SURPRISE: THE DONALD’S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MORPHS INTO A RELIGIOUS CULT
AND THE DONALD IS ENSHRINED AS ITS CHRIST LIKE LEADER
Was listening to NPR’s Diane Rheem show yesterday morning where David Rothkopf, CEO and editor at Foreign Policy Magazine and author of "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear” and Holger Stark, Washington bureau chief of "Der Spiegel" magazine were discussing Donald Trump (natch!) and the rise of fascism both here in the United States and in Europe. It was a solid, meaty discussion with forays into the definition of “Fascism,” the efficacy of tagging Donald Trump as a Fascist and Europe’s history of and current rise of Fascism.
But as Diane took calls from listeners, one man summed up the essential problem that we (liberals, progressives and everyone else who thinks that The Donald is simply not qualified to be President of the United States) all face in this extraordinary year of the new age of spectacle politics. This (paraphrasing a bit since I did not record his comment) is what he said:
“I’ve been listening to your liberal panelists dissing Trump but what you liberals ignore is that Muslims with their terrorism, Sharia Law and murderous ways are a danger to all us Americans and immigrants are destroying America’s economy taking jobs from us and should be deported and only Trump is telling us the truth.”
And this, with the caller’s appropriate combination of anger, disdain and incredulity, in what I believe was a single sentence, (he might have said more) captures why it is that Trump is a danger and why no matter what we – the rest of us – may do between now and next November, there is absolutely nothing that will damage Trump in the eyes of his supporters or prove to them that he is a liar who cannot be trusted to be the most powerful leader on the planet. The panelists responded to the caller by saying exactly what needed to be said. One said that this caller represented an essential Fascist trope: feelings, views and ideologies based on fictions and not facts and the popularity of unsupported populist tropes
Conservatives and Republicans (The Heritage Foundation, The American Family Association, Crossroads GPS, The Tea Party, The Freedom Caucus, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Cruz, et al) have been paving the way for this intolerant, ignorant and dangerous swell of populist rhetoric and ideas for decades. When welfare and immigrants and liberals and intelligence and thoughtful discourse are both demeaned and dismissed for decades, it should be no surprise that Donald Trump, playing straight into the fear and divisive rhetoric and governance of the past thirty years that has effectively destroyed what we used to term “centrism” or “middle-of-the-roadism,” no one should be shocked that Donald can call for the deportation of 11 million people, banning Muslims from entering the country and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep out Mexicans, who as we all know, are simply rapists and murderers. After all, these are solutions to what the caller and Trump supporters believe have been the problems that have caused them to be disenfranchised from the political process and led to their economic and social demise.
If you think back to Ronald Reagan, you can sum up his entire policy foundation with these three of his homilies: “Cutting Taxes Creates Jobs,” “The Private Sector Can Do It Better,” and “Government Isn’t The Solution, Government Is The Problem.” These fundamental precepts coupled with his exhortations to “Personal Responsibility and Individual Initiative” have been elaborated upon through Republican and Democratic administrations alike since 1980, but they are really all you need to know about the mess we find ourselves in as a nation today in 2016. And, his three policy memes are just like the comment made by this morning’s caller: They have no basis in fact, are nothing more then campaign sloganeering and yet still provide the playbook for today’s Republican Party that is still calling for cutting taxes, reducing government, cutting regulations and allowing businesses to wreck havoc on America despite three decades of evidence that these “policies” have been an abject failure.
But Trump has fished deeply into the fears of his supporters (not an insignificant portion of America’s population) that there are all these forces – immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, liberal, the press – working against them and are, in fact, the sources of their troubles. Trump’s whacking of the liberal press at his press conference day before yesterday is simply another of the Silent Majority's favorite bête noirs – the lamestream liberal press - contributing to the destruction of what used to be their comfortable, orderly and prosperous lives. What they see in Trump are the corollaries to Reagan’s three policy tropes ignited: he is, to them, an individual who has been personally responsible for his own magnificent success and has done it through his own individual initiative.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. He is not a self-made billionaire, he has used government subsidies, land condemnations, bankruptcy laws, tax laws and every other government assistance available to him, all along the way to increase his wealth and power all the way to his current Presidential run. But, like Diane’s caller, the truth of his rise, his accumulation of wealth, his power, matters not a whit because his supporters are caught up in a fantasy of retribution on their enemies and redemption from their woeful state that is not and cannot be countered with facts, data and truth. Their support for and view of Trump is a religion to them. They hold a set of beliefs based not on analysis or facts or information, but on faith, and whether Trump knows this or he is just the consummate showman pleasing folks with his performance, (and altering it along the way as required) he is keying perfectly into their holy crusade to right the wrongs that have been heaped upon them and to punish the perpetrators of these multitudinous wrongs that have so thwarted their hopes and desires. And like deep believers in Christianity or Islam, no amount of rational thought will sway them from their holy crusade to elect Trump President, who they believe will smite their enemies and lead them to the Promised Land.
Trump’s involvement with the press and the media has overtones of the evangelical preachers with their television studios, TV broadcasts and radio shows in an effort to reach as many of the devoted as possible to spread the word. In the case of the preachers, it is the Word of God. With The Donald, it is simply the Word of Donald. Except that in Trump’s case, the media flows both ways, something he chafes over. He would rather that his media pronouncements go unchallenged because he is Donald Trump after all, and those pesky reporters with their pesky questions are not. But there is more to it than just Trump getting more media coverage than God on Easter Sunday every day. When he spars with the press as he did yesterday, it only goes to prove to his supporters that the press is liberal. nasty and biased against him, a claim Trump made himself, and simply reinforces their already made up minds about the media. The question of whether The Donald was lying or even misinformed or not recalling correctly about the veterans fundraiser, the amount of money raised, when it was raised, where it went, are or should have been legitimate inquiries into the matter after the Washington Post published an article asking these very questions. The Donald was livid. “How dare you question my motives and my handling of this? How dare you question me?” was his basic response. This too dovetails nicely into the Silent Majority’s belief that he is being unfairly persecuted by the pointy headed, liberal intelligentsia for what was a noble deed. They see him as a Christ figure, beset by his and their enemies on all sides.
There are interesting comparisons between the Trump and Sanders campaigns since Bernie’s too, tends to take the form of a religious crusade. But the fundamental difference is that Sander’s policy proposals are based on fact and in reality, not some populist fantasies that are at best fictional concoctions untethered from the real world. And Bernie doesn’t make statements that imply the shredding of several Constitutional rights that we all enjoy or the jailing of Muslims as Trump, ever ready to please his base, does. Even though Bernie’s supporters have a similar religious like fervor towards their candidate, you can quarrel with the efficacy of the Democratic Socialism Sanders is proposing, but at least his proposals are rational, practical and real.
So as Hillary’s folks formulate their political strategies to defeat Trump, they need to take into account the nature of Trump’s support as a religious movement much more so than as a political one. Note, also, that Trump has now become the persecuted Christ figure of a religious cult with enormous populist appeal.
Frankly, I think that only a full scale fusillade, using every means and tactic that is legal, no matter how partisan, no matter how abhorrent, no matter how un-seemly and disgusting such might be, is the only way that more and more Americans won’t be swayed to vote for the religious figurehead that is Donald J. Trump and join his religious cult campaign of mystery and faith. His “Follow me and I will save you” appeal is tremendously seductive. Countering this appeal will be difficult if concern over creating more sympathy for Trump is a strategic consideration. But ultimately Trump’s appeal is limited to a relatively narrow segment of the voting public. After all, we elected that lying, criminal, secret Muslim, un-American dictator, Barack Obama, twice despite the most vicious political smear campaign in modern American history. We are still here.