We are living through a pandemic contagion of the COVID-19 virus that, in the innocence of January of last year, was still to reap its rampage of millions of sick people and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Around that time then-President Trump minimized the danger of the virus and then, flying in the face of science, suggested that the COVID-19 virus would soon pass away. He continued for months to discourage masks, propagating his own sense of invulnerability to those in his Republican constituency who continued to go without masks as a symbol of their loyalty to him and fear of his disfavor.

This bizarre phenomenon was only one aspect of a second contagion, one of lies and myths that continued concurrently with the contagion of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost in sickness and lost lives of this foolishness both in and beyond the White House in known to us all. Science lost out to politics and the catastrophe from which we are still trying to extract ourselves ensued. The Trump contagion of lies and myths and conspiracy theories, met with silence, tacit or open support by the Republican party, manifested itself in a series of nearly catastrophic events the results of which will remain to plague American democracy for years to come.

A few months ago, I wrote a guest editorial in this paper depicting the increasingly fascist and dictatorial characteristics of Donald Trump’s presidency and suggested that maybe, just in the nick of time, we mitigated the danger of a dictatorial government with the election of the Biden administration. Then, on and before Jan. 6, 2021, the specter of fascism reappeared in a preposterous claim that despite the outcome of a legitimate election, Trump and the majority of his administration insisted that the election was “stolen” by the Democrats. Trump would continue to deny the election results, obstruct the transition of power, file frivolous lawsuits based on nonsensical lies, and fight in his self-serving dictatorial style to remain in office.

The Republican Party, for the most part, either openly or tacitly, supported his lie. Then, as his final Presidential act, having infected his constituency with the myth of a stolen election, he ultimately encouraged a crowd of his extremist supporters to attack the Capitol and interrupt the democratic process that would affirm that Biden won the election. After four years of lies, ruthlessness and incompetent leadership this Mussolini cutout ended his Presidency with an act of insurgency and sedition. We all witnessed a historical first in this abhorrent act against our democracy.

Thus, the contagion of the Trump years continued. Trump, with the commitment and devotion of most Republicans, launched this second contagion by remaining silent on an infectious complex of lies and myths that were devoutly believed by the white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic, conspiracy advocates like the Proud Boys, QAnon and Christian right fanatics in the Republican constituency. The internet has compounded this contagion and continues to draw in desperate and confused people looking for simple answers. As guilty as Trump is for this contagion, the Republican Senators and Congressional leaders who are silent beside this broach of American democracy are equally implicated in this contagion. They still fear that losing their crackpot leader’s approval can destroy their careers, lose them their right-wing constituents’ votes at home, their political careers, their six-figure salaries, and their perks and pensions.

When the Republican Senate, with the exception of seven patriotic members, acquitted Donald Trump of the Democratic charges of crimes and misdemeanors in the impeachment trial following the insurgency on our Capitol, they had a rational reason to leave their moral compass at home that day. Donald Trump’s electorate, containing millions of extremist voters infected with the lies of the Trump contagion, could not be sacrificed for an obviously correct moral decision. The survival of the Trump-led Republican Party was at stake. Politics is, after all a blood sport, a tough win-or-lose game. Many of us wondered how they could live with the perpetual shame that the historical record will ultimately lay on their shoulders. It seems that they can live with it, the historical record be damned. However, I don’t think the rest of us can.

There are two contagions running parallel, with one feeding the other. One we hope to beat with a vaccine, but the other that is breeding hatred, contempt and mistrust is one of lies and has no vaccine. In pandemics of the past, in 1918 and even earlier in the Black Plague epidemic of the 17th century, rumors and conspiracy theories flew rampant as fear and uncertainty were bred in the vortex of a plague. The QAnon conspiracies of child abuse, plots against Trump and other crazy tales are toxins of our time. Compound this with other lies and misdeeds bred from the ashes of the Trump Republican administration, such as encouragement of white supremacy and Christian nationalist violence, racism, anti-Semitism, suppression of voting rights of minorities, and a world of “alternate facts,” and we have the second contagion and the strong potential for destroying our democracy as our founders intended it to be.

Can the Republican Party renew itself or be reborn into a supportive constituency of our democracy with moral leadership as an example? Can Democrats and a reformed Republican Party work cooperatively to save us from the slippery slope we are on toward democracy’s failure? Surely there is a way out, and as Americans we will hopefully seek it and discover it.

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