Donald Trump is a real jerk. And as that isn't bad enough, he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about. Challenge him or try to pin him down on specifics and he changes the subject. Every time.
Donald Trump is Brian Williams, but much worse- and with manners we wouldn't accept from our children in grammar school. No matter what idiotic thing he says, no matter how inappropriately he behaves, no matter how often he's shown to be full of hot air, it's become axiomatic that his ratings in the polls simply go up and up.
David Byrne, I think, has, at least, part of the answer. I myself sort of got the notion that since there is nothing rational about anybody's support of Donald Trump, it makes sense that Trump supporters would be immune to reason; after all, as the proverb goes, one cannot be reasoned out of what one was never reasoned into in the first place. But Byrne takes it a step farther.
Not only Trump supporters but all of us, tend to pay attention mostly to people who confirm our own prejudices. While I have many friends on Facebook whose beliefs on politics, religion, and other matters clash strongly with mine, I myself have unfriended people who are so obnoxious about them or even those whose beliefs are so outrageous that I can't take them seriously. I've reasoned that I just don't have time for such nonsense and that it isn't good for my blood pressure or my state of mind to subject myself to it.
Byrne suggests that Facebook and other social media have enabled us to create artificial communities of the like-minded in which our own prejudices are reinforced and we need not experience or put up with challenges to them or to the assumptions which undergird them. Hence, the title of his essay, "The Echo Chamber."
To some extent, Byrne argues, Trump is a creation of the Internet. He quotes Iran’s dissident “blog father”, Hossein Derakhshan:
Instagram – owned by Facebook – doesn’t allow its audiences to leave whatsoever. You can put up a web address alongside your photos, but it won’t go anywhere. Lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul-de-sacs of social media, and their journeys end there. Many don't even realize they are using the internet’s infrastructure when they like an Instagram photograph or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook video. It’s just an app. But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: they are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind web page, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another web page – and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.
He also quotes Wahil Ghonim, the Egyptian blogger whose Internet writings helped fuel the revolution in his country during the "Arab Spring" which toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak:
We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, unfollow and block everybody else. Five years ago, I said, “If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet”. Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.
Even in real life, all of us are drawn to people whose philosophies and opinions and attitudes largely reflect our own. In fact, a great many people I've spoken with and read- I remember an interview with George W. Bush on his friendship with Bill Clinton in which he makes this very poinr- have come to realize and lament the fact that we're being drawn into ghettos of the like-minded; that more and more, Americans simply can't stand to be around people with whom they disagree. "I've made up my mind; don't confuse me with facts" is more than simply a frequently accurate piece of snark. It really reflects our attitudes, whether we want to admit it to ourselves are not.
The Left is very big on "diversity." When I was a seminarian at a theologically and politically liberal Lutheran institution, "diversity" was an article of faith far more binding than, say, justification by faith. But it didn't take me long to realize that when it came to theology and politics, "diversity" at Wartburg Seminary meant having exactly the same opinions and attitudes as everybody else! It shouldn't have been possible to become marginalized at a place like WTS. But in fact, it was all too easy. All you had to be was conservative, or orthodox! I remarked many times that I experienced far more openness to dissent and willingness to discuss differences in the supposedly rigid Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in which I was raised than I ever did in the supposedly more open American Lutheran Church or Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Oh, yes. The phenomenon is a feature of the Left, as well as the right. We all seek reinforcement for our own prejudices and resent having them challenged. It's human nature- and the Internet, which removes the necessity of face-to-face contact with other human beings from our interaction with them, makes it easier. It even enables us to regard them as abstractions, as something less than flesh and blood people.
Probably the most prominent political phenomenon of our day- and perhaps the most dangerous- is the disappearance of the Center. When I was growing up, it was true that the Democratic party tended to run further to the Left, and the Republican party to the Right. But there was a continuum in each.There were conservative Democrats like John Stennis and George Wallace. There were moderate Democrats like "Scoop" Jackson and later Sam Nunn. Often Democrats in the South were more conservative than Republicans in the North!
Similarly, there were liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay and Charles Percy and Mark Hatfield. There were moderates like William Scranton and Dwight Eisenhower. Often prominent members of the Republican party could easily have been Democrats were it not for circumstances.
The great leaders of the day were men like Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, men who could facilitate and promote dialog and discussion in diverse party caucuses and get things done. Our national polity thrived- as healthy democracies always do- on dialog and compromise. Contact with those with whom one disagreed was the way things were accomplished; it was the whole idea of politics.
Now, there still remain Democrats who are less liberal than others- "Blue Dogs," they're called- and Republicans who are less conservative than others. They're called "RINO's-"Republicans in Name Only-" even though their political philosophy is often far closer to traditional Republicanism than that of the extreme conservatives who use the term! But we are a nation clustered around the extremes. The Republicans are crazy Right, and the Democrats are crazy Left. Try to be anything in between, and you're a traitor to either party, someone who is marginalized and not taken seriously.
The diversity in each party was to communication and dialog much as air is to speech, or a wire is to electricity. It served as a medium through which things could be carried; could be sent, received, and understood. There was far more diversity in either party back then than there is in society today.
Today gathered as we are around the extremes, there is no atmosphere to communicate sound waves from Left to Right and back again. There is no wire to carry ideas between two distant points. All we have is people in the distance whose mouths are moving incoherently, and static on the line.
Traumatic and often violent upheavals like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement created pockets of vacuum through which sound waves could not travel and breaks in the line. The differences between us seemed more dramatic and consequential. We began to see each other not so much as friends who had to overcome disagreements in order to move forward as enemies to be destroyed- and, if not destroyed, avoided.
The process has continued as the traumas of the '60's and '70's have rippled through society. Concepts, values, and ideas we used to share suddenly were at issue. Gender role and sexual mores changed- and the changes were controversial. If the walls of racism didn't come tumbling down, they developed large cracks and even gaps.
Government became bigger, and increasingly more intrusive. Watergate and other scandals destroyed our confidence in it. Faith in God declined. The greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression struck us. America's place in the world- certainly its prestige- has diminished. The immigration crisis threatens our identity. We no longer expect to leave our children a better world than the one we inherited. We no longer expect them to have a better life.
When my Eighth Grade teacher announced to our class that President Kennedy had been shot and killed, everyone laughed. It wasn't that we found the assassination of the President of the United States funny. It was that the whole idea was ridiculous. It couldn't possibly be true. Such things just didn't happen in the country we grew up in. But through the '60's and beyond, they did. We no longer lived in the country we grew up in.
Diseases like AIDS and Zika and Ebola arose in the world. People put razor blades in Halloween apples, and poison in bottles of headache pills. Crime threatened our cities. We learned that a generation from now the antibiotics which we relied on all my life to treat infections and diseases would probably no longer work. Everything has gone downhill. The world seems to be going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. And even the family is breaking down. We're moving away to cities far from our parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Marriages have become not merely optional for sexually active couples, but disposable. Illegitimacy and all the social ills that attend it has skyrocketed, and somehow we don't draw the connection between the revolution in sexual mores and its consequences. Abortion is now commonplace. The president is an African-American, and people of the same gender can get married. Everything is changing; nothing can be relied upon. Our lives are spinning out of control, and we don't know what to do. And in the midst of it all, a strange but uniquely American phenomenon has asserted itself, something that has always been in our national character but has suddenly burst out of control, like a cancer: a strange libertarianism of both the Right and the Left which effectively deifies the individual and denies the claims of government, society, and even God.
Yet the individual makes a poor deity in a world which he senses is out of his control. There is a vacuum to be filled.
We've gone through wars- even a Civil War- and depressions before. But I don't think America has ever gone through such a sustained era of radical change and repeated trauma as it has between the time I was finishing grammar school and today. We are confused. We are frightened. And we have good reason to be. Simple answers and a Leader who confirms our own perceptions have a powerful appeal. They are like a life preserver for a drowning man.
Byrne concentrates on the impact of the Internet- and especially of social media- in making us a nation of ghettos where we no longer talk to each other except to scream and holler and shout abuse over yawning chasms of politics, faith and philosophy. But there is a great deal more to it than that. The Internet has simply amplified and facilitated the process.
We are frightened. All of us. And we can no longer rely on society or even our own families. There are so few givens anymore, and our lives and history itself seem to be spinning out of control. So we seek comfort in associating with those with whom we still have something in common, and in so doing we reinforce our own attitudes and prejudices. As a result, we seldom encounter people and ideas which contradict or challenge our own ideas. They become threats to us. We disregard whatever contradicts the attitudes which still enable us to make sense of a confusing world, and regard the people who advance them as enemies, as threats.
The Trump people are simply extreme examples of that fact. They tend to be people who are less educated than others, don't read as much as others , and have less interaction with people different from themselves even than most of us in our ghettoized society do.Their belief system, even more than that of most of us, is a combination of what our life experiences have given us the impression is true coupled with what we want to believe is true. And even more than most of us, they simply discount any information which contradicts what they want to believe.
In a complicated and threatening world, there is security in a Leader who knows what is wrong and what has to be done to fix it. Mussolini, as I've said before, was merely a bald, garlic-loving version of Trump: someone who promised to restore Italy to past glory and make Italians "winners" again; who made grandiose promises but never got around to explaining how he was going to carry them out; who promised far-reaching and decisive results but never seemed to have any explanation for how he was going to achieve them; who changed the subject when this was pointed out and became abusive when questioners and critics persisted; who engaged the anger of his followers by rude and bellicose language and behavior toward those perceived to be responsible for problems, whether accurately or not; who thrived on scapegoats and simplistic solutions but merely got loud and obnoxious when pressed for specifics.
Sound like anybody we know?
Donald Trump is not Hitler. That's unfair. Despite his abuse of women and minorities (and anybody who criticizes Donald Trump) there is no evidence that he means anyone actual harm, or even wishes it. He will set up no death camps for Muslims or Mexicans. His is a more benign version of the Führerprinzip . He is Mussolini rather than Hitler. But make no mistake: the Führerprinzip is as central to the Trump phenomenon as is Trump's own ego, and it's the basis of his appeal. One does not question The Leader. To do so deprives him of his usefulness as a repository of faith and confidence in a frightening world one senses is beyond one's personal control.
So Trump supporters ignore and deny the obvious. They refuse to listen, quite literally, to reason. Reason, where Donald Trump is concerned, threatens his utility as a source of hope and reassurance.
I continue to believe- not just hope, but really believe- that Trump will be stopped. I hope and pray it's before the Republican convention because our nation has urgent business to transact in this year's campaign which we simply won't be able to deal with if Trump is the Republican nominee. But even if he is nominated, I firmly believe that the American people finally will reject him. There is something not only paradoxical but incomprehensible about an American Mussolini.
So what can we do? We can hope. We can pray. We can continue to point out the obvious, whether Trump's supporters listen or not. And we can trust that at the end of the day the common sense that has always guided the American people when the chips were down will assert itself, and we will act like Americans rather than frightened 1930's Italians.
Caricature by DonkeyHotey
ADDENDUM; Here's another great article on the same subject, A sample:
(Making promises he knows he can never deliver on) is the most sinister of the liberal Trump's machinations. For it is exactly how liberal Democrats campaign. They con the lowest low-information voters available. They get them all worked up. They make sweeping promises, with almost zero details, then when elected, they bait and switch for something else.
And that, my friends, is Donald Trump in a nutshell.
One more sample. This article is like a box of fine chocolates: too good to stop at only one.
When Trump supporters claim he's anti-establishment, ask them how. Then remind them that he's the most omni-establishment person to ever run. He's paid off everybody, everywhere, just to get his way. Because this isn't about America this is about him.
When Trump supporters promise you he's going to forever and immediately stop illegal immigration by "building the wall and force Mexico to pay for it" simply ask them how he has demonstrated that he can do it. Ask them also if they've studied his negotiation tactics and why he regularly uses huge lies to dislocate the conversation. But he doesn't have to tell the truth because this isn't about America, this is about him.