.  But with evidence a whole nation saw with its own eyes of his complicity in radical extremism — murderous, violent radical extremism — 45 Republican senators voted Tuesday to abandon the only mechanism available to hold him accountable:  an impeachment trial in the Senate.

The Republican Party in Arizona censured its own, sitting, Republican governor, the widow of the late senator and American hero John McCain, and their former Republican US senator for not overturning the will of the people and/or voicing sufficient support for the effort to do so.  If that wasn’t frightening enough, leaders of the Republican Party in Oregon adopted a resolution which explicitly invokes the rise to power of Adolph Hitler:

There is growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a “false flag” operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans; this provided the sham motivation to impeach President Trump in order to advance the Democratic goal of seizing total power, in a frightening parallel to the February 1933 burning of the German Reichstag.

It is impossible to state how bone-chillingly frightening that one sentence is, not least of which because it is a statement from one of this country’s two, mainstream political parties, not some whacky fringe group or Alex “InfoWars” Jones.  I am a Democrat to my very core; I would vote for a ham sandwich to take office before a Republican.  But before Trumpism, I respected Republicans the way you do anyone with a reasoned objection to your point of view.  Not only that, but having only a single party, even if it were mine, is dangerous; so Republicans played an important role in the political life of our country — a counterweight to the excesses of extreme elements on the Left.

But that has changed.

I am reminded of Marc Antony’s funeral oration for an assassinated caesar in Act III, scene II of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.  Antony has been allowed by Brutus and his co-conspirators to make a funeral oration for Caesar on the condition that he will not blame them for Caesar's death.

Marc Antony funeral oration for Julius Caesar

Antony begins his subterfuge by seeming to side with those critical of Caesar when he says "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”  Think of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who let it be known that he was thinking of voting to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors in his Senate trial but Tuesday was among the 45 senators who voted, unsuccessfully, to dismiss the impeachment trial on grounds that it is unconstitutional to try a former President who had already left office.  Also think of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy visiting Trump in Florida at Mar-a-Lago today after repudiating his own criticism of the former President’s incitement of the US Capitol riot.

Antony uses rhetoric to portray Caesar in such a positive light that the crowd is enraged and turns against his assassins.  Throughout his speech, Antony refers to Brutus and the assassins as "honorable men,” a bit of reverse psychology when he juxtaposes this with claims that Caesar's actions were not because of his own ambition and lust for power but for the good of the Roman people of whom he was a tireless and devoted champion — saying, "When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: / Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”  He rehabilitates Caesar’s image as a man of the people, denying that Caesar wanted to make himself king, for many witnessed him turn down the crown three times, Antony points out.

As Antony reflects on Caesar's death and the injustice that nobody will be blamed for it, he feigns emotion (what we would call “crocodile tears” today) and deliberately, dramatically pauses, saying, "My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, / And I must pause till it come back to me.”  It is powerful and effective:  the crowd begins to turn against the conspirators.

Antony then whets the crowd’s appetite for more of their fallen leader by proposing then declining to read Caesar's will; the ploy works — the crowd begs him to read it, but he refuses, telling them he does not want to "wrong the honorable men / Whose daggers have stabb'd Caesar.”  The crowd then turns on the assassins, calling the conspirators "traitors" and demands that Antony read the will.

But instead of reading the will, Antony focuses the crowd's attention on Caesar's body, pointing out his wounds and linking each to the conspirators' betrayal of a man (Caesar) who trusted them.  Caesar’s post-mortem transformation from a would-be king into a populist is completed as Antony reveals the contents of Caesar's will, in which "To every Roman citizen he gives, / To every several man, seventy-five drachmas" as well as land, to the crowd.  If that sounds like a lame duck president calling for $2,000 dollar COVID relief stimulus checks, you’re on the right track, thoughtful reader.

Antony ends his speech with an emotional appeal to the crowd’s newfound fondness for their fallen leader — "Here was a Caesar, when comes such another?”  At this point, the crowd begins to riot and search out the assassins with the intention of killing them.  Antony utters under his breath, "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!”

Anti-mimesis is a philosophical concept that proposes the opposite of Aristotelian mimesis.  It was most memorably explained by Oscar Wilde, who summarized it in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying as, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life."

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