Snyder: The American Abyss: A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next.

Good long and sobering read:

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent. In 2020, in the knowledge that he was trailing Joseph R. Biden in the polls, he spent months claiming that the presidential election would be rigged and signaling that he would not accept the results if they did not favor him. He wrongly claimed on Election Day that he had won and then steadily hardened his rhetoric: With time, his victory became a historic landslide and the various conspiracies that denied it ever more sophisticated and implausible.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices. Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.

In this sense, the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome.

Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.

Of course this did make a kind of sense: If the election really had been stolen, as senators and congressmen were themselves suggesting, then how could Congress be allowed to move forward? For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Afterward, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that had forced them to flee their chambers.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo. More productively, the philosopher Jason Stanley has treated fascism as a phenomenon, as a series of patterns that can be observed not only in interwar Europe but beyond it.

My own view is that greater knowledge of the past, fascist or otherwise, allows us to notice and conceptualize elements of the present that we might otherwise disregard and to think more broadly about future possibilities. It was clear to me in October that Trump’s behavior presaged a coup, and I said so in print; this is not because the present repeats the past, but because the past enlightens the present.

Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term “fake news” echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse (“lying press”); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as “enemies of the people.” Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to American newspapers what the Great Depression did to German ones. The Nazis thought that they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.

Some of his lies were, admittedly, medium-size: that he was a successful businessman; that Russia did not support him in 2016; that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Such medium-size lies were the standard fare of aspiring authoritarians in the 21st century. In Poland the right-wing party built a martyrdom cult around assigning blame to political rivals for an airplane crash that killed the nation’s president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban blames a vanishingly small number of Muslim refugees for his country’s problems. But such claims were not quite big lies; they stretched but did not rend what Hannah Arendt called “the fabric of factuality.”

One historical big lie discussed by Arendt is Joseph Stalin’s explanation of starvation in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33. The state had collectivized agriculture, then applied a series of punitive measures to Ukraine that ensured millions would die. Yet the official line was that the starving were provocateurs, agents of Western powers who hated socialism so much they were killing themselves. A still grander fiction, in Arendt’s account, is Hitlerian anti-Semitism: the claims that Jews ran the world, Jews were responsible for ideas that poisoned German minds, Jews stabbed Germany in the back during the First World War. Intriguingly, Arendt thought big lies work only in lonely minds; their coherence substitutes for experience and companionship.

In November 2020, reaching millions of lonely minds through social media, Trump told a lie that was dangerously ambitious: that he had won an election that in fact he had lost. This lie was big in every pertinent respect: not as big as “Jews run the world,” but big enough. The significance of the matter at hand was great: the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The level of mendacity was profound. The claim was not only wrong, but it was also made in bad faith, amid unreliable sources. It challenged not just evidence but logic: Just how could (and why would) an election have been rigged against a Republican president but not against Republican senators and representatives? Trump had to speak, absurdly, of a “Rigged (for President) Election.”

The force of a big lie resides in its demand that many other things must be believed or disbelieved. To make sense of a world in which the 2020 presidential election was stolen requires distrust not only of reporters and of experts but also of local, state and federal government institutions, from poll workers to elected officials, Homeland Security and all the way to the Supreme Court. It brings with it, of necessity, a conspiracy theory: Imagine all the people who must have been in on such a plot and all the people who would have had to work on the cover-up.The Presidential Transition

Trump’s electoral fiction floats free of verifiable reality. It is defended not so much by facts as by claims that someone else has made some claims. The sensibility is that something must be wrong because I feel it to be wrong, and I know others feel the same way. When political leaders such as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan spoke like this, what they meant was: You believe my lies, which compels me to repeat them. Social media provides an infinity of apparent evidence for any conviction, especially one seemingly held by a president.

On the surface, a conspiracy theory makes its victim look strong: It sees Trump as resisting the Democrats, the Republicans, the Deep State, the pedophiles, the Satanists. More profoundly, however, it inverts the position of the strong and the weak. Trump’s focus on alleged “irregularities” and “contested states” comes down to cities where Black people live and vote. At bottom, the fantasy of fraud is that of a crime committed by Black people against white people.

It’s not just that electoral fraud by African-Americans against Donald Trump never happened. It is that it is the very opposite of what happened, in 2020 and in every American election. As always, Black people waited longer than others to vote and were more likely to have their votes challenged. They were more likely to be suffering or dying from Covid-19, and less likely to be able to take time away from work. The historical protection of their right to vote has been removed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, and states have rushed to pass measures of a kind that historically reduce voting by the poor and communities of color.

The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.

When Senator Ted Cruz announced his intention to challenge the Electoral College vote, he invoked the Compromise of 1877, which resolved the presidential election of 1876. Commentators pointed out that this was no relevant precedent, since back then there really were serious voter irregularities and there really was a stalemate in Congress. For African-Americans, however, the seemingly gratuitous reference led somewhere else. The Compromise of 1877 — in which Rutherford B. Hayes would have the presidency, provided that he withdrew federal power from the South — was the very arrangement whereby African-Americans were driven from voting booths for the better part of a century. It was effectively the end of Reconstruction, the beginning of segregation, legal discrimination and Jim Crow. It is the original sin of American history in the post-slavery era, our closest brush with fascism so far.

If the reference seemed distant when Ted Cruz and 10 senatorial colleagues released their statement on Jan. 2, it was brought very close four days later, when Confederate flags were paraded through the Capitol.

Some things have changed since 1877, of course. Back then, it was the Republicans, or many of them, who supported racial equality; it was the Democrats, the party of the South, who wanted apartheid. It was the Democrats, back then, who called African-Americans’ votes fraudulent, and the Republicans who wanted them counted. This is now reversed. In the past half century, since the Civil Rights Act, Republicans have become a predominantly white party interested — as Trump openly declared — in keeping the number of voters, and particularly the number of Black voters, as low as possible. Yet the common thread remains. Watching white supremacists among the people storming the Capitol, it was easy to yield to the feeling that something pure had been violated. It might be better to see the episode as part of a long American argument about who deserves representation.

The Democrats, today, have become a coalition, one that does better than Republicans with female and nonwhite voters and collects votes from both labor unions and the college-educated. Yet it’s not quite right to contrast this coalition with a monolithic Republican Party. Right now, the Republican Party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). In January 2021, this was visible as the difference between those Republicans who defended the present system on the grounds that it favored them and those who tried to upend it.

In the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have overcome the tension between the gamers and the breakers by governing in opposition to government, or by calling elections a revolution (the Tea Party), or by claiming to oppose elites. The breakers, in this arrangement, provide cover for the gamers, putting forth an ideology that distracts from the basic reality that government under Republicans is not made smaller but simply diverted to serve a handful of interests.

At first, Trump seemed like a threat to this balance. His lack of experience in politics and his open racism made him a very uncomfortable figure for the party; his habit of continually telling lies was initially found by prominent Republicans to be uncouth. Yet after he won the presidency, his particular skills as a breaker seemed to create a tremendous opportunity for the gamers. Led by the gamer in chief, McConnell, they secured hundreds of federal judges and tax cuts for the rich.Mitch McConnell Got Everything He Wanted. But at What Cost?Jan. 22, 2019

Trump was unlike other breakers in that he seemed to have no ideology. His objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. He intended to break the system to serve himself — and this is partly why he has failed. Trump is a charismatic politician and inspires devotion not only among voters but among a surprising number of lawmakers, but he has no vision that is greater than himself or what his admirers project upon him. In this respect his pre-fascism fell short of fascism: His vision never went further than a mirror. He arrived at a truly big lie not from any view of the world but from the reality that he might lose something.

Yet Trump never prepared a decisive blow. He lacked the support of the military, some of whose leaders he had alienated. (No true fascist would have made the mistake he did there, which was to openly love foreign dictators; supporters convinced that the enemy was at home might not mind, but those sworn to protect from enemies abroad did.) Trump’s secret police force, the men carrying out snatch operations in Portland, was violent but also small and ludicrous. Social media proved to be a blunt weapon: Trump could announce his intentions on Twitter, and white supremacists could plan their invasion of the Capitol on Facebook or Gab. But the president, for all his lawsuits and entreaties and threats to public officials, could not engineer a situation that ended with the right people doing the wrong thing. Trump could make some voters believe that he had won the 2020 election, but he was unable to bring institutions along with his big lie. And he could bring his supporters to Washington and send them on a rampage in the Capitol, but none appeared to have any very clear idea of how this was to work or what their presence would accomplish. It is hard to think of a comparable insurrectionary moment, when a building of great significance was seized, that involved so much milling around.

The lie outlasts the liar. The idea that Germany lost the First World War in 1918 because of a Jewish “stab in the back” was 15 years old when Hitler came to power. How will Trump’s myth of victimhood function in American life 15 years from now? And to whose benefit?

On Jan. 7, Trump called for a peaceful transition of power, implicitly conceding that his putsch had failed. Even then, though, he repeated and even amplified his electoral fiction: It was now a sacred cause for which people had sacrificed. Trump’s imagined stab in the back will live on chiefly thanks to its endorsement by members of Congress. In November and December 2020, Republicans repeated it, giving it a life it would not otherwise have had. In retrospect, it now seems as though the last shaky compromise between the gamers and the breakers was the idea that Trump should have every chance to prove that wrong had been done to him. That position implicitly endorsed the big lie for Trump supporters who were inclined to believe it. It failed to restrain Trump, whose big lie only grew bigger.

The breakers and the gamers then saw a different world ahead, where the big lie was either a treasure to be had or a danger to be avoided. The breakers had no choice but to rush to be first to claim to believe in it. Because the breakers Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz must compete to claim the brimstone and bile, the gamers were forced to reveal their own hand, and the division within the Republican coalition became visible on Jan. 6. The invasion of the Capitol only reinforced this division. To be sure, a few senators withdrew their objections, but Cruz and Hawley moved forward anyway, along with six other senators. More than 100 representatives doubled down on the big lie. Some, like Matt Gaetz, even added their own flourishes, such as the claim that the mob was led not by Trump’s supporters but by his opponents.

Trump is, for now, the martyr in chief, the high priest of the big lie. He is the leader of the breakers, at least in the minds of his supporters. By now, the gamers do not want Trump around. Discredited in his last weeks, he is useless; shorn of the obligations of the presidency, he will become embarrassing again, much as he was in 2015. Unable to provide cover for their gamesmanship, he will be irrelevant to their daily purposes. But the breakers have an even stronger reason to see Trump disappear: It is impossible to inherit from someone who is still around. Seizing Trump’s big lie might appear to be a gesture of support. In fact it expresses a wish for his political death. Transforming the myth from one about Trump to one about the nation will be easier when he is out of the way.

As Cruz and Hawley may learn, to tell the big lie is to be owned by it. Just because you have sold your soul does not mean that you have driven a hard bargain. Hawley shies from no level of hypocrisy; the son of a banker, educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School, he denounces elites. Insofar as Cruz was thought to have a principle, it was that of states’ rights, which Trump’s calls to action brazenly violated. A joint statement Cruz issued about the senators’ challenge to the vote nicely captured the post-truth aspect of the whole: It never alleged that there was fraud, only that there were allegations of fraud. Allegations of allegations, allegations all the way down.

The big lie requires commitment. When Republican gamers do not exhibit enough of that, Republican breakers call them “RINOs”: Republicans in name only. This term once suggested a lack of ideological commitment. It now means an unwillingness to throw away an election. The gamers, in response, close ranks around the Constitution and speak of principles and traditions. The breakers must all know (with the possible exception of the Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville) that they are participating in a sham, but they will have an audience of tens of millions who do not.

If Trump remains present in American political life, he will surely repeat his big lie incessantly. Hawley and Cruz and the other breakers share responsibility for where this leads. Cruz and Hawley seem to be running for president. Yet what does it mean to be a candidate for office and denounce voting? If you claim that the other side has cheated, and your supporters believe you, they will expect you to cheat yourself. By defending Trump’s big lie on Jan. 6, they set a precedent: A Republican presidential candidate who loses an election should be appointed anyway by Congress. Republicans in the future, at least breaker candidates for president, will presumably have a Plan A, to win and win, and a Plan B, to lose and win. No fraud is necessary; only allegations that there are allegations of fraud. Truth is to be replaced by spectacle, facts by faith.

Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts, is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics. For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.

Informed observers inside and outside government agree that right-wing white supremacism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Gun sales in 2020 hit an astonishing high. History shows that political violence follows when prominent leaders of major political parties openly embrace paranoia.

Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.

When that violence comes, the breakers will have to react. If they embrace it, they become the fascist faction. The Republican Party will be divided, at least for a time. One can of course imagine a dismal reunification: A breaker candidate loses a narrow presidential election in November 2024 and cries fraud, the Republicans win both houses of Congress and rioters in the street, educated by four years of the big lie, demand what they see as justice. Would the gamers stand on principle if those were the circumstances of Jan. 6, 2025?

To be sure, this moment is also a chance. It is possible that a divided Republican Party might better serve American democracy; that the gamers, separated from the breakers, might start to think of policy as a way to win elections. It is very likely that the Biden-Harris administration will have an easier first few months than expected; perhaps obstructionism will give way, at least among a few Republicans and for a short time, to a moment of self-questioning. Politicians who want Trumpism to end have a simple way forward: Tell the truth about the election.

America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to facts as a public good. The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibility. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.

Source: https://nuzzel.com/digeststory/01092021/nytimes/the_american_abyss?e=6714311&c=zsH9ZmXNh5eMSaix9Dy7Kr6kBCZkryuqvNwFRsSqZy&utm_campaign=digest&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nuzzel

Wajahat Ali: ‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried.

Still better to reach out and listen.

Dialogue doesn’t have to lead to agreement but should improve understanding of the issues and perspectives if entered in good faith on all sides and a willingness to look at the evidence and facts (not “alternative facts”).

But agreed given some of the cultish aspects of Trump followers, hard to break through:

73 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. He doubled down on all his worst vices, and he was rewarded for it with 10 million more votes than he received in 2016.

The majority of people of color rejected his cruelty and vulgarity. But along with others who voted for Joe Biden, we are now being lectured by a chorus of voices including Pete Buttigieg and Ian Bremmer, to “reach out” to Trump voters and “empathize” with their pain.

This is the same advice that was given after Trump’s 2016 victory, and for nearly four years, I attempted to take it. Believe me, it’s not worth it.

The Quran asks Muslims to respond to disagreements and arguments “in a better way” and to “repel evil with good.” I tried. “You might not like me, and I might not like you, but we share the same real estate. So, here’s me reaching out across the aisle. American to American,” I said in a video message to Trump supporters published the day after the election.

I really thought it might work. Growing up, I often talked about my Islamic faith with my non-Muslim friends, and I like to think that might have helped to inoculate them from the Islamophobic propaganda and conspiracy theories that later become popular. So I assumed I could win over some Trump supporters whose frustrations and grievances had been manipulated by those intent on seeing people like me as invaders intent on replacing them.

So in late 2016, I told my speaking agency to book me for events in the states where Trump won. I wanted to talk to the people the media calls “real Americans” from the “heartland,” — which is of course America’s synonym for white people, Trump’s most fervent base. Over the next four years I gave more than a dozen talks to universities, companies and a variety of faith-based communities.

I reminded them that those who are now considered white, such as Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Greeks and Italians, were once the boogeyman. I warned them that supporting white nationalism and Trump, in particular, would be self destructive, an act of self-immolation, that will neither help their families or America become great again.

And I listened. Those in the audience who supported Trump came up to me and assured me they weren’t racist. They often said they’d enjoyed the talk, if not my politics. Still, not one told me they’d wavered in their support for him. Instead, they repeated conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points about “crooked Hillary.” Others made comments like, “You’re a good, moderate Muslim. How come others aren’t like you?”

In Ohio, I spent 90 minutes on a drive to the airport with a retired Trump supporter. We were cordial to each other, we made jokes and we shared stories about our families. But neither of us changed our outlook. “They’ll never take my guns. Ever,” he told me, explaining that his Facebook feed was filled with articles about how Clinton and Democrats would kill the Second Amendment and steal his guns. Although he didn’t like some of Trump’s “tone” and comments, he didn’t believe he was a racist “in his heart.” I’m not a cardiologist, so I wasn’t qualified to challenge that.

In 2017, I was invited by the Aspen Institute — which hosts a festival known for attracting the wealthy and powerful — to discuss racism in America. At a private dinner after the event, I was introduced to a donor who I learned was a Trump supporter. As soon as I said “white privilege,” she began shooting me passive aggressive quips about the virtues of meritocracy and hard work. She recommended I read “Hillbilly Elegy” — the best-selling book that has been criticized by those living in Appalachia as glorified poverty porn promoting simplistic stereotypes about a diverse region.

I’ve even tried and failed to have productive conversations with Muslims who voted for Trump. Some love him for the tax cuts. Others listen only to Fox News, say “both sides” are the same, or believe he hasn’t bombed Muslim countries. (They’re wrong.) Many believe they are the “good immigrants,” as they chase whiteness and run away from Blackness, all the way to the suburbs. I can’t make people realize they have Black and brown skin and will never be accepted as white.

I did my part. What was my reward? Listening to Trump’s base chant, “Send her back!” in reference to Representative Ilhan Omar, a black Muslim woman, who came to America as a refugee. I saw the Republican Party transform the McCloskeys into victims, even though the wealthy St. Louis couple illegally brandished firearmsagainst peaceful BLM protesters. Their bellicosity was rewarded with a prime time slot at the Republican National Convention where they warned about “chaos” in the suburbs being invaded by people of color. Their speech would have fit well in ”The Birth of a Nation.”

We cannot help people who refuse to help themselves. Trump is an extension of their id, their culture, their values, their greed. He is their defender and savior. He is their blunt instrument. He is their destructive drug of choice.

Don’t waste your time reaching out to Trump voters like I did. Instead, invest your time organizing your community, registering new voters and supporting candidates who reflect progressive values that uplift everyone, not just those who wear MAGA hats, in local and state elections. Work also to protect Americans against lies and conspiracy theories churned out by the right wing media and political ecosystem. One step would be to continue pressuring social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to deplatform hatemongers, such as Steve Bannon, and censor disinformation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Or, you can just watch “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix while downing your favorite pint of ice cream and call it a day.

Just as in 2016, I don’t need Trump supporters to be humiliated to feel great again. I want them to have health insurance, decent paying jobs and security for their family. I do not want them to suffer, but I also refuse to spend any more time trying to understand and help the architects of my oppression.

I will move forward along with the majority who want progress, equality and justice for all Americans. If Trump supporters decide they want the same, they can always reach out to me. They know where to find me. Ahead of them.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/opinion/trump-supporters.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=943976581&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=846925651&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage

The Mentality That Explains Trump’s Dead-Enders

Possible cult thesis:

In 1954, social psychologist Leon Festinger embedded himself in a cult called The Seekers, whose leader, Dorothy Martin, preached that a UFO would rescue them before destroying the planet on Dec. 21 of that year. When that didn’t happen, many sect members left. But most of the inner circle remained, inventing all kinds of rationales for why the prophecy didn’t come true (e.g. their faith persuaded the aliens to give Earth a second chance) and redoubled their devotion.

From this research, Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance: that human beings will do just about anything to resolve contradictions between our deeply held beliefs about the world and the reality of the world itself. Cognitive dissonance is so unpleasant, so disordering and catastrophic for the ego, that no amount of absurd, tortured reasoning is worse than reality contradicting a deeply held belief.

Sound familiar?

I first encountered the concept of cognitive dissonance as a grad student in religious studies (I ended up writing my dissertation on a failed messianic movement) but it’s become a cornerstone of contemporary psychology in a variety of contexts. It applies to much more than religion: it is, I think, the best explanation for today’s political and ideological divides, and for the mind-blowing fact that 70 percent of Republicans say they think the election Trump lost was not “free and fair.”

All of us try to resolve cognitive dissonance, but the Trump movement has been a years-long exercise in it. Election denial is its latest manifestation. But before that came COVID denial, science denial, climate denial, ‘alternative facts,’ the inability of Trump’s most devoted fans to see him for the obvious con man that he is, and, at the movement’s very core, denial of the social and demographic changes that are transforming America.

In all of these cases, developments in history are contradicting deeply held beliefs—in fact, not mere “beliefs” but organizing principles of the world that create one’s sense of place within it. If Donald Trump legitimately lost the election, most Americans can put up with Socialism or Black Lives Matter or the Liberal Media or whatever else. If America is really, legitimately changing, then the white-, male-, straight-, and Christian-dominated world is gone and will never come back. If climate change is real, then the way I’ve been living my life has been causing harm, and has to change, even if that means government regulations and restrictions. If the Republicans are just duping me into supporting massive benefits for the ultra-rich, I’m a stupid mark. If Trump really is a con man with a bad weave and even worse makeup, then I’ve been deluded for four years. And so on.

Again, these aren’t mere beliefs; they are how people understand themselves and their communities. That’s what’s challenging about cognitive dissonance. It’s pointless to argue facts with someone in the throes of denial, because no twist of facts is too preposterous to entertain if the alternative is letting go of one’s entire worldview and sense of self.

Cognitive dissonance is also a primary reason that people resort to conspiracy theories, which Trumpworld increasingly resembles, not only in fringe manifestations like QAnon but in the allegation of widespread fraud in the presidential election, which, of course, has no factual basis whatsoever and is, at this point, simply a conspiracy theory writ large.

Conspiracy theories explain phenomena too difficult to simply accept: Plandemic explains how COVID-19 could upend the world, Trutherism explains how 9/11 could upend the world, QAnon explains how Trump has “not yet” uprooted the profound evil among American elites. And for believers, however horrible the conspiracy is—Cannibal pedophiles! Reptilian aliens!—it is less horrible than the possibility that no one is minding the store, that bad things happen to good people, that life is filled with randomness, chance, and change, and that most people actually don’t agree with your ideas, all of which are cognitively dissonant for human animals trying to find security in the world.

“Plandemic explains how COVID-19 could upend the world, Trutherism explains how 9/11 could upend the world, QAnon explains how Trump has “not yet” uprooted the profound evil among American elites.”

In this light, QAnon isn’t some weird, fringe phenomenon with no connection to populist politics. It’s a logical extension of the populist worldview. If “the people” are actually the majority, then a sinister minority—Jews, ‘coastal elites’, the media, the Satanic pedophiles, whoever—is actually in control. It’s a short jump from that to full-blown conspiracy madness. And when the anointed messenger of “the people” turns out to be a buffoon chiefly interested in his own enrichment, well, that must all be a ruse. Or a media conspiracy. Or whatever.

In fact, of course, America is changing not because of manipulation by shadowy elites, be they coastal, Semitic, pedophiliac, or reptilian, but because of demographics and social change on questions like sexuality, gender, race, and religion. The numbers are incontrovertible. But that would mean that the populists are actually wrong about what “America” even is. That would mean they are wrong about who they are; they’re not the “real Americans,” they’re just one subset of real Americans, and a dwindling one at that. That is intolerable.

To be sure, denial as a means of avoiding cognitive dissonance exists across the political spectrum. Plenty of progressives have been 9/11 Truthers, anti-vaxxers, and COVID deniers. Plenty more believe in astrology, pseudo-science, and the quackery of the “wellness industry” despite contrary evidence. In the phenomenon known as “conspirituality,” many have even co-opted right-wing conspiracies like QAnon and grafted them onto a New Age worldview.

Nor is right-wing cognitive dissonance new. Drawing on the McCarthy period, historian Richard Hofstadter coined the term “paranoid style in American politics” to describe the populist worldview, as alive now as then, that sees real America as simultaneously a beacon of strength and a citadel under siege by nefarious outsiders (communists, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, whoever). Someone is always out to destroy America, and it’s always five minutes to midnight.

Likewise today. Trump can’t be defeated fairly—that would mean that America isn’t what the “America First” crowd says it is, and that the identities of tens of millions of Americans are in need of serious revision. So it must be the fault of some ‘Other’: the media, the Democrats, the Jews, the great Satanic conspiracy.

The human aversion to cognitive dissonance is widespread, powerful, and connected to our core conceptions of the meaning of life and how to survive it. It is as primal as it gets. So no, my numerous data-filled articles about Trump’s lawsuits will not persuade a true believer.

Don’t worry, though; cognitive dissonance is so strong a motivator that it will eventually triumph over its current manifestation. When the facts are incontrovertible, all but a small hardcore of Trump’s supporters will simply tweak their meta-theories. God works in mysterious ways, after all. Or maybe Biden’s election was punishment for our sins. Or maybe, for those more secularly inclined, we were getting complacent under Trump, and now we’ll have to wake up.

Whatever it takes, Trump’s devoted base will find a way to preserve their beliefs in the face of his eventual loss. I suppose that’s a good thing: eventually they’ll figure out a way to explain that, too.

Source: The Mentality That Explains Trump’s Dead-Enders

Can Trump’s Hard-Core Fans Be Deradicalized?

Interesting question and framing:

President Donald Trump’s rally in Greenville, North Carolina, this week made scholars of fascism sit bolt upright. Trump spouted racist conspiracy theories about Somali-American Rep. Ilhan Omar to his fans, who chanted “Send her back!”

Trump has long stoked bigoted grievances among his followers, but the Greenville rally saw him act as a more overt radicalizer than ever before. And with a portion of Trump’s fanbase now openly clamoring for the physical removal of several prominent Democrats of color, experts are questioning whether the country can repair the damage—even if Trump loses in 2020.

“He’s always embodied these sentiments,” Zoé Samudzi, author of As Black As Resistance and a scholar studying genocide said. “But I do feel like there’s a feedback loop: he’s both animated by and responsive to the base that is eager to discipline a black Muslim immigrant woman. His long held racial animus fuels his supporters (who never need permission for their virulent racism but are emboldened by him all the same), and their enthusiasm energizes the president who in turn keeps ratcheting up his rhetoric.”

While extreme actions like the “send her back!” chant, and the presence of fringe conspiracy theorists have drawn attention to his rallies, it’s unclear how many of his supporters subscribe to those individual beliefs.

“Some people might be there because they genuinely believe in this ideology,” said Mary Beth Altier, an assistant professor at New York University specializing in radicalization. “Some may be questioning those beliefs. They’re toying with them, and they go because a friend brought them or they think it’d be cool to go. They go and get swept up. People start chanting, are you going to be the only one standing there not chanting?”

Wednesday night’s “send her back!” chant followed similar rhetoric by Trump directed at Omar and fellow lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. All four are freshman congresswomen of color, who have broken with Democratic House leadership to promote a more progressive agenda, in part over wanting to confront Trump more aggressively.

In a series of Monday tweets, Trump laid the groundwork for Wednesday’s “send her back!” chant.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted of the four congresswomen. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

Though the tweets were indistinguishable from white nationalist talking points (and all but one of the congresswomen were born in the U.S.), Trump’s popularity with Republicans spiked after his racist tweets, a Reuters poll this week showed. It’s possible very little will bother his most devoted fans, Janja Lalich, a professor studying cults and totalitarian leadership, said.

“There’s this intense devotion and the inability to question or criticize or doubt,” Lalich told The Daily Beast.

“They seem to be in a state of what we call cognitive dissonance, where what they believe doesn’t match reality,” she said. “People in that state tend to cling to their beliefs over reality. They dig themselves even deeper. I think the things we see at the rallies, where people get into these cheers and adore everything he says, is very typical of what we see in run-of-the-mill cults. There’s what we might call blind obedience or blind followership.”

Trump’s rallies offer a strong sense of community for fans. That’s critical to the people chanting for Omar’s removal, said David Neiwert, author of Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.

Neiwert defines eliminationism as a community-based mentality that promotes “purity” by demonizing its opponents and demanding they be purged from society.

“What they’re doing is participating in a community of hate. This is actually key to a lot of its power and its attraction. It’s almost ritualized,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is how hate crimes work. Hate crimes are always message crimes directed at targets who are seen as corrupting influences and bad for the community. Hate-crime perpetrators see themselves as defending their communities while doing it. There’s always a communal aspect to this. It’s very much the mob.”

Lalich offered a similar perspective.

“Having an us-versus-them mentality is what keeps people strong in their beliefs,” she said. “It creates paranoia, it creates a kind of fighting atmosphere. That kind of mentality is one we typically see. By feeding into that, the leader creates a separation. It also creates a sense of elitism and specialness.”

Trump’s rhetoric has already inspired violent attacks. During a March 2016 rally, Trump asked fans to eject protesters, calling on them to “get ‘em out of here.” Matt Heimbach, a neo-Nazi who was later instrumental in 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlotteville, complied, assaulting a black protester. In October, a Florida man sent 16 pipe bombs to politicians, news outlets, and public figures who have been critical of Trump. The bomber had attended Trump rallies and described them as “like a new found drug.” Trump’s election has coincided with a marked spike in hate crimes, and a rise in overt white supremacist action.

Trump’s attacks on the four congresswomen are an extension of the racist appeals he made to voters during his first campaign.

“The language about the congresswomen fits into nativist language around a racial purity of citizenship, and inherent to that is an idea of ethnic cleansing either through deportation policies, restrictions on entry, or violence against racialized communities,” Samudzi said.

“The problem isn’t simply that three of the four women are US-born: the problem is the insinuation that there is an idea of birthright citizenship that could be revoked (as well as the de-naturalization of citizenship) in an attempt to actualize a vision of a white America.”

Experts who help people escape intense groups like cults or hate movements say dialogue with people outside the movement can help deradicalize adherents.

Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist who now helps extremists leave hate groups, said his method involves talking and identifying sources of grief and trauma that might underlay hate.

“I listen for those potholes that detoured their life’s journey and then try to fill (repair) them,” he told The Daily Beast via email.

Lalich cited the case of Derek Black, the son of a prominent white nationalist, as an example of how deradicalization can sometimes works.

“What seems to have worked is really just engaging in dialogue, individual by individual,” she said. Black renounced white supremacy after going to college and meeting people of differing viewpoints.

But some of Trump’s most die-hard fans might be removed from dissenting opinions, Altier said.

“Establishing alternative social bonds and networks where they can interact with people with other views” could help, she said, but “we’re not seeing that on social media. We’re seeing more polarization in society on both sides.”

Instead, dedicated fans might turn inward, engaging with more pro-Trump communities.

“I don’t listen to Fox, I don’t listen to CNN. I don’t listen to any of ’em,” Allicyn Steverson, a Florida teacher told HuffPost at the Wednesday rally. “I listen to Trump’s tweets and his QAnons.” (QAnon is a deranged online conspiracy theory that accuses Trump’s opponents of sexually abusing and sometimes eating children.)

A choose-your-own reality media environment might keep people from challenging their beliefs, Lalich said.

“Because people are so divided right now, those folks are mainly watching Fox and listening to Alex Jones,” she said. “They’re not going to get any kind of education that might tap into their critical thinking. That’s what works when we try to do exit intervention: we try to reawaken the person’s critical thinking and get them to see the reality of who their leader is and what their beliefs are. In this case, because this is on a national level, we’ve never quite experienced this before in our country. I think any kind of public education would be very difficult.”

Picciolini stressed that outright confrontation over bigoted beliefs might not help a person abandon them.

“Ideology is usually formed, or led to, by trauma or grievance. If we continue to confront ideology by trying to change it, we will fail,” Picciolini said. “We must instead focus on repairing the motivations that lead to hate-and they are seldom someone else’s skin color or religion. Self-hatred or uncertainty lead to hate. Let’s fix that.”

Altier also cautioned that some Trump supporters might act out should his rallies stop.

“While people saying these things is awful and they may radicalize other people, if we quash their ability to say them, my research shows they may become more violent because they can’t express those grievances. It’s a catch-22,” she said.

And even if Trump leaves office, it’s no guarantee that Trumpism will end. “I think it’s only going to intensify,” Neiwert said, citing fears that Trump would not lead a peaceful transition.

It’s a concern Lalich shares. “I think he can still remain their leader. He doesn’t need to have office,” she said.

“He’s already threatened that it’s going to be rigged and that his people will rise up. I think that’s not going to change very much because he has reawakened such hatred in this country.”

Source: Can Trump’s Hard-Core Fans Be Deradicalized?

Pro-Trump Canadians Throw ‘Million Deplorable March.’ Right-Wing Media Counts 5,000. Cops Say Hundreds.

Getting noticed in US media with usual inflation of crowd claims:

Although it was dubbed the “Million Canadian Deplorables March,” both The Daily Caller and Breitbart claimed about 5,000 people showed up in Ottawa to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to show favor for Donald Trump, whom protest organizer Mike Waine called a “smart man.”

“Most Canadians are asleep because fake news is telling them stories that just aren’t true,” Waine told The Daily Caller in its article “Thousands Of Canadian ‘Deplorables’ March To Support Trump And Oppose Trudeau.”

Ironically, Ottawa police now say there weren’t thousands, let alone 5,000 or a million, protesters at the March at all.

“We average about two or three (demonstrations) a day. It would be like Washington D.C. for you guys,” said Ottawa Police Constable Marc Soucy. “This one would be on the small side for sure.”

Soucy said that, while the Ottawa Police doesn’t officially provide crowd estimates, there were not 5,000 people at the rally’s “gathering point” in Ottawa’s Confederation Park.

“There were less than 100 [at the park],” he said.

A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Protection Services estimated to Canada’s iPolicy, who first reported on the discrepancy, that 300 to 400 people in total went to the rally in at the Canadian capital.

Still, a Breitbart headline blared “5,000 Canadians March in Support of Trump, Against Liberal Trudeau Administration” on Saturday. Meanwhile, 504 people RSVP’d to the event on Facebook, where the protest was labeled as a “march against Trudope and his tyranny.”

This isn’t the first time Breitbart has inflated crowd sizes of pro-Trump events. The website, whose former CEO Steve Bannon is now a Senior Advisor to President Trump, posted a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Championship victory parade in a story titled “Trump’s Jacksonville Rally draws 15,000” last August.

And in March, The Daily Caller published an article arguing in favor of Donald Trump’s incorrect claim that the media had downplayed the size of the crowd at his January inauguration, arguing that “context has been severely lacking.”

The Daily Caller article about the Candian march, written by David Krayden, quoted organizer Waine saying a recent motion in Canada could “lead to the implementation of Sharia Law in Canada.” The text of that motion, M-103, condemns Islamophobia and “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Waine appeared happy with the turnout, according to the Caller.

Source: Pro-Trump Canadians Throw ‘Million Deplorable March.’ Right-Wing Media Counts 5,000. Cops Say Hundreds.