"I'm the most militaristic person there is" — Donald Trump
Now that USA Presidential candidate Donald Trump has openly called for a government policy of severe discrimination against Muslims, Americans are waking up to the fact that we have a fascist in our midst, and a very popular one too.
Personally I'm not too worried that this slick entertainer will actually become President. I'm more concerned that another slick entertainer like Marco Rubio will get elected and do the same kind of damage Trump would do with less bombast. But I find some aspects of Trump's rise to fame disturbing, and I'd like to analyze the Trump phenomenon on pacifist terms. What is the basis of his wide appeal? Why are his followers not turned off by the obvious flaws in his message? What inner motivations drive an offensive populist like Donald Trump?
A pacifist analysis is a psychological analysis of a political person or situation with a unique twist: we will aim to explain what we observe in a 360° view. If we were to conduct a pacifist analysis of Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, for instance, we would produce a series of narratives that explains the American, English and Japanese positions, each in a sympathetic light, so that we can understand why the citizens of all three nations believed they were acting with honor when they went to war. A pacifist analysis must take all sincere opinions and belief systems seriously, even when they are so foreign or alien as to appear offensive. Pacifism thrives on empathy and mutual understanding, so a pacifist analysis is an analysis that attempts to explain the unexplainable and reconcile the umreconciliable. It will be very interesting to try this approach for Donald Trump and his large American fan base.
We know that Donald Trump is boldly offensive to many ethnic groups, and decent Americans must accept his provocations as a challenge that requires an answer. One goal of a pacifist analysis is to build bridges between opposing groups. How can we meet Trump's challenge in such a way that we persuade rather than alienate his enthusiastic followers? That is the goal of the inquiry below.
What is the Basis of Trump's Appeal?
When I hear my own friends and acquaintances discuss the Trump phenomenon, I hear a lot of insults and very little insight. The insults fall into three categories: Trump's fan base is "racist", "evil" or "stupid". It's odd that so many people are content to simply dismiss a phenomenon like this with such simple words, especially since none of the three words explain much.
And yet these three words are an extremely useful starting point for our inquiry, because they represent the popular negative perception of Donald Trump's fan base. We want to know why this fan base is so large, so we may as well start with the popular ideas. We'll consider the words "racist", "evil" and "stupid" one at a time to discern what these words reveal, and what they fail to explain.
It's obvious that racism is at the core of Trump's candidacy, but it does not seem to be the case that he is popular among people who were already racists. This cannot explain, for instance, an Orthodox Jewish friend of mine who considers himself virulently anti-racist but loves Trump for his "toughness". It appears to me when I talk to this friend that Trump is generating new racists rather than aggregating existing ones. If he were only appealing to avowed racists, after all, his popularity would not be a surprising phenomenon, since these racists make up a static sector of the population who are already represented by other dog-whistle candidates. We are trying to discover what is new about the Trump phenomenon, and there's nothing new about the existence of racists among American voters. Thus, to dismiss Trump's fan base as racist is to miss the opportunity to explore what is unique about Trump's candidacy: his appeal to voters who have not previously voted along racist lines before.
To dismiss Trump's followers as simply "evil" is unacceptable on the face of it, since it begs a question: what is evil? If a person suddenly falls and breaks a leg, it is not satisfactory to say that the person fell because they broke their leg. More likely, the person fell, and in the process of falling broke their leg. Likewise, when a previously decent person has a lapse in humane judgement and suddenly supports a candidate who engages in hate speech, we discover nothing by guessing that the person has always had bad judgement. We must search for the unknown reason that explains this lapse in judgement, or we are not analyzing or discovering anything at all.
In this sense, calling a Trump follower either "racist" or "evil" is unsatisfying for the same reason: it fails to explain why people who were not previously interested in "racist" or "evil" politicians are suddenly interested in one today. It fails to recognize that people's minds are constantly changing, and fails to address the fact that people who were not "racist" or "evil" before hearing Donald Trump speak often become so after hearing him speak. These words describe the effect, not the cause, of Donald Trump.
The third common insult hurled at Trump supporters is that they are "stupid", and it's a sad and disturbing fact that many well-educated liberals really do dismiss their ideological opponents on this basis. This insult is itself offensive and untrue, and barely merits a response except to state this obvious fact: there are many smart and well-informed Americans among Trump's followers. It's beyond the scope of this article to prove this, but anybody who wishes to prove it for themselves should simply find a couple of Trump supporters to speak to. I'm sure they will be surprised to discover that their ideological opponents are smarter than they anticipated.
So, "racist", "evil" and "stupid" all turn out to be dead ends for our pacifist analysis of Trump's popularity. Where do we go next? We should look at the clues provided by Donald Trump's popular words themselves, and by the shrill tone of his words. This will lead to a clearer answer than the prejudicial terms above.
The fact that Trump's hateful messages of ethnic suspicion and exclusion are shrill to civilized ears is a big clue. We Americans like to think of ourselves as calm, hearty and friendly folks. Why would we suddenly feel attracted to a leader whose tone of voice is sick with rage, whose messages bulge with paranoia and fear? The answer is clear: we Americans are sick with rage, and we are ourselves in the grip of paranoia and fear. The unspeakable global disasters of our last 14 years, from the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks to the Iraq War to the recent Paris and San Bernardino terrorist slaughters, have left us badly hurt.
The main reason for Trump's popularity is that he reflects back to Americans the mindset of paranoia and xenophobia that has gripped our society since 2001. A few previous politicians like Dick Cheney and Ted Cruz have also managed to become reflectors of this mindset, but these individual politicians have not been able to make themselves savory to large audiences. Trump has a cheerful and positive demeanor that makes him appear friendlier to large audiences than the grim Dick Cheney or the aggressively square Ted Cruz, but it's an essential fact that his tone is just as shrill, his agenda just as stark and alarming, his sense of emergency just as extreme. Thus, we can conclude that Trump's popularity is based on his platform itself, both in terms of tone and content. Americans feel absolutely terrified and alienated by world events, and want a palatable and likable politician who expresses the sense of alarm and apocalyptic danger that they already feel.
So, our pacifist analysis points to fear rather than racism, evil or stupidity as the main engine of Trump's popularity, but the word "fear" is not good enough for our purposes, since we are aiming for a 360° understanding of Trump's popularity, and Trump's followers themselves do not think of themselves as frightened. Rather, they are "watchful", "poised for action", "ready to fight". No segment of the population likes to see itself as frightened, even when it is. The best term for this is one that we have coined before: "blood alienation". This compound noun reflects the state of affairs when one sector of a population becomes convinced that another sector of the population is its mortal enemy. This is a very useful term because it captures the sense of urgency that is invariably felt when a condition of blood alienation begins to occur. It's worth pointing out that a society's descent into a condition of blood alienation is often a precursor to that society's descent into war, civil war, atrocity or genocide.
We hope that the American sense of blood alienation in 2015 is nowhere near that extreme level yet. But it does seem tragically clear that the frightening acts of terrorism that have roiled the United States of America since September 11, 2001 have succeeded in weakening the country's soul. Blood alienation runs rampant in this country now, and this has made us susceptible to unscrupulous politicians who are willing to reflect the anguish of our alienation and paranoia back to us in all its ugly glory.
What Motivates Donald Trump?
Just as Donald Trump's followers are often dismissed as racist, evil or stupid, Donald Trump himself is often dismissed as racist, evil or stupid. These words don't explain much about his followers, and they also don't explain much about him.
Is Donald Trump simply a terrible person? One reason I don't believe he is is that I actually used to watch his Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice shows, and always loved them both. This is a fact that some people may think I ought to be embarrassed about, though I'm not: the two great Mark Burnett reality shows Survivor and Apprentice became a part of my family life during the years that my kids were growing up. These are the two shows, more than any others, that I'll always remember my three kids and I enjoying together and constantly talking about. (We still do watch Survivor, which is somehow after all these seasons still a good show!)
It was on Apprentice that I became familiar with Donald Trump. He was always a strange creature: boorish, funny, clever, extremely blunt. His physical and vocal demeanor was often repugnant, and yet his self-confidence and unflinching consistency made him perversely attractive. As host and judge of Apprentice Donald Trump was invariably cheerful and gregarious. He could cruelly mock a contestant, but would always attempt a friendly rapprochement after doing so. He also didn't seem to mind when he became the butt of somebody's else joke. I can't deny that I liked the guy.
I'm disappointed to now realize that the TV star I've liked is capable of saying ridiculous and hurtful things to religious and ethnic minorities, but I am sure that this ugliness was not apparent on his television shows. Its difficult for me to believe that personal hatred of African-Americans is an elemental part of Trump's personality because I've watched him interact happily with folks like Omarosa Manigault, Randal Pinkett, Lil' Jon and Darryl Strawberry. Even my favorite rapper Jadakiss once made a brief cameo on an episode of Apprentice, which reveals not only that Donald Trump thought Jadakiss was worth befriending, but also that Jadakiss thought Donald Trump was worth befriending. It's possible that deeply ingrained racism lurks somewhere in Donald Trump's inner soul, but it does not appear to be a major part of his makeup.
Likewise, Trump's gregarious and upbeat demeanor makes it clear that he is not the kind of gloomy and dark-hearted fiend we find in (again) Dick Cheney or Ted Cruz, and thus it's hard to settle on the idea that he is simply "evil" (this is also, again, an unsatisfactory conclusion because we cannot define what "evil" means, though that's another topic for discussion).
As for the idea that Trump himself is "stupid": this is something that could be debated a long time, but for little purpose. The level of his business and celebrity success seem to indicate at least a basic competent intelligence, and probably more. It's true that he was brought up as a rich kid and never had to prove his street smarts on a level playing field. Still, we can hopefully dismiss with the idea that Trump is stupid for the same reason that we dismissed the idea that his followers are stupid: we as analysts can do a better job than that.
We've now agreed that Trump's followers are not racist, evil or stupid but are rather primarily traumatized by tragic events and possessed by the paranoid spirit of blood alienation. However, this explanation doesn't seem to ring true when we speculate about Donald Trump's inner motivations. It just doesn't seem to fit.
Fearfulness and personal paranoia do not appear to form any part of Donald Trump's public personality, and since our public personalty invariably expresses our inner self, we should look beyond the explanation of blood alienation to explain what has motivated this popular television star and real estate mogul to suddenly become such an offensive public figure. We can find a better answer by looking again at what is most obvious before our eyes. Donald Trump has always been a tremendous egotist. He loves himself, loves his name, loves his picture. He is shamelessly vain and proud, and in fact this provides such a good and obvious answer to our question that we may need to look no farther at all. The primary motivation behind Donald Trump's emergence as an offensive proto-fascist politician in 2015 has been to glorify himself, to please his own sense of vanity. This answer is consistent with everything we've known about Donald Trump for years.
Donald Trump's followers are motivated by an extreme case of the kind of geopolitical anxiety known as blood alienation — the belief that they are currently under active and severe attack by vicious and implacable enemies. This sad condition is always a harbinger of bad things to come, and we should take the fact that the United States of America has sunk into such a depth of moral despair very seriously.
Donald Trump himself is motivated by egotism, pride and vanity — and has found that by expressing the darkest thoughts of average Americans stricken by blood alienation he can further mollify his huge ego.
The combination of a frightened and vulnerable population being led by a proto-fascist leader wishing to satisfy his personal vanity and greed for success is well-known in world history. We can best defend our country's precious legacy by realizing that the egotistical leader at the top of the movement is not the problem. There will always be a clever opportunist available to lead a frightened crowd.
The problem we ought to concern ourselves with is the degree to which an extreme sense of blood alienation has become the norm among American voters. Politicians like Donald Trump will come and go. But as long as this darkness surrounds us on all sides, the soul of our country is in peril. The darkness is the darkness of war and terrorism itself, implanted deep within our hearts.
In 2014 i learned that heart-held beliefs--viz., crap they believe true--trump facts 24/7/365. Heart held beliefs trump facts. I once even had to explain what a fact is!
I read online that recently in Austin, Texas, 2 women wearing scarves at a diner that serves red quinoa salad and has hummus and pita bread available as an appetizer [exotic Texas fare]; were shouted at by another customer and told to go back to Saudi Arabia. The other customers stayed silent.
Trump's rants have gone from immigration and a wall between Mexico and the USA to scapegoating Muslims and the top story on Google News is still another variant of the San Bernadino shooting. I won't repeat what I just heard a prominent commentator allege about the 4 million refugees that too many American citizens are afraid of, as if, by bad luck no American could ever end up a refugee.
The goal is "to make Americans safer," says the US congressman on TV now, as if things are not working now within the USA. One must have the desire to live in the light and not live in darkness by desiring to hate the Other.