Be Warned: Your Own Trump Is Coming
One day, very soon, your personal Donald Trump will come along. It'll be all of the same tricks, only perfectly tailored to your beliefs and pent-up rage. He or she will be just as dishonest and as abrasive as the proverbial cat's tongue on your genitals ... but everything they say will go down smooth as butter. You know how sometimes you drink butter? Like the little tub of it they give you at Red Lobster? Like that.
They may not even be running for office. They may only want you to buy their book, or listen to their podcast. What matters is that you spot them before it's too late. So, here's how:
Instead Of ISIS, It Will Be Nazis
People like this always need a looming "must be stopped at all costs" threat, one so dangerous that the thinking part of your brain will go dark at its very mention. Usually they'll hype up some loathsome extremist group as a fundamental threat to our civilization -- so dangerous, in fact, that all norms must be suspended. With Trump, it was ISIS (or refugee rapists, or Latino gangs -- he had several). When a "Trump, only for progressive types" comes along, it will be Nazis. They'll make it sound like half of all Americans have a red armband stashed in their sock drawer.
"But Nazis are real!" you'll be tempted to say. I know! You think ISIS is an improv group Trump hired? This technique works way better when there are real headlines they can use as proof. They're not inventing a threat -- they're amplifying it to cartoonish proportions to make all other issues (and scandals) seem moot. That's the key.
"Are you honestly going to nitpick my economic plan when we're literally living in 1934 Germany here? Focusing on minutiae is exactly how Hitler came to power!"
They Will Deflect Any Criticism With "Trump Was Worse"
The most underrated long-term threat is that Trump permanently lowers our standards. For your Trump, this will manifest itself in two ways: A) by deflecting any scandalous news with worse Trump news (as if we have no other basis for comparison), and B) framing any criticism as secretly pro-Trump.
"Oh, so it's another one of those 'both sides are the same' articles. Say what you will about ________, but I'd take them over Cheeto Mussolini any day of the week. I wonder how much Putin paid for this one!"
They Will Say We Must Fight Fire With Fire
Some of you are already confused. Wouldn't "Trump, only with the right policies" be a goddamned dream come true? It'd be like getting a Louis C.K. who doesn't make people watch him masturbate. We thought we had that, and it was awesome!
Here's the thing. Those who oppose Trump do it for two distinct reasons:
A) His policy positions (tax cuts, social program cuts, Obamacare repeals, etc.)
B) His personal immorality and violation of all that we hold sacred (antagonistic style, rapid-fire falsehoods, petty personal insults, fearmongering, demonization of marginalized groups, hostility toward the press, general authoritarianism)
This is the line between a disagreement among experts about which policies best serve the populace in the long term (A) and somebody simply acting like a piece of shit (B). Likewise, there's a huge difference between someone who voted for Trump because they believe lower corporate taxes spur employment and someone who only wanted a human hand grenade to put the hurt on those triggered libs.
If you really, really hate Trump, it will be very easy for some firebrand to come along promising to be the grenade thrown back in the other direction. That trend -- voting only as an act of violence against a hated enemy -- is a larger threat to the fabric of society than any individual policy. A leftist who wins with Trump tactics is like a corrupt cop framing a guy who by coincidence turned out to be guilty. Normalizing those tactics is worse for us in the long run, regardless of what happens to that one criminal.
"I don't know about policy. All I know is that if the Trumpkins are this triggered, we must be doing something right! Go back to the trailer park and screw your toothless sisters, shitbirds!"
They Will Insist That Things Can't Possibly Get Worse
Pessimism is a weapon. Trump promised to end the "carnage" of the last eight years, and described America as being full of empty factories "scattered like tombstones." He made the country sound like a blasted post-apocalyptic turdscape of disease and depravity. That is universal to demagogues, for a simple reason: No proposal, no matter how fucking stupid, can be criticized if things "can't possibly get worse."
Beware of anyone who says this. No matter what's happening in your life, it's objectively untrue that things can't get much, much, much worse than they are now. Many nations have installed leaders running on a "What do you have to lose?" platform, only to realize the answer to that question is always "A whole fucking lot."
"Don't talk to me about your precious 'constitution' or 'political norms.' Look where that got us! They've ruined the country, and we need to do anything we can to stop them. Anything."
They'll Say That We Are Smart And They Are Dumb
Mocking the other side's voters as crayon-eating morons serves a dual purpose: It appeals to our intellectual vanity and lowers our defenses. After all, if only dumb people fall for lies, and we're clearly not dumb, then we don't need to worry about falling for lies. Your Trump will gleefully debunk a long list of silly shit believed by the other side (to prove how gullible they are), but won't devote any of that energy to keeping our own information stream free of pollution.
"This article misses the point. Trump only came about because of uneducated, low-information voters! We're the side that believes in science and evidence! A leftist Trump wouldn't last five minutes. Besides, we'd never support a guy who is too dumb to know how to feed fish."
The Trump Express is fueled by rage, and the easiest way to induce rage is to convince the audience that Utopia is real, and that they've been cruelly deprived of it. Conservatives tend to claim that this Utopia existed in the past -- you know, back when every uneducated worker had a secure high-paying job, there was no crime or immigrants, and minorities knew how to behave -- before a few evil powerful people took it away from us.
Progressives, on the other hand, insist that Utopia exists in other countries (usually Nordic ones), and that a few evil people prevent us from being like them. In these other places, all needs are provided for free, there is no crime or corporate greed, and the police mostly just smile and wave.
As usual, there is always a grain of truth to it. There are things other countries do better (mass transit, healthcare), just as some things were in fact better in the past (once, ISIS didn't exist! And now it does!) The dishonesty is in the refusal to acknowledge any sacrifices or trade-offs. There is no country in the world in which healthcare and secondary education are "free," and anyone using that word is pulling a Trump on your ass.
They'll Insist That It's Their Way Or The Apocalypse
You've already spotted the running theme here: Whether it's their Trump or yours, they'll shield themselves from criticism by making you terrified of the alternative. Scared/angry people (they're the same thing) are easy to control. If a lifeguard is saving you from drowning, do you care if he's visibly aroused and screaming racial slurs the whole time?
So expect to hear a lot about nuclear war. It's easy to forget that Trump did the same thing -- lots of his support came from people who were terrified that Hillary Clinton would trigger WWIII with Russia.
"Even if I believe what you say about my guy's plan driving up unemployment, that's still better than the job we'll all have under Trump -- the job of being DEAD in a NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE."
They Will Blur The Line Between Hate Groups, Protesters, And Activists
The right has had great success equating the Black Lives Matter movement with rioters and cop killers -- 57 percent of Americans have a negative view of the group. If one person in a crowd of thousands breaks a window, that's all it takes.
Look for your Trump to do the same. Anyone on the side of deregulation, tax cuts or cuts to social programs is technically on the same "side" as white nationalist terrorists. Well, there's clearly no point in arguing with a skinhead who found a way to rhyme "genocide" in a chant, and that guy votes Republican, so clearly there's no arguing with anyone who votes Republican.
"You want to make a deal with these people on immigration policy?!? Making deals is exactly how Hitler came to power!"
They Will Imply That Only More Government Power Can Save Us
Governments rarely try to sell you on giving them more authority. In fact, you will scarcely hear the phrase "more power to the government" at all. Who the hell would support that? In a movie, if the government is seizing power, there's usually scary music playing in the background and somebody is about to start raising a clone army.
Instead, it's always framed as taking power away from the bad guys. That's why Trump needs to say the streets are owned by gangs, refugees, and terrorists, and that America is losing huge to China. The bad guys have all the power, therefore we need more police, fewer rights for the accused, tighter border controls, and more protectionist trade agreements. All of which, by sheer coincidence, gives more power to him.
Your Trump will speak of a country dominated by corporations and Nazis. The only way to stop them will be higher taxes (But just on the rich! You won't feel a thing!), maybe a universal income (100 percent controlled by the federal government, but it'll be fine), and broader restrictions on hate speech (and they get to define what that is). Any of those may or may not be good ideas to some degree. The key is that any objection to those proposals, or talk of moderating them, or concerns about how such power could be abused, will be called pro-Trump (or "Nazi").
Remember, this isn't about left vs. right. This is about a technique, one intended to eliminate critical thinking or debate. They need you to buy the assumption, without questioning it, that the only solution to the current crisis is to give them more power. Never mind that those powers will remain on the books the next time the other side takes over (just wait until you see what they call hate speech).
"Authoritarian fascists like Trump are selling America out to his corporate lackeys. We need to elect someone who will return power to the people."
They Will Use Violent Language ... Then Scream When The Other Side Does It
Trump openly "joked" about beating protestors to approving roars from crowds, and then clutched his pearls when Kathy Griffin was photographed with a bloody Trump mannequin head.
Your Trump will do that same coy little dance. Look for constant allusions to "revolution" or "wiping out the fascist enablers," phrased in ways that make it clear that they're not talking about changing their minds. They will, in the very next breath, insist that the same violent rhetoric on the other side amounts to literal marching orders. Of course the Portland train attacker was just acting on right-wing rhetoric. Of course the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot a Republican congressman was just mentally ill.
Everyone wants the freedom to sound like a tough-talking badass without assuming any responsibility whatsoever when blood gets spilled. We have to decide if we're better than that.
"I have to wonder how long we're going to pretend that voting or lobbying actually makes a difference before we take this to the streets. Besides, did you hear what that Republican said last week about running over protesters? It's just self-defense!"
They Will Insist That Rights Don't Apply To the Other Side
Trump's side loves to talk about the Constitution, but it's clear they want it applied selectively. When they say "freedom of religion," they don't mean Islam. "Freedom of assembly" doesn't apply to Black Lives Matter. The "right to a fair trial" doesn't apply to suspected terrorists or someone who got shot by the police. If you demand rights for those groups, well, you must secretly be a terrorist or a criminal. Surely no one actually wants rights to extend to bad people.
Your Trump will do the same; they'll just swap out the groups. "Sure, I believe in freedom of the press, but these articles are hateful, and must be removed using any means possible. Sure, I believe in freedom of assembly, but these guys are misogynists."
All of it comes with the unspoken, indefensible assumption that protections don't apply to people who themselves don't believe in them. "No one who wants to take rights away from others should be allowed free speech!" "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." You can, of course, use that same twisted logic to make all rights go away -- and there will always be someone eager to do it. "Why should a criminal get a trial if they didn't give a trial to their victim?" "Why should freedom of religion apply to atheists if they just use it to attack other religions?" "Why should freedom of the press extend to an outlet that demeans journalism by printing trash?" "Why should we extend the right to vote to people who will use it to kill unborn future voters?"
"Did you hear California is prosecuting a guy for posting hateful messages on Facebook? It's about time! I mean, I'm all for the First Amendment, but this is hate speech! Allowing Nazis to have free speech is exactly how Hitler came to power!"
They Will Encourage Personal Cruelty
We all know why hate groups are a thing. The world will always contain a certain number of shitty people who define themselves by what they're not. "I'm not great because of anything I've accomplished, but because I'm not a Muslim." They hang around the fringes of society until their Trump comes along and stokes their rage. This is why so many of you still don't think you're in danger here -- you can't get sucked in by a Trump because you're not one of those people.
My argument -- the one I keep coming back to -- is that all of us are "those people" under the right circumstances. If you take any human and make them feel powerless and desperate for long enough, then start pumping up their anger, they'll change. You too.
You won't even feel it. You'll say the world is what changed. Then you'll have someone granting you permission to take all of that fear, self-doubt, and insecurity and unleash it on the enemy like a blast from a goddamned flamethrower. They don't even make a drug that feels that good.
Your Trump will carefully select and highlight the worst of the worst from the other side -- the most petty, disgusting, pig-ignorant cockroaches -- and hold them up to your eyes, every day. They will say that every common courtesy granted to them is a self-inflicted wound, that every act of petty meanness is a victory, every cruel joke an act of courage, every misfortune on their side a cause for spiteful celebration. This is war, they'll say, which means all rules go out the window. Even though real war actually has lots of rules. Whatever.
This is the final lie of a demagogue -- that deep down, we're all no better than them, that the only way to win is to be even worse. I don't want you to believe that lie, to let Trump bring you down to the slimy pit of petty meanness where he dwells. There's no coming back from it.
"Fuck 'em. They did it to us first."
For more on this subject, see 6 Reasons Good People Turn Into Monsters, 5 Things To Understand About Modern Hate Groups, and 5 Reasons Humanity Desperately Wants Monsters to Be Real. David Wong is the author of the bestselling John Dies At The End series.
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