Asshole-ism Retreats South

Asshole-ism Retreats South

Jan. 20, 2021 –

Stirred by today’s inauguration of the second Catholic POTUS and first female VPOTUS, I suddenly remembered this unpublished op-ed I wrote in the middle of 2018. I thought I’d take the opportunity to place it on the record today, just as a testament to what we may, if we’re lucky, be leaving behind. Sort of. Maybe. I’ll just paste it in here unedited. Enjoy.




Roger Kimmel Smith

Here’s one way the American democratic experiment ends, if we let it. Only one generation after winning the Cold War and defeating Communism, the nation’s governing ideology has devolved into a system of values we have not yet acknowledged or given a name, but which I would propose we call Assholeism.

The Ugly American—remember that guy? He rules the country now. He turns his back on the Queen of England for no reason but to demonstrate mafioso dominance and contempt for anything that upholds traditions, norms, values, or awareness of history. Then he shrugs and walks on, in that marvelous oblivion that is narcissism.

This demagogue’s loyal followers have one overriding public attitude, and that is hate. The chords of hatred were played as soon as the asshole first announced his candidacy. The Ku Klux Klan and other peddlers of white chauvinism and race hatred, promoters of all other varieties of venomous enmity toward one’s fellow man and woman, heard the call and jumped quickly aboard. Do the math: hate is the common denominator. Remember that beatings and physical menace were and are ever-present at the Asshole-in-Chief’s campaign events. Recall that the victims at these events have often been selected from the dais. This is now part of our political culture; these campaign rallies have continued throughout the asshole regime.

“Trial runs for fascism are in full flow,” writes Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times. This most malodorous of F-words is, after all, the proverbial elephant in the Grand Old Party’s big tent. Its tradition has been very visibly, repeatedly, even brashly invoked, by both the campaign and the governing style of this Republican administration. Among the many elements of propaganda newly introduced into American politics since the 2016 campaign, Joseph Goebbels’s Big Lie has been among the most effective. The Big Lie should be, in fact must be told openly, with the utmost disregard for just how blatantly false its declarations are. Fuck the truth, and those enemies who speak it, is its real proclamation. Only power matters: that’s the hidden curriculum the Big Lie teaches.

Remember also that a cardinal principle motivating Hitler and Goebbels was that propaganda and violence were inextricably integrated and mutually reinforcing. The one always contained the other. 

Reasonable people might think I’m carrying the Third Reich analogy too far. Be that as it may, I do think what we’re seeing is something new: a departure from the European tradition of fascism, the first home-grown American variant of this noxious and perennial weed. This new strain deserves its own, American name. Assholeism will serve quite well, in my view.

Power, in its bluntest and most unsavory form, is the asshole’s only watchword. It trumps the truth. It bullies traditions and norms of any kind. It mocks the good word of all gospels save the gospel of power and dominance. It tramples gleefully over notions of right and wrong. It pisses upon womanhood and puts children in cages. It smirks at morality and ethics. Fuck your better angels. The putridity of its all-corroding cynicism rots every field of public discourse and every domain of society it grabs by the pussy.

The ideology of assholeism is by no means confined to one individual, as amazing a specimen as he may be. The whole cabal holding power in Washington, like their billionaire and corporate patrons, now openly embrace this evil combination of brutal power, murderous hatred, and indifference to morality. They are supported by a great many U.S. citizens—a minority, to be sure, but quite likely a third or more of us—who admire the asshole’s bad-boy qualities, his arrogance and swagger. An entire U.S. political party has abetted assholeism, caved to it, enacted its agenda, turned a blind eye to its violence and ugliness, and operated by its mafioso code. Instead of a Garland, they will forever wear a Gorsuch around their necks. Assholeism, thy name is Republican.


If we, the people of the United States of America, are going to mount a successful resistance to the power grabs of the Republican Party and its Asshole-in-Chief, we’re going to need to speak a language that blazes the meaning of right and wrong across the sky. We’ve got to hold fast to our collective moral bearings and remember it matters that we choose good over evil.

There is a moral tradition in American political history. I believe that’s a statement with which it’s not easy to disagree. But perhaps even more unarguable, these days, is to note that our politics has an immoral tradition as well. The founders were slaveholders who were willing to compute an African American as three fifths of a person. A century or so later, their equally cynical Gilded-Age descendants connived to equate a business corporation with a person in the eyes of the law. Genocide is in the American grain, lest we forget; it echoes in the asshole’s choice of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson as the POTUS portrait under which he prefers to pose.

My point is, haters, bigots, xenophobes, and fomenters of violence have ample roots to draw on in our political culture. We are seeing America’s demon seed taking root before our eyes and growing day by day.

But as I was saying, there is a moral tradition that runs counter to all this, and it’s what we need now perhaps more than anything. It’s time to summon Tom Paine—who in 1776 wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls,” and who later enumerated the Rights of Man—along with Thoreau, the abolitionists, and Frederick Douglass (the asshole was right, he’s still doing a tremendous job). Let’s call upon the moral leadership of female activists from Sojourner Truth and the suffragists to the sixties, and finally to #metoo and what’s-new-pussyhat. Allow me to salute the prescience of Naomi Wolf, who tried to warn us what was coming back during the Bush/Cheney years.

This spring we witnessed a national call to moral revival, inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign for which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life half a century ago. This idea of a return to public morality has got to accelerate in the weeks to come and catch fire in every state of this imperfect union, if we’re to have a prayer of slowing down this apocalypse and preserving any semblance of the republic as we have known it. Human solidarity has got to stare down and stave off the celebration of hate. 

If it’s true that we get the government we deserve, we have one last chance to deserve better than being governed according to the tenets of assholeism.


P.S.: What a relief that we passed that test. There will be others. But from now on we can say with empirical backing that we do qualify as deserving better.