Friday, December 25, 2015

Donald Trump and the Cult of White America

Even in today's Republican Party it is still unacceptable to openly support the Klu Klux Klan and overt white supremacy groups, but Donald Trump has seemingly formulate a campaign pitch that otherwise plays to the prejudices of such groups and white Americans terrified at losing their white privilege and/or ability to force their religious beliefs on all of society.  As a piece in Salon argues, Trump has become a cult leader for these objective-reality adverse people and plays upon their fears by blaming their misfortunes on those deemed as "other."  Trump also promises a return to "greatness" as the prize that he will deliver if elected.  It is very much the model used by Hitler and Mussolini to come to power in 1930's Germany and Italy.  It is very frightening to watch and the mindset of his followers borders on psychotic.  Here are column highlights:

Donald Trump is the front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary raceHe leads his closest rival, Ted Cruz, by a substantial margin. Trump’s proto-fascism, xenophobia and bigotry are not anomalies or outliers. These values are held by a large percentage of Republicans.

Donald Trump validates these feelings. As such, it is now fundamentally clear that Donald Trump is a hero and leader for many conservatives in the Age of Obama. 

Most members of the pundit class have been befuddled by the ascendance of Donald Trump. But, there is one person who has solved this riddle.

In a little-discussed editorial written several weeks ago, Pat Buchanan offered the following analysis:
Enter The Donald:
His popularity is traceable to the fact that he rejects the moral authority of the media, breaks their commandments, and mocks their condemnations. His contempt for the norms of Political Correctness is daily on display.

And that large slice of America that detests a media whose public approval now rivals that of Congress, relishes this defiance. The last thing these folks want Trump to do is to apologize to the press.

And the media have played right into Trump’s hand. They constantly denounce him as grossly insensitive for what he has said about women, Mexicans, Muslims, McCain and a reporter with a disability. Such crimes against decency, says the press, disqualify Trump as a candidate for president.

And when they demand that Republicans repudiate him, the GOP base replies:  “Who are you to tell us whom we may nominate? You are not friends. You are not going to vote for us. And the names you call Trump — bigot, racist, xenophobe, sexist — are the names you call us, nothing but cuss words that a corrupt establishment uses on those it most detests.”
Pat Buchanan possesses gifted insight into powerful appeal of Donald Trump for the Republican base. Both men are nativist, xenophobic, right-wing populists who understand the allure of white alienation and racial resentment in the post civil rights era. Pat Buchanan is more of a “culture warrior” than Donald Trump. But like George Wallace in the 1960s, the Know-Nothings in the 19th century and the Black Legion in the 1930s, Buchanan and Trump are recent iterations in a long history of right-wing demagoguery and false populism in American politics.

All one has to do is listen to Donald Trump’s supporters (who are really none too different from the Republican base writ large) and how they make sense of the political and social world.
These people are divorced from reality. To listen to Donald Trump’s supporters is to peek into the mouth of political madness.

One of the main challenges that responsible members of the pundit classes are having in making sense of the Republican Party in the Age of Obama—and movement conservatism in the post civil rights era, more generally—is that they still possess some faith in the merits of political discourse as based on mutually agreed upon facts, proceeding in good faith, the Common Good, and a belief in some version of normal politics in the service of responsible governance.

Moreover, the commentariat has still not effectively grappled with how today’s brand of conservatism exhibits pre-Enlightenment era thinking, and uses what I (and others) have described as “the politics of disorientation” to confuse the American people through a coordinated campaign of outright lying and seductive disinformation.

Donald Trump is a proto-fascist. He buddies up with Russian President Vladimir Putin for credibility in his role as a new il-Duce, a petit Mussolini for 21st century American politics. Donald Trump is a classic “strong man” political figure. To that end, he encourages violence by his followers against political opponents and those identified as the Other or somehow weak. Nor does Donald Trump deny that he is a “racist” or “neo-fascist.”

Trump also brags about his “perfect health,” “high energy” and vitality. Here, the fit body and Trump’s egomaniacal narcissism are essential for his crafting the charismatic leader persona.
To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, one must seriously consider the possibility that his followers specifically, and movement conservatives and the Republican Party more generally, are exhibiting signs of political psychopathology.

Donald Trump’s — and the Republican Party’s — base of low information voters are not being grabbed off of the street by his agents. Trump is providing a safe space and outlet for conservatives to validate their preexisting racist, xenophobic and bigoted attitudes. Their true selves are being actualized and “liberated.”

The Republican 2016 presidential primary candidates are using a campaign of fear and anxiety about terrorism, “illegal immigrants,” changing racial demographics, “black crime” and “Islam” to gin up support among a frightened public. This is the Southern Strategy mixed with old-fashioned fear-mongering to win over the votes of scared, mostly older, white voters in a moment when a black man happens to be president of the United States. This tactic also leverages how the brain structures and political personal types of conservatives/authoritarians are much more responsive to anxiety, fear and feelings of disgust than those of liberals and progressives.

Contemporary conservatives exist within an echo chamber that has been created by Republican elites, Fox News, right-wing talk radio and other media. It has expanded to include online spaces. The worldview that is created there is one where basic facts about empirical reality are rejected, and the right-wing paranoid style of conspiracy theories and unfounded rumors have replaced substantive political discourse. 

Bursting the information cocoon of those people in a traditional religious cult or who are immersed in the right-wing media echo chamber is not an easy task. They will resist. In political psychology, this phenomenon is called the “backfire effect.” It offers a chilling insight into the impact of extreme political ideology, polarization and the right-wing media on its followers.

If Trump’s supporters—and movement conservatives en masse—are in fact exhibiting signs of political psychopathology, then the backfire effect is a powerful lens for understanding their behavior.
Donald Trump is a hero for the angry and resentful white “silent majority” and “Everyman” who feel that they are somehow marginalized in “their” country and that “the blacks,” immigrants, Muslims and terrorists are out to get them. Cults provide easy answers, direction and a feeling of belonging for their members. The cult leader offers a way for his or her devotees to feel better about themselves than they did before joining the community. This is not a form of healthy personal growth or behavior. In most cases, it is deleterious to the self. When such techniques are used in politics, on many millions of people, it is a form of mass psychosis.

Donald Trump is a carnival barker, proto-fascist reality TV show host turned Republican 2016 presidential primary leader. And he may also be a Svengali or Rasputin-like figure for the low information Republican base.

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