By a margin of 7 million votes in 2020, American voters tossed Donald Trump into the trash bin of history. Lest there was any doubt, on Nov. 8 voters sent Trump on to the dump. Nothing good will ever happen again for or to Trump aside perhaps from a split Supreme Court decision or two that will delay for a while longer his final reckoning with the law. History will record his single term as the most disastrous ever, from both domestic and international vantages: record job losses, debt explosions, trade deficits and surrenders to the country’s old communist enemies, Putin and Kim Jong-Un, and his toiling to accommodate the Saudi oil autocrats whose terrorists attacked America on 9/11.
Actually, nothing good ever happened by or to Trump from the moment he took office, unless you count the multiple times his attorney general or a Republican minority in Congress saved him from having to pay for his crimes and stupidity, starting with obstructing justice in the Russia investigation in the spring after taking office. Even the new special counsel apparently will not resurrect the crime that Trump bragged about and that independent counsel Robert Mueller acknowledged had occurred — trying to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Just because it did with Spiro T. Agnew and Richard M. Nixon, justice does not always prevail with the rich and powerful.
But this is about the hopes that many of us have from time to time — that the end of Trump also means the end of the nutty conspiracy theories that defined Trump’s time in the limelight and that have caused so many sicknesses and deaths from a disease that he ridiculed and so much violence against hated minorities — nearly 700 mass killings in America this year alone, a frightening surge that started in 2019 and that continues near daily.
We have to acknowledge, nonetheless, that Trump didn’t start most of those absurd conspiracies. (OK, massive voter fraud that cost him the White House is an obvious exception.) From Hillary’s running a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizza parlor and getting State Department messages on her private email server (how dare the woman?) to rampaging Latinos criminalizing the land, Trump and his shills merely gave the crazy yarns cover, a measure of approbation from the most powerful man on the planet.
The conspiracies that Trump and his minions, including the next governor of Arkansas, promoted urged us all to fear and hate the leftist gun confiscators, Blacks, immigrants, sex perverts, socialists and other radicals who are all out to destroy America, or at least to capture it for the spoils. Most of the conspiracies preceded Donald Trump. Remember the Clinton Body Counts — the wild yarns that spread to the national press about Bill and Hillary Clinton murdering a score or more people, including their friend, the head of the state’s largest law firm, by somehow causing his single-engine plane to miss the little runway as he tried to land on his Faulkner County farm after dusk? Some of the conspiracy hoaxes have been around for a hundred years, although none ever gained much credibility until Trump and his spongers like the Huckabees talked them up.
Let’s consider a few.
*The Socialists. Trump — and nearly the whole Republican Party — has claimed that the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists/the radical left led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They are scheming to impose a leftist agenda that will soon destroy the country. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ first priority as governor, according to all her ads and her victory speech, is to stop Biden from trying to wreck Arkansas with his socialist agenda.
No sign of a radical left in either Congress or the White House has emerged since Biden took office. In 36 years in the Senate, Biden was a pragmatic centrist, well to the right of Northern Republicans like Lowell Weicker, Jacob Javits, Hugh Scott and Charles Percy, and he was on the right flank of the field in the Democratic race for president in 2020. The most liberal Democratic president in history and far, far to the left of Biden, was Harry S. Truman, who integrated the armed forces when integration was an unutterable word, tried to pass a sweeping civil rights law, fought to enact a universal health care bill, worked to expand the rights of unionizing workers, and developed the Truman Doctrine to finance the reconstruction of war-torn Europe and ally with European democracies to protect them from Russian dictators. Trump took an exactly opposite course.
Trump, Sanders and her daddy all condemned President Obama’s health care law — socialized medicine, they called it. The only socialized medicine in America is at VA hospitals.
Sarah’s daddy, you may remember, once promised government-guaranteed medical care for every Arkansan before he left the governor’s office. Then in 2009 as the new president, Barack Obama, was taking up the issue, Huckabee said that every American should be guaranteed the same medical care that was available to U.S. senators — an ultraliberal idea that matched Truman’s. Then when Obama passed a more modest plan, Huckabee joined Republicans in calling it socialized medicine. Trump promised to repeal it when he got in office but never produced a bill. Obamacare brought health security to hundreds of thousands of needy Arkansans, stimulated the state’s moribund economy and filled the state treasury. Presumably, daughter Sarah will ask the legislature in January to curtail Arkansas’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to the needy.
Long before Trump, the Huckabees and Tom Cotton, the socialist bugbear roiled Arkansas politics, although it never amounted to anything. In 1917, hillbilly farmer Sam Faubus and his radical pal Arch Cornett formed the Mill Creek Local of the Socialist Party and tramped over the hills of Madison County to St. Paul to circulate Socialist Party flyers opposing the United States’ entry in World War I. The flyers said the country shouldn’t risk American lives by taking sides in a war between European oligarchies. Sam’s and Arch’s arrests for sedition made the state papers (the war ended before their trials so they never went to jail). When Sam’s son, Orval, was running for governor in 1954 he was attacked as a socialist for having attended a tiny socialist self-help school near Mena during the Depression and getting elected president of the student body. Orval actually gained some sympathy for the attacks, but he was not averse to throwing the socialist label at his own woke critics during the school integration crisis that he fomented. An old friend of mine published a book in 1962 laying the blame for the tumult over racial integration in Arkansas on an old socialist plot that he said Faubus furthered to create chaos and internecine war in American society.
Trump is gone, but we are doomed to live in fear of the socialists and libs for the rest of our lives.
*Vaccines and masks: While we are on socialized medicine, you’ve noticed Sanders’ promise to prevent any vaccine or mask mandates after she takes office in January. Presumably, she won’t even strongly recommend that kids and adults get vaccinated and take other precautions, as Asa Hutchinson did. Regrettably, or perhaps thankfully, there was no Sanders around when people like me were forced by law to get shots to go to school or serve in the armed forces. Sanders might expand her Arkansas history education by reading the Arkansas Supreme Court decision in Cude v. State, when the arch-conservative Justice Sam Robinson, speaking for the Supreme Court, told Archie Cude that he could not hold his children out of school simply because God had ordered him not to have his children vaccinated against smallpox. The law required them to go to school and also to be vaccinated. Numerous federal and state court decisions going back a century said vaccination mandates were proper and necessary to protect public health and that no one could claim the religious freedom to ignore public health laws. Orval Faubus, who later confided to me some admiration for the causes of socialism but not so much for the religious freedom claims, took Archie Cude’s side and made the front pages in Arkansas and New York.
*Guns. Gun worship and its conspiracy elements are a more recent phenomenon. For 185 years, the Second Amendment was interpreted as the founders from the Carolinas and Virginia intended it to be, that guns could be regulated by the government but that states were allowed to form militias of gun owners to fight off insurrections by slaves or Indians, some foreign power like Haiti or Cuba or even an oppressive federal government. In 1923, the Arkansas legislature, bowing to the demands of the Ku Klux Klan and a derivative of the National Rifle Association, passed a law requiring owners of pistols to get permission from the county clerk to own one and to pay an annual tax for it. The clerks, of course, were expected to refuse to give Blacks a permit to have a pistol. The law was universally ignored and the legislature repealed it.
The NRA was mainly a gun-safety organization and a proponent of strict regulation. When the radical Black Panthers, including Arkansas native Eldredge Cleaver of Wabbaseka, brandished .357 Magnums, shotguns and .45 caliber pistols on the statehouse steps to warn against efforts to stop them from carrying firearms in public places, the NRA and its future leader Charlton Heston supported tough laws against open carry and concealed weapons. California and its governor, Ronald Reagan, enacted the first of them. In the ’70s and ’80s, gun makers and right-wingers, eventually led by Heston, took over the NRA and it became a champion of gun liberty. If it did not start it, the NRA embraced the conspiracy theory that socialists and their allies, Black people, intended to ban gun ownership, confiscate weapons and take over the country. Men like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, who were enraged at the courtesies the Army seemed to give Black soldiers, toured gun shows and collaborated with white supremacist groups in Arkansas and elsewhere to accumulate weapons to strike the government they believed had been taken over by socialist plotters and Black schemers. Prosecutor Asa Hutchinson made a name for himself prosecuting the white-supremacist gun nuts in the Ozarks.
The turning point was the election of Barack Obama, which flipped Arkansas overnight from the most solidly Democratic state in the country to a solidly Republican state. The NRA warned that if Obama was elected he would ban the sale of guns. At a table next to me at a barbecue joint after the election, two men exchanged warnings about the coming event. One said he had taken his new son-in-law to a gun store so that both could stock up with weapons before Obama shut down gun sales and began to confiscate them.
The legislature, as we all know, passed laws prohibiting local governments, colleges or any public institution from restricting anyone’s right to carry guns anywhere they wished to go. We are taught by our lawmakers, television and movies that whatever your problems and whether they stem from a parent, a neighbor, rude classmates or an unsympathetic society, an arsenal of weapons is your best or only way out.
Sanders had a neat way of explaining that God gave us guns to solve our problems. “We have guns because it’s our God-given right enshrined in the Constitution,” she tweeted. You probably remember this from history class. When he drafted the Second Amendment, Madison cited God’s commandment in the Ninth Beatitude — “Blessed are the white guys, for they shall inherit all the guns and ammo they want.”