Among the most disturbing things that has ever happened to this country has not just been the behavior of Donald Trump while in office: it is the permissive nature of all of us who have allowed this man to ingratiate himself as a self-proclaimed messiah. I have pointed out the dangers of the rise of a demagogue in my book The Supercivilization: Survival in the Era of Human Versus Human. I argued in 2015 that we need to be extremely careful in choosing and even managing our leaders through meticulously stable institutions that do not allow rogue behavior. Today we are subject to manipulations for two very important reasons: first, the propaganda we are exposed to has never been more subject to manipulative behavior from single sources and second, the conduit for this propaganda has never been so lightning-quick to affect every single living human being nearly instantaneously. I call this the paradox of individual power.
The paradox of individual power means that even though each of us has never been a smaller, so seemingly trivial share of humanity (1/7.7 billionth), each individual has never had so much power to influence the entirety of humanity than today. Our interconnectedness is so great today that we have never been so susceptible to the propaganda of those in power. Why now? Because, in the past, if we didn’t like someone or the ideas of someone who ruled over us, we could leave and go to other geographical, spiritual, or cultural areas in which that person’s propaganda was nonexistent or irrelevant. Today, that is impossible, and so we are extraordinarily susceptible to the manipulation of our minds from rogue leaders, or demagogues. We have no place to go as the Internet has created a social glue, or a gigantic homogeneous culture (I call The Supercivilization) that binds us together and profoundly favors those interests in power. We are now hopelessly interconnected on a geographical, spiritual and cultural level that has never been seen before in our history as a species. We are forced to live in the world of our leaders. They do not live in our world; we live in theirs.
Or so they want us to believe. Currently, our institutions, particularly our government, are subject to great manipulation by vested interests: corporations, wealthy individuals and now, most recently, foreign heads of state. The nation-state that we have now in place is declining in significance due to the overwhelming nature of our interconnectedness as a species. Now, ideas win out over traditional institutions that are obsolete. Republican ideology supersedes American ideology. And to further complicate things, foreigners who are capable of contaminating elections with their own propaganda through exponentially increased interconnectedness are virtually unstoppable in manipulating elections of the traditional “nation-state.”
Strictly because of the decline of the nation-state, as we have known it for several hundred years, we have allowed this seriously flawed narcissist to assume and maintain his role as our President. Other narcissists are beside and even, in the case of Vladimir Putin, behind the rise of Trump as Trump promotes them as well: Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recip Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Xi Jinping in China, Rodrigo Dutarte in the Philippines, and the Saudi family, particularly the Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. All are corrupt individuals seeking personal gain at the expense of all of the rest of us humans. Yet, Republicans put up with Trump, precisely because he can be manipulated and spew forth nonsense that distracts all of us from more pressing issues. This is precisely what the Republicans want: maintain the status quo in order to maintain their wealth. As Steven Lukes has pointed out in his book, Power : A Radical View , it is not what we talk about as a country that is most important; it is what we don’t talk about that is most concerning. In a recent article, Fareed Zakaria points out that “The Republican Party has many good people and good ideas. But none of them matters while it houses and feeds fantasies, conspiracies, and paranoia tinged with racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. “
The latest head scratcher occurred with Senator Orrin Hatch commented about Donald Trump breaking the law through hush money payments. When asked if he was worried about Mr. Trump breaking the law by a CNN reporter, Mr. Hatch responded, “No because I don’t think he was involved in crimes but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under current law.” This statement came from someone, a respected senior Congressional leader, who makes our laws! I suggest that Mr. Hatch ask himself why he should even show up to his office if laws are trivial, insignificant, nebulous, and of little value to our country. Even more puzzling was that Mr. Hatch was prominently opposed to Mr. Clinton’s behavior in the late 1990s due to the violation of those same laws. Hatch voted to impeach Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice charges in 1999. Those same charges are appearing to become more likely a part of Donald Trump’s future as an unindicted coconspirator, yet Hatch is oblivious to this.
Commentators have offered differing explanations for the rise of Donald Trump within the Republican Party first and then his rise in our political system. To give Mr. Trump credit, he is a remarkable self-promoter and did a splendid job making his argument to voters who commentators like to call his “base.” It is not to say his “base,” as stated by Hillary Clinton, were comprised of “a basket of deplorables“. As did Hitler in an ailing Germany of the 1930s whose citizens were being punished by the French and English for their misdeeds of World War I, Trump found a perfect time and a perfect group of people (less educated white Americans who are largely disenfranchised) to exploit this sentiment so readily apparent in a declining America.
During Trump’s rise, America had just gone through a near-catastrophic recession in 2008-9 and we Americans were suddenly faced with a 21st century that was no longer America-centric. The Chinese were and are now beginning to exploit our post-World War II hegemony as our standard of living relative to the rest of the world has become seriously challenged. The days of American superiority under Clinton and the fall of the Berlin Wall during the American 20th Century have turned into a post-American 21st century comprised of strongmen seeking to take advantage of the paradox of individual power.
Now enters Donald Trump who is the master manipulator. Fresh off his heady days as “The Apprentice” king in which he could control his minions through a production company and network (NBC) tailored to his ego, Mr. Trump quickly turned his fame into a farce that was far worse than any reality show or construction project he had thus far created: playing the role of President of the United States. His fantasy was that he could be the master puppeteer who would call the shots (e.g. King Trump). As he said in the Republican National Convention, “I alone can fix it.”
It is too bad that Mr. Trump’s rise has occurred in spite of our liberal democratic values. It is these very values that have made our country so prosperous and great. Yet, we are all humans and subject to propaganda, even when it is to our own disadvantage. As Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The only difference between Trump and Hitler was the strength of our liberal democratic American values as manifested through our Constitution. Save for this wonderful document, Trump could quickly become a second act in a horrible Shakespearean tragedy. The only thing that has stopped Trump is our Constitution and the division of power carefully forged by our founding fathers. Yes, Trump has not murdered anyone yet (as his supporters might say), but with his recent support of a Saudi government that had a reporter, Jamal Khashoggi, murdered through dismemberment and with his ongoing support of the Saudis and other strongmen who do murder to maintain power, there is little doubt that if given the opportunity, Mr. Trump would unquestionably subvert the Constitution to further his own interests.
Because Republicans continue to accept a fatally flawed man in Trump through silly responses to his infantile refrains no matter how dysfunctional he becomes, the Republicans have managed to put the country at great risk and make themselves the “so what” Party. When I mean “so what,” I mean both from a standpoint of their defense of Trump and their righteous indignation supporting the sanctity of their own values. They believe in 1) their own values of the white Anglo-Saxon protestant (patting themselves on the back for their greatness), 2) less taxes which allows the rich to get richer and more powerful, 3) their rejection of science and the scientific method when it impacts their own wealth, and 4) the disdain for any other cultural values that differ from these. Would Jesus approve of Trump? I will let you answer that one. They believe their belief system is immutably sacred which makes them a dying party in a hyperdynamic world of new facts and scientific discoveries. We have now learned from the Republicans who they really are. Their core values that favor the wealthy supersede that of our Constitution. This immutability of our Constitution is unquestioned and can only be extolled through the notion of what it means to be an American and not a Republican of 2018. Essentially, their party values Trump American values.
This then harkens back to the question I posed earlier. Why did Mr. Hatch ignore Mr. Trump’s violation of the law? Our country is no longer valued as it once was. Protecting our country is no longer our supreme value for many of us. If this were the case, then Mr. Trump would never have been elected. He also would not still be in office now.
Fortunately, America is not about the individual and who can compete most effectively and successfully in a dog-eat-dog world. It is not a zero sum game in which I look good only if you look bad. That is a Trumpian, Republican world. What America is about is assisting individuals in optimizing all of our collective skills to make our world a better place and should be about all of us winning. It is about unifying to fight climate change, our biggest threat to humanity. It is not about dividing us to seal us off from the rest of the world so we can seemingly prosper. Climate change makes border walls irrelevant and will merely melt them in a sea of desperate souls as anarchy could prevail decades down the line. We are the world; we are not a zero sum game. We live in a world in which we must assist all of us, no matter where we were born, where we reside, or what our intelligence or skill level is, to allow all of us to reach our maximum potential. Mr. Adolf Trump is about making himself look better to feed his egg shell ego. As James Comey, fired FBI director, espouses, it is critical that we politically dispose of Mr. Trump and his Republican henchmen like Devin Nunes, Mitch McConnell , Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch before he disposes of us. Trump’s world, like Hitler’s was during World War II, is a zero sum game and if we don’t rid him of his power, he will most assuredly get rid of us.