Thursday, July 30, 2020

Being Groomed for Despotism

Among the many things I was taught in seminary, one was particularly useful:

How to identify the techniques that pedophiles and sexual predators use to groom their victims.   Because trust is necessary for healthy community, and there are those who use the trust they've been given to prey on others.  There were a range of things we were told to watch for in our congregations, and misconceptions we'd need to keep at bay if we were to maintain the integrity of our flocks.  

Pedophiles are often charming, outgoing people with natural charisma.  You enjoy them.  You like talking with them.  They don't always manifest as "creepy."  They're just endearing characters.

They seem have an affinity for kids.  They spend time around them.  Show interest, again, in a genuinely charming way.  They seem to have a childlike spirit.  They ingratiate themselves with parents.  All, perfectly normal.  They're part of "us."

Then other things are added in, as trust is gained.  Picture taking.  Offers to help with child care.  

And touch.  First a little.  Then more.  Hands on shoulders.  On sides.  On thighs.  Physical closeness, sometimes in public, as a way of saying, hey, this is all fine.  All perfectly normal, but starting to stretch the sense of what is and is not acceptable.

So that when the boundary is finally crossed, and sexual violation occurs, it feels like less of a violation.  Feels natural.  Expected.  

I'm attuned to that, was taught to watch for that, so that...when I saw all of that happening at my first congregation...I knew not to dismiss it.  I knew I needed to say something.  There were multiple confrontations.  Revelations of past issues.  Of lies and deceptions.  I am not a man who lets his anger out, but I did then.  Ultimately, a long standing member of that little church was told that if he could not change his behavior, he would not be welcome.  He chose to leave.  It was hard as all hell, but calling it out was my duty as a pastor.

I look at the life of our fragile young republic, and I wonder if we are in the same hard place.  

Over the last six years, I've watched as boundaries have been stretched and broken by our current president.  It's fine if candidate Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns to prove he's not financially compromised, it's not illegal.  He's just showing he's strong.  It's fine if he has a long checkered history of cheating and sexual misconduct, because nobody's perfect.  It's fine if he winks at violence, because he's just kidding around.  It's fine if foreign despots hack his political opponents and fill social media with deceptions that support him, because we all know that's how it's always worked. Politics are just corrupt anyway.

It's all about normalizing, about making things seem like they're fine.

Millions of Americans are OK with Trump now lying every day, about things both serious and banal.  Millions are fine with 150,000 dead from a pandemic that Trump chose to ignore, diminish, and politicize. With Trump overtly funneling millions of tax dollars into his hotel businesses.  With Trump calling into question the basic processes of functioning government.  With Trump refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, and state subpoenas, and now openly defying rulings of the Supreme Court.

And, of course, Trump challenging as "fake" and "unfair" anything that doesn't go his way, up to and including the results of elections.  Even elections he won, he's willing to dispute if they didn't make him look good.  

Donald J. Trump is, right now, suggesting that he has the right to ignore an election result that does not go his way.  He is, right now, trying to normalize the idea that if he loses, it will be illegitimate.  He's floated the trial balloon, today, that maybe elections should be postponed. 

A substantial percentage of America has been groomed by Donald J. Trump for despotism, in precisely the way a sexual predator grooms his victims for abuse.  Faced with near certain defeat, he wants those he has seduced into following him to believe they should abandon the most fundamental boundary that separates our republic from dictatorships.

Because the integrity of this republic means nothing to him.  It has never meant anything to him.

That is how predators are.