‘Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time, offered his opinion on Donald Trump the other day. He called the Donald “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” and said he had no explanation on why the man is so popular.’
The privileged have emotions, too. That’s the crux of today’s politics, especially where Trump’s movement is concerned. The privileged have emotions, fears, anxieties and insecurities which, when tapped appropriately, bring people together for the most unlikely of causes. Dismiss them as irrelevant or invalid at your own peril.
Some people call such movements fascist, and they’re right. There is plenty of bigotry and hatred in them, certainly among Trump’s supporters. His rallies are fueled by prejudice and malice toward others, displaying everything that is coarse and ugly in human nature. But to call Trump a fascist and protest against him and his followers on these grounds alone will not get the job done, not even close. Labeling Trump a fascist fails to address what drives his movement, the emotions that power it. To deal with him one must focus on the underlying passions of his supporters, and to do that one must focus on momentum.
Like it or not, white America — and privileged America in general — is slipping. Its authority is challenged by numerous cultural groups, and many white Americans are unhappy about it. The historically privileged don’t want to cede their influence to anyone, and Trump is telling a great portion of them that they don’t have to. And they believe him, and will do anything to preserve their influence, lashing out at all those who say otherwise.
Call them fascist and you miss the clincher. The real driver is righteousness. Trump’s supporters are acting like persecuted minorities, and that is the crux of the issue.
Two things arise from this.
First, we are afforded a unique opportunity to study how populism works. This is a great experiment in the making, on par with the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s Experiment, and social psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and game theorists had better get their notebooks out and take notes.
Second, the politics of victimization are tricky. The persecuted tend to rise when awakened from their slumber, reminded that they have a voice, a mandate, and the power to oust their oppressors. But uprisings aren’t smooth operations. Things tend to go wrong. Sometimes the revolutionaries turn out to be far worse tyrants than the powers that be. Revolution and uprising have an intoxicating effect, if not corruptive. People get carried away by their causes, committing all kinds of atrocities in the name of righteousness.
Look at religion, how faith after faith has turned from a force of moral personal responsibility to a system of social control, to an administration of persecution and holy war. Look at the French Revolution and the violence it spawned, and the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred and thirty odd years later, and the Cultural Revolution in China. Look at the free world’s struggle against Communism, which degenerated into the Vietnam War. Look at Capitalism and free trade, benevolent and noble forces (at the onset) that rose against the tides of favoritism to usher in an age of prosperity, innovation, justice and equal opportunities for all people. Every last one of them corrupted and mangled over the years, twisted to serve ulterior motives, partly because mistakes were made in due course, partly because they were driven by righteousness. Righteousness matters, and it has an empowering but ultimately degenerative quality, corrupting those it touches. Victims that rise against an adversary, seeking to assert their authority and take charge of their lives — and possibly of others’ lives, too — tend to get carried away. They become drunk with power, giving in to impulse, losing control, plunging the world in a renewed state of ‘oppression,’ creating new victims, new battle cries and causes for others to embrace.
Stephen Hawking claims he has no idea why Donald Trump is so popular with the people of America, but he is probably being coy. Unwilling to get drawn into a discussion that is not his speciality, the renowned physicist limits himself to a succinct and accurate comment that voices his dissatisfaction with what’s happening in the USA in a way that can’t be disputed.
But deep down Hawking must know what drives Trump’s movement, what drives all political movements: the promise that, from now on, no one will get to tell you, whoever you might be, what to do; the promise that you will prevail over all those who threaten to get the better of you, how you’ll turn the tables and pin them down instead.
It doesn’t matter if the threat some people feel is imaginary, or exaggerated, or derivative from their own past transgressions, nor does it make a difference that there’s a better way to resolve problems — cooperation, for example. The fact of the matter is that a great number of people are feeling persecuted, betrayed, sold down the river, or just short, and generally taken for a ride by others. The system is malfunctioning across the board, and this creates discontent and paranoia, even among the privileged, especially among the privileged, who will be damned if they’re going to let their advantage slip.
See, the ones who give rise to revolutions are the privileged. They always strike first, driven by fear, stoking conflict. Most times they lose out, but sometimes they’re able to delay the inevitable, buying themselves some time.
Trump is buying people time, promising to crack down on those they deem the root of their troubles. He has a dream, and it turns out to be a nightmare for others, but a dream for some.
From your unnervingly forthright Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
Watch this space for Part 3