London - The business man appeals to the darkest parts of who we are
London – The business man appeals to the darkest parts of who we are
This was not supposed to happen. Elections are meant to be won by the candidate with the highest level of funding and the support of the relevant special interests. The media is supposed to calmly facilitate this and then allow the politicians to return to their work in peace. But in 2016 something has changed. This year the voice of the people has been heard and it turns out that the people are even worse than the politicians.
The likes Front National and Golden Dawn are flying high across Europe, Islamism is on the rise in every quarter and even the United Kingdom neglected to do what it was told and voted to leave the European Union. Again, none of this was supposed to happen. But all of this unrest will pale in comparison to the thunderbolt that would be the election of Donald Trump on Tuesday. You may think it cannot happen, but it can. Here are some of the reasons why.
1. Trump the Bullshit Artist
The victor will never be asked if he told the truth. Adolf Hitler.
In 1986 Harry Frankfurt published his essay On Bullshit, which has now become a classic of pop-philosophy. It reads like a diagnosis by Donald Trump’s psychiatrist. Frankfurt draws a sharp distinction between ordinary ‘lies’ on the one hand and ‘bullshit’ on the other: ‘Liars and truth tellers are both acutely aware of facts and truth.’ In order to lie well, the liar must have a profound grasp of the truth he or she is distorting. The bullshit artist however ‘has lost all connection with reality…By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.’
Trump’s bullshit is a terrifying phenomenon to which the media has no answer. Their entire model is based on criticizing candidates who have a desire to appear coherent. This is loosely based in something called ‘reality.’ Trump, on the other hand, is post-truth, embracing all the endless contradictions surrounding him. From abortion to the Iraq war, he has taken both the available positions on almost every single issue. Furthermore, Trump’s utter disregard for logic and fact is viewed as a perverted kind of authenticity. While ‘Crooked Hillary’ tries to hide her dishonesty by pretending to be honest, Trump perversely appears more honest because he is honest about his complete dishonesty.
A staggering example of this was when a CNN reporter confronted Trump to point out that, while the Republican candidate often attacks Hillary Clinton for supporting the Iraq war, his running mate, Mike Pence, also supported it. When Trump pretended not to understand the contradiction, the reporter became frustrated and asked: ‘So Mike Pence is allowed to support the Iraq war and Hillary Clinton isn’t?’ Trump replied: ‘Yeah, she isn’t allowed to.’ The reporter did not press the matter further.
The result is that Donald Trump becomes whatever we want him to be, an enigma who is impossible to define and therefore impossible to defeat. Take the example of one of his most infamous policy suggestions – banning all Muslims from entering the United States. When Trump later retracted this heinous and utterly unworkable idea, many moderate people will have welcomed his change of heart and come over to his side. Meanwhile, the genuine bigots who cheered the original suggestion clinked their bourbon glasses together as if to say ‘he doesn’t really mean that.’ Trump wins both ways.
The Marx brothers once warned us of a character known as the idiot: ‘He looks like an idiot, talks like an idiot, but don’t be fooled – he is an idiot.’ Politics is littered with such figures, from Silvio Berlusconi to Boris Johnson; people who appear to be so idiotic that people imagine that they must be extremely intelligent. But the fact is the vast majority of such people are just as stupid as they look. Donald Trump, in this sense, is the ultimate idiot.
2. Trump the Chimpanzee Hypnotist
While it may be completely unintentional, Donald Trump is said by many experts to have been using subliminal suggestion tactics throughout his campaign. Scott Adams, a trained hypnotist and creator of the award-winning Dilbert cartoon strip, has attempted to explain why Trump seems immune to an onslaught of scandal negative media coverage. ‘The weird thing about persuasion is that people can do it right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing and it still works,’ Adams explains. This is why, as Trump himself remarked: ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ During the campaign, Trump once took to the stage to ask: ‘How stupid are the people of Iowa?’ He is now leading in Iowa.
Trump is also a master of the linguistic kill shot, the art of coining a phrase or nickname that fits perfectly with the public perception of an opponent. The phrase ‘Crooked Hillary’ springs immediately to mind but perhaps the most potent instance involved Jeb Bush, whose campaign plummeted after Trump described him as ‘low energy’ during a Republican primary debate. A key aspect of this persuasion tactic is that the phrases are usually not well known in themselves, allowing them to stick solely to the victim and dominate the public perception of them. Hillary Clinton is ‘Crooked Hillary,’ the media is ‘dishonest,’ Bernie Sanders is ‘Crazy Bernie,’ Ted Cruz is ‘Lyin’ Ted’ and so on. Thus, whether they agree with him or not, Trump’s own words come to dominate the public’s perception of his opponents. This is straightforward confirmation bias and, as Scott Adams points out, it works even if you know it is happening.
Celebrated primatologist Jane Goodall has even compared Trump’s tactics to chimpanzee dominance rituals in which would-be alpha-males display their strength by creating as much chaos as possible, puckering their lips into a circular shape and staring down their rivals. This scattergun approach maps easily on to Trump’s behaviour, particularly during the Republican debates. After the first presidential debate, Nigel Farage commented on Trump’s performance, observing that Trump ‘was prowling the stage like a silver-backed gorilla.’ This was intended as praise. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that such (literally) primitive factors do not play a role in elections. We like to think of ourselves as persons or even as citizens, but all the evidence suggests that this is an illusion. The United States has over 200 million eligible voters, none of whom are more than half a chromosome away from a chimpanzee.
Conversely, Hillary Clinton has extremely limited powers of suggestion. At times she even confirms Trump’s message. Take her characteristically tame campaign slogan of ‘Love Trumps Hate.’ Leaving aside that many people who hear this will take it to mean that we should love the hatefulness of Donald Trump, the slogan falls foul of the first rule of persuasion – the negative command. As you read the words ‘don’t think of a black cat,’ you are now thinking of a black cat, because the command ‘think of a black cat’ was contained in the phrase. Clinton is trying to defeat Donald Trump in an election with a slogan that literally begins with the words ‘Love Trump.’
3. The Trump Inside Us All
You like Donald Trump because you are Donald Trump. He is the worst part of all of us, the dark secret you never let other people see. He’s your best friend’s cute boyfriend. He’s the Mars Bar you shoplifted last week. He’s your brother watching Top Gear with your dad. He’s the ex who treated you badly but who you’d still go back to. He’s the grown man who knows entire episodes of Family Guy off by heart. He’s the split second of spontaneous laughter that comes between a racist joke and a horrified gasp. He’s the part of you that watches footage of a hurricane and roots for the storm. He’s the little boy inside you who still considers DodgeBall his favourite film. He’s the part of your heart that sinks when you hear that ‘ISIS are losing ground in Mosul.’ He’s the Big Mac you had on the second day of your diet. He’s that rape fantasy you had once. He’s the Katy Perry song you kind of like. He’s your sweet dream. He’s your worst nightmare. He’s you.
4. Trump the Messiah
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
Sylvia Plath; Daddy.
Trump is the personification of white American anger. He is the embodiment of the frustration of former blue-collar workers whose wages have stagnated over the past thirty years, who have been laid off, who are surrounded by bewildering technology and cultural diversity that they do not understand. When Donald Trump was campaigning in Detroit he stood on the stage in front of his usual crowd of disenfranchised angry white men – the first generation in a hundred years not to have a stable job in the automobile industry.
Trump told them not to worry about their job security and warned the automobile executives that if he were elected and they continued their practice of outsourcing their manufacturing jobs to China, India and Mexico, he would put a 30% tariff on the cars when they re-entered the United States so that nobody would buy them. This was music to the ears of the crowd, as it has been for all of the enormous hoards he has been able to attract all over the country. Likewise his promise to cancel all of America’s already flimsy commitments on global-warming and to reopen hundreds of fossil-fuel operations whose closure has seen millions of Americans lose their jobs. Disastrous as these policies would be for the environment, if Trump wins it will be because he has the support of these forgotten people.
It is impossible to avoid violating Godwin’s law and recognise the parallels between Trumpism and the rise of the NSDAP in the early 1930’s. During the 20’s the Nazis were considered a joke and Hitler was almost universally deplored as a clown with a Charlie Chaplain moustache (and tiny hands, probably). But as the worst ever economic recession (1923) started to bite, along with the Versailles sanctions and finally the Wall Street Crash in 1929, a swamp of anger, victimhood and resentment began to congeal and Germany had just the people to take advantage of it. Watching the Trump rallies, you can taste the fear in the atmosphere, the confusion, the excitement, the rage. We have seen this rage before. It is the same hungry rage that was there at Nuremburg, the rage has carried humanity to its darkest moments, the rage that could prove our ultimate destruction.
Trump’s blue-collar support has lost the America it once knew. Only 19% of the population are white males over the age of 35. There are more women in college than men. Gay people can marry each other. Almost a quarter of Americans now identify as non-religious. There is a black man in the oval office and, come January, there could be a woman in charge. These people have already lost but they have one last fight in them yet, and it will be the bitterest fight of all. We are witnessing the vicious death throws of a dying bald eagle. But it isn’t dead yet.
5. The Death Drive
Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight.
Sigmund Freud famously posited that the human being consists of the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. The Id contains what we want, the Super-Ego deals in what culture tells us we ought to want and the Ego mediates between Id and Super-Ego two and puts our final decisions into practice. Trump is America’s Id and Clinton is the Super-Ego. The voters want a strong man, a brute, a fascist. They crave a libidinal throwback to a mythical golden age. But they know what they should want is a grown-up president, the first female president. They are supposed to want to join the 21st Century. On Tuesday 8th November, we will discover the result of the deliberation process of America’s Ego.
But there is a catch. What the Id wants isn’t simply driven by Eros, the pleasure principle, but also the counteracting force of Thanatos, the death drive. Herein lies Donald Trump. He speaks for an America now so angry that it is no longer governed by Freud’s reality principle, an America that no longer wants solutions to its problems.
This America sees Trump as a human atom bomb, someone who will solve nothing but who will utterly destroy the system that has ruined the lives of millions. He represents the anarchic side of humanity in its purest form, the desire to destroy everything and begin again. This energy has won the day many times before in humankind’s peculiar history and there is no reason to believe that it cannot do so again. While we know that this time could well be the last time, the dark side America, the dark side of humankind, still wants it to happen. As filmmaker and Hillary supporter Michael Moore recently told a crowd in Ohio: ‘Trump’s election is going to be the biggest “F*** You” ever recorded in human history. And it will feel good.’
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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