Thursday, May 09, 2024

Trump Is Desperate and Dangerous

Each day I feel as if I am witnessing  a replay of early 1930's Germany as Donald Trump and his MAGA followers engaging in endless lies and strive to depict America as threatened and in severe danger from those the MAGA base deems as "other" - namely, non-whites, non-Christians, "liberals", gays, and those who believe in objective reality - who are scapegoated daily and alleged to be plotting to take away the rights of white evangelicals, Christofascists and white supremacists. Meanwhile, I see "Republican friends" and acquaintances drinking the Fox News and Trump Kool-Aid and living in an alternate reality where everything and everyone who doesn't look just like them or hold the same ignorance embracing religious beliefs.  Hitler had the Jews and "communists" as his scapegoats who were said to threatened "good Germans" and today Trump and MAGA have their much more expansive group of those deemed "other" to play a similar false bogeyman role. Meanwhile, much of the feckless media ignore the existential threat Trump and MAGA pose and bloviate about Joe Biden's supposed failings or inflate issues that while not unimportant are insignificant in the larger picture of the threats to American democracy posed by Trump and MAGA cultists.  A piece in Salon looks at the danger:

The first weeks of Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan have not gone well for the former president. Key prosecution witnesses such as former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, attorney Keith Davidson and onetime White House aide Hope Hicks have painted a damning portrait of Trump's plot to hide embarrassing information from the public, with the evident goal of impacting the 2016 election. At this point, it would require some arcane or technical point of law or jury nullification (thanks, perhaps to one or more MAGA-friendly jurors) to save him from being convicted.

In response, Trump and his various spokespeople and agents are trying to find new ways to make their hyperbolic messages to the MAGA faithful ever more extreme and graphic. The goal of such a propaganda strategy is to manipulate fear and other negative emotions in order to tie Trump’s followers even more closely to him, in what is already a cult-like relationship.

In this dynamic, Trump’s feelings of peril are shared by his die-hard followers. By implication, those negative feelings can encourage or legitimate violence as the natural and reasonable response to a (nonexistent) existential threat. Of course, it is only Trump who is in personal jeopardy because of his reckless and unprincipled behavior, not his millions of followers.

In a recent commentary for Salon, I described Trump’s horror-movie strategy as:   a relentless onslaught designed to create fear and terror about a doomed and ruined America that is being destroyed from within by “vermin,” i.e., the Democrats, liberals, nonwhite people, Muslims, George Soros, the Deep State, “woke,” “Black Lives Matter,” Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, those who are not white Christians, the evil “news media” [and other] nebulous forces [who aim] to turn the country into a Stalinist-Maoist-Communist hellhole . . . where the MAGA people, "real Americans” (meaning white people) and their Dear Leader Trump will be imprisoned.

Even by these standards, Trump’s most recent fundraising emails are ghoulish. Last week, Trump told his followers that his “enemies,” such as the “corrupt judges” leading the “witch hunt” against him, literally want to “cut out” his tongue. . . .

Trump has not in fact been convicted of anything, to this point. But amplifying and repeating the purported threat is a key element of a successful propaganda or disinformation campaign. Trump and his messengers are connecting “Doomsday,” “the death of MAGA” and grotesque images of torture to trigger the fear centers of the brain. Social psychologists and other scientific experts have repeatedly found that the brain structures and thought processes of conservative-authoritarians are focused on and aroused by fear and negative thoughts. Other research has shown that such people are also more vulnerable to death anxiety than are liberals and moderates.

Cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff has proposed that the divergent political personalities of conservatives and liberals are deeply rooted in family structure, parenting and perceptions of morality and the common good. . . .     "the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family" and the assumption "that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that". . .

 Conservatives, on the other hand, follow a "strict father model," in Lakoff's view, rooted in an assumption "that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good": The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline.

The MAGAverse and TrumpWorld are still fueled by a profound fear of Barack Obama, as bizarre as that may seem to those outside their worldview. For Trumpists and others on the American or global far right, Obama appears as the human and symbolic embodiment of everything they despise about multiracial pluralistic democracy, and the "elites" they perceive as controlling it.

[I]n the real world, President Biden has if anything been overly patient and generous with those who support Trump and the MAGA movement, and has tried to reach out to them repeatedly in a (mostly failed) attempt to find common ground. 

Trump’s horror politics may seem like a new and profoundly disturbing twist, but in fact the American right spent decades preparing the political battlefield, emotionally conditioning and training its public to be respond to false narratives of fear, terror, death and destruction. While the initial goal may not have explicitly been to end pluralistic, multiracial democracy and replace it with a white supremacist pseudo-democracy or "managed democracy," that possibility was always present. Trump, the MAGA movement and their gangster-capitalist allies are taking advantage of the fact that tens of millions of Americans — mostly but not entirely white Americans — have been primed for authoritarian “leadership.”

But Trump and his allies now have a crucial fork in the road. Trump’s criminal trials — and his resulting personal jeopardy — will only get worse for the foreseeable future, and the 2024 presidential election is now less than six months away. Time is running out, and their messaging of terror, doom and dread seems increasingly unregulated. If they frighten their own supporters too badly, they may become numb and assume all is lost. Conversely, dialing down the existential terror risks dampening the enthusiasm of the MAGA faithful

The solution is for Donald Trump and his agents to create an optimal level of constant discomfort and fear that they can trigger in some sort of crescendo in the weeks and days before Election Day.   

But we shouldn't underestimate Donald Trump's ability to leverage negative emotions to serve his purposes. As others have observed, the worse things get in America, the better it is for Trump's campaign to seize dictatorial power and smother American's multiracial pluralistic democracy. If we lived in a healthy society, things clearly wouldn't work that way. But we do not.  Thus, the perverse incentive(s) and moral hazard driving Donald Trump and the American right-wing’s decades of horror politics and their collective attempts to create a living nightmare for the American people. 

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