Leon Trotsky was a model revolutionary intellectual — wild eyes, wild hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He was one of Lenin’s chief lieutenants in the civil war that overthrew the fledgling democracy that had itself overthrown the tsar. Trotsky commanded the victorious Red Army, served the communist government as its foreign minister, and was widely regarded as Lenin’s anointed successor.
Unfortunately for Trotsky, Josef Stalin regarded himself as Lenin’s successor. Over the years following Lenin’s death, Trotsky was demoted, exiled and ultimately murdered on Stalin’s order by an assassin armed with an ice ax, which he embedded in Trotsky’s skull while Trotsky was reading.
This is all by way of saying Trotsky was a prominent player in Soviet history and politics.
Don’t look for him, though, in official photographs. Long before Photoshop was a gleam in Adobe’s eyes, Stalin discovered the wonders of purging people from history by air-brushing and cropping them out of the historical record.
Here’s a photograph of Trotsky on the steps as Lenin delivers a speech. Now you see him. And now the steps are empty.
Here he is in the center of a jubilant crowd, standing beside Lenin after the revolution. And here’s an empty airbrushed space where Trotsky used to be.
Editing history wasn’t restricted to photographs. Even flattering words from Stalin himself disappeared from the record.
And it wasn’t just Trotsky.
Here’s a grouping of six young socialists sitting with Lenin in 1897. And now here’s the same grouping of five young socialists after Stalin had the missing man shot and air-brushed out of existence in 1930.
Here’s Stalin strolling along a canal with three party officials. The grinning commissar in charge of purges is to Stalin’s left. And now here’s Stalin with nothing to his left except the canal.
How about a grouping of Stalin with three favored comrades where the group diminishes one by one until Stalin stands alone? Or a large 1920 gathering with Lenin that included so many 1930s Stalin-designated “people’s enemies” that the final cut left Lenin alone with author Maxim Gorky.
Photoshop has made the deceitful manipulation of current events and history easier. But in today’s United States, Republicans have discovered you don’t have to change the picture people see. You just have to tell them they aren’t seeing it.
Those “law-abiding” Americans on Jan. 6 just look like they’re kicking policemen and beating them with pipes and flagpoles.
Those “peaceful patriots” aren’t really scaling the Capitol walls. That isn’t a gallows they’ve erected. You don’t really hear them chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and “Stop the steal.” You don’t really see them rooting through senators’ desks or battering the door to the House chamber, or the rioter shot by police in defense of Congress as she’s boosted by the mob up and through the breach.
Jan. 6 was just a “normal tourist visit.”
No need for a special investigation, say Republicans, most of whom voted on Jan. 6 not to certify Joe Biden’s election, and who voted to purge Liz Cheney for daring to speak the truth, and who still can’t summon the courage or virtue to say Donald Trump’s “stolen election” lie is a lie.
Some crop reality by repeating Trump’s lies. Others airbrush the truth by their silence.
I could once more here recite all the audits and recounts, all the rulings and court decisions from Democrats and Republicans, none of which found election fraud. I could detail the reckless “audit” farce currently running amok in Arizona and threatening to infect other states. I could rail at the malignancies Gaetz and Greene spew like self-satisfied toddlers who’ve discovered a new noise they can make with their bodies. Or I could again recite the many words of leaders like McConnell and McCarthy, their spoken outrage at Trump’s “wild falsehoods,” ongoing “unconscionable behavior” and “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” followed by their inevitable, unfathomable hedging and retreat at the first whiff of Trump’s displeasure.
In his bid to say nothing by saying everything, Leader McCarthy did offer a truth worth holding him to: Joe Biden is the “legitimate president.” Any “continued rhetoric” to the contrary is “not the American way.” This would reasonably include Donald Trump’s latest un-American ravings about the “fraudulent presidential election of 2020.”
It’s also worth noting McCarthy and McConnell have stated Trump “bears responsibility” for “the attack on Congress,” with McConnell pronouncing him “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
Finally, both Republican leaders have acknowledged the mob attack Trump incited was intended to “disrupt Congress’s constitutional responsibility” by using force to “stop a specific piece of business they did not like,” namely the certification of Biden’s election.
The use of “force to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States” is a key element in the federal seditious conspiracy statute.
We are each accountable for what we believe, what we say, and what we do. But political leaders, and even minor columnists, should bear in mind what Jesus teaches about millstones and those who lead others astray.
In his Feb. 13 anti-impeachment remarks, Leader McCarthy quotes Abraham Lincoln’s warning about mob rule. McCarthy should have read a paragraph further in Lincoln’s speech.
Mr. Lincoln anticipates the rising of an American leader whose “paramount object” is his own “distinction.” If that man of “genius” and “ambition” fails to gain fame and power by “building up,” he will “set boldly to the task of pulling down.” Mr. Lincoln counsels “when such a one” does “spring up among us,” “it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.”
Sadly, we are presently none of those things — not united, not attached to the government and laws, not informed, and not inclined to heed reason and the “sober judgment of Courts,” preferring instead to follow “wild and furious passions.”
Mr. Lincoln warned us our danger would come from within.
We are the people, and Trump is the man.
What makes it worse is too few of us can see how dangerous we, and he, have become.
Peter Berger has taught English and history for 30 years. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.