Dangerous Demagogue

My column last week, entitled “White Dinosaurs,” sparked a few surprising comments from Republicans I’d referred to in the piece. Two neighbors told me that, after reading what I’d had to say, they would no longer consider voting for Trump. One indicated that he will probably vote Libertarian; the other said he definitely won’t vote for Hillary, but, instead, might bypass the presidential line entirely. Yes! I can’t tell you how reinforcing it was for me to hear this! So I’ve decided to write about Trump’s candidacy from time to time, pointing out his ludicrous positions and carping persona, and highlighting the devastating effect it is having on our country. Our area is heavily Republican; I’m hoping to change many more minds.

Trump’s candidacy should be upsetting to all of us. His bombastic rhetoric has fostered an explosive rise of aggressive nationalism and radical populism, as he deceitfully promises to “make America great again,” as if it weren’t already. As we amuse ourselves, laughing at his clownish antics, Trump perseveres, willing to do whatever it takes to forcefully suppress opposition and criticism, win the Republican nomination, and manipulate the laws of this land to his advantage. There’s even a chance, I fear, that this dangerous demagogue may even go on to steal the presidency.

Trump’s focus is calculating and devious. He is skilled at fixing our attention on issues that have little basis in reality, and he consistently and vociferously repeats facts that are patently untrue.  He began by attempting to delegitimize Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, through his bogus “birther movement.” In endless tweets, he falsely states that millions of jobs are being hijacked by illegal immigrants, and that social welfare programs are rigged to favor the poor and undeserving and are paid for by taxing the white middle class. In addition, his persistent rants about Islamic extremism, his refusal to disavow David Duke’s brand of white supremacy, and his frequent demeaning of the poor have all served to feed racist, ethnocentric and classist fears. 

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Trump changes his mind as quickly as the wind changes direction: from pseudo-intellectual to anti-intellectual; from a willingness to recognize that the surge forward in information technology is leaving the less-educated behind, to insisting that he will “bring back coal;” from acknowledging the progressive decline in outmoded religious observance to swearing allegiance to evangelical Christian mores; from accepting the fast-changing moral values of a younger generation to swearing against abortion, gay marriage, and a women’s right to choose. 

Trump’s appeal to a predominately white male audience, right-wingers craving for dominance, is frightening. To get what he wants, Trump’s race-baiting continues, as do his constant appeals to fear and anger, Islamophobia, and hard-line politics. To demonstrate his unbridled leadership, he will undoubtedly appoint outrageous, divisive, unqualified figures, such as himself, to key government posts. And, if someone criticizes or opposes him, no matter how popular, admired, or heroic that person has been, Trump will deride and ridicule them, as his followers laugh and jeer. To oppose Trump is to risk facing political death.

Trump offers his followers an attitude of unsophisticated strength and fearlessness; followers who, themselves, are consumed by feelings of weakness and incompetence. He provokes their resentments and plays on their fear, hatred and anger. His attacks on Muslims, Hispanics and immigrants are meant to assure his followers that he will deal harshly with foreigners and nonwhites, deporting them, barring them, and making them pay. His attacks on women—insulting, belittling, and sexualizing them in public—are meant to impress his admirers with his boldness, virility, and courage.

Trump is an egomaniac who’s become something far more dangerous: a fascist. Fascists have no coherent ideology and no clear plan for fixing the enormous social and economic problems societies face. Trump is a bag of contradictions, defined by what he opposes and whom he hates. Whatever the problem, he’s going to “fix it.” Threats—internal or external—he will crush, and no need to explain how.

Trump, the strongman. Is this the leader in whom we should entrust the fate of this great nation?

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