When Sociopaths Rule

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

Carrie Fisher died today. I also took the kids to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which includes a (very) slight surprise ending that made me cry, all things considered. This post isn’t quite about Carrie or Star Wars, even though non-nerds are looking to check out, so bear with me.

I was 8 years old in 1977 when I saw the original Star Wars. The Cold War was still a real thing, and many people wondered if—or when—World War III might break out. The possibility of a Death Star annihilating whole planets was not too far-fetched. My father was still in the army then, still working as a tech, building and repairing nuclear weapons and instructing the National Guard in their use. By then, most of the pictures of nuclear mushroom clouds—real ones—were no longer gracing our walls as they had when I was younger. Dad was very proud of these pictures, which I understood stemmed from his pride in being peripherally involved with one of mankind’s highest technological “achievements.” My father was no Oppenheimer, but he fancied that he could have been.

Where my father saw pride, I saw fear and devastation from toddlerhood on. When I expressed my fears about the Soviets and nuclear war, he assured me that he knew how to survive one. It didn’t occur to him that I might not want to survive one.

Before my father was in the army, he was in the navy. In October, 1962, he was aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, now a museum in New York City, when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. The Intrepid headed for Cuba and God only knows what. Every seaman on that ship thought World War III was at hand. Thankfully, the Soviets backed down, and the crisis was averted. Unfortunately, fear of nuclear holocaust was not.

When the Berlin Wall fell, I cheered along with everyone else. When the Soviet Union became simply Russia, and the Cold War faded to dust, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, the world still had nukes. But maybe they would just rot in their silos.

And then came Trump.

I’m not sure what I expected from 2016, but being faced with a President Trump was not one of them. A Republican I disliked, sure, but a thin-skinned, reactionary demagogue who is the political equivalent of a hammer in search of a nail was not one of them. The Russians may suddenly be our new overlords, but now Trump is looking for a fight with… China? North Korea? Iran? Himself? Was goes on in that straw-covered, fevered brain?

The Donald gave the world a new nuclear arms race for Christmas. Or a sort of arms race. A threat. A warning. A reason to buy lots of Trump wine. Or vodka.

The Universe has an eerie sense of timing. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is about the development of the planet-killing Death Star. When this awesome weapon is first deployed, the program leader calls the resulting mushroom-cloud-like explosion, “beautiful.” It is the sort of beauty only a sociopath could appreciate.

Climate change is occurring, but the sociopaths say, “No, that’s a hoax.” Cigarettes are good for you. We have nukes; why can’t we use them? (That last courtesy of The Donald.) It’s bad enough that the forces of White Nationalism have risen, that minorities are afraid, that a ridiculous loon is going to be… I can’t write it. This is all bad enough, but how on earth did nukes come back into play? Have we elected General Jack D. Ripper, from Dr. Strangelove? Instead of Commies being the problem, it’s now the minorities and the Chinese?

The problem with having a sociopath in charge is that the other sociopaths flock to them, and then the spineless stop speaking the truth (I’m talking to you, GOP). Who needs Stormtroopers when you have an army of Internet trolls ready and willing to unleash fear on those who have been chosen for “the treatment?”

I know there’s a healing opportunity in all of this. I know there is a way forward. The problem that many of us are having is how to shake off this horrible depression, this feeling of detachment from something we were very attached to, the feelings of betrayal, and to find our energy and channel it appropriately. I do not advocate violence. That will only make things worse. But we must defend what freedoms we have, what voice we have, and move forward for the good of humanity and the planet. This is do-or-die time, folks. You cannot sit this one out. Now is the time to take a stand.

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