Seldom is anyone called “evil” anymore. The use of that word is unfashionable and almost taboo, because we assume that if taken seriously, the connotations of “evil” would saturate the world with supernatural improbabilities. If we believed someone could be evil, we’d have to believe in God and the Devil, in Heaven and Hell and in miracles too. We assume that evil, as opposed to just ignorance or selfishness or mistakenness is badness so absolute that it could originate only from a spiritual realm beyond nature, and we no longer really believe there’s any such realm.
If that’s how we’re reasoning, we’re confused about evil because natural evil is real, as I’ll explain. But lending some support to the historical connection between evil and theistic belief in the supernatural is the origin of a synonym for “evil,” which is “wicked.” That word comes from the Old English “wicce” and “wicca,” which are feminine and masculine words, respectively, meaning witch and wizard. Those words in Middle English became Christianized as “wikked,” meaning bad.
Thus, wickedness was identified with natural as opposed to godly magic. If the Devil rules the material plane while the benevolent God is absent, as made explicit in Gnosticism, those who derive their power from an occult allegiance with natural forces — namely witches and wizards — were supposed to be absolutely opposed to God-given morality. Hence the prospect of evil depended on theological assumptions.
The Natural Reality of Evil
In any case, our present, secular confusion about evil is apparent from the widespread presumption that we have to make a binary choice about the peculiar malignancy of Donald Trump: Is he evil or just mentally ill? We assume he can’t be both and that’s where we’re wrong. Allow me to lay the matter out plainly for you. There has never been anything supernatural in the religious sense, which is to say moral right and wrong have never been based on something that couldn’t be scientifically explained, such as a divine commandment. Morality has always been based on something natural.
The reason morality is metaphysically natural rather than illusory or unreal is that people are real and different people can behave in very different ways. What we call normal, civilized behaviour is the morality of the human herd, the civility and productivity of those who follow the social contract. Ordinary good behaviour is the conventional kind that preserves the social order and doesn’t scare children.
By contrast, bad behaviour in the conventional sense is just criminality, the breaking of the laws that elaborate on the social contract and that reflect several revolutions in human thinking about our potential, including the Axial Revolutions (which reverberated in Christianity), the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.
But there are also unconventional kinds of goodness and badness. The former we call heroic, which we celebrate in movies about brave soldiers, wise statesmen, and plucky underdogs who beat the odds. Then there’s the rare kind of badness which we dramatize as monstrousness.
Ask yourself where the idea of “evil” really came from — not the self-serving Christian concept, which is more political than moral, but the transcultural idea of extreme badness. There are two sources. The first is nature’s indifference or inhumanity, which caused all manner of catastrophes and cataclysms throughout our evolution, from floods to droughts to fires to hurricanes to ice ages. Of course, natural disasters are amoral in that they’re impersonal, but that’s only to say there’s a horror more profound than anything a person is capable of.
The second, more relevant source is the human predator or parasite that doesn’t have a choice in doing wrong because his character — and it’s usually male — is thoroughly corrupt. Currently, we have some psychological understanding of this type of “person” and we call him “psychopathic” or “malignantly narcissistic” or we apply some other technical, psychiatric term.
The key feature of this antisocial character is the lack of empathy or remorse. Remember when you were carefree as a child? Well, imagine what it would be like as an adult to be unable to care about other people’s suffering, not because you don’t understand what suffering is but because you’re mentally locked into your self-centered view. You’re just not conditioned for empathy or compassion.
Now combine that short-sightedness with the recklessness that can develop in such a carefree adult, since you’d lack emotions such as guilt or shame that would regulate your moral compass. You just act, often self-destructively, based on selfish impulse and you couldn’t care less about the negative consequences for anyone else who’s caught up in your adventures. There you have the makings of a natural, human monster, and that’s the real origin of evil on earth, the rare total breakdown of our social instinct.
Political Correctness and the Reluctance to Call Trump “Evil”
Once this is clear, we can see the confusion in asking whether Donald Trump is evil or just crazy. Real evil is a type of craziness. To be more psychologically precise, evil is based on certain severe personality disorders and dysfunctions.
We often shy away from thinking of evil as a natural phenomenon, not just because “evil” is tainted with outdated theistic connotations, but because we fear it’s politically incorrect to associate mental illness with the worst possible badness.
Of course, thinking of all of the hundreds of mental disorders as forms of outright evil would be ludicrous, as should become clear as soon as we stop indulging in medieval demonization or in an overreliance on theology. Monstrous human behaviour is based on a handful of specific antisocial psychological conditions. The many other types of mental illness may be bad only in the sense that, by definition, they differ from pictures of mental health, which is why civilized society is set up to treat those conditions if they become sufficiently severe.
Evil is an extreme type of badness and there’s just no need to overgeneralize and to treat, for example, the badness of depression, shyness, or anorexia as the same as evil. For that reason, political correctness as a reason to avoid the secular use of the word “evil” is wrongheaded. If we just respect the fact that words have specific meanings, and avoid being so lazy with our generalizations, we’ll be fine.
This isn’t just a semantic question, mind you. It’s much more important to denounce human monstrosity or evil when we’re unfortunate enough to encounter it, than to quibble about the appropriateness of certain labels and to fail to prepare for the battle we’re faced with. This in a nutshell is the epic failure of Democrats as they embarrass themselves and admirers of heroism everywhere, with their legalistic fretting and resorting to timid euphemisms such as to Trump’s “temperamental unfitness,” as the technocrat Hillary Clinton put it, instead of naming the monstrosity that’s obvious for all to see.
That monstrosity and evil individual is named Donald Trump. He’s currently president of the United States. If you dismiss that moral condemnation as preposterous or hysterical, because you believe Trump’s not so bad after all or you assume he behaves just like most politicians, you’re deaf and blind (assuming you’ve been living in an English-speaking country). If you’re a Trump supporter and you dismiss that righteous condemnation of Trump, you’ve been deafened and blinded by the very evil in question as you’ve been caught up in the mob mentality Trump’s shameless con artistry has stoked.
To be clear, I’m saying Donald Trump is mentally ill and that he’s so bad he’s evil, and that his badness is due to a specific, rare type of severe mental dysfunction. His monstrous character traits are grounded in his mental architecture that’s either genetic or that developed in him from an early age so that by now he’s certainly incapable of controlling his badness. That badness remains in all its immense immorality, regardless of Trump’s lack of self-control.
How so? Because the worst type of badness — known as “evil” — has always ever been just that lack of freedom, that antisocial recklessness caused by an inability to feel anyone else’s pain. To deny humans are capable of any such behavioural extremes requires blindness to history and to the daily news. To deny that those extremes deserve moral condemnation is to sell morality short.
This isn’t to say all psychopaths should be exterminated like the monsters in horror movies, but it does mean that civilized society is at war with the subcriminal psychopaths who weaponize their mental dysfunctions, which is obviously what Trump has done.
Chess and the Varieties of Evil
Perhaps you’re thinking Trump can’t be evil because he’s never killed anyone. If you’ve entertained that thought, allow me to relieve you of it with an analogy. Have a look at a chess set. Notice that the two sides are black and white, symbolizing the moral absolutes. Now notice the difference between the pawns and the king. The pawns are the foot soldiers that do the dirty work while the king makes the big decisions in the background, protected by his castles, his bishops, his knights, and his loyal queen. If it’s the black side, the colour of which symbolizes immorality, based on the universal symbolism of day and night (not on the difference between dark and light skin), the king’s controlling his society for sinister, destructive purposes, symbolically speaking.
Killing is getting your hands dirty and that’s a job for pawns that are relatively worthless to the king. The king exploits and disposes of his small-minded pawns, since getting used to killing people shrinks your mental faculties, which is why a mentally healthy soldier is typically traumatized by war. The king doesn’t get his hands dirty since he lives in the lap of luxury and has henchman who, out of foolishness or desperation are willing to destroy themselves, mentally or physically, by directly confronting the king’s enemies. In this way, the black king in chess represents the stock character of the evil mastermind, familiar from comic books and science fiction stories.
The pawns are like weapons and the king is the mind that controls them. What’s more evil, then, the gun that shoots innocent people or the person who indirectly pulls the trigger?
The Obviousness of Trump’s Evil
Perhaps Trump hasn’t indirectly killed anyone yet, but that’s not for lack of trying. Have a look at his six-page screed which he sent to Nancy Pelosi. There you’ll find him demonizing the Democrats just as he’s demonized the press, the American military intelligence community, minorities and asylum seekers, and anyone who opposes him and his base of supporters. In that letter you’ll also find plenty of evidence of Trump’s monstrosity. Take all the examples of the pot calling the kettle black that have ever occurred and add them up. Their total egregiousness doesn’t approach that of Trump’s bizarrely feeble mental projections of malice.
To demonize your foes as a leader is to prepare your henchmen to destroy those enemies. So Trump is trying to act like the black king who would squander the lives of his pawns in a culture war that would accomplish little more than boosting his childish ego. If Trump were more intelligent and competent, he’d be an incarnation of a villainous mastermind straight out of the comic books.
Now you might be thinking that I’m demonizing Trump and his Republican cult just like he’s demonizing the Democrats. So let’s be clear on what “demonize” means. To demonize someone is to make that person seem worse than she is, by equating her with a demon even though she isn’t literally one. That’s not what I’m doing with Trump. I’m saying real evil is and has always been identical to a particular mental condition which Trump has. I’m not saying Trump is a supernatural creature. On the contrary, at the outset I dismissed all references to the supernatural.
By being the pot that calls the kettle black and by being that way thousands upon thousands of times for the masterminding purpose of gaslighting the nation, Trump is at a minimum exaggerating the badness of his enemies. When I’m calling Trump “evil,” I’m not exaggerating. I’ve explained what evil really is and I’ve posited that Trump has the mental disorders in question. But by saying that by impeaching him, Democrats declared “open war on American Democracy” and “display unfettered contempt for America’s founding,” as Trump says in his letter, Trump is at a minimum misunderstanding the nature of his enemies.
The Lesser Badness of Democrats
Alas, the Democrats are bad, too, albeit not as bad as Trump and his “Republicans.” The latter are evil while the former are naïve, complacent, and cowardly or in a word, decadent. Trump’s Republicans are recklessly weakening American values and harming their country’s standing in the world, and they’re doing so as a necessary evil since they’re exploiting Trump’s mental disorders and incompetence, to install hundreds of conservative judges who will blight the land for a generation. (On Fox News, Senate Majority Leader McConnell laughed about holding up dozens of Obama’s nominees, including Obama’s pick to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court.)
There’s more than enough badness to go around in godless nature. Indeed, there’s so much of it that we should be connoisseurs who are able to make fine distinctions between the flavours of badness we encounter. Let’s not confuse the masculine flavours with the feminine ones, for example.
Liberals such as Paul Begala demonstrate that confusion when they chastise Trump’s sycophantic Republicans for “lacking a backbone” since, as these Republicans supposedly reason, the President controls the base of Republican support and would squash internal resistance to his agenda. In an article for CNN, Begala’s confusion begins with the title, “Trump’s letter to Pelosi isn’t ‘sick,’ it’s evil.” I applaud Begala for using the scary E-word, but as I explained, evil is real precisely because it’s a rare type of illness rather than anything mysterious and supernatural.
Begala goes on to riff on the Democratic meme about Republican spinelessness: “Yet when Trump unsubtly threatened violence against members of Congress, not a single Republican member of Congress called him on it. You couldn’t find a backbone in the House GOP caucus with an MRI.” Here it’s the liberal who’s the pot calling the kettle black, since Democrats are the ones bringing lawyerly papers to a gun fight and who prefer to be led by doddering elderly persons like Pelosi, Biden, Warren, or Sanders or by triangulating moderates such as Obama and Bill or Hillary Clinton.
No, if you think Trump’s Republicans are spineless, you’re in the dark, so allow me to shed some light. Republican spines are so dense and mighty, Republicans are weighed down by them so that they’ve passed far beyond courage into chutzpah territory. Holding up Obama’s liberal nominees, exploiting an evil madman like Trump to stuff the courts with conservative judges, and laughing about it on television? That’s chutzpah, not spinelessness. Unlike Democrats who sabotage the “socialists” on their team, such as Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign, Republicans actually believe in their values, be they the Evangelical Christian or the secular libertarian ones.
Those “conservative values” are themselves monstrous, which is why Republicans have long laid the groundwork for the ascendency of an evil man like Donald Trump, from McCarthy’s xenophobia to Nixon’s megalomania, to the hypocrisy of televangelist firebrands, to the demagogic cruelty of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, to the pettiness of Newt Gingrich and the reptilian gall of Mitch McConnell, to the incompetence of Bush Jr. and the ignorance and vulgarity of Sarah Palin. Why should American conservatives stand up to a monster like Trump whom they’ve spent decades creating?
It’s up to Democrats to stand up to that monster, and the first step is for them to recognize that they’re confronting an evil monster!