When we ran our pacifist analysis of Donald Trump last December, we really didn't think we'd still be talking about Donald Trump three months later. We didn't think his candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States could possibly go this far, which stands as a humbling reminder that even brilliant pacifists sometimes get it wrong.
We're taking him more seriously now, because the possibility that a blatantly racist and xenophobic presidential campaign could succeed is truly alarming, and deserves our attention. What can a pacifist do to help? We've got two answers.
The first answer, not surprisingly, is civil disobedience. Nonviolent protest is incredibly effective against well-entrenched hate mongers, and we saw this in action this weekend in Chicago when University of Illinois protestors made it clear to the Trump campaign that hateful messages are not welcome on their campus. This was a great response to some really disturbing scenes of open violence at previous Trump rallies, and the apparently organic and spontaneous University of Illinois student protesters succeeded in getting their message across. This stands as further proof of what we already know: nonviolent civil disobedience almost always works. It's the method that can't fail.
The chaotic scene in Chicago was all over the news this weekend, and some of the coverage is a reminder of the first rule of civil disobedience: any successful nonviolent protest will immediately be characterized by its opponents as a violent protest. The image from a Fox News television screen above is an object lesson: just as conservatives pretended the extremely peaceful and effective Occupy protests a few years ago were violent and crazed and out of control (they were anything but!), Fox News blared the lie that this weekend's Chicago protest was "violent" as loudly as it could.
It's still a lie. If the student protestors had been violent, they would have not been able to maintain the strong presence that allowed them to shut down Trump's rally. The successful shutdown in Chicago points the way for anybody who wonders how a pacifist can respond to Donald Trump's success as a candidate, and it's worth pointing out that this is an active template for response. Pacifists must use public protest to be heard. We do not always have to be well organized, but we do have to always be well-behaved, fearless, tireless and loud.
This advice may confuse some who incorrectly confuse pacifism with passivity. Some may ask: are pacifists allowed to be loud? The answer: for a good cause: hell yes. We have no choice when the stakes are high. The students at University of Illinois get it, and this is good news for the movement to stop Trump. I wish I could have been in Chicago Friday night ... and if Donald Trump ever attempts to hold a hate rally in New York City I look forward to joining those who face him and his supporters myself.
So this is how we meet Donald Trump and his supporters in the sphere of action. What about the sphere of thought? What are we supposed to think about the frightening truths revealed by Trump's successful march towards the Republican presidential nomination? What, for instance, could a pacifist parent say to explain the ugly Trump phenomenon to a frightened child?
The word "truths" in the above paragraph is key. Donald Trump's success in winning primaries has surprised many observers who didn't understand how much momentum could be obtained by a candidate who is blatantly offensive to women, Mexicans, African-Americans and Muslims. ("Islam hates America", Trump intoned solemnly at the most recent GOP debate, and it's incredible that anybody thinks he can be President of the United States after questioning the loyalty of millions of American citizens.) Trump has revealed a new truth to all of us who underestimated him; we don't need to be grateful for Donald Trump, but we always ought to be grateful for the truth. We need to recalibrate our estimation of what American voters might be capable of accepting, so that we can more effectively steer our great country away from the frightening specter of fascism.
Here, it's really helpful to look back at the conclusions we came to in our pacifist analysis of Donald Trump last December, when we answered two questions: what motivates Donald Trump's followers, and what motivates Donald Trump? We discovered two very different answers.
We don't believe that Donald Trump is motivated by the same drives that motivate his followers at all. Trump is hardly a genius when it comes to foreign policy, economics, healthcare or social justice, but he does appear to be a highly driven and talented genius at marketing and branding. We know his thought process from books like Trump: The Art of the Deal and from his Apprentice television show: he believes the path to success is to discover what people like, and get rich by providing it. This message came through very clearly in episodes of The Apprentice in which teams would compete to sell products and earn money. Trump's lesson (which was as benign in the consumer marketplace as it is malignant in politics) was always very clear: you go with what works. An Apprentice contestant who wins a competition by producing something of mediocre quality that sells well would never get fired by Donald Trump. A contestant who loses by believing deeply in their ideals and producing something wonderful that does not sell well would get fired. This was not a minor but rather a major message of The Apprentice: don't ever choose personal preference over popularity in the business world. Success is founded by giving people what they want.
While it's likely that Trump harbors some deep-seated racial hatreds in his weird brain (perhaps due to the influence of his father, who was known to be a racist), it does not seem likely that Trump's primary motivation is racial hatred. It seems more likely that he is following the advice he constantly delivered on the Apprentice and finding a clever way to beat his own competitors by aggressively giving his customers what they want. He discovered (possibly through actual private polling, or perhaps simply through his talent for reading audiences) that there is an available large voting bloc in the Republican party that would respond well to messages of hate directed at Mexicans and Muslims. He has built his campaign upon this marketing angle, and it's paying off all too well.
As Americans have agonized over the possibility that we could actually elect a horrifying fascist as our President, many have pointed out ways in which Donald Trump resembles Adolf HItler or Benito Mussolini, and a fascinating early New York Times article about Adolf Hitler has come to light. This 1922 article was the first mention of Adolf Hitler in the New York Times, and surprisingly it describes Hitler not as a sincere racist but as a cunning opportunist:
Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
Some have responded to the revelation of this surprising 1922 article about Hitler by saying that the New York Times was obviously wrong in their early estimation of Hitler, whose anti-semitism eventually led to the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust (this was, of course, part of the death toll of Hitler's World War Two, which took 60 million lives in total).
We think that this conclusion gets it backward, and that Hitler really was an opportunist above all, and we think the entire disaster of World War Two points to the useful phrase Hannah Arendt used in the title of a book that covered one aspect of the war: "the banality of evil". We see that banality when we see Donald Trump today.
...not surprisingly, the don's protest against the political class is fearless, tireless, and loud. you are correct about successful resistance. perhaps it is this discipline and execution that is winning the votes. from the yokels and the thinkers alike. behavior and personality aside, he is admired and detested equally. probably for different reasons. his penchant for deal-making could make him a great pacifist. his unpredictability could work to make more peace. like Reagan, who made deals and made peace. absolute peace, deemed impossible by many, is available through death but this is not the point of this response, only a tangent taken too far. as for the don, peace my brother. the votes will be cast, the states won and lost. declarations and accusations, the gutter will fill to the brim. both cups will be overflowing with sewage. so it is with the political gamers. the scammers and the spammers. the corrupt and abrupt. and the corporate world goes to work. the private citizens spring their clocks forward and go. seen and heard. the sleaze and the slime of the public greasers. dumb TV ads. innuendo and the once removed. to do it again. yes, this rambling could go on and on. it would all be true through some perspective or manipulation. the pacifist's way is through creating, not protecting...
I think the most important response to Trump is to make sure you and your friends don't vote for him even if there are concerns about "the lesser of two evils."