Gacy and Trump: the surprise connection

Sociopaths are never at a loss to explain their bad behavior. The mystery is why some people believe them.

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John Wayne Gacy, who performed as a clown at children’s birthday parties, in make-up in front of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park.

John Wayne Gacy, who performed as a clown at children’s birthday parties, in makeup in front of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park. He was executed by lethal injection in Stateville in 1994.

Associated Press

John Wayne Gacy sued Des Plaines and its police department. For harassment. For illegally searching his home in unincorporated Norwood Park. For insisting on following him around, prying into his affairs, undermining his reputation as a pillar of the community with their relentless questions, implying some kind of link between him and missing young men.

His lawyer filed the suit on Dec. 19, 1978, seeking $750,000. Two days later, bodies were discovered in a crawlspace in Gacy’s home.

Consider the chutzpah of the criminal. Their minds are skewed, warped. They have already deceived themselves into believing they have the right to do evil, to rob, to kill, to rape, to satisfy themselves while hurting others. They also are skilled at fooling their victims, tricking them, luring them into ruin. And so certain criminals believe, not without reason, they can deceive you, too. Because they are so much smarter, in their own minds.

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Part of the contempt that allows a person to do evil is an unshakable sense of superiority. Gacy claimed self-defense. As the bodies piled up, he confessed. Later, he insisted he didn’t do it. This shape-shifting dynamic — squinting, evaluating any current situation and then trying to squirm out of it — is the grease sociopaths skid through life on. Or try to. The baldness is shocking.

When the FBI executed a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, the range of excuses immediately offered by the former president and his army of enablers almost exhausts the range of human imagination. These are just mementos. No, the papers were overlooked briefings, brought home by our hardworking chief executive. No, the classified documents weren’t classified, because he said so. No, it was all a plot. No, the papers were planted. And on and on.

The brio is breathtaking.

I know we’re not supposed to be surprised at this point. But any decent person almost has to be surprised. There is a baseline assumption of truth, rationality, that holds back law-abiding citizens, causing us to lag many steps beyond those who leap ahead, unhindered by any pang of conscience or shred of humanity.

That’s why we still remember Gacy after nearly half a century. We know killers exist. We know Gacy was a killer. But the specifics of his crimes are still shocking. He raped and tortured and killed 33 young men and boys. We don’t want to live in a world where that’s ordinary, accepted, forgettable.

Ditto for Trump. He would like us to accept the entire circus as normal, so long as he is the ringmaster. That’s what all these lies are about. You aren’t really expected to believe any particular one. They are offered and dropped too quickly. Instead, they’re supposed to be a smokescreen to undermine the belief that anything is true. The key point — the government tried for a year to get those documents back — is simply ignored. You’re expected to ignore it, too.

We have to always remember the swiftness with which the Republicans turned, savagely, on the FBI, on the Justice Department. In a totalitarian state, the leader is the king, and his word is truth. His word is law. Period. Rationalize it how you like.

That’s what the GOP stands for now. It’s a fascist party. All the rest is window dressing. A vote for most Republicans is a vote to end voting. For truth as a flexible fig leaf, custom-made to cover the latest shame they’d rather you not notice.

Take comfort. Evil is always a minority. We must remember that most people are good, decent people, who want an honest, law-abiding society. But evil also offers a warning. Gacy remains a cautionary tale, pointing out that any particular supposedly upright citizen might not in fact be trustworthy.

Someday, Trump might be just another shameful stain on our nation’s reputation, a reminder that Americans, too, can go mad and follow a sociopath. But first we have to get him off the streets. Of course his supporters will scream, threaten, commit acts of violence. No evidence will sway them, because had they ever been assessing reality, they wouldn’t believe what they do.

All the more reason to enforce the law when it comes to Donald Trump as if he were any other American which, sadly, tragically, he most certainly is not. Just as John Wayne Gacy wasn’t your average clown.

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